Power conditioners play a crucial role in the performance of audio and video systems, especially for those of us who reside in the middle of the urban jungle. Our systems are constantly being bombarded by radio frequencies (RF) and electromagnetic interference (EMI). Some of this radio and electromagnetic pollution comes from sources external to our audio video systems, but some of it originates from our own AV components. In order to extract the maximum performance from any system, we need to protect the gear from external and internal contamination.
Audience, a US based manufacturer, has long been known for their high performance, non-current limiting Adept Response line-up of power conditioners. The company’s most decorated performers are the Adept Response aR12 (a 12 outlet model) and the aR6 (a 6 outlet model) power conditioners which have garnered a reputation for dramatically improving the performance of audio/video systems without the drawbacks often associated with power conditioners. The aR12 and aR6 retail for $4600 and $3100 respectively. For audio video enthusiasts with a smaller budget Audience offers the aR2p power conditioner priced at $695. Ultra-high performance versions of each of these models, denoted by a “-TS” suffix in the model name, include Teflon capacitors and retail for $8,600 (aR12-TS), $5000 (aR6-TS) and $1600 (aR2p-TO). Both versions of the aR2p share the qualities and features of the big brothers but with just two outlets. The subject of this review is the Adept Response aR2p model.
The features that separate Audience power conditioners from the competition are the short, low impedance signal paths with an absolute minimum of DC resistance even from their inductive components. This translates into maximum power protection and audio/video performance with minimal current limiting. As a result, amplifiers will still be able to draw and deliver current to their maximum capabilities but with a much lower noise floor. Audience conditioners provide surge suppression up to 20,000 amps and accomplish this without using sound degrading MOVs (Metal Oxide Varistors) which are often found in surge suppression devices. MOVs are designed to act somewhat like a fuse and will either burn out or gradually degrade as they take high current hits in defense of the connected gear. Audience does not go into great detail as to how they accomplish suppression of large transient surges in the aR2p but does describe it as “sonically transparent and non-wearing”.
Conditioners must provide power line noise filtration and still maintain the wide bandwidth/low impedance signal path. To accomplish this, Audience utilizes the highest quality parts in its units from the readily observable Marinco power plug and Hubbell outlets to internal components such as the high-end Auricap high resolution capacitors for the RF/noise filter networks. All internal components are hand-wired with 10 gauge wire for extremely low DC resistance. There are no printed circuit boards. All the electrical circuits are cryogenically treated and the units are mechanically dampened for resonance control.
The power coming out of the wall outlet has voltage and current which are out of phase and prevent your gear from drawing high current during peak transient moments. Utility companies try to offset this issue by applying an opposing load to the incoming AC signal which is based on estimated use in your neighbourhood and is not an exact science. To address this issue the aR2p performs partial power factor correction which brings the AC voltage and current into a better phase relationship allowing a more efficient transfer of power. This feature ensures that your equipment will have a stable current source, resulting in a maximum dynamic range even when your neighbours’ AC units are kicking in and drawing current. High build quality standards and cutting edge technology allows for Audience to provide a 10 year warranty on all of its power conditioning products.
So how does the Adept Response aR2p pack all these features into such a compact box, measuring a mere 6 x 3 x 3 inches? And does it maintain the reputation of its larger brothers? The aR2p is a two outlet power conditioner which eschews the use of a power cord and instead has a Marinco three prong AC plug built right into the unit. Therefore the entire power conditioner plugs directly into a wall outlet. Think of a large wall wart and you’ll get the idea. A magnetic breaker on/off power switch is housed on the side of the unit. The Hubbell outlets on the bottom of the unit can accommodate two separate components or power strips which will enable you to plug in more gear. One caveat here is that your wall outlets must have the third ground pin and the outlet has to be oriented with the ground pin on the bottom. The aR2p will not sit properly if you have a wall outlet that has the ground pin at the top, especially if you are using heavy power cords. However, Audience will build with reverse pin orientation upon request. Of course these are issues that may be encountered mostly in older homes. When plugged into a proper outlet, a rubber bumper at the bottom of the unit will provide stability and reduce wall borne resonance.
The challenge in reviewing the aR2p was that only two components could be evaluated at one time. This is because I chose not to plug my existing conditioners into the aR2p as that would not provide a clear picture as to how the aR2p was affecting the performance of the system.
I started off with the Esoteric X-05 CD/SACD player and the Modwright LS36.5 preamp plugged into the aR2p. I should point out that like many Toronto residents, I live in a radio frequency maelstrom with a clear line of sight to the CN Tower. For some time now, I have been pleased with how my existing power conditioners protect and condition the power that reaches my components. The noise level in my system was always under control. However when playing the Muddy Waters “Folk Singer” SACD, the noise floor appeared to be somewhat lower with the aR2p and the dynamics were slightly improved. Guitar notes and Muddy’s vocals literally exploded from a specific point within the soundstage. A very young Buddy Guy on guitar was clearly sitting off to Muddy’s right. The timbre differences and plucking of strings between the two guitars were distinctly audible. The stand up bass player behind Muddy and the drummer off to the left made for a truly holographic experience from a recording that’s almost 50 years old. Popping in Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “IRM” album (written and produced by Beck) the sound experienced similar benefits – a touch more growl and heft as well as a wider more detailed soundstage compared to my existing power conditioners.
I proceeded to unplug the preamp and plug in another source component, the Marantz DV9600 universal player, into the aR2p. Playing Neil Young’s “Live at Massey Hall” album at 24-bit/96 kHz linear PCM, I had a chance to hear what the aR2p can do for source devices only. The preamp was now plugged back into my Isotek power conditioner and there was a slight reduction in dynamics and narrowing of the soundstage right off the top. Neil Young’s acoustic performance on this disc is revelatory and one can clearly ascertain height and depth whether Neil is sitting on his stool strumming or at his piano tinkling. The presentation now had more inner detail with the aR2p. The transient attack and decay also seemed more life-like. Up to this point in my review, I had plugged in two channel transformer-based power supply sources and a preamp which allowed me to verify only the audio benefits of the aR2p.
The next step was to determine what the aR2p could do for multi-channel audio and video, and more significantly switched mode power supply (SMPS) based components. Components such as cable boxes, projectors, plasma TVs, LCD TVs, the PlayStation 3 and inexpensive disc players all use a SMPS. Normally, all of my SMPS gear is plugged into a separate IsoTek Mira power center which deals specifically with the issues of these types of power supplies such as the dumping of nasty artifacts back into the circuit (and in turn contaminating other components). I immediately noticed a benefit from plugging these components into the aR2p as opposed to straight into the wall outlet. The Marantz SR6001 AV receiver, with its E-type transformer, and the Marantz DV 9600 disc player both showed audio and video improvements although not as dramatic as with my two channel setup. The power section did come across as more lively and dynamic with a touch more tonality in the bottom end with multi-channel SACD recordings. The image quality from the AV receiver looked noise free with very good depth and proper colour rendition. With that being said, the aR2p did not perform as well with these devices as my IsoTek Mira power center – I did notice a slight overall drop in audio and visual resolution as compared to my reference setup.
The Audience Adept Response aR2p power conditioner can provide an exceptional value for any audiophile that has a high quality two channel system with transformer-based power supplies. Power amps, preamps, phono stages and source devices will benefit significantly. Plugging in a high quality power strip into one of the outlets of the aR2p will make it more versatile and allow a full home theatre setup to benefit. If you want your system to be unshackled from the nasty AC power coming out of the wall outlet and hear what your system is truly capable of – try this reasonably priced high quality power conditioner from Audience. You will never plug any of your gear directly into a wall outlet ever again.
Audience Adept Response aR2p Power Conditioner
Price: $695 CAD