I have reviewed the Audio Reference Technology Super SE cable system and have always come away impressed by their performance, quality and appearance. The product reviewed in this article is no exception.
Power in My Main System
When most people talk about “sources” in their audio system, they are referring to a turntable, reel-to-reel, tuner, transport/CD player, server etc. However, there is actually another “source” in every system: your power supply. None of your traditional audio components work without it. Though I know people who are more compulsive about clean power than me, I’m pretty anal.
I have three dedicated electrical lines used exclusively for my main audio system, all coming through a separate junction box at the power inlet to my home. One 15 amp line powers my front end components, and the first thing that power encounters is an Isoclean isolation transformer, which then feeds a Lessloss Firewall (original version). The Firewall then distributes the power from that dedicated circuit to my front end components. To add redundancy, my outboard Empirical Audio Pace Car Reclocker can be switched to battery power for really serious listening, though I must admit that I’m not sure I can tell the difference given the fact that the power has already passed through the isolation transformer and the Lessloss power conditioner. My other two dedicated circuits are 20 amp circuits that feed each side of dual monoblocks for my biamped Vivid Giya G1 speakers. Each circuit’s power is first filtered by separate, dedicated Firewall conditioners. All outlets are hospital grade, and include different versions for use with both with warm and neutral components. Point is, clean power is really important to me.
My Experience With Power Conditioners
In past articles about power conditioners I’ve noted some of the issues with older power conditioners. One was the loss of dynamics and explosiveness when amplifiers are connected to them. A related issue was the loss of pace and timing that occurred when using certain conditioners that added body to the musical presentation. Altered tonality was also an issue with several conditioners.
Just as is the case with virtually every other audio component, even the best equipment possesses a voicing that reflects the designer’s view of the most accurate reproduction of music. The differences among the best conditioners are less about shortcomings and more about how the playback represents the actual recorded performance. I have owned an early-rendition Monster unit, an original and then upgraded PS Audio 300 ($995), the Walker Velocitor ($3,750, earlier version) and a pair of Audience Adept Response RP-1’s ($495 each). I’ve also had the Nordost Thor ($3,300) in my system for a few weeks, as well as the Weizhi PRS-6 ($3200). For the last six years I’ve used the Lessloss Firewall (original version, not the radically redesigned current unit).
First Impressions in My Second System
As is my usual review procedure, I first inserted the A.R.T. Power Distributor in my “midfi” system, consisting of a modded Pioneer Elite DV-37 DVD-A player, Sony EP9ES digital preamp/processor (really quite an unappreciated little gem in its day), NAD 916 amp, Bowers & Wilkins SCM speakers and a pair of NHT Sub Two subwoofers. I also have a Direct TV DVR that provides satellite signals. I run this system with a Tributaries T100 Power Manager, which does not provide power filtering, though it does provide voltage regulation.
I decided to substitute the A.R.T. Power Distributor gradually, by switching one component at a time from the T100 to the A.R.T. With each substitution I heard a cleaner signal. When I finally switched every component over to the A.R.T. I heard an effect similar to when I reviewed the Weizhi, having three principal effects. First, it was a totally neutral component. I was able to substitute power cords that I am very familiar with, and in each case the character of that cord came through very clearly. If you have power cords you like, the A.R.T. Power Distributor will still allow you to hear their effect. However, using it with A.R.T.’s own power cord really emphasized how beneficial a totally neutral power supply can be in a high end system. Second, I got a cleaner and more detailed sound without any loss of PRAT or dynamics. I know – it seems weird to praise a component for something that it doesn’t do, but loss of dynamics is very frequent in power conditioners. Finally, the soundstage also expanded and deepened since the B&W SCMs are mounted on wall shelves, the increase in depth suggests that the cleaner power brought out the recording’s spatial cues.
The A.R.T. In the Main Rig
Since I use three separate conditioners on three separate circuits that feed my main system, I determined that the fairest test was to substitute the A.R.T. for the Firewall that feeds my front end components. However, this would also mean that the effect of the A.R.T. would only be manifested in a limited way. If my entire system ran through the A.R.T. I’d be hearing its effect on all components, not just the front end. Nonetheless, this still seemed the best and fairest option. All my comparisons were made using my Empirical Audio-modified Qsonix 105 digital music server, Empirical Audio battery powered Pace Car reclocker, MBL 6011F DAC, BSG Technologies QOL Signal Completion Preamplifier, and Lyngdorf RP-1 Room Correction Device. All of these devices were originally plugged into my Firewall, then into an entry-level Monster power strip I’ve had for 15 years, then the A.R.T. Power Distributor, then back into my Firewall. The review period lasted two months, with the majority of the time being spent with the A.R.T., and most of the rest of the time was spent with the Firewall.
The comparison between the Monster unit and the A.R.T. was easy – the A.R.T. totally demolished the Monster unit, which is as it should be. I don’t specifically recall, but the Monster was likely a sub-$150 unit. (I bought it to see what an extra $120 would buy in terms of improvement.). It was quieter, more dynamic, more detailed, more everything.
The comparison between the Firewall and the A.R.T. Power Distributor was a much more difficult evaluation. The A.R.T. was closer to neutral and produced an extremely clean signal. Running power through the Firewall added a touch of texture that added to the musical presentation. This seemed quite logical, since the Firewall is, after all, a power conditioner, whereas the A.R.T. is a power distributor. The first is supposed to be designed with the goal of reproducing music as it sounded at the time of recording, while the second is designed to distribute power without any coloration. The results were very consistent with this idea.
Sonic memory is difficult, but my impression is that the A.R.T. is every bit as good, and perhaps better, than the Weihzi PRS-6 that I reviewed in 2010. I definitely preferred it to the Thor, though that is personal taste more than performance, and the Audience RP-1, which did not produce as clean a sound as the A.R.T.
I can unequivocally recommend the A.R.T. Power Distributor for any audio system. It will work great in both “midfi” and high end systems, is meticulously built, and absolutely neutral in its presentation. It won’t be the component for you if you’re looking to get some coloration of the sound, but that shouldn’t normally be your goal anyway. Check it out.
Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden
Other Audio Reference Technology Reviews:
A.R.T. Analyst & Super SE XLR Interconnect & Speaker Cable by Constantine Soo
Audio Reference Technology Room Tuning Cones & L.F.E. by Jack Roberts
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