It doesn’t plug into the wall. You don’t plug anything into it. You don’t run any current or electrical signal through it. It doesn’t use any batteries and doesn’t run on solar power. It has a front and a back, but has no “top” or “bottom”. It doesn’t need to touch any piece of your equipment to have its effect on the equipment. Its effect can be varied by its placement in relation to your equipment. It works with electronics, speakers and cables. What is it?
OK. So I still don’t know what it is. Should we call it a conditioner? A tweak? It’s not that I’m not curious, but as I begin to write this article I’m more interested in how the hell it does what it does. Yes, I read the discussion on the Lessloss website. If anything, that discussion just made me think of Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein – a brilliant madman messing with the unfathomable forces of nature. In fact, if the Blackbody didn’t come from a company that makes one of the best power cords I’ve heard (see my review of the Lessloss DFPC Signature in the February, 2010 edition of Dagogo), one of the best power conditioners I’ve heard (see my review of the Lessloss Firewall also in the February, 2010 edition of Dagogo), and one of the top DACs I’ve heard (review of the Lessloss DAC 2004 mkII to come), I’d have wondered if it wasn’t just a scam. As it turned out, it didn’t take long to find out that it definitely improves the sound of any audio system.
Certificate of Authenticity
It’s pretty weird to start a review of an audio product by trying to determine what, if anything, it does. I mean, what if I heard no difference? How would I even know whether it was “on”? I have no trouble determining that an amp that won’t power up had a defect, but what about the inputless/outputless, unpowered glass and metal device pictured below?
The instructions say that:
“Placing the Blackbody too close will not harm your gear, but the resulting effect on the overall sound of the system will be better when the Blackbody is placed further back, so that more of the circuitry will be encompassed by its invisible “beam.”
Sounds simple. It also sounds a bit unbelievable. However, I used to have a Quantum Resonance Technology Symphony Pro that plugged into the wall, but which did not connect to anything else. I enjoyed demonstrating to visitors that I could significantly change the sound of my entire system without plugging anything into the Symphony Pro. They would scoff at me, then get looks of incredulity as the sound gradually changed over the 5 to 10 minutes after the Symphony Pro was plugged in. As is the case with many components, the difference was most obvious when you unplugged the Symphony Pro, since the sound would immediately change back to how it was before the Symphony Pro was plugged in.
As it turns out, the Blackbody’s effect is not really gradual. You can hear it within a few seconds, although the difference is even more obvious when you remove it. The main question is determining the optimal placement, because the effect varies significantly with placement.
According to the instructions, the Blackbody’s penumbra (my word, not theirs – they compare the zone of its effect to the spreading of light from a flashlight) spreads out from the device at a 35 degree angle (see illustration). Like a flashlight, the penumbra is more focused immediately adjacent to the Blackbody and gradually spreads out the further you pull away.
This means that you get wider coverage if you pull the Blackbody further away from the component. You may well ask whether the effect weakens as you pull the Blackbody further away. Well, it clearly weakens, but I’m not sure that I can say how much. I would instead say that placing the Blackbody no closer than 6 inches away and no further than 16 inches away about describes the limit for the components I tested it on. The best effect was generally attained when I placed the Blackbody far enough away so that its penumbra covered the component, but no further. I’ll explain below how I proceeded, but I will tell you right now that LessLoss’s claims about the audible effects of the Blackbody are absolutely true. The trick is in finding the best placement.
Though I received 5 Blackbodies for review, I decided to start experimenting with just one. In particular, I wanted to focus a single Blackbody on a multi-function component to determine its effect. It just so happened that I was wrapping up a review of the Linn Majik DS integrated amp/digital stream player. At the time, I had the Majik DS in one of my “midfi” systems, driving a pair of very average speakers. I placed the Blackbody behind the Majik DS and off to the left side because of cables connected to the back, and angled it so that the penumbra covered the entire unit.
The change seemed to take 2-3 seconds, but after a few minutes of listening I concluded that, yes, it sounds better, although it was hard to put my finger on exactly what was improved. After about 5 minutes I removed the Blackbody. This time the change was more like flipping a light switch. The system reverted to its prior sound without any lag, and clearly lost dimensionality and detail.
I inserted the Blackbody again, this time placing it to the right of the Majik DS, and again at a distance that caused the whole unit to be in the Blackbody’s penumbra. A very similar improvement occurred. I then placed the Blackbody directly on the top of the Majik DS, facing downward over the center of the unit. Again, there was a change, though it was different this time, with less of an overall effect and with certain aspects of the musical presentation emphasized just a bit more than others. Intrigued, I slid the Blackbody over different portions of the top of the Majik DS and got different degrees of change. Based upon the Lessloss website, the Majik DS presumably sounded its best when the Blackbody was radiating its field over multiple critical circuits, and not as good when the Blackbody was moved around the top to an area where there were fewer circuits. After some experimentation, I determined that the greatest improvement occurred when I positioned the Blackbody so that its expanding field covered the entire Majik DS, but from behind and towards the side of the unit where the output was located. The improvement was clear and very pleasing. Again, evaluating exactly what was improved took some listening. Soundstage depth improved and performers became more palpable, creating a greater sense of realism. A very natural sense of weight and body appeared where none previously existed. What the heck! It was time to see what results I could get with multiple Blackbodies.
I first added two additional Blackbodies to my midfi system. Unit #2’s penumbra covered the Pioneer Elite DV-8 player that was connected to the Majik DS-I, and unit #3’s penumbra covered the Direct TV satellite receiver that was also connected. I then proceeded to play music from these sources, alternatively removing and replacing the Blackbodies. I left in place the Blackbody that covered the Majik DS-I. Again, there was a marked increase in dimensionality and palpability, alhough the extent of improvement wasn’t as great as the improvement obtained when I treated the multi-function Majik DS-I (I was using the Majik DS-I’s DACs), the effect was cumulative. All of this seemed to confirm Lessloss’s comments that you would get the greatest effect by covering the maximum number of circuits.
Blackbodies in Discrete Multi-Component Systems
Even though the positive effects of the Blackbody were clear, it took some work to determine how to optimize the effects of multiple Blackbodies in a complex multi-component audio system. My main system is now consisted of a modified Qsonix Q-105, Empirical Audio Pacecar (review to come), the Lessloss DAC 2004 MkII (currently under review), MBL 6010D and Electrocompaniet 4.8 preamps, a modded Lyngdorf RP-1 room correction device, Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks and B&W N800D, alternating with a pair of Dynaudio Confidence C4 held over after the July review. That’s a lot of discrete components. Moreover, the front-end components are placed in locations that make it difficult to appropriately place the Blackbodies. This actually became one of the principal difficulties I encountered when trying to use the Blackbodies in my main system. My entire front-end is on wall-mounted dual turntable shelves, and, except for the Empirical Audio Pacecar, there is no room on any shelf to place the Blackbodies other than right next to or on top of each unit.
Describing the Sound
After a lot of listening and thought, there are three things that the Blackbody does. First, it adds a significant amount of spatial cues. Second, it somehow allows you to clearly hear every instrument in detail without sounding analytical and ruining the “wholeness” of the overall performance or changing the balance of the musical presentation. Third, it adds a natural sense of body and weight to instruments without affecting pace or timing. These things may not sound like much, but once I dialed in the best positioning of the Blackbodies the effect was quite pronounced, and repeatedly confirmed by several different listeners in my main listening room. Let me describe this in greater depth.
Though Lessloss describes the Blackbody as cleaning up certain types of electronic noise, the effect wasn’t like that which you get with most power conditioners. I didn’t get the impression of an obvious drop in “background noise”, of which I believe I have very little, but I heard: (a) more nuance from the instruments, (b) more clarification of the performance venue, and (c) clearer performer placement on the soundstage. These added details could easily have come from noise reduction – it just didn’t come across the same as power conditioning. The effect was not limited to any particular frequency spectrum, but cut across the whole frequency band. Some tweaks cause me to notice an improvement in the bass, or in vocals, or a piano. This effect was just a bit of improvement to absolutely everything.
The addition of body and weight was just as noticeable, but more elusive. Again, it’s not like the bass weight improved obviously, and it wasn’t as though Yo Yo Ma’s cello got a lot more body. Instead, the entire orchestra became more lifelike and natural, each instrument by a small bit. One visitor, after several iterations of a live recording of a Pavarotti solo with and without the Lessloss Blackbody, stated that sometimes Pavarotti sounded really “tuneful and well-placed on the soundstage”, but sometimes it sounded as though we were “at the concert”. The Blackbodies were in the system when he said that it sounded like we were “at the concert”. They were not when he said Pavaroti was “tuneful and well-placed on the soundtage”.
How much of an improvement does the Blackbody make? The amount varied significantly. At its best, it was like a big upgrade to power cords or cables that transforms the system’s sound. For example, during my prior review of the Linn Majik DS-I I substituted several high-end power cords and digital cables and got very good improvements. Though the character of the improvement was completely different from that obtained with a step-up in the power cord, the extent of the improvement obtained when inserting the Blackbody was at least as great. The increase in spatial cues and clarified performer placement created the type of palpability that audiophiles covet.
At its least, the improvement was like adding pucks and cones to isolate and damp a component, giving you a bit more resolution and image stability. For those of you who have experienced the improvements proper isolation and damping can make, that’s a good analogy of the minimum you can expect from the Blackbody. It’s also a good analogy of the effort you should put into positioning the Blackbody. Just as with using pucks and cones, it’s important to experiment with placement and positioning to get the best out the Blackbody.
How to Decide On Whether a Blackbody is for You
What types of components did the Blackbody work on? Every component I tried it on. However, I had a harder time finding the best position and seemed to get less effect when trying the Blackbody on heavily shielded components that are built like tanks. Other than that, I got at least good, and in some cases great, results on digital components, amplifiers, preamps and speaker crossovers. The best result obtained in my main system was with my Lyngdorf RP-1 digital room correction processor. The Blackbody elevated it to a new level. In the case of my amps, in addition to the improvements described previously in this article, clarity at the extremes improved, which was a great additional benefit.
You definitely need to give some thought about whether you have good locations to place the Blackbodies so that you can get the most out of them. I found that the most consistent results occurred when I placed the Blackbody behind and to the left or right of the component so that its center was pointed at a rear corner and the Blackbody’s 35 degree penumbra encompassed the entire component. This was simply not possible for some of my components, and could be a limitation for many systems. LessLoss should consider whether to offer some type of stand or mounting device as an option, perhaps something like a collapsible stand that would allow you to suspend the Blackbody over the component or attach it to a shelf. I was able to get good results by taking an 8-inch tall cardboard box, placing it on top of a component, and placing the Blackbody face down on the top of the box. Needless to say, this is not a very attractive setup. A well thought out stand or similar accessory would certainly be welcome.
On the other hand, the Blackbody is an easy recommendation for multiple-function components such as the Linn DS-I, which sports an amp, preamp, DAC and digital streamer in one box. A single Blackbody has a pronounced effect on such a component when properly positioned. Integrated amps should also be able to benefit greatly.
I would start with one Blackbody, two if you have monoblock amps, and determine the component and component placement that provides the most bang for the buck. Give yourself plenty of time and be patient. This process will let you rank your components from most to least improved, and will give you a good idea of the cumulative effect that more than one Blackbody will have.
Definitely recommended, but with the caveat that this is not a “plug and play” component. You must be prepared to spend significant time in experimentation to find the best placement. If you do, you can get excellent improvements that will significantly increase your enjoyment of your music.
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