Reviews sometimes assume a life of their own. This review or at least the idea for this review began when a friend (Sherri) brought a number of Nordost QKOIL models (QV2/QK1) to my home one afternoon so that I could hear them in my system. I had previously visited her home for a demonstration of the QK1 and QV2 and really liked what they did in her system, but was not sure how they might affect my own system. The effects of each were easily discernible and, to my ear, positive; however, a formal review requires living with a piece of equipment over an extended period and, most importantly, listening to the original configuration of the system after the changes have been removed. Keeping this in mind, I approached Nordost to request pairs of the QK1 and QV2 for audition. They asked about my system, its configuration and the areas which might be improved. Then, they sent what they thought was necessary to address my needs which included sufficient power cords and other AC products to do my entire system (six boxes worth). As it turned out, this was the right approach and as they said, as good as the QK1 and QV2 may be they are really the icing on the cake, to be used after insertion of the QBASE and the QX2/4.
We live in a world where radiated pollution, instability and interference undermine AC line quality, seriously affecting the performance of electronic systems. When we listen to music through a hi-fi system or watch a movie on a home theater, what we are actually hearing and seeing is the power supplies that drive that system, and on a more fundamental level, the power that is fed to those systems from the power grid. The quality of the electricity reaching our system is critical to its performance. EMF and RFI noise and waveform distortion all undermine the performance of our components. While conventional filters can limit the destructive impact of these problems, in many instances they impose their own associated performance issues, often raising source impedance and reducing peak current capabilities of the AC line. These limitations cause their own readily audible or visible side effects, often limiting musical dynamics and robbing images of depth and color. The remainder of this article attempts to suggest a strategy for improving your AC power.
The first challenge is to make the most of the AC supply we already have. That means connecting our AC line to the system as directly as possible, without interfering with its source impedance or peak current capability. It also means optimizing the distribution topology and grounding.
If you own your own home, the place to start is at the breaker box. Simply having an electrician check the connections inside the box, cleaning the contacts, tightening the mechanical connections, and checking the system ground will almost always result in an audible lowering of the noise floor and a concomitant increase in dynamics. The next logical step is to have the electrician install one or more dedicated lines from the box to the system’s AC outlets. This will help isolate the electronics from the noise generated by household appliances such as refrigerator, florescent lighting and switch mode power supplies (such as in the computer). The last step in this initial phase is to replace your builder grade AC outlets with something better.
I have another friend (Frank) who has been using the ATL-2000 copper outlets but recently did comparisons of the Oyaide R1 and R0, the ATL-2000 copper and gold, and the Furutech GTX-D. He consistently found the gold plated outlets too laid back and rolled off at the top. Of the group mentioned, he found the Oyaide R0 to be the most neutral with a natural tonal balance, lots of detail and exceptional sound staging. The R1 was not quite as smooth, more forward and a bit tipped up. The ATL2000 copper sounded similar to the R0 but was not quite as smooth and somewhat lacking in bass power and solidity. The Furutech GTX-D rhodium was also well balanced, second only to the Oyaide R0. Depending on your system and your tastes, your preference might vary; however, the point is that outlets can make a rather audible difference in the sound and any of the outlets mentioned will be a significant upgrade from what is now in your wall.
At this point, you are ready for the next step which is where the Nordost power products enter the picture. The Nordost AC treatment products are not a one-box solution. Rather, Nordost takes a sequential approach to addressing AC problems. This has the very real advantage of allowing an audiophile to add products one at a time as earlier purchases never become obsolete.
The next step
The heart of any high quality AC supply is grounding. Nordost employs what they refer to as “star earth grounding” in their QBASE AC power distribution boxes. Creating a tiny lift in the earth impedance of all but one of the outlets allows the signal to connect directly to a clear ground terminal, providing the lowest possible AC supply impedance without any line filtering or other active circuitry. All Nordost chassis are mechanically tuned, designed and tooled to specific dimensions with the end caps machined from high quality aluminum billet. The tuning and sheer weight ensure rigidity and freedom from mechanical resonances. Unfortunately, the small rubber feet with which the QB8 was provided detracted from its performance. For best results, any of the QBASES should be placed on a stable, solid surface such as a shelf of your equipment stand with isolation/coupling feet, such as the Nordost Sort Kones underneath the QBASE.
As you might expect, the Nordost Sort Kones work extremely well in this application. They are available in three models. All use ceramic bearings in combination with a metal structure to drain energy away from the component. Each uses a different metal (aluminum, bronze or titanium) as a path for energy. All increase detail, lower noise, improve leading edge definition and tighten bass; however, each sounds somewhat different and each is more or less successful in lowering noise, increasing resolution and improving focus and dimensionality. Each will clearly and rather dramatically improve the performance of the QBASE. My personal preference is the titanium (TC), but some will prefer the warmer sound of the bronze (BC). Visco-elastic materials seem in this application to soften leading edge and dull the top end response.
The QBASE is available in two versions, one with four outlets and the other with eight. Other than the number of outlets and the size of the box in which the outlets are mounted, the two are the same. The availability of four and eight outlet versions allows you to tailor your choice based on your system needs and the location of your equipment.
The quality of the power cord from the wall to the QBASE will also have an audible effect on the sound. Not surprisingly, it works exceptionally well with Nordost’s own power cords, particularly the Norse series. Your line stage or integrated amp should be connected to the Primary Earth Socket which is located at the center of the QBASE. The QBASE has a WBT binding post, which should be connected to an independent, clean ground.
Nordost is quite emphatic in recommending that the first product which a potential customer purchase be the QBASE as they feel that it is the foundation on which their clean power approach is based. If anything, I would be even more emphatic in my recommendation. The QBASE surpasses most of the power distribution devices on the market, regardless of price.
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