I considered myself lucky. I’d finished reviewing Blue Circle Audio’s PLC Thingee FX-2 six-outlet power conditioner with XOe low-frequency filter module (affectionately known as the 3PO), which enlightened me as to what a well-designed, well-thought-out $500 power conditioner could do. The FX-2 cleaned up the incoming power and made the very best of what I had to plug into it sound better than it had any right to. This at a time when I was having trouble getting my money’s worth after having invested so much of it, and time, in power-line conditioners (PLCs) of various prices but never finding anything that performed to my total satisfaction. I was all set to buy the FX-2 -- I saw no reason not to spend $500 USD for a PLC that performed as well as it did. (See my review of the Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 for a description, and for everything I had to say about its sound.)
But when Gilbert Yeung, founder of and designer for Blue Circle Audio, attended the AXPONA show in April 2014, he had another, larger PLC in the room he shared with his dealer, TLP Audio. He mentioned that I might want to give the BC30X1 a listen. I was happy to take him up on his offer.
At 16 pounds, and having eight outlets instead of six, the BC30X1 ($2500) is bigger and does more filtering than the FX-2, and comes housed in a nice-looking black box instead of the industrial-looking section of PFE tubing that Gilbert likes to use when trying to save consumers a few bucks. I plugged all of my equipment into the BC30X1, set it on a shelf on my rack, and played music for a few days before doing any serious listening.
The strengths and improvement in sound of the BC30X1 over the little FX-2 were clearly defined. The BC30X1 lowered the noise floor even more than FX-2, producing a darker background from which music emanated. Not only that, but the dynamic range was wider, and percussion seemed to have greater impact; the differences between loud and quiet passages were more pronounced. Bass felt tighter and deeper. Music was, in general, more enjoyable.
After several weeks of listening, I got back in contact with Gilbert Yeung and told him of my new conclusions concerning the BC30X1. I was now convinced that it would be the way I would go for my own power conditioner. Finally, I’d found a PLC that did a good enough job to be part of my system and serve as a reference. I was very happy -- until Yeung pointed out that while the BC30X1 was a good product and worth my money, it wasn’t as good as his top model, the BC60X1 ($4495).
I looked at the BC60X1 on Blue Circle’s website and tried to learn what I could about it, but couldn’t find much. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me. I wasn’t going to buy one -- of course not -- but if I could catch Yeung exaggerating its qualities, I could nail him. Yeung told me he could stop by on his regular trip to my part of Chicagoland and let me hear a BC60X1 for an hour or so, though he’d have to take it back with him. But he’d be back the following month, and would then be able to drop one off for me to spend more time with. I agreed.
The following month, he showed up with a box, walked through my garage, and carried the BC60X1 into my listening room. Setup was fairly straightforward: he unboxed it, set it on the shelf, and plugged everything in.
Under the hood
The first thing I noticed about the BC60X1 was that it’s bigger and a lot heavier than I’d expected: 17”W x 4.5”H x 14.5”D and 42 pounds. Yet in its black case and with Blue Circle’s logo lit up, it impressed me with its build quality and pleasing looks. The BC60X1’s faceplate is made of black Plexiglas. (A faceplate of stainless steel or in a variety of woods is available for additional cost.) On the rear panel are 12 hospital-grade outlets, six in a cluster to the left, six more to the right -- enough for most systems. All 12 outlets will accept power cords terminated with 20A connectors.
Between the two clusters is what looks like an on/off switch; its actual function is to reduce the mechanical transformer hum caused by DC offset from the power line. The six outlets to the left of this switch use filtered power that should supply all of the needs of your power amps, or anything else you plug into them. Absolutely no current-limiting characteristics are built into these outlets. As Yeung describes it on the BC60X1’s webpage: “The breaker in your main panel will trip before this side of the BC60X1 will even begin to think about offering the slightest opposition to current demand. You can hook up the biggest, meanest, current-hungry amplifiers to these outlets and not have the slightest worry about affecting their dynamics, either macro or micro.”
As for the rest, Yeung explains further: “The six outlets on the right offer both filtered and balanced power. Balanced power is ±60V instead of 120V to ground. To produce balanced power, a transformer with a grounded center-tapped secondary (output) is required. Transformers, by their very nature, have a tendency to oppose very fast (transient) current demands. For this reason we recommend that only line-level components like DACs, phono stages, and line-stage preamps, or low-power amplifiers, should be connected to the balanced-power outlets. Power to these outlets is limited to a combined total of 800W.”
One of the more important facets of the BC60X1’s performance is a special low-frequency filter, the X1e. Yeung: “Most line conditioners, including our own, tend to focus on radio-frequency (RF) noise above 50kHz. But our research has shown that due to the increased use of devices such as switch-mode power supplies (almost every computer uses one) and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), there is more and more noise being generated at lower frequencies, mainly from about 5kHz to 50kHz. The X1e module was developed to target this specific range of frequencies.”
How it sounds
At first, I didn’t really want to listen to the BC60X1. After the time I’d spent listening to it and the trials I’d put it through, I was totally satisfied with the performance of Blue Circle’s BC30X1 in my system. There was no need to listen to the BC60X1 -- although I figured it might indeed be better than the BC30X1, it probably wouldn’t be that much better. Anyway, I for darn sure was not coming up with any more money for it -- any listening session would be an act of futility. The BC30X1 was here to stay. So I listened to the BC60X1.
Almost immediately, I began to squirm in my seat, trying to figure out what was happening. The sound of my system with the BC60X1 in place was better, and the improvement was not subtle. I gnawed my knuckles. Then I began to mumble: “Damn. Damn! Damn!” I was frustrated. With the BC30X1, I’d thought my system had sounded really good. If the BC60X1 sounded this good, what had I been hearing before? Self-doubt began to creep in, along with a sneaking thought: I have got to come up with enough money to get one of these.
With the BC60X1 in my system, each note of the music had heightened presence; I had a greater awareness of the recorded event. The little areas of background noise that were audible before the BC60X1 was inserted into my system had been blocking out the small sonic events that make music sound real. The noise floor dropped more than I’d thought it could, and this surprised me -- as far as I was concerned, it was already low. Minute details were revealed for the first time, as though a bright light had been turned on. High frequencies weren’t more extended, but sounded clearer. Bass wasn’t deeper, but sounded more natural and satisfied more. Musical details weren’t overtly pronounced, but the BC60X1 was clearly more resolving than the BC30X1.
My system had never had so rich a tonal palette from which to paint the music. Resolution was now as good at the rear and sides of the stage as at the front. Above all, the performers had a soundstage from which to communicate that was both well defined and spacious. I spent a lot of time listening to female voices while evaluating the BC60X1. Cassandra Wilson’s Silver Pony (CD, Blue Note TOCJ-66535) has become a favorite of mine. Some of the tracks were recorded live, some in a studio. The live tracks, like the bluesy “Went Down to St. James Infirmary,” are my favorites, and none more so than “A Day in the Life of a Fool” -- Luiz Bonfá’s “Manhã de Carnaval” with English lyrics by Frank Sinatra. Geez -- Wilson’s deep, dark tones have always mesmerized me, and she sings the song with so much feeling. That and the haunting melody, played by guitarist Marvin Sewell, and Lekan Babalola’s percussive beats, make this recording memorable. The BC60X1 made Silver Pony sound more as you’d experience this music live. The BC60X1 allowed the music to wrap all around me so that I could better enjoy it. When the audience applauded, I was tempted to join them.
The BC60X1 heightened my enjoyment of another live recording, Nnenna Freelon’s Live (CD, Concord Jazz CCD 2184-2). Again my room was energized by the music, as the Blue Circle let through this recording’s liveliness. Along with the audience, I was grooving along to “The Tears of a Clown” and “Body and Soul.” When Freelon spoke to the audience between two songs, her voice was more intelligible than I’d ever heard it.
The BC60X1 was not only visually attractive, it behaved well while a guest in my home: no clicks or annoying sounds, no buzzes, no noises to make me ask “What the heck was that?” All of its outlets held the plug blades fast -- I was never concerned that a plug would come loose. And while my review sample was finished in a handsome black, I know Blue Circle will build one for you in one of their wood finishes, or even grant a request for something a bit more exotic, if you’re willing to pay extra. So for its build quality, I give the BC60X1 high marks.
As for the competition, I recently spent time with a PS Audio P10 Power Plant ($4995) and a Running Springs Audio Dmitri ($4800). Both of these PLCs are well-received designs with excellent build quality, and a size and weight that inspire confidence. The PSA P10 has bells and whistles, and is probably one of the better-looking PLCs I’ve seen, but I was more swayed by the BC60X1’s sound. It did a better job of allowing the music to emerge from a darker musical background -- it sounded more organic, more natural to my ears.
Running Springs’ products have long been favorites of mine, and the Dmitri did not disappoint, coming closer than the P10 to the sound of the Blue Circle BC60X1. The differences here came down more to personal preference. Through the Dmitri, music was tonally warmer, which some listeners like. I wouldn’t say they’re wrong to prefer that, but in my opinion, the BC60X1 was more neutral.
Blue Circle Audio’s BC60X1 is one of the best power-line conditioners I have heard in my system. Its build quality, functionality, and execution are all top notch. But none of that would mean anything if it didn’t sound good, and it does. At its price, I believe that the BC60X1 competes favorably with any PLC on the market, of which there are many -- and many that cost more. Those looking to add to or upgrade their PLCs should add the BC60X1 to their short list. The time I spent listening to the BC60X1 was a pleasant assault on the senses, and I can’t imagine allowing my system to take that next step without one. I give it my highest recommendation. And I bought one.
. . . Michael Wright
- Speakers -- KingSound King (with custom power supplies designed and built by Don Smith at Sound Design Labs), Sonic Hemisphere
- Sources -- Asus laptop running JRiver Media Center 17; Abbingdon Music Research DP-777 DAC; Merrill Heirloom turntable, Jeff Rowland Design Group Consonance tonearm, Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge
- Preamplifier -- ASR Mini Basis phono stage, Purity Audio Design Silver Statement preamplifier
- Power amplifiers -- McAlister Audio OTL-195 monoblocks, MSB M202 monoblocks, Bully Sound Company BSC 100m monoblocks
- Speaker cables and interconnects -- Crystal Clear Audio Magnum Opus
- Power cables -- Sound Design Labs BD3-SE
- Power conditioners -- Blue Circle Audio BC30X1, PS Audio P10 PowerPlant, Running Springs Audio Dmitri
- Accessories -- Epiphany Stand Systems Celeste Reference equipment stand
Blue Circle Audio BC60X1 Power Conditioner
Price: $4495 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Blue Circle Audio
Innerkip, Ontario N0J 1M0
Phone: (519) 469-3215
Fax: (519) 469-3782