What is the true foundation of a seriously good audio system? I’ve heard very knowing people say that speakers set the character of the sound. Others argue that the amplifier is the key, as its power range and operating characteristics might also determine everything else. But, to more than a few, the true heart of any audio system is the preamp. Finally, there are those who insist that it’s source equipment -- the turntable, tonearm, and cartridge, or the digital player and/or DAC -- that determines each of our stereophonic fates. Yet before any of these essential components can contribute anything to the audio chain, it’s the power we get from our wall outlets that drives all else. No matter the quality and prowess of our vaunted audio purchases, saith a happy few, we won’t be able to realize the full capabilities of any of them without clean, reliable electricity.
This point was made all too clearly to me a few years ago, when I upgraded from an older pair of speakers to new ones that were far more resolving and dynamic. It was summer, and the new speakers revealed a constant amount of grunge in the electrical line, a raggedness and glare that I at first mistook for a malfunction, then for a faulty amp, and finally for something wrong in a source component or even my recordings. Eventually, though, ’round-the-clock obsessive that I am, I realized that this damnable haze of vexing distortion gradually diminished in the evenings and by late at night had completely disappeared -- then, peace reigned, and all seemed right in my audio world.
It was not my gear that was messed up, but my power supply. My older, less-resolving speakers had masked this daily problem, softening the distortion produced by inconsistent, polluted AC from a grid infected and robbed of its steadiness by hundreds of thousands of refrigerators, washers, dryers, air-conditioners, heat pumps, and hair dryers that compromised an otherwise electronic purity with their sullied wickedness. I needed a good line conditioner.
I got one -- an Audience adeptResponse aR6-TSS ($6000 USD with powerChord e, $7500 with Au24 powerChord) -- which I reviewed for another publication three years ago. Like a new sheriff in town, it cleaned things up and has been on electronic patrol as my reference power conditioner ever since.
But just recently, I heard from John McDonald, president of Audience, that his company was coming out with a brand-new version of the adeptResponse: the aR6-TSSOX ($6450). Would I like to review it? I said yes and wrote to Jeff Fritz, editor-in-chief at SoundStage!. We quickly made arrangements.
Design and development
Audience has been making line conditioners since the summer of 2005, when they launched the adeptResponse 12. Over the years, there have been steady improvements in passive parts that, Audience claims, have lowered the various aR models’ noise floors, improved soundstaging, and resulted in wider bandwidth filtration. In 2008, Audience substituted its new Auri-T Teflon caps for the Auricaps used in the original models. In 2010, the adeptResponse aR-TS came on the market, featuring yet another capacitor upgrade, to the Auri-TO, and the addition of a ground plane. The proprietary caps were now wrapped in a vibration-reducing material that was heatshrunk on to reduce microvibrations. My own reference conditioner, an adeptResponse aR6-TSS (introduced in 2012), included an optional S-filter that Audience claimed further lowered the noise floor. All capacitors, leads, and wiring were cryogenically treated -- as was the entire circuit, including the handmade bus-bar assembly.
Finally, in 2016, two years of development resulted in the adeptResponse aR-TSSOX, in which the forks that connect the capacitors to the outlets were upgraded from tin over copper to gold over copper, and the Hubbell-made brass outlets were replaced by rhodium-plated copper outlets made by Cardas Audio and designed in collaboration with Audience’s chief engineer, the late Roger Sheker. All internal wiring was replaced with the new Au24 SX power wire, developed for Audience’s premier line of power cables (to be launched as I write this). In conventional copper wire, energy is lost every time current passes from one crystalline barrier to another. By contrast, the Au24 SX, made with 99.9999%-pure, single-crystal OCC copper, measures about 5% lower DC resistance than conventional wire and loses less precious energy. Audience claims that, taken together, these latest upgrades provide better conductivity and cut way down on energy loss due to heat conversion. Overall, this results in more transparency, faster speed, higher resolution and refinement, and better soundstaging.
In our e-mails, McDonald stressed that, while about 60% of the TSSOX improvements are his, Sheker had a big hand in implementing everything; for example, he designed the SX power wire. “In fact, the original design of the entire adeptResponse line was solely Roger’s,” McDonald wrote. “He designed pretty much everything at Audience.”
Some elements of Audience’s line conditioners are unique. For example, Audience has never used metal-oxide varistors to suppress surges (a conventional practice) because, they claim, these add grunge to the sounds of audio signals. What’s more, varistors wear out and stop working after a while. Instead, Audience uses a proprietary circuit containing a gas-filled tube that’s invisible to the current path until there’s a surge. This then shorts the spike to ground and trips a magnetic-hydraulic circuit breaker (also unique to Audience) that never gets hot. McDonald claims that the aR6-TSSOX is foolproof enough to survive a lightning strike. And, in place of the industry-standard IEC connection, Audience uses the Neutrik PowerCon connector that twists and locks in, doesn’t vibrate, and can never fall out of the socket -- a secure connection is guaranteed. Along with other high-quality parts, these unique features help achieve the overall primary goal of providing a path of extremely low impedance that lets the current flow without resistance. This, Audience claims, solves a potential problem that the company sees in power conditioners from other manufacturers.
Owners of the adeptResponse aR6-TSS can upgrade their units piecemeal or all at once: gold-plated copper forks, $265; Hubbell duplex outlets to new Cardas outlets, $600; changing all internal wiring to SX power wire, $800; all of the above, $1665 (no savings). Owners of some units prior to the aR6-TSS can also upgrade. Three upgrades of power cord are also available.
Description and setup
The six-outlet aR6-TSSOX ($6450) sits at the midpoint of Audience’s line of adeptResponse power conditioners, between the two-outlet aR2-TSSOX ($5350) and the 12-outlet aR12-TSSOX ($11,195). My review sample arrived in a squarish cardboard box, protected within by cutout polystyrene inserts and wrapped in a large, pillow-sized plastic bag. Inside the box, tucked atop the conditioner, was a small Ziploc bag that contained an Au24 SE powerChord (a $1650 upgrade over the stock SE-i powerChord). Another Ziploc bag contained a useful, detailed owner’s manual and a tube of Deoxit. The adeptResponse’s warranty is unusually long: ten years. When I’d unpacked it, I saw that the aR6-TSSOX came in grained, satin-anodized black aluminum (silver is available), with a faceplate just slightly bigger than the case. On the faceplate, between a pair of swooshes, is printed, in big letters, “adeptResponse”; below that, in small letters, “high resolution power”; and below that, a dot LED. The case measures 10.5"W x 4.75"H x 8.25"D and weighs a little over 13 pounds, including power cord. Around back are four vertical columns of connections -- at far left, the first column consists of the power switch (that special magnetic circuit breaker) on top and, at the bottom, the socket for the Neutrik connector. The remaining three columns comprise the three duplex outlets in vertical pairs.
Late in my listening, Audience sent me a second power cord: an Au24 SE-i powerChord, a $1750 upgrade that I also tried with the aR6-TSSOX. The plug on this cord is very different from the one on the other cable. Much larger and handsome to behold, the new plug is proprietary to Audience and made of aluminum and carbon-fiber mesh, with rhodium-plated copper blades that the outlet grips with excellent firmness. Yet another power cord, the Au24 SX powerChord (a $4200 upgrade), arrived just as this review was going live.
Installation and assembly went quickly. Under my aR6-TSS conditioner I use three fo.Q Modrate HEM-25B footers, which I left in place -- I just set the aR6-TSSOX atop them. Then, following the manual’s instructions, I attached the Au24 SE powerChord to the aR6-TSSOX via the Neutrik PowerCon, lining up the ridges on the connector with the grooves on the inside of the outlet, then pushing down the connector and carefully twisting it until it locked with an audible click. Then I plugged in all my power cords -- plugs for high-current units closest to the power inlet, and plugs for front-end gear farther away (including the one for my Cary 303/300 CD player, as recommended by the manual). As each of the six Cardas outlets is individually filtered, as well as filtered from every other outlet, the aR6-TSSOX is meant to provide maximum isolation between components. As for plugging the cords for the amps into the outlets closest to the aR6-TSSOX’s Neutrik power connector, McDonald explained that this was because the largest energy-storing capacitors inside the aR6-TSSOX are situated closest to the Neutrik and that power amps, needing that stored power at peaks, work best when plugged in as close as possible to those caps. Finally, I plugged the Au24 SE powerChord into the wall outlet and, with every component plugged into the aR6-TSSOX and contacts seated and checked, flipped the circuit-breaker switch to power the unit on. The LED glowed blue. All was set to go.
Almost from the get-go, the adeptResponse aR6-TSSOX seemed to give my system a subtle but noticeable boost. Generally speaking, notes sounded a tad clearer, slightly more open at the top end, with a touch more sparkle. The air around instrumental images seemed more activated, which excited the entire listening room. The dynamic range felt freer and more expressive, and there was a greater feeling of ease overall. I sensed more extension in the low end, with bass notes coming a bit more quickly and solidly. And I could play the system more loudly without losing fidelity.
After about two weeks of continuous burn-in and only casual listening, I evaluated the aR6-TSSOX first with my analog chain -- with “Chain Gang,” in fact, sung by the Persuasions, from their We Came to Play (LP, Capitol SM-791). The doo-wop a cappella quintet harmonized beautifully on this Sam Cooke hit from the early 1960s, with Jimmy Hayes’s fine, clear bass in the left channel, tenor harmonizers Jayotis Watson and Jesse Russell in the right, and Jerry Lawson’s tenor lead just about right-center, sounding alternately punchy and airy as the song progressed. Imaging was solid and stable, and the soundstage was very deep -- about 4’ back and 2’ forward. The Persuasions sounded even better in Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman,” Lawson’s lead moving smoothly from tenor to sweet falsetto as the harmonizing voices pushed and built the rhythm to the rousing chorus, full of wails and shouts from the lead as the choir droned and cooed, producing the startling tapestry of voices the group is known for.
Continuing the theme of male harmonies, next up was Simon & Garfunkel’s first album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM (LP, Columbia CS 9049). From the doo-wop roots and Dion-like stylings of the first tunes on this album, the duo moves easily through a sea shanty, a mournful ballad, a Renaissance-inspired diphonic piece sung in Latin, and Simon’s era-defining composition “The Sound of Silence.” However, this earlier version of the classic song is accompanied only by Simon’s deftly strummed acoustic guitar; later, electric guitar, bass, and drums were added for the 45rpm single and S&G’s next album, entitled The Sounds of Silence (plural s added to Sound). On my older album, the sound was perfectly balanced, the duo’s gorgeous voices pure and plaintive with wondrous tones in simple but emotionally affective two-part harmony. Things were so clear that, as they sang, I could hear the air being shaped in their mouths and throats, the oral launches of notes. The tonal glaze and sparkle of each voice glinted off the other’s timbre. And the timing was perfect. It was, indeed, like a little concert -- as if my listening room were backstage at the Bitter End as the duo ran through their playlist just before stepping onstage.
For female voice, I switched to digital and another old favorite, American soprano Renée Fleming’s By Request, a compilation of arias from many different recordings she’s made over the years (CD, Decca B0001024-02). Every track sounded superb, her voice with a clear, pure top that shimmered and spun ornaments in such arias as Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” and “Un bel di vedremo” and Bellini’s “Casta diva.” Spatial definition was especially fine, Fleming’s voice usually midstage and centered in front of the orchestra, which spread laterally and back from the plane described by my speakers’ baffles. Flutes and oboes came from deep right, harp and timpani from deep left. Fleming sings Mozart’s “Come scoglio” especially forcefully, full of personality, with fantastic vibrato. This was exactly what I’d built my audio system for. The orchestra is full, authoritative, and dynamic as Fleming sings at times heroically, almost like a Wagnerian soprano, at others with Mozart’s beautiful melodic line. In “Casta diva,” she sings a long roulade -- a florid vocal embellishment sung on one syllable -- near the top of her range. The system sustained that continuous and formidable vocal passage, so demanding on mere electronics, without flinching or distortion, delivering all of Fleming’s power and delicacy. The aR6-TSSOX allowed the contrast to come through -- that exquisite definition among a gifted and trained singer’s vocal colors that is the je ne sais quoi of opera and oratorio and lieder performance. Again, the balanced frequency response and constant delivery of power made possible by the Audience aR6-TSSOX seemed the key to enjoying such beauty and dramatics in music.
Besides pure and magnificently sustained operatic voices, I think the most difficult music for an audio system to reproduce well is orchestral. To test the Audience aR6-TSSOX, I spun a favorite recording of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, with Zubin Mehta conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LP, London CS 6664). It sounded great. The beautiful solo bassoon introduction (at the top of its range) leads to more mordant strains from bassoons and clarinets and a clear oboe emerging from a “black” background of generous, Modernist silences surrounding all. Spatial cues were superb, and so was the tonal palette, flutes and French horns as well differentiated as in life. The piece was a storied rainforest of sounds -- rich timpani strokes and a gently percolating bassoon give way to shrieking then sonorous woodwinds, varicolored brass fanfares, and splashes of chimes. Rapid, insistent pizzicati from the violas led to orchestral tuttis that were sudden and quick, demonstrating the system’s magnificent musical flow and tonal specificities. There were excellent pace and glorious thrum. All of the strings sounded superbly clean, without added electronic gloss or shrillness. And, when the big bass drum was struck, the sound was broad and deep as though calm waters had just been slapped by a whale’s flukes. Each instrument was in its proper place, and their images, though at times diffuse, could occasionally startle with their precision, as with a sudden shriek from an overblown piccolo.
My system with the adeptResponse aR6-TSSOX also excelled with jazz, from both LPs and CDs. The title track of the Wes Montgomery Trio’s ’Round Midnight (LP, Riverside RS-3014) was an exclamatory “Oh, man!” kind of thing, so rich and gorgeous did this organ trio sound. The recording features Montgomery’s elegant touch on guitar, of course, but Jimmy Smith’s organ provides a gorgeously moody background to all the slinks, stings, and double-octave pluckings of Montgomery’s virtuosic style. The sense of presence was thrilling. The Stan Getz Quartet’s Live at Montmartre Vol.1 (CD, SteepleChase SCCD 31073) delivered consistent brilliance of tone, bass and percussive slam, and fine articulations of notes across the audioband. Getz’s tenor sax sounded sweet and explosive in “Lady Sings the Blues,” his signature treble blasts pleasantly piercing, with lots of top-end energy. Joanne Brackeen’s comping on electric piano came through clearly and cleanly, with abundant harmonics and flourished accents. Her solo displayed a tastefully varied palette of timbres: rich chords, liquid arpeggios, sweet trills. Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen’s bass was quick, articulate, and tuneful, and as he locked in with Billy Hart’s deft drumming, their crescendos with Brackeen’s piano were particularly mighty. These made for fine dynamic contrasts with each of Getz’s lyrical solo passages. And when the whole band swung, I could feel the sway and pulse of accelerated momentum, Hart’s drumming so articulate in its patterned impacts. The live club sound of this recording was exceptional -- energized air, solid images, and leaping tigers of sound.
I compared the adeptResponse aR6-TSSOX and Au24 SE powerChord with two other power-conditioning rigs. First, using the same Au24 SE powerChord, I swapped in the older aR6-TSS. Second, I used the aR6-TSSOX with the Au24 SE-i powerChord upgrade.
The digital display of my Herron Audio VTSP-3A (revision r03) tubed line stage precisely indicates the sound level with a figure of “1” to “100.” Each time it’s powered up, it automatically resets itself to “10.” After completely shutting down the system and swapping out line conditioners, I powered everything back up and set the preamp’s volume to the same level -- it read “70” for using both conditioners. Playing Le Sacre du Printemps again, it seemed at first that the aR6-TSS sounded cleaner, more natural, more organic than the aR6-TSSOX, which, by immediate recollection, seemed slightly forward and analytic. An electronic haze got stripped away from music with the aR6-TSS -- horn fanfares sounded less bright, but more warmly colorful. Strident passages were less piercing and richer in harmonics. The bass-drum strokes were fuller -- the initial impacts were about the same, but, tonally, things felt more filled in. And brass fanfares were somehow more complex. I expected a leaner sound than with the aR6-TSSOX -- the capacitors in the aR6-TSS couldn’t have been fully charged after its having sat idle for weeks on the sidelines -- but it was quite the opposite. It sounded more full. Drums felt more integrated with the rest of the instruments, less isolated unto themselves. And was there better pace, rhythm, and timing? I wasn’t sure.
How could this be? I thought. Could the older line conditioner best the newer one? I swapped the aR6-TSSOX back in and again set the volume level on my Herron to “70.” This time, with the Stravinsky recording, I heard more treble extension right away than with the aR6-TSS. There were better tonal contrasts between flute and piccolo, and between the midrange woodwinds and horn fanfares. Clarinets were a touch more piercing and clear. There was an arresting stridency to the flute’s highest notes and the piccolo shrieks, and, in general, the treble sounded more pleasantly forward than with the aR6-TSS. Violins were vibrant and piquant. Horns and clarinets had more top. Viola pizzicati sounded quite a bit more briskly executed with the aR6-TSSOX, and the entire system called attention to finer tonal contrasts among all the instruments. Cellos sounded much stronger and more precise, and the bass drum was crisper, quicker, better defined. It felt as if I’d added supertweeters!
In the end, the aR6-TSSOX’s sound was more awake and insistent. A muted trumpet stood out easily from a passage of organized cacophony when multiple instruments played varied musical lines. One way of putting it would be to say that the system now had more detail; another would be that it sounded livelier. To completely exaggerate the difference, I could say that the aR6-TSS-fed system sounded more warm and tubey, the aR6-TSSOX more like a well-executed, bipolar, solid-state amp with superb tonal textures and great punch and sparkle. Dynamically, the two conditioning systems were very close, the aR6-TSSOX perhaps leading by a nose. But this could have been as much a factor of the aR6-TSSOX’s ability to render tonal contrasts more noticeably than a capacity for wider dynamic range. The aR6-TSSOX could certainly seem more explosive, especially in one passage in which the bass drum, flute, and piccolo all play fortissimo. It was a thrilling sound.
It was the same with jazz tracks. I played the same Stan Getz Quartet CD, first fed by the aR6-TSSOX and then by the aR6-TSS, and though the aR6-TSS seemed to sound warmer and mellower, the aR6-TSSOX had wider dynamic range, greater powers of resolution, and a consistent feed of electricity to the gear that manifested as excellent timing and satisfying slam. The aR6-TSSOX-fed system sounded simply more alive.
Finally, I clamped the new Au24 SE-i powerChord onto the aR6-TSSOX. Everything locked into a far better place. The power cord upgrade seemed to restore whatever mellowness the aR6-TSSOX might have lost to the TSS when both were hooked up to the Au24 SE powerChord -- and with no sacrifice of top-end extension or sparkle. On the Stravinsky LP, drums were fuller, woodwinds and violins not quite so forward, and there was an easier flow, as well as gains in slam and warmth. It felt as if this was the only combination to have -- it put together all the liveliness and sparkle of the TSSOX with the midrange warmth, textural nuance, and mellowness of the aR6-TSS, plus an extra dose of speed and slam. Fanfares were brilliant and complex, but the most impressive gains were in the impact, swiftness, and resonance of drums. Electricity got delivered, man, and boy, did that system jump. Fed juice by the aR6-TSSOX with Au24 SE-i powerChord, my system possessed a fine balance of power and sweetness that added up to an exceptional sound. I highly recommend the upgrade to the Au24 SE-i powerChord.
I think Audience’s new adeptResponse aR6-TSSOX with Au24 SE-i powerChord is the bomb. My system never sounded so good. I was skeptical at first, doubting that there could be any improvement to the sound I was already getting from my reference aR6-TSS with Au24 powerChord, but by the end of the review period I was won over completely. I’m now a willing champion of the cause. If you need a passive line conditioner, the adeptResponse aR6-TSSOX with Au24 SE-i powerChord is a must to audition. And if you need to hold back a little, you can start with the stock SE-i powerChord, and later upgrade to the Au24 SE-i powerChord. But I swear, if you’re like me, you’ll want what really delivers. The adeptResponse aR6-TSSOX with Au24 SE-i powerChord is the new foundation of my audio system. It surpassed all my expectations.
. . . Garrett Hongo
- Digital source -- Cary Audio 303/300 CD player
- Analog source -- TW Acustic Raven Two turntable and 10.5 tonearm, Transfiguration Proteus MC cartridge (0.20mV); Ortofon RS-309D tonearm and Miyajima Zero MC mono cartridge (0.40mV)
- Preamplifiers -- Herron Audio VTSP-3A (revision r03) tubed line stage and VTPH-2 tubed phono stage, EAR MC-4 step-up transformer
- Power amplifiers -- Herron Audio M1A monoblocks (solid-state) and deHavilland KE50A monoblocks (tubed)
- Speakers -- Von Schweikert Audio VR-44 Aktive with RST-5 ribbon supertweeters and Audience OHNO jumpers
- Power cords -- Audience Au24 SE powerChord, Au24 SE powerChord MP, Au24 SE powerChord LP
- Phono cable -- Audience SX “low Z”
- RCA interconnects -- Audience Au24 SX
- Speaker cables -- Audience SX and SX jumpers
- Power conditioner -- Audience aR6-TSS with Au24 SE powerChord
- Record cleaner -- Loricraft PRC4 Deluxe
- Accessories -- Box Furniture S5S five-shelf rack and amp stand, Pottery Barn four-shelf hardwood console, edenSound FatBoy dampers, HRS damping plates, fo.Q Modrate HEM-25B and HEM-25S Pure Note Insulators, Acoustic Science Corporation SoundPanels, Zanden Audio Systems AT-1 Acoustic Tubes and AP-1 Acoustic Panels, Winds ALM-01 Arm Load Meter, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Geo-Disc cartridge-alignment disc and Vinyl record-cleaning brush, Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions Premium One-Step Formula No.6, AudioQuest antistatic record brush
Audience aR6-TSSOX Power Conditioner
Price: $6450 USD with 6’ SE-i powerChord; $8100 with 6’ Au24 SE powerChord; $8200 with 6’ Au24 SE-i powerChord; $10,650 with 6’ Au24 SX powerChord.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor.
120 N. Pacific Street, K-9
San Marcos, CA 92069
Phone: (760) 471-0202
Fax: (760) 471-0282