Although I already own a power conditioner, a PS Audio P500, my system was plagued with rather inconsistent playback. I listen mostly on weeknights and weekends and the performance of my system would vary from session to session. Some evenings the sytem would sound so spectacular that I would have to urge my wife to listen, even if only briefly, just to validate that what I was hearing was real and detectable. Other nights, the system would sound flat and somewhat anemic. When the system was sounding its best, the music sounded rich and full. I attributed this to the power grid, as more often than not, the best performance was achieved in the evening or at night, although this was not always the case. I should mention that I have my entire system on dedicated lines, all a “home run” to the circuit box. Moreover, I live in a suburban community where the homes are comfortably spaced apart from one another.
As some of you may know, the P500 is a power regenerator, which produces a pure sine wave. I have all of my equipment plugged into the P500 with the exception of my Rowland Model 10. In my system, the amplifier sounded better plugged directly into the wall. Although subtle, I found that the P500 has a slight tendency to roll off the frequency extremes. Given the theory of regenerated power, I had to assume that the inconsistent performance my system was prone to was due to the fact that the Rowland was plugged directly into the wall rather than deriving the benefits of regenrated power. So there was my dilemma, plug the Rowland into the P500 and lose the frequency extremes or go directly into the wall and be at the whim of the local power company.
I had been searching the web for several months wondering whether there was a power conditioning product which I could plug the Rowland into which might offer a means to improve the consistency of my playback. I considered other power regenerators which are said to be non-current limiting. I considered passive units. Since I was happy with what the P500 did for my other components, I did not necessarily want to dump that piece in favor of a new 10+ outlet conditioner. I already invested an additional $500 in a Rick Cullen Stage III upgrade and as I said, on those nights when the stars were aligned, the system sounded wonderful. It wasn't so much that I wanted to improve the sound, I wanted greater consistency of sound.
A couple of months ago I stumbled on an ad for a power correction device, the PI Audio “Majik Buss”. The fact that the device was desribed as a power correction device rather than a power conditioner intrigued me, as Rowland has recently made available a power factor correction device known as the PC-1. I have no idea whether the two have anything in common, and I presume they are entirely different animals. Also, I suspect the PC-1 is not compatible with the Model 10, as it seems designed to work with Jeff's more recent digital entries. I figured I would drop the proprietor an e-mail and explain the problem I was encountering and see whether he felt his device might be able to address the problem I had been encountering. The ad suggested a 30 day audition period but I did not want to waste either my time or his if the design of the unit was not likely to offer greater consistency. Dave wrote back immediately (as he would continue to do throughout the audition period and beyond) and suggested we chat. I cannot remember specifically what we discussed, but I know I came away from that conversation very impressed with Dave's knowledge of power related issues. Dave was confident that my problems were not so much with variations in the power company's output (as I naively suspected), but with noise on the line. I had more or less ruled this out because of the dedicated lines and the relatively rural area where I live, but in hindsight, I should have realised that if the P500 made such a distinct difference with my components other than the Model 10, it stands to reason that the power coming into my home is less than pristine. As the ad stated, Dave offered to ship the unit at his expense with a full 30-day money back guarantee if I was not completely satisfied. I figured I had nothing to lose and speaking with Dave put me completely at ease that he would make good on the return policy. Frankly, I was skeptical, but the unit was attractively priced and I had little to lose.
The unit was delivered in two days. The first thing I did was to plug the Model 10 into the unit by itself. I use Cerious Technologies liquid ceramic power cords which makes comparisons a little more difficult because once they are moved around it literally takes 4-5 days for the liqiud to settle and for the cords to reach their full potential. Notwithstanding the complications with the CT cords, my immediate impression was quite positive. As I did not take notes, I cannot offer a very detailed account of what I initially heard, but the Buss definitely made a positive contribution. I remember hearing deeper into the soundstage, with highs and lows being well preserved. I confirmed in my own mind that, if nothing else, the unit was non-current limiting as Dave had professed. Over the next few days, as the CT cords settled, the system really was taken to a new level. Like the rest of us, I from time to time toy with the idea of upgrading this component or that. As I am a big proponent of Jeff's electronics, my fantasies often run towards a 302 or a 312, and how these latest offerings might best the Model 10. I remember thinking as I listened to the improvement that the Buss had wrought, that had I shelled out the $6-7,000 to upgrade to a 302 or 312, I would have thought the expenditure worthwhile. Now I am not saying that this $600 black box magically can turn a $3200 amplifier (used) into a $9500 amplified (used). Truthfully, I have no idea how these more expensive Rowland amps might sound in my system. The point I am trying to bring out is that the improvement was so great that had I spend the money to upgrade, I would not have regreted the expenditure.
Most importantly, each night I would turn on the system, the sound consistently and predictably never failed to impress. No more did I have to be concerned that the system would underperform and I would be relegated to watching television. To borrow from an often used cliché, the system sounded like it was on steroids. Everything was there, but now there was just more of it. I would have been pleased if the box gave me the same level of performance I was accostomed to, but more consistently. This rather non-descript black box not only gave me the consisyency of performance I craved, but lifted the level of performance a magnitude. I have a number of reference CDs I am intimately familiar with. One example is Eric Calpton's “Reptile”. I find this a very well recorded CD, one which stands as an example of what good digital can sound like. Just when I thought I knew all that this disc was capable of delivering, the Buss has revealed so many subtle shadings I did not know were there. Backing vocals just pop out of therir own acoustic space. The guitar cuts through the air with searing presence. The bass is titanic. Full, rich, yet nimble and articulate.
No sooner had I decided that the Majik Buss was a keeper, than Dave told me about a more deluxe model he had been working on, the Uber Buss, which carried a $995 price tag. Now mind you the thought of shelling out another $400 was not something I was particularly fond of, but once again Dave was so accomodating I could not help but say yes. Dave shipped the unit at his cost and allowed me to audition the two units side by side for 30 days. If I decided I liked the Uber in favor of the Majik Buss, all I needed to do was return the latter and pay him the difference. If the Uber did not warrant the additional expendicture, back it went.
Before the Uber arrived, I wanted to try plugging in my 201s which I bi-amp with the Model 10. I do not use the liquid ceramic cords on the 201s (although they are a custom design by Bob Grost), so the comparison was made that much easier. Much to my surprise, the sound stage collapsed a bit with the 201s through the Majik Buss. I shared this with Dave and he conceded that I was the first to use the Buss with a digital amp. His initial take on this was that the Power Factor Correction circuitry may be showing the switching power supply in the 201s an input load that they don't like. Since the input of the power supply is a bit likea typical amp input section, the capacitance could be jacking with the current avalanche through the inductor in the switcher. I have no clue what any of that means, but I was happy enough with what the unit did with the Model 10 that I simply returned the 201s to their place in the regenerated ports of the P500.
I hadn't had the Majik Buss a month when the Uber Buss showed up at my door. To be honest with you, I was sort of rooting against the thing. I so wanted to convince myself that even if it was slightly better, it would not be worth the extra $400. Unfortunately, the Uber proved to be much more of an improvement than I had hoped it might be. I even asked Dave if I could hold on to the Uber beyond the audition period because I was hoping to plug the Majik Buss back into the system after a prolonged foray with the Uber. I cannot tell you that the Uber does this or that better than the Majik Buss. It just raises the bar on the Majik in all parameters. In the end, I never did plug the Rowland back into the Majik Buss. For better or worse, I decided that $400 was a small price to pay to be secure in the knowledge that short of a complete system reconfiguration (which will not be coming anytime soon), the system was sounding the best it ever had and perhaps the best it can sound. If you can swing the extra bucks for the Uber, I would suggest you start and end there.
I could insert all the usual audiophile adjectives here to express how the Majik/Uber Buss elevated the performance of my system, but I am not sure that would help predict what this thing might do in your system. It has increased the emotional impact of my system, which at least in my mind is the reason I invest so much of my time and money into this hobby. The Buss has brought me closer to the way the artist intended his recording to sound. I now turn on the system with greater confidence that my evening will be spent listening to music rather than watching TV.
A review of the Majik/Uber Buss would not be complete without saying a few words about Dave Elledge, the designer and proprietor of PI Audio. From the first contact Dave has been a complete gentleman. He has answered every e-mail I have sent him, not within days, but within hours. He never tried to oversell the product. Not once during the audition period did he try to pressure me into closing the deal. All he asked was that I give him my honest impressions of the product. When I asked to extend the audition period, he told me to take whatever time I needed. At that point, I had his product; he had yet to receive my money.
As a final note, I should mention that the Buss (Majik and Uber) is sensitive to the power cord you feed it. I had Dave custom make my Majik Buss with a 20 amp IEC since the Model 10 is fitted with a 20 amp IEC. I initailly used the stock Rowland cord to come out of the Majik and then switched to another aftermarket cord. Around this time, Bob Grost announced the release of his “Nano” cables, including a new power cable. This was an additional reason I asked to extend the audition period. Bob's cable is just sublime with the Buss. There is virtually no break-in and the cables are not suscetible to movement. The cord is absolutely neutral. It imparts no imprint of its own and lets the Buss do its thing without getting in the way. I fully endorse the PI Audio power correction filter device and encourage anyone who thinks his power situation may be compromising the performance of his/her system to give it a try. I suspect the poularity of these things will one day force Dave to discontinue the audition policy, but I for one am happy I took advantage of it.