PS Audio Quintet
[Note to moderator: Since this review includes two products installed at the same time, I have posted it within the appropriate catagories for each product.]
This review breaks what I consider the most important rule for audio reviews - I changed two things in my system at once. Therefore, please consider that the changes heard in my system are a result of these two products, and I am not suggesting that one or the other is responsible.
As a birthday present to myself, I added a PS Audio Quintet to my combo 2-channel/HT rig (you can read my component list in my profile). Simultaneously, I replaced the IC between my C-J PV-11 preamp and my Odyssey Audio Stratos HT3 amplifier (with cap upgrade) from BlueJeans Cable (an excessively long run no longer needed after I rearranged my gear) to Audio Art Cable (http://www.audioartcable.com) IC3 RCA interconnects. The price was $99.95 plus shipping for a one-meter pair, and I opted to have them "pre-cooked" for an additional fee of $5.00.
The PS Audio Quintet (www.PSAudio.com) sells for $495.00 and is rarely discounted. It replaced a basic Monster Cable surge suppressor (with no A/C filtration). Although all my 2-channel and HT gear is interconnected, I have too many plugs even for the 10 outlets of the Quintet, so I opted to plug in only those components in the 2-channel chain. These are the C-J preamp, the Odyssey Audio amp, my Rotel RCD-02 CDP, Marantz CDR-632 CD recorder, Thorens TD-166 MkII 'table, and Behringer T1951 parametric EQ (relax - it's only for really lousy recordings that are unlistenable otherwise - all my notes here were based on listening without the Behringer in the signal chain).
The PS Audio Quintet is a substantial piece of kit, much heavier and more solid than one would expect based on photos alone. Build qulity appears excellent, as is the packaging and documentation.
The Audio Art IC3 cables appear well constructed, and are nice looking, though not extravegant or exotic looking. Nobody will mistake these for mega kilobuck high end cables, but the RCA plugs fit snuggly and securely, and they were reasonably flexible.
Even though the cables were already burned in by Audio Art, I put about 20 hours on the system before doing any critical listening. Immediately, several hum and buzz issues I had with the Odyssey Audio amp were reduced dramatically (this is clearly from the Quintet, as I leave the amp powered up and this difference was apparent with the rest of the system off). However, with the C-J powered up, I noticed an apparent increase in hiss (tube rush?) that is volume dependent, even with no signal present. I have thought about this, and I believe that the reduction in amplifier noise has made the hiss of the C-J preamp more noticeable than before the addition of the Quintet. I find it hard to believe that the Audio Art cable has aggravated the hiss level, but I cannot be certain.
I have been complaining for a long time that my system is just too harsh, especially in the brightness range (4-8kHz), where my ears are extremely sensitive to distortion. Although still far from perfect in this regard, the Quintet/IC3 upgrade has made a substantial improvement in the smoothness of this range. They have not done this by vieling the sound - if anything, details in this range are clearer now than before. Vocals are easier to understand, so I guess transient attack (consonents on vocals) have either been improved or benefit from lower noise and distortion. A good example of this was on Tori Amos' "Pretty Good Year" on CD. There is a point when she goes from softly singing to really belting it out, and the instuments swell in volume with her. Previously, this point always made me wince and reach for the volume control. Now, it's still just a bit ragged, but much less so, and I felt no need to lower the volume. If fact, I intended only to play this one track, and ended up listening to most of the CD. This almost never happened to me with my system before these changes.
The rest of the range seems less changed than the brightness range. Bass is still solid, with perhaps a slight improvement in definition. Lower mids are still a bit recessed (very likely a room issue), and upper treble seems extended and clean, perhaps a tad clearer than before. Dynamics do not seem to be affected greatly, although perhaps one reason the Tori Amos track didn't irritate as before might be a slight blunting of dynamic peaks. However, even if this is the case (and I doubt it), the difference is quite small.
Imaging seems a bit better, with more stability and less of the jumping around effect - especially on vocals. I have never had any depth in my soundstage that I could hear, and I have none now, but the soundstage defintiely seems wider than before, extending a foot or so outside the speakers. Hieght seems unaffected - still good, but not great. Center fill has always been good with this system, and it still is, with added image stability, as I mentioned above.
While the Quintet and IC3 won't cure my "upgrade-itis" (I still want to upgrade my speakers and CDP), they have made a real improvement in my system, making it more listenable and musical and quieter. Details that were obscured before are easier to hear. Most importantly, I have finally been fully convinced of the value of tweeks like power conditioning and cable. I am also very impressed by the quality and value offered by both PS Audio and Audio Art Cable (my wallet is running for the hills!).
I can't say what these two will do in your system, as they say, YMMV, but I would surely recommend trying them out. Audio Art Cable has a generous return policy, as do many retailers of PS Audio gear (you can buy direct from PS Audio with a 30-day return option as well).