Review: Audience AR12-TSS Power Conditioner
In-Depth Product Review: Audience ar12-tss
"And a woman needs a man
Like a fish needs a bicycle"
From U2's song titled "Tryin' to throw your arms around the world"
Many reasonable individuals would mimic U2’s lyric, declaring an audiophile needs an aftermarket power cord or power conditioner like a fish needs a bicycle. I rested squarely and comfortably in that camp, using stock or cheap aftermarket cords and conditioners, until my friend Kurt Doslu at Portland's "Echo Audio" invited me to demo some higher end product.
It was during that demo I was introduced to Audience. It was the least expensive power cord I took home that day -- by a wide margin. It was also the best. The Audience cables were run of the mill non "e" version powerChords, each a mere four feet long.
The immediate effect? Yes, all the various manufacturers’ power cords lowered the noise floor. All but the Audience also lowered the dynamics and excitement of what I was hearing. The Audience powerChord, on the other hand, lowered the noise floor while invigorating the dynamics.
I was sold. That excursion led to the purchase of more Audience power cables, and an Audience AR12 power line conditioner.
This leads to the product reviewed here -- Audience's newest flagship PLC, the AR12-TSS. You can have your choice of three versions of this 12 outlet PLC. The AR12 contains regular Auricap metalized polypropylene capacitor filters. The AR12-TS ads special Aura-TO caps (Teflon caps upgraded with oxygen free continuous cast copper leads). And, just released to market, the AR12-TSS, with the addition of a $1,000 specialized filtration treatment. This new filter section contains a new large-core balun transformer consisting of the same OCC (Ohno) wire used in the flagship Au24 powerChord. The filtration results in more effective filtering over a broader frequency range, reaching down to critical 20-30 kHz range. As this reviewer will agree, more low level information is revealed – better clarity and nuances captured and delivered. The “S”pecialized filtration can be added to any AR unit for $1,000.
The AR12-TSS retails for $9,995 with standard "e" powerChord. Mine came with a $1,700 upgrade – the flagship Au24 powerChord replete with Neutrik PowerCon connector.
This review unit’s grand total of $11, 750 is approximately four times as expensive as my first car, or over twice the price of the Magnepan 3.7 speakers testing the conditioner’s effects on my system. And, as crazy-expensive as that sounds, my system cannot go one more day without it. The AR12-TSS is worlds better than the original AR12. It is solar systems better than running sans conditioner. If it makes a $50,000 system sound 20% better, the AR12-TSS has paid for itself. In my system, it was no small improvement. I'd estimate closer to a 30% uptick in performance relative to previous component upgrades. I just received my Magico S5 speakers, and the impact of the AR12-TSS is even more profound via those.
Here is a teaser of why I need the AR12-TSS and Au24 powerChord…It is the difference between drinking a soda retaining its carbonation versus one gone slightly flat. More on that later.
Before offering listening impressions, here is a quick rundown of the technology used, as well as specifications.
All Audience conditioners come in either 15 amp or 20 amp current. While the sample under review is 15amp/120V with 12 Hubbell high conductivity power receptacles on the back, one can choose units with six or even two outlets. All flavors are listed on Audience’s website. The AR-12TSS has a ground loop isolation transformer for hum reduction. So with 12 receptacles, go ahead and plug in all your equipment. Adding to functionality is a front panel LED display indicating incoming voltage. The AR12-TSS on a dedicated line showed consistently steady voltage in my home ranging from 118-120V. The chassis is fabricated superbly and is rack-mountable, although with room for 12 components, the box is largish although not heavy.
Some other notable technologies include a fun-to-flip, low resistance, heavy-duty magnetic circuit breaker power switch on the front panel; ultra-high efficiency filter components on each outlet; all hand wiring inside with no printed circuit boards; double filtering between outlets for maximum isolation between components; and, all electrical circuitry is cryogenically treated.
Audience engineers want to accomplish three things:
1. Providing a low impedance power path
2. Delivering wide bandwidth noise filtration/reduction
3. Offering high voltage surge protection
…and doing this without limiting dynamics!
Three positive effects occurred with the TSS:
1. Noise floor lowered. Glass stillness of a lake without a ripple became the foundation for the music.
2. Resolution. Clarity. Detail.
3. Energy, and not just in the form of increased dynamics.
Grunge and noise disappeared. I won’t write the over-used phrase “inky black background” but will say there was a curtain of silence behind any music I played. However, it didn’t take away from the vividness and energy present in the music, including air and ambience around each note.
The incredible bass guitar lines in Paul Simon’s song “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” came at me with such liveliness and sheer energy, that removal of the Audience conditioner resulted in the analogy of carbonated versus flat soda referenced earlier. The AR12-TSS took as its personal mission to deliver the signal and current my speaker panels required to reproduce those deep, penetrating notes. Nothing left on the table.
Lyle Lovett's new cd, “Release Me” has a great rendition of the classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (track 4). With the Premier 350 now plugged into the AR12-TSS my heart jumped. Sonic differences were clearly present and pronounced.
My notes read:
1. More articulate low end, reaching deeper, don't remember hearing certain bass lines, and the ones I remember hearing were not so distinct and resolved
2. More air, much much more air and space around voices, and the voices sound clearer and more present and more human....
3. More information coming thru all the way around, but in a much more "pleasant" manner....more detail with a better tempo or flow...those two things working better in tandem…
Next, I plugged all the components into AR12-TSS – sources, preamps, etc. Now with other equipment benefitting, immediately there was a startling difference. My notes read “spine tingling… more micro detail, cleaner presentation.” My Conrad Johnson GAT preamp sounded a wee bit laid back compared to my VAC preamp. Through the TSS it suddenly took on new life, throwing a bigger soundscape, with increased holographic detail and a more “present” clean sound. It was not a small change.
Again and again, the primary impact was more energy with more detail retrieval. Better resolution at lower volume settings. The extra detail stays to scale, is useful and isn’t alarming or unpleasant.
Two wonderfully recorded SACDs highlight blues artists at their best best: “Folk Singer” by Muddy Waters; and the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack “The Hot Spot” which includes John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Taj Mahal, and others. Playing these provided some interesting insights.
I know a component or upgrade or tweak is working when my visualization of the music increases. This happened with the AR12-TSS. Better harmonic texture arose. I could see the guitar strings, the gold color of a trumpet playing. One reason for seeing more deeply into the music related to the fact some sounds previously muted now were now clear and distinct.
On “Folk Singer” the very first area impacted by the AR12-TSS was decay. Muddy Waters attitude came through on the timing....as if his timing was more deliberate and therefore more bluesy.
I heard more ambient cues such as echos-- a heightened sense the space of where Muddy Waters was playing when he thwacked his guitar.
Other positive impacts from my notes:
- the stage lifted up a few feet -- always a good sign
- better separation and location of instruments
- better float or holographic effects
- instruments sounded less flat, more dimensional
I decided to plug the CJ Pr 350 back into TSS. One of my favorite CD’s is “Soular Energy” by the Ray Brown Trio. On track 6, every instrument became more true to its own timing and pace, and the microdynamics and shadings improved. I sensed better mining of information and resolution especially on trailing notes or softly played strings or piano strikes.”
Early into Track 7 of Bobo Stenson Trio’s cd “War Orphans” some deep bass lines enter stage right. A great amp will not only send the low frequency weight to the speaker but will delineate the notes. More often than not the low energy is one long smearing of a frequency. The listener gets the weight of the low frequency, but not the topology. With TSS, each bass line stood out from one another, presenting detail of the plucking on the strings not previously heard. And at the opening of the same song, cymbal strikes occur.
It should be pretty obvious, I fell hard for the AR12-TSS. It is a component delivering everything it promises. It does so naturally and by a noticeable margin. It positively impacts dynamics and information retrieval. Of course, it isn’t doing this alone. It is delivering clean power and current to components, allowing them to reach their full potential. Improvement is tied to quality of what is consuming the conditioned power.
My favorite benefit of using the TSS? I most appreciated its ability to delicately mine additional detail especially in quiet places, and surround that increased resolution with heightened dynamics. A real hat trick for sure.
I also feel good about putting my shekels toward a brand where the people at the helm (Audience’s chief John McDonald and crew, in this instance) are obsessed with music, audio, and pushing the engineering envelop. That passion translated into an amazing product. I bought an AR12TSS 20amp version, and am now in the process of upgrading all my cabling to Audience. I’m a fan.