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Anthony’s Blog

Torus Blog

By Anthony's Blog

“Did You Just Buy A New TV?”

…or, Why You Need A Torus Power Conditioner

 

Can a product actually be “…too good for its own good?” Sometimes, a component does its job so well, it’s possible to take it for granted. Case in point: Torus. Torus line conditioners are among the highest-performance brands SSV represents but, because they never call attention to themselves, it’s easy to forget about them.

I’m ashamed to admit that Torus has occasionally slipped my mind, even though I have FOUR of their units supplying perfect power to my various audio and theater systems, with never so much as a hiccup out of any of them. It took a visit to one of my dealers to remind me of just how much of a difference Torus Power products can make.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited Craig and Elena Abitz of Installation Specialties in Albertson, NY. Craig has been a long-time supporter of both SSV and Torus. He told me that, recently, he upgraded a loyal client’s system with a Torus unit. When the customer’s wife came home, he and Craig were watching a movie. She stopped, looked for a couple of minutes and asked: “Did you just buy a new TV?” He hadn’t. The simple act of plugging the television into a Torus Power product had profoundly improved its image quality. That story drove home just how impressive Torus Power Conditioners truly are.

More than a decade ago, when SSV represented another (now defunct) brand of power conditioners, one of my most technical—and skeptical—dealers proclaimed their product “…a black box filled with snake oil.” I have to agree that many power products offer dubious performance claims which cannot be supported, either by measurements or technical specifications. No one will ever accuse Torus of such pseudo-science: the company’s technology is both straightforward and unimpeachable.

It is also expensive. The lowest-priced Torus model—suitable for a couple of low-amperage source components—retails for $799, while Torus’ largest and most sophisticated units flirt with $28K. The reason they’re pricey? You can’t cheat physics. The “Core” (pun intended) of every Torus product is an oversized, over-spec-ed and overweight toroidal transformer engineered and manufactured by Torus, the most capable of which weighs over 600 pounds. These pricey transformers are the only universally accepted means of lowering noise, eliminating ground loops and protecting electronics from power surges, voltage spikes and more catastrophic power problems without introducing problems of their own. No snake oil here!

Further proof of their technical “Chops,” Torus is managed by a team of engineers who, upon request, often help design and specify power systems for their clients of whom are recording studios. These enterprises are notoriously frugal, yet they seek Torus’ engineering expertise for one reason: they deliver results.

Whether it’s cabling, resonance control or power conditioners, the “Accessory” category, more than any other, is rife with products and manufacturers whose performance claims can’t be proven; however, it would be unfortunate, as well as incorrect, to assume that all accessories are snake oil. Nothing could be further from the truth. HRS (Harmonic Resolution Systems) resonance control products and Straight Wire cables—both of which are proudly represented by SSV—deliver the goods in terms of manufacturing, materials and measurements. In the category of power conditioning, Torus reigns supreme. Let us show you why.

Anthony’s Blog – October 2020

By Anthony's Blog

Maybe it was the irresistibility of the Cambridge Azur 851W or maybe I struck a chord with tales of my “Forced March” into old age: in either case, my last blog generated an unusually high number of responses, the first of which came from my good friend—and oldest client—Jerry Willsie of Straight Wire. Jerry loved the blog and suggested that I try the amps with a pair of Straight Wire Pro Thunder Power Cords. Five days later, the cables arrived at my doorstep.

At $700 for a one-meter cable, Pro Thunder is, in absolute terms, expensive. In relative terms, however, it’s a downright bargain!  Straight Wire’s flagship AC Cable is actually less expensive than many companies’ entry-level product but its build quality is absolutely top-of-the-line, employing the superb WattGate connectors at either end with artistically accomplished terminations: shrink-wrapped, crimpled and encapsulated in silver solder. Eight Compressed, 14-gauge OFHC (Oxygen Free High Conductivity Copper) conductors—3 for each polarity and a pair for the ground path—add up to 9 AWG of ultra-pure copper for both positive and negative power paths: more than enough to handle 20 amps. (Interestingly, Straight Wire recommends their less expensive “Black Thunder II” Power Cord as the sonically superior choice for source components, where current draw isn’t an issue. Gotta admire this company’s downwardly-mobile honesty!) The white mesh “Tech-Flex” jacketing adds an upscale aesthetic.

Driving the Cambridge AZUR 851Ws, the Pro Thunders improved dynamics across the volume range, but especially at the highest output levels, where musical climaxes of all genres were at once more relaxed and composed. At the other extreme, silent passages seemed marginally more silent and backgrounds blacker which, in turn, seemed to render images with a touch more dimensionality.

The preceding description is an accurate assessment of my listening sessions. It is also cliché. Audiophiles expect High End power cords to lower noise and improve high-level dynamics and the Pro Thunder most certainly does. What was more impressive was the manner in which these cords added humanity to the music: inflection, breathiness, that silence in between the notes that is as important as the notes themselves.

At $700 each, the Pro Thunders are more than a third the cost of the ($1,699 MSRP) Azur 851W power amps with which they were used. So, the question becomes: are they worth the money? For me and, I believe, most audiophiles, the answer is obvious, as cabling has become a component in its own right and the Pro Thunders endowed the Cambridge amps with a greater degree of refinement than they—or any other high-power amps at this price range—otherwise exhibited. More importantly, in a world where Power Cords routinely cost over $10,000 (really), the Pro Thunder delivers a family-sized serving of the very best available for an insignificant fraction of the price.

I wonder what a system wired entirely with Straight Wire Power Cords—Black Thunder on the front end, Pro Thunder on the back—would sound like? Highly recommended.

Anthony’s Blog – September 2020

By Anthony's Blog

Cambridge Azur 851W: For Golden Ears In Their Golden Years

In less than 2 months I’ll turn 60 and, unlike the ageless Michael Fremer, I’ll need to start changing my lifestyle to reflect my years. I’ll contemplate clipping coupons, shopping on Wednesdays for the Senior Citizens Discount, joining AARP, moving to an “Over 55” community and referring to everyone as “Sonny” or “Kid.” And of course, the half-million-dollar stereo will have to go because at my age, I’ve been told I can no longer hear the difference.

I mention all of this because I recently purchased “Budget” amps for my shore house: not because I can’t hear, however, but because I CAN. The centerpiece of my shore house system is a Bespoke Audio passive preamp, which both Fremer and the dear departed Art Dudley reviewed—and loved—in Stereophile. Still, despite what Bespoke says about “Universal compatibility,” this passive didn’t like many of the amps, even some insanely expensive ones, with which I’ve partnered it. It’s worth the effort though, not just because this preamp has the potential to sound great—ultra pure and dead-nuts quiet—but because it is the single most beautiful high-end component I’ve ever owned. Visitors to my home routinely stare at it with lust and envy. I like that!

For the past couple of years, I’ve used the Bespoke with a few carefully chosen, very expensive amps and it sounded pretty damn fine, in part because I was driving an efficient pair of speakers. Recently, I changed to less sensitive loudspeakers and dynamics suffered, a point that was driven home when Tom Altobelli, President of Woodbridge Stereo, visited, looked admiringly at the preamp and asked about it. When I told him it was a passive he knowingly nodded “That explains it.” I immediately understood. And agreed.

So, here’s the part where my impending decrepitude comes in: I knew I needed a more compatible amp and if it were ten years ago, money wouldn’t have been an object but now, my miserly older self told me it was.  Which is how I wound up with a pair of Cambridge Audio Azur 851Ws.

Despite my newfound frugality, I actually hadn’t price-shopped the 851Ws, rather, I was searching for maximum input sensitivity and input impedance. At 0.775 mV and 38 kOhms (both figures for Bridged, Balanced Input) respectively, not to mention 500 Watts into 8 Ohms and 800 into 4, these are the most appropriately-spec-ed power amps in my rep portfolio. Then I looked at the price. At $1,699 MSRP each, they’re also the least expensive power amplifiers I sell, as well as the most versatile, offering both XLR and RCA inputs and outputs, two pairs of binding posts per channel, 12V triggers, remote control, switchable Stereo/Bridged/Biamped modes as well as switchable AC Voltage and a bunch of other goodies that make the 851W work in situations where most amps won’t.

I’m old enough to remember the hoopla surrounding the ADCOM GFA-555 when it debuted in the ‘80’s. Also 200 Watts Per Channel into 8 Ohms it became, for a decade, the benchmark for entry-level high end amplifiers. And yet, it couldn’t approach the 851W’s gorgeous aluminum casework, its connector complement and connection versatility, the discrete toroidal transformers for input and amplifier circuits…or its sound. The onset of old age has undoubtedly dulled my sonic memory but I don’t recall the 555 being nearly this refined, nor did it combine treble airiness and detail with a total lack of transistor grain the way the 851 does.

I spent much of last Friday installing the 851Ws, rebuilding my racks and rewiring my entire system to accommodate them. As I wrote earlier in this blog, these two amps—at under $3,400 MSRP per pair—replaced a vastly more expensive stereo amp (name withheld to protect the innocent) and outperformed it from the moment I turned them on. (Sensitivity and compatibility have something to do with this, but not everything.) When my girlfriend—a musically sensitive listener but not an audiophile (thank God!)—arrived in the afternoon, she had no idea that I’d changed gear but she immediately heard an improvement and asked why the system sounded so much better…why the little details that replicate reality were so much more present. She got it right away, without any coaching from me.

The next day, Tom Altobelli came over for dinner again and sitting at the table, back to the stereo, he noticed something different and asked me what had changed. Tom is a Cambridge Audio dealer and glancing at the 851Ws behind him, remarked “I just sold one to an old client and he loves it! Any idea why it’s so cheap?” Honestly, I have no idea how Cambridge does it but I’m happy they do and even happier I bought mine.

The Cambridge Azur 851W is certainly an ideal “Entry-level” amp for aspiring high-enders but, on a selfish note, it also seems the perfect amp for “Golden Ear” music lovers entering their Golden Years: they’re powerful enough to drive most any speaker, versatile enough to work in any system and, at $1,699 each, inexpensive enough to respect the retirement account. The only problem I can see is that, as these amps are built to last a lifetime, they’ll probably survive their aged owners. Choose your heirs wisely….

 

Anthony’s Blog – April 2020

By Anthony's Blog

“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”
(Or, how a cast iron pan inspired me to fire up my tube amps.)

Mae West probably never realized how well her innuendo explains the correlation between “High Maintenance” and “High Performance”

I realized this the other day while searing steaks.

When it comes to cooking, I’m a total gearhead. Over the years, I’ve collected dozens of pieces of cookware, many of which, clad in stainless steel, enamel or hard-anodized aluminum, are virtually maintenance-free and cost more than a turntable. But last week, when I wanted to prepare two insanely expensive USDA Prime Ribeyes, I dug out the cheapest pan in my arsenal: a cast iron skillet purchased decades ago for less than $20. In a kitchen packed with pricey pots, this slimy skillet is the ugly duckling: wrapped in plastic, slathered in vegetable oil and crusted by years of high temperature cooking, the thing weighs a ton, takes forever to heat and demands fastidious maintenance. In short, this pan is a pain. So why do I bother?

Anyone who knows cast iron knows that, for preparing a pricey piece of meat or any recipe that requires consistent cooking temperature, no other material comes close; for this reason, experienced chefs suffer the masochistic rituals of care and cleaning demanded by these cheap, ugly vessels. Which brings me to the audio business….

SSV’s offices adjoin our demo room, which houses complete hybrid, tube and transistor stereo systems. Dylan and I typically have background music playing all day and, to keep things simple, our solid state rig is powered-up continually, fed by Qobuz streaming through a world-class DAC and driving one or another pair of statement speakers. Sounds pretty damn fine, especially given the low levels at which we typically listen. Frankly, considering the long hours we spend in the office and the coddling which tubes require, I hadn’t stoked the valve rig in weeks. Until I seared those steaks….

If it had been two months since I connected my tube gear, it had been three since I last grabbed my cast iron skillet…long enough to have forgotten its capability and be amazed by it. After my steak experience, I sought one after another recipe which played to cast iron’s strengths. Not even the annoyances of cleaning and re-seasoning could diminish the mouthwatering memories of charred asparagus, potatoes au gratin and skillet cornbread. Thoughts of which, strangely enough, compelled me to fire up the tube amps.

As with the skillet, music played through the tube system proved an epiphany: bigger soundstage, more fleshed-out images, richer tonal colors, more detailed timbres, well, you get it. Of course, there was the half-hour warm-up, the need (read: compulsion) to check tube bias and all the other chores which had prompted me to embrace solid state in the first place. Eventually, these drudgeries will probably coax me back to transistors but for the moment, I was falling in love with HiFi all over again, so much so that I took the dustcover off the turntable and started spinning vinyl which, despite the need to clean records and styli, clamp and unclamp each disc and jump up every 15 minutes (tougher after the second Martini) to change albums, elevated my listening to an even higher level of palpability and involvement.

Like All-Clad and Le Creuset cookware, Transistor and Digital Audio Gear are virtually flawless: extraordinary performance, low maintenance and ultimate convenience. And yet, despite the hardships—or perhaps, perversely, because of them—which attend tube and vinyl fandom, these ancient technologies offer a connection to the music that modern devices have yet to equal. There’s a bit of “Magic smoke,” those powder-fine details that elevate recordings to reality, that’s lost in the pursuit of convenience but which, once experienced, becomes addictive.

Okay, I’m not crazy and I don’t expect any of you to ditch your modern music systems; on the other hand, I’d commit a disservice if I didn’t emphasize what’s missing as well as what’s not. As Luxury Audio struggles to recover from this pandemic, we’re going to have to sell “Magic smoke.” We’re going to have to demonstrate those subtle-but-tangible differences which make High-End a value proposition and we’re going to have to train customers to appreciate those differences and pay for them.

During the past few weeks, our clients have probably spent more time listening to music and watching movies than they have in the past year. They’ve been enjoying their systems and also, hopefully, noticed “What’s missing.” There has never been a better time to demonstrate the benefits that Luxury Audio can offer connoisseurs. We can either use this opportunity show our customers what we deliver or, like Coronavirus, fade away. Before the sound in our clients’ ears—or, as with that perfectly-seared steak, the taste in their mouths—fades into memory, let’s prove we’re better.

HOW TO MAKE STEAKHOUSE-QUALITY STEAKS AT HOME
Place a cast iron skillet on high heat, coating the cooking surface with grapeseed oil; meanwhile, turn your broiler on. Once the skillet starts smoking (5-10 minutes), gently place the seasoned steaks in the skillet. After 3-4 minutes, flip the steaks, place pan under broiler and cook another 3-4 minutes. Remove, transfer steaks to a warm plate, tent with foil and wait 5 minutes…perfection!