About a dozen years ago, some three years into the hobby, I’d stay up late at night listening to my audio system, finding increased pleasure in the richness and clarity of the sound I was getting and discovering that chimes and bells sparkled all the more somehow on Santana’s Abraxas, that Duane Allman’s guitar solo on “Stormy Monday” had added dashes of crunch and longer tails of sustain, and that pianist Alfred Brendel’s arpeggios rang more sensuously and his trills were exquisite to a degree that made them seem like the paintings of dancing deer in a cave at Lascaux. “It’s the electricity in your line feed,” a close friend said. “It’s cleaner late at night when there isn’t all that crud from appliances and air conditioners backing up into the grid.” Simply put, late night power was like a thinking man’s martini—pure gin unadulterated by vermouth—all kick and no pollutant flavorings. My friend suggested that I get something called a line conditioner. “It’ll clean up your power before it hits your system, and then you might get that late-night performance all the time.”
Since then I’ve been a devotee of purity when it comes to power, churning through various conditioners and power cables, adding audiophile AC duplexes, and even rewiring my home to add a dedicated line to my listening room so that no other circuits interact with it. My ongoing quest for pure power eventually led me to products by Audience AV, a company in Southern California founded by John McDonald in 1997. For over two decades now, Audience has been a manufacturer of quality audio cables and, more recently, power conditioners. I’ve owned Audience wires for nearly as long as I’ve been in the hobby, starting with Au24 cables and moving through various grades and iterations before arriving at the current frontRow line. Along the way, about eight years ago, after some brief flirtations with products by other manufacturers, I reviewed the Audience aR6-TSS power conditioner ($6000 when last available, all prices USD), bought it, then reviewed and owned its immediate successor—the aR6-TSSOX ($6450), released in 2016 and deemed a Reviewers’ Choice for SoundStage! Ultra. Last January, Audience released the aR6-T4 ($6600), and I’ve been itching to find out what it’s like, as, I confess, I’ve been somewhat dubious about the possibility of it reaching a higher level of performance than its predecessor.
Background and development
On FaceTime recently, I spoke with John McDonald, the president of Audience, and I asked him about the development of the T4 conditioner. He explained that his company is constantly striving to improve its products, trying to evolve, incorporating new technologies, testing for better parts, and working to accumulate improvements. The T4 itself is the result of three basic changes in the aR6 design: 1) completely redesigned Teflon capacitors, 2) Audience’s own duplexes, and 3) the application of Audience’s Extreme High Voltage Process (EHVP) treatment to every component in the conditioner.
The first step involved pushing the manufacturer that supplies their capacitors to get closer to a one-to-one ratio of width to length for all capacitor values used within the T4. As McDonald explained, “The thought goes back to 1979 when I’d founded my previous company, Sidereal Akustic Audio Systems. At that time, Ko Kawai, the chief engineer of our capacitor maker, IMB of Orange County, California, said that the most important thing was to achieve these dimensions.” “So,” said McDonald, “we sat down with our current supplier and redesigned a new shape to get as close as possible to a one-to-one ratio of width to length in all our caps.” McDonald thought that the resulting capacitors produced a sound that was clearer and more dynamic than before.
Around the same time, Audience developed its own duplex—the high-definition, cryogenically treated, copper-core, rhodium-plated Hidden Treasure wall receptacle. Its grip is especially tight, ensuring better and more secure connections. And it benefits from what Audience dubs its MORRE (Musically Optimized Reduction of Resistive Energies), a proprietary range of technologies and processes that is, according to the claims on the company’s website, phase correct and capable of “fundamentally chang[ing] the baseline of the conductive lattice throughout the conductive materials reducing electron scatter and producing greater signal preservation.”
Finally, Audience applies what it calls its EHVP treatment to all components within the T4. As I wrote in my review of its line of frontRow cables, Audience uses a powerful Tesla coil—a device that can generate upward of a million volts—to apply high voltages at specific pulse modulations, frequencies, and amplitudes, and all in differing ratios to individual and combined signal conductors, in order to create what they claim are “predictable paths” through the crystalline grain structure of the metals in the unit, including connection points and connectors.
“Individually, each of these changes would constitute an upgrade,” McDonald said, “but we waited so we could incorporate all three major improvements before announcing a new product. Compared to the TSSOX, I think the T4 is more dynamic and resolute and that the soundstage is improved—you get a good helping of those elements.”
Description and setup
Sometime in late June, UPS delivered the T4 in a 15″ × 13″ × 9″ cardboard box with the Audience logo stamped on two sides. The box weighed 14 pounds and it, the T4, was bagged in plastic and cradled on two polystyrene cutouts. When I took it out, I thought its casing looked exactly like the TSSOX, except for a tag on its underside declaring that it was the T4. Yet, I noticed one subtle difference—the new Hidden Treasure duplexes for the T4, Cardas-built in the TSSOX, were made of a black plastic that was somewhat softer in color—almost brownish in daylight, in fact.
Like my aR6-TSSOX, the new aR6-T4 came in grained, satin-anodized black aluminum (silver is also available), with a faceplate just slightly bigger than its casing. On the faceplate, in large letters, between a pair of swooshes, was the term “adeptResponse”; below that, in small letters, “high resolution power”; and below that was an LED. The case measures 10.5″W × 4.75″H × 8.25″D and weighs a little over 13 pounds, including the optional power cord. I used the same frontRow powerChord with Neutrik connector ($6300 when purchased with the aR6-T4) I was already using with the TSSOX. Around back are four vertical columns of connections—at far left, the first column consists of the power switch (a special magnetic circuit breaker) on top and, at the bottom, the socket for the Neutrik connector. The remaining three columns comprise the three Hidden Treasure duplex outlets in vertical pairs.
Installation took no time at all. Under my aR6-TSSOX conditioner, I use three fo.Q Modrate HEM-25B footers, which I left in place—so I just removed the TSSOX and set the aR6-T4 atop the same footers. Then I attached the Audience frontRow powerChord to the T4 via the Neutrik powerCON—lining up the ridges on the connector with the grooves on the inside of the outlet, pushing down the connector and carefully twisting it until it locked with an audible click. Next, I plugged in all my power cords—with the plug for a high-current unit closest to the power inlet and plugs for front-end gear farther away, as Audience recommends (including the one for my Esoteric K-05x SACD player and the wall-wart for my Bluesound Node 2i streamer-DAC). As each of the six Hidden Treasure outlets is individually filtered, in addition to being filtered from every other outlet, the aR6-T4 is meant to provide maximum isolation between components. As for plugging the cord for my amp into one of the outlets closest to the T4’s Neutrik power connector, McDonald explained that this was necessary because the largest energy-storing capacitors inside the T4 are situated closest to the Neutrik and that power amps, which need that stored power at peaks, work best when plugged in as close as possible to those caps. Finally, I plugged the Audience frontRow powerChord into the wall outlet and, with every component plugged into the T4 and contacts seated and checked, flipped the circuit-breaker switch to power the unit on. The LED glowed blue. All was set to go.
Audience had used my review unit in a show previous to its arrival, so the T4 needed no burn-in and only a brief time to settle. At first, I found its contribution to my listening fairly subtle, as I noticed no obvious major uptick and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it did differently than the TSSOX. Yet all was pleasurable and I felt the overall presentation somehow more “congenial.” Descriptions were easy to write and I had a good time with whatever kind of music I threw its way.
I’ve found that the title track of Traffic’s The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (Island 422-842-779-2) on CD is a great test for zest and timing; the tune creates a rhythmic tapestry of instruments behind Steve Winwood’s plaintive, high-register lead vocal. I loved the way Ric Grech’s electric bass and Winwood’s piano briefly doubled each other at the outset, Jim Gordon’s drums punching out the gutsy beat, with Rebop Kwaku Baah’s congas burbling percussively on top of it all. Then, once the tune swung into its main flow, Winwood’s voice cast a huge image above the solid instrumental ones, the soundstage wider by four feet beyond the outside edges of my speakers and as tall as my 8.5′ ceiling. Chris Woods’s saxophone buzzed and droned as though through fuzzbox amplification or a synthesizer at times, then came through clearly in his bluesy solo, while Winwood’s piano maintained a compelling, bouncy ostinato underneath, even through its own wandering solo. And, in moments that were particularly startling for realism and resolution, someone (was it Jim Capaldi?) hit a vibra-slap that punctuated passages that were otherwise merely lyrical, even languid, with a burst of rattling that briskly penetrated through the instrumental welter, then slowly diminished. Catchy rock rhythms that combined with jazzy melodic touches were rendered with impressive clarity and timing by my system with the T4 in it.
An analog recording of a classical work with varied instrumental textures is Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, performed by Ars Nova, directed by Robert Mandell (LP, Westminster WST 14041). Every instrument of this small chamber group came through clearly and was spatially well placed, with lots of surrounding air. Timbres were tactile and felt immediate, with solid instrumental images and realistic depth, as though the ensemble were in my listening room. I heard a piping flute over a mordant oboe, violins under both, then a solo trumpet cutting through with a kind of bumptious authority when combining with a trombone and other brass in comic, circus-like interludes. There was a feeling of air and space around each instrument during solos, violins were possessed of a woody resonance when played pizzicato, and there were particularly luscious timbres to the oboe. The piece was like a gourmet meal of numerous exquisite but tiny courses at a Michelin-rated restaurant.
Listening to The Very Best of Nancy Wilson: The Capitol Recordings 1960-75 on CD (Capitol 0946 3 96034 2 8) was a revelation. I’d always known her as a sweet balladeer, famous during my parents’ youth, but once I spent time with her music, I found her a brilliant stylist with a tremendously agile voice, unhindered by any requirement or innovations of delivery of any kind. Her high notes can be slightly nasal, as I’d once vaguely thought, but her voice is also capable of a brassy power, refined pianissimo when called for, elegant portamento, and lightly plosive attacks. On “Fly Me to the Moon,” I heard Wilson hit her notes with surprising emphases and inventive slides, lightly swinging with catchy syncopations, dynamic contrasts in a slinky delivery, bounce and seductiveness in her lower register, then darting high notes of passion. The system rendered this masterly stylish female vocalist with sauciness and poignance both, demonstrating a range of emotion and subtlety via the electronic chain fed by the T4.
Likewise, I was spellbound by mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux’s Arias for Farinelli (CD, Harmonica Mundi 901778), with Rene Jacobs conducting the Akadamie für Altemusik Berlin. On “O volessor gli Dei . . . Dolci fresche aurette,” from the opera Polifemo by Nicola Antonio Porpora, the aria gradually builds through a stateliness, Genaux using her chest voice in tones of pleasing affect, eventually switching to her head voice in the upper registers and singing with beautiful flourishes, full of mordents and a tastefully regulated vibrato, the baroque orchestra achieving a lyrical accompaniment, often with piquant contrasts to Genaux’s rich voice, horns adding their deft punctuation and providing occasional sweetness. Throughout, there were clear distinctions of tone and timbre in all instruments, the aria culminating in a series of Genaux’s virtuosic roulades and without coldness to her top notes, and a gorgeous shimmer to them all.
Solo piano can be another serious test of a system’s realism; the instrument demands a dynamic capability as well as control over potentially distracting distortions, creating challenges across the frequencies. For this I listened to Debussy: The Solo Piano Works performed by Noriko Ogawa in a new digital recording (CD, BIS CD 1955/56). In Prélude, the first movement of Claude Debussy's Suite Bergamasque, I found her piano gorgeous and exquisitely delicate in her right-hand arpeggios, which led into languorous, dancelike interludes. The bass notes of her left hand gave off rare hints of darkness and an ominousness within a composition that demands deft keyboard work on the part of the pianist and a sensitivity to subtly differentiated dynamics within the electronic chain of the system. No problem—there was a shimmering quality to Debussy’s lyric passages that gave way to romantic crescendos, powerful and ringing in air. On “Clair de Lune,” Debussy’s version of a famous folk tune, it came at first a bit haltingly under Ogawa’s hands, giving off a haunting quality that then lilted into its familiar melody. Her touch on her right-hand chords was at first exquisite, then intermittently dramatic, leading into sweeping arpeggios and rolling chords that gave off emphatic hints of Tchaikovsky before an achingly slow return to the melody. Overall, I gathered within my mind the illusion of a music box with a dancing ballerina executing a slow pirouette over a melody on ice, under falling sleet, and across the melancholic frozen surface of a pond. I forgot about electronics and basked in an imaginative reverie.
Finally, I chose a complex instrumental piece performed by an electronic jazz orchestra—the title track from Waka/Jawaka by Frank Zappa on CD (Rykodisc RCD 10516). At the onset, electric bass, electric guitar, electric piano, and Minimoog come together to create an urgent rhythm that builds to a crescendo following a trumpet solo backed by rhythm guitar and the entire orchestra. There were clean sonic textures, the solo instruments emerging distinctly from the band, and the soundstage wasn’t busy, per se, but rather a pleasing collage of intermingled, harmonically rich sounds. Zappa’s guitar crunched gorgeously against Don Preston’s noodling on Minimoog. And when he soloed, Zappa’s notes bristled through the swirling sturm und drang of the orchestra, biting and snarling incisively, in stark contrast with the smooth chimings from the rhythm guitar (which he played too). Sometimes, Zappa ran his notes through a wah-wah pedal and at other times through a mouth tube, creating a variety of eccentric but pleasing textures. The chorus of horns sounded majestic throughout, punching through the brocade of sounds from Preston’s Minimoog, Zappa’s guitar, and a satiric vocal chorus doubling the horns at times, with Mike Altschul’s piccolo likewise spot-doubling them and the Minimoog. Oh, and punctuating the coda, there were temple bells! This was an astonishingly varied and articulate presentation of musical personae, not sequentially introduced as in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, but coming in patterned waves of ensemble sound adorned with individual timbral and harmonic splendors.
Once I swapped the aR6-TSSOX back into the system, I was frankly surprised by the difference between it and the T4. During all my listening sessions with the T4, I found that the character of sound, the balance of frequencies and tonalities, and even the level of dynamic energy were quite similar to the TSSOX. But once the TSSOX was back in my system, I heard a noticeable gap between the two. Though the animated soundfield, clearly defined interplay among instruments, timbral contrasts, natural tones, and dynamic scaling were quite similar between these two Audience conditioners on The Soldier’s Tale by Stravinsky, almost every other piece I used to compare them came out much in favor of the new T4.
With the older TSSOX, Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” rocked alright, but it was definitely a touch softer, more mellow, and less resolving, the notes not quite penetrating to my backbone. Overall, though still good, it was less kicky—Winwood’s guitar was fainter, the piano and sax more receded in the soundstage, the organ also farther back, and Winwood’s plaintive tenor less distinctive. There seemed to be a drop-off to the attack transients. On “Fly Me to the Moon,” Nancy Wilson’s voice had a touch of sibilance I hadn’t heard with the T4 and the band was more recessed, the overall presentation less dynamic and swinging. It was likewise with “O volessor gli Dei . . . Dolci fresche aurette.” Though the period orchestra sounded stately, the French horns majestic and violins resolving, Genaux’s mezzo voice was a touch cold, not as dimensional or supple, and at times peakish at the top. By contrast, though, “Clair de Lune” from the solo piano works of Debussy performed by Ogawa, sounded beautiful, with fine chiming notes, arpeggios light as a feather, acute timing, and notes that lingered in air. But finally, on Zappa’s “Waka/Jawaka,” the rendering of the jazz/rock orchestra was softer, flatter, and more diffuse. Horns that had been punchy and brash sounded more laid back with the TSSOX, affording the whole band less drive. The variety of instrumental timbres was still there—Gordon’s Minimoog eerie, Zappa’s guitar fuzzy and funky—but the performance seemed more intricate than thrilling, as it had been with the T4.
Though initially quite skeptical that Audience could best its own TSSOX conditioner, I became an enthusiastic convert to the T4 after spending time with both models, one after the other.
The new Audience Adept Response aR6-T4 is an utter revelation. It increased my listening pleasure and acuity almost across the board with rock and jazz, and with both operatic and jazz female voices. It’s an amazing product that delivers a remarkable level of AC purity and one I strongly urge anyone who’s in the market for a reference-level line conditioner to consider. The new technologies incorporated into its design are noteworthy and result in considerable performance improvements over the older aR6-TSSOX, Audience’s previous top-of-the-line conditioner. It certainly roused me from a vain complacency about my own audio system and demonstrated how much more there was to hear in the universe of finely recorded music, both digital and analog.
. . . Garrett Hongo
- Analog source: TW-Acustic Raven AC-1 with TW-Acustic Raven 10.5 tonearm, ZYX Airy 3 cartridge (0.24mV).
- Digital sources: Esoteric K-05X SACD/CD player, Bluesound Node 2i streamer-DAC.
- Preamplifier: Zanden Audio Systems Model 3100.
- Phono stage: Herron VTPH-2.
- Power amplifier: Zanden Audio Systems Model 8120.
- Speakers: Ascendo System M.
- Power cords: Audience frontRow powerChord HP and MP, Zanden.
- Interconnects: Audience frontRow (unbalanced), Zanden (balanced).
- Phono interconnect: Audience frontRow.
- Speaker cables and jumpers: Zanden speaker cables, Synergistic Research Galileo Universal Speaker Cells with Foundation jumpers.
- Power conditioner: Audience aR6-TSSOX with Audience frontRow powerChord Au24.
- Record cleaner: Loricraft PRC4.
- Accessories: Box Furniture S5S five-shelf rack and amp stand, edenSound FatBoy dampers, HRS damping plates, fo.Q Modrate HEM-25B and HEM-25S Pure Note Insulators, ASC SoundPanels, Zanden Audio Systems AT-1 Acoustic Tubes and AP-1 Acoustic Panels, GIK Acoustics 4A Alpha Pro Series bass trap diffusors/absorbers, Winds ALM-01 arm load meter, Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions Premium One-Step Formula No. 6, TW-Acustic Raven and Turntable Basics cartridge-alignment tools, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab record cleaning brush, AudioQuest anti-static record brush, Furutech GTX-D NCF(R) AC duplex receptacles, Oyaide R1 AC duplex receptacles, Furutech Alpha-CB10 OCC 10-gauge triple-run dedicated line power supply cable.
Audience Adept Response aR6-T4 Power Conditioner
Warranty: Ten years, parts and labor.
120 N. Pacific Street, K-9
San Marcos, CA 92069
Phone: (800) 565-4390, (760) 471-0202
Fax: (760) 471-0282