POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 32
HiFi Tuning Fuses
as reviewed by Francisco Duran
It was good fortune running into Robert Stein of Ultra Systems at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show. Unlike most of the displays at CES, Mr. Stein's display was understated to say the least. While Ultra Systems had only a few items for sale, those items will make a big impact on one's system as I later found out. Ultra Systems is in the wholesale business with such products as the HiFi Tuning Fuses, Cathedral Sound Acoustics, and the Audio Desk System. They are in the retail business in conjunction with the Cable Company. This review concerns the HiFi-Tuning Silver/Gold Fuses. Turning to their website and the product page for the fuses, we find a light hearted but informative page. "Lite a fuse! Do your components use 5-cent fuses? Can there be any doubt that this is a ‘choke point' in the performance of these components? GET READY FOR THE BIG BANG!" Yes by now, word on these types of fuses should have been spread out over the audiophile community like gossip in an aerospace plant. If I am not mistaken, there are several other fuses of this type being produced in the world, but let's get this straight: HiFi-Tuning Fuses are tested and hand made in Germany. They have gold over silver end-cap construction. They are made with pure silver wiring. They have a ceramic casing that is said to have better resonance characteristics than glass. So what's that you say? Why should I spend from $29.95 to $34.95 on a fuse when the ones that came with the equipment do the job? In that case why don't you just use the power cord and interconnects that came with it too! The money saved would've been gargantuan compared to spending thirty bucks a pop for a few fuses …right?
Ultra Systems stocks quite a variety of fuse values, but before you order them, do your homework and make sure you know exactly the value and size you need. This will place the responsibility of finding the specific information YOU need for YOUR equipment on YOU—not Mr. Stein. Believe me, Mr. Stein is one of the kindest and most patient men I have encountered in this business. But, after expressing in an email my frustration in finding information on a little bitty old fuse from manufacturers, authorized service centers, or electronics repair shops, I ended up getting the right info from Radio Shack when everybody else failed to help. Do everybody involved a favor, and have your ducks in a row before you call.
Two other products were used first before the Ultra Fuses were installed in any of my components. First, I used Flitz Metal Cleaner and Polish to clean all the fuse's points of contact. This was not possible in all cases due to the awkward positions of some of the fuse holders. The flimsy build quality of some of the fuse holders also made it hard to give the holders a good scrubbing with a dab of Flitz on the end of a cotton swab. Second, I cleaned everything that had been rubbed with Flitz with Progold Contact Enhancer to remove all unwanted residues from the contact points—to make the cleanest contact possible.
Prior to this, I listened to my system for a few days without the Ultra Fuses installed. Then I installed the two Ultra Fuses that are required in my Margules U280SC amplifier. I then listened to every source my system had plugged into it, removed and replaced the Ultra Fuses with the original fuses, and listened to some music through my CD player. It didn't take a week of listening, let alone an hour, to hear a difference between the two types of fuses. You didn't even have to strain to hear the differences; they were "slap you in the face obvious" the minute the original issue El Cheapo fuses were installed back into my tube amp. The 5-cent fuses brought an immediate flattening of the sound around the mid to upper mid range. Along with this flattening came a slight but obvious brittleness and brightness to the vocals that made "ch" sounds, sound more whitish and again flatter. I was shocked! How could my well-designed and expensive High-End equipment be emitting these nasty sounds, especially from my tube amps! There was also a slight flattening of the soundstage and a feeling that it was caving in upon itself.
Being the audio gear head that I am, I started to get dirty audio thoughts. Maybe that experiment was the phenomenon of system synergy. Maybe it was just chance that the Margules amp worked well with the Ultra Fuses. To cover the bases I ordered fuses to outfit my Antique Sound Labs monoblock tube amps, my Monarchy SM-70 Class A solid-state amp, and even my highly modified Pioneer DV-414 DVD player. Mr. Stein was even kind enough to send a full compliment of four fuses to replace the stock fuses in the Art Audio Quartet mono block amps that I had in for review. I went down the line with each piece of equipment and repeated the "cleaning" steps mentioned above.
Initially only one fuse was changed in the Monarchy, which was the AC input fuse, as I had ordered the wrong size/value. There are two DC rail fuses and two output fuses inside the SM-70, but with just one fuse changed—the AC input fuse—there was an across the board improvement in the sound. When the other four fuses arrived—which proved to be a little challenging in installing them—the level of sonic performance rose quite appreciably. Then in went the Ultra Fuses in the Antique Sound Labs mono blocks. This installation proved a little more of a challenge due to the bottom plate having to be removed each time. Remember that there are high voltages under the hood of a tube amp.
One would think that changing the fuses in an amp like the Art Audio Quartets would hardly amount to much of a difference, but it did notably change these $12,000 beauties' sound, mirroring what I had heard when installed in the Margules U280SC. Finally after ordering the wrong size (again) for my Pioneer DV-414 player (I told you Mr. Stein was patient) the right size and value arrived for my digital disk spinner. But it was too late. My trusty old and highly modified Musical Concepts Pioneer DV-414 bit the dust, ate it, and went Kaput after many years of service with nary a hiccup. Although the new PS Audio Digital Link Digital Converter took over digital duties, (review to come) an Ultra Fuse could not be used in my digital front end. Fortunately, all note taking, music listening and partying had been accomplished on the amps before that old player departed to Hi-Fi heaven. The PS Audio unit more than makes up for the loss.
In describing the sonic benefits of the Ultra Fuses some key words in the Real Feedback Section (of the featured products page of the Cable Company) strongly mirrored my own findings. The words liquid, natural, and less electronic are very accurate in describing the sonic benefits of these little gems. There was also a slight improvement in focus across the frequency spectrum. The music shifted to a more natural and whole presentation; as opposed to flat, artificial or bright. Couple this to the benefits described above—sweeter more dimensional mid range, bass slightly more fleshed out and a tad more solid—and you just raised the performance of your system many times more than the cost of the fuses.
One thing I would like to emphasize is that with so many silver and gold fuses in my system at once, never did the sound become bright, thin, or strident in any way. In fact, the opposite was true. In the case of the Monarchy with five fuses installed, the sound incrementally grew better. So in the case of my system, more definitely equated to better with the Ultra Fuses. I can't say exactly what the Ultra Fuses will do for your system and components, but trying them in as many components as I did gave me a good idea of the consistent and reliable performance of these fine products. In the past couple of years, without question some pretty great accessories have enhanced the performance of my system; companies such as Gingko Audio and Stillpoint. I can definitely add the Ultra Fuses as a permanent and irreplaceable part of that equation that definitely brings me closer to the music. Francisco Duran
HiFi Tuning Fuses