Blue Circle's Gilbert Yeung is one of high end audio's more colorful and unconventional characters. I can't think of another audio designer who would offer an amplifier with 2,000,000uF of power supply filtering and a 288 opamp output stage or a line of ridiculously inexpensive high performance products enclosed in ABS pipes. The latter is the subject of today's review.
One of Gilbert's more endearing traits is his devotion to the budget conscious audiophile. Yes, Blue Circle offers some awesome SOTA amps, pre amps and the like, but what intrigues me is the degree of performance Blue Circle can squeeze out of a budget component. Talk to enough audio manufacturers and you learn that the chassis is one of the most expensive parts of a product. Striping away some of the frills can dramatically lower the retail cost. Essentially Blue Circle takes the guts from one of their premier components and stuffs them into... well, how about a piece of ordinary ABS pipe that you can find at any hardware store? Case in point: you can fork out $2975 on the traditionally-styled 6-outlet version of the BC6020 power line conditioner or for a fin shy of $500 you can get the subject of today's review, the bizarrely named F2X 6 X0e which should get you considerably closer to the 6020 than the price differential would suggest.
The PLC FX2 6 X0e is a 6-outlet power line conditioner housed in a 4" ABS pipe. Blue Circle is mum on exact details of the innards but it is essentially a series of parallel capacitors of varying value which addresses line noise across the broadest range of frequencies. The FX2 6 X0e also contains a proprietary low-frequency filter called the X0e. According to Blue Circle most line conditioners on the market focus on RF noise above 50kHz. However, Gilbert's research has indicated a steady increase in low frequency noise (between 5kH and 50kHz) on the hydro grid primarily due to the increased use of switch-mode power supplies, compact fluorescent lights, HVAC and large industrial motors. The X0e circuit addresses this low-frequency noise.
Blue Circle's top level BC60X1 and BC30X1 sports even greater low-frequency filtering with their more extensive X1e circuits.
I am familiar with Gilbert's ABS series components having reviewed a phono stage and various other power line accessories for 6moons so I wasn't surprised with the unusual brushed black plastic pipe and both ends sealed with copious amounts of rather potent smelling silicone caulking (the odor quickly dissipates). I joked previously that I was convinced Gilbert receives gift baskets from Dow Corning every holiday season as he is surely one of their biggest customers. Maybe not the most eye friendly product to use in an audio product, it's an effective adhesive and sealer, and it has effective vibration and resonance control properties and its dirt cheap. Apart from the silicone there are three "high-quality industrial" duplex outlets and IEC inlet. That's it. No blinking lights or switches. All interior wiring is double runs of 14 AWG solid copper wire connecting IEC inlet, filter networks and outlets. Due to the budget nature of this product there is no isolation between outlets. According to Gilbert, such devices as the FX2 act as a "black hole" for noise i.e. regardless of how noisy a component might be, the heavy filtering action of his circuits draw in noise regardless of source thus reducing any negative impact on other connected components. Also of note, due to extremely short current paths and double runs of wire, the FX2 6 X0e should be "virtually invisible" from a resistance perspective and not limit current. There are a number of plug-in modules and options available including surge and transient voltage protection. Check out their website for further details.
I started my evaluation by inserting the FX2 in our TV system for a few weeks of run-in before trying it in my audio system. As in the past I have noticed a protracted burn-in process I suspect due to the large amount of capacitors in Gilbert's line conditioners. I started with source components first then gradually worked up to my Audiomat amp which tends to balk at having anything between it and the wall outlet. My comments below refer to the whole kit-and-caboodle plugged into the FX2 6 X0e.
Right from the start I noted an extremely quiet grain-free backdrop where music blossomed into my room with far greater sense of scale, realism and presence than I was expecting. Nuances, decays, leading edges of notes, timbre, harmonic complexity all took a big step up on the reality scale as did the usual spatial aspects one expects with decent power line conditioning. The other effect I noted, which I thought was the most profound of all, was the sense of natural flow or continuousness was greater than before. Some might use liquidity or smoothness to describe the effect. Take your pick. I know many audiophiles cringe at reading such words but I'm afraid I can't find more suitable ones. Suffice it to say, my critical mode listening sessions were far more relaxing than I usually experience while wearing my audio reviewer's propeller beanie. It was near impossible to find any tonal abnormalities (loose bass, less bass, midrange bloat, thinness etc.) or downsides. I'm guessing but I suspect the lack of any series components or circuits was at least partially responsible for lack of any obvious short comings.
A favorite chamber recording, Faure's gorgeous Piano Quartets as played by Domus on the Hyperion label was more stunning in its purity, inner beauty and meaning. That reoccurring sense of rightness continued unfettered. It wasn't so much that I heard the how or the what of their playing it was more the why which is really what most of us music lovers are after. To quote Glenn Gould, "The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity". All this from a $495 line conditioner? I even double checked Blue Circle's price list to ensure I had the correct figure. What a screaming bargain.
On learning of the passing of Jazz legend Charlie Haden, I've been going through all my recordings on which he played. One favorite is Quartet West which has a more mainstream bop sound in contrast to his more avant-garde work with Ornette Coleman and the Liberation Music Orchestra. Again, the space opened up and delineation of inner detail took a big jump up. Haden's bass was fuller, more sharp, defined and fluid. Often his playing, to my ears, is almost conversational in that it's as if he's talking through his bass which I suppose is what all artists attempt to do----speak through their music, to speak the unspeakable. Even his solos seemed more conversational than showing off technical chops. For whatever reason I was more aware of Haden's vast talent as a musician, not to mention that of Billy Higgins, Ernie Watts and Alan Broadbent with the FX2 in the mix.
At the other end of the scale, a long-time favourite orchestral recording is Leonard Bernstein's DG recording of Mahler's 2nd Symphony. It's a massive monster of a symphony heavy with metaphysical ideas, anxiety, joy and release. It's dense with huge dynamic swings yet also features passages of chamber like intimacy. Also clearly evident is Bernstein's sometimes aggravating mannerisms including a penchant for exaggeration, italicization and broad tempos. But Mahler was a larger than life figure, intense and neurotic. His music is all about exaggeration. The bigger, the more overwrought the better I say. Understate this in performance and the spiritual message is lost. And boy does Lenny and his New York band deliver. For me it works better than any other recording of the 2nd I have heard (in the dozens). I was awestruck on how more visceral yet nuanced this guilty pleasure was. Hall reverberation, the power and weight of the timps, the blat of brass, the distinct tone of the various winds, the growling bass, the sweet lush strings, the drama, the blood the meaning and even Bernstein's frequent foot stomps were so much more apparent with the FX2 in the mix.
Removing the FX2 was a big time downer. While still wonderful and engaging, scale shrank, drama receded. Inner detail, space and separation all took a noticeable step back. Damn, I hate when that happens. After a couple of weeks I just couldn't stand it any longer and re-installed the FX2.
Having previously reaped visual benefits on cable television, streaming and Blu-Ray with PLC's, I tried the FX2 in our TV system. As in my audio system, performance was stunning and well beyond what the price suggested. Blacker blacks, greater contrast and image sharpness were clearly evident. Intensely visual films such as Avatar and Watchmen were spectacularly mesmerizing.
When it came to putting pen to paper I admittedly struggled in finding the ideal words to effectively describe what I was experiencing. I wasn't at all expecting this at such a modest price. Was it the best I've heard? Not quite. That award goes to Tweak Geek's Bybee Stealth Power Purifier. As good as the FX2 is the Stealth is in another league. For $6000 it should be. However, I have sampled all manner of conditioners at that price and lower and the FX2 6 X0e comes in at a close second. I have tried several of Gilbert's conditioners over the years including his statement PLC at the time, the BC6000, and while aural memory can be dodgy, this new PLC-in-a-pipe seemed superior. Keep in mind, that's in my system. Your experience may differ. Powerline conditioning is generally reactive in nature and how equipment power supplies react, can be unpredictable. Always try before you buy if at all possible. However, for $495, I don't think you would be taking on too large a risk. For me, it was so bloody effective yet crazy cheap I'd be an idiot to return it. The only thing Gilbert is getting back from me is a check. Well done Blue Circle. Paul Candy
FX2 6 X0e