Power conditioning products, like the Spiritual Audio VX-12 under review here, are still one of the most esoteric high end audio products produced today. I say that because they contain some very intricate designs that are usually so proprietary, some of them are sealed from anyone being able to peek inside. I know that can be taken several different ways. It's almost as if you need to trust the designer, and trust your ears and not your eyes. I know that when I tend to do that while auditioning such a piece of gear, it "lets me in", so-to-speak.
There are the audiophile types that are out there to measure everything, which will make it appealing to an engineer as they can now fully explain why a product does what it does - yet, it will never explain why one piece of gear sounds great to one person and not another. That is the part of this journey that excites me—the unexplainable, the pseudo-science that we haven't quite reached ye—it's more about the human body and how it perceives sound and video, touch and feel. I know—by now, you're probably asking yourself, "What the hell is this guy talking about?"...it's just one of those things, like a cable review, or some sort of other audio tweak. This, in my humble opinion, falls under that category.
Power Filtration, Power Conditioning, Power Regeneration, is all about altering the electricity coming into your home before it hits your audio gear. People don't perceive power as being dirty until it's introduced into something that produces audio. For most, power is power. It produces ice in my freezer... it produces cold air in my house, etc. But, in the audio realm, it can really play a HUGE part which I believe most people don't give it enough respect. Sure, one can argue that the equipment itself can be built well enough to block transients, ground loops, etc., but, why stress the equipment out and not allow it to do it's core job, to reproduce audio, rather than to also act as a power filter? Why not block it from getting into your equipment in the first place? Think about it like a network firewall... for the IT pros out there, that may be enough to put it into perspective. Or, maybe think about it like a screen for the window and/or door. You want to let the cool air in, but not the bugs... Are you with me?
I have reviewed many power products, all of them have their own strengths, and all of them introduce their own "audio signature" I like to call it. Sure, designers and engineers out there like to say that they don't alter this so called signature, but it's futile... regardless of what you do, you're causing a difference—whether it be good or bad, it's inevitable. It's akin to placing a cable a mere two inches from where it once was. For those out there that use a turntable as a source, you most likely know what I am talking about. For example, I had some noise being introduced into my phono section that I wasn't even aware of, until I started to archive some vinyl into digital PCM, by using a spectrum analyzer and headphones, it was very clear to me—there was some background noise that I was disregarding. But, now that I've put it under a scope, and fixed it (by relocating some cables that were picking up some interference) the music sounds SO much better to me. Is that just because I'm now aware of it once being there and now it's absent? I guess one can argue that to death. It's that human element that I'm talking about that puts this into the esoteric.
Now onto the segue—introducing the Spiritual Audio VX-12 Power Conditioner. Personally, I'd never heard of Spiritual Audio. I was approached by Bill Glenn, the head designer and president, out of the blue as a result of another article I had recently written. Evidently he appreciated my style (which if you haven't learned by now, is more about the music and how the equipment positively (or negatively) affected my listening sessions. I am not one to really post measurements, as they mean nothing to me (believe it or not, I am an engineer yet when it comes to music listening I have to shut that part of my brain down!) Bill wrote me and offered to send me his top of the line power conditioner (MSRP $10,000), the VX-12, for as long as I needed to really get to know the piece. I can safely say that I abused that a little bit, as I have a 3.5 year old in my life, that this hobby has taken a back seat unfortunately, but Bill was / is extremely patient with me and has really allowed me to enjoy my time without the pressure of having to send it back at a certain time. A hint for those manufacturers reading this, try your best to adapt to this style. While it is inconvenient for you in the beginning, it really allows the writer to adapt and LIVE with the product to really see where it shines and where it doesn't. OK, I digress...
I have a huge appreciation for Power Regenerators, AND Power Conditioners. Please don't be mistaken, these products are almost not even in the same category. Sure, they are altering the power coming into your equipment, but one is not like the other. I LOVE regenerators as they completely regenerate the power, bring it in, convert it to DC, then recreate an AC Sine Wave from DC therefore completely eliminating anything coming in from your wall that is not pure power—however their weakness lies into the power output. If they aren't built big and powerful enough, they can actually inhibit your gear from getting the necessary power for large transients. One MUST use one that is spec'd for your system and gear to really appreciate it. They also generate a lot of heat, and eat up more power than what you were using once before. Power Conditioners, on the other hand, are quite passive in design and use circuitry to "filter" out bad power. These will not have as much as an impact as a Regenerator, but they will offer a great middle ground for those that don't want to risk starving their equipment from the power needed, and/or just don't like the sonic signature of a regenerated AC power source. They are also usually cheaper in price—although this particular unit I've reviewing is in the higher-priced Power Conditioner category. This is one of the things that almost steered me away from this review, it is not an easy dollar amount to swallow for a device that doesn't offer any sort of active power regeneration—until you read about its internal design and the person behind the product...
I had a quick interview with Bill, asking him about how he got to this point in life where he thought it would bring value to the Audiophile market with another power product, which of course requires a quick biography:
"Well I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana and like most audiophiles I tinkered with electronics and speakers in my dad's basement. My first real 1975 system was a Phillips 212 phono player with the Grace and baby Grado cartridge. My first receiver was a Kenwood 40 watt. After high school I joined the Navy as a interior communications electrical technician (IC) stationed in San Diego, CA on the U.S.S. Horne CG-30 (Missile Cruiser). After serving in the Navy I was offered a position to work for the Dept. of Defense at China Lake, CA as an Electronics/Electrical Technician in the field of Radar, GPS, Security, and Telemetry airborne systems in the Range testing division.
Without going into too much detail most of the systems I've worked with in the Navy, had Power conditioning whether it was ship to shore power or F-18 avionics systems and so on. Power conditioning is a major part of military systems. Even our equipment racks are properly earth grounded. Thank God for my grounding and shielding classes! After 30+ years working for the Navy and being an audiophile I couldn't understand why most audio systems didn't have power conditioning and power protection. That's how I got started! Because audio starts at the wall by cleaning up, or conditioning, the unstable 120-V/60-Hz coming down the power lines (especially with all the digital pollution and man made RFI radiation that's in the world today). The wall outlet and the power conditioner are the most important pieces of gear in the audio system and will determine how your system will perform & sound and resolve most of the problems in it. Right now I'm only focusing on power conditioners. There may be a speaker project in the near future. And yes I am an audiophile and my source is digital, but I still love analog/vinyl. Digital has gotten much better but it can't touch the vinyl.
The VX-12 is the top of the line, made in the USA power conditioner in the Spiritual Audio line. It's the Rolls-Royce of the power conditioners. Technically what sets the VX12 apart from other high-end power conditioners is its ability to source tune on the digital and analog front end. Most audio systems are too warm or too bright sounding. Basically the VX-12 will allow the listener to tune-in and bring balance to the system for better: soundstage, dynamics contrast, inner details, 3-dimensionality, high frequency extension, and better video reproduction. And because of the lower noise-floor, overall listening fatigue will be reduced as well.
Also the updated VX-12 comes with the new Furutech GTX-D NCF (R) outlets and IEC NCF (R) input connector. This is pretty cool because now you can plug the whole system into the new GTX-D NCF (R) outlets on the sharper sounding side (marked by a green dot) or the whole system can be plugged into the warmer GTX-D outlets (marked by a red dot). Or you can mix and match your components as you see fit. The VX-12 has two amplifier input outlets; the first outlet next to the corner, has two sockets and is the warmer outlet. The second amplifier outlet has two sockets and is the sharper sounding outlet. The two amplifier outlets on the VX-12 I sent out to Pete are not marked with a red or green dot, but still works the same. The upgraded VX-12 amplifier inputs will be marked with a red and green dot. We also send out two ten amp Furutech fuses for better enhancement. The stock fuses are warmer sounding and the Furutech's are faster and detailed sounding. We like the new Audio Magic fuses also. The VX-12 is very sensitive to power cord upgrades. We like the Cabledyne copper and silver Ref, Anti-Cable Level 3, and the Audio Magic top end power cords. Other cords will work also. Wall outlets we use to tune the VX-12 are the Maestro outlets. Furutech FPX (G) and the GTX-D outlets, other AC outlets will work also. The VX-12 comes with four vibration control spikes. Just unscrew the four 6/32 screws at each corner of the unit and screw in the spikes. The VX-12 can also be vertically mounted behind audio racks (with the outlets facing up).
The VX12 uses no transformers or coils in the signal path to prevent the double-choking effect that can cause power conditioner overloading side effects, time lag, and current limiting. Most of our audio gear already has transformers and big power supplies in them, so there's no need to add more. We also use none of the typical coupling capacitors in the signal path. Our custom power filters are 100% passive and remove all the impurities and artifacts from the alternating current (AC). Our power filters maintain proper impedances while severely reducing the effects of RFI/EMI. Protection, isolation, and performance Enhancement is the name of the game with the VX-12.
The VX-12 also uses advanced Power Factor Correction. Power factor correction corrects the phase angle of the voltage and the current, thus providing voltage and current more in phase with its sine wave. Power factor correction allows for more efficient power delivery. In other words your equipment will perform more efficiently, even in systems with dedicated AC lines and separate breaker boxes and sub-panels."
End of Interview...
I thought it would be best served if Bill told the story, which as you can see he certainly is qualified to be building such devices. More than I can say about some other power filtration devices on the market. I have opened some gear up from some renowned turntable designers, for example, that really just blew me away on how cheaply they were made for what they were priced at.
I find it difficult at times to articulate the differences in sound reproduction that equipment makes, but if I can say anything, there was nothing but music coming from my speakers. No weird noises, tighter bass, and a more focused soundstage. I have had it in my system for many months now and have been spoiled by its riches. It will be hard for it to go back...
Spiritual Audio VX-12