“Power, like sex or air, is only important when you’re not getting any.”
I think this a pretty common feeling amongst cash-strapped audiophiles. The reasons are pretty (psychologically) obvious — if you don’t know, you won’t have to do something about it. And that’s a good thing, especially when you’re broke. Or when the price tag of said item is beyond reach. Yes, in those cases, the ostrich approach is a useful bit of self-preservation. I mean, seriously, it’s just power, right?
Unfortunately, a helpful tool for mental self-defense has little or no bearing on truth. Oh well. The truth? Well, you’re an audiophile, aren’t you? You probably already know this, but yes, power matters. Hell, everything matters (… but not everything matters very much).
Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound introduced me to Silver Circle a couple of years ago. It wasn’t a brand I was familiar with — as far as high-end power-conditioner/distribution went, I’d tried both a PS Audio Pure Power Plant and Pure Power APS on the regenerator side of the fence, and Shunyata on the passive side.
Leaving aside the active/passive debate for now, I settled on a Shunyata Hydra Triton about a year ago for my main system as a means to distribute current to everything that needed power (except the laptop I use a server). It’s an excellent conditioner/distribution system, and every bit the performer I had hoped. With it in my system, the sound quality I’ve been getting has been significantly better than what I was getting straight from the wall, with my various and sundry Alan Maher devices, and it completely outclassed the PS Audio PPP that I’ve since sent on toward my home theater system. In short, I’ve been thrilled with it since Day-1. Now, when I got it last year, that $5,000 unit was their top-of-the-line. Since then, an optional outboard, $5,000, parallel noise cancelling device called a Typhon has been added to the line, taking the combo-pair up to what is SOTA for Shunyata. It is, apparently, “something else entirely”. I wouldn’t know, however as I haven’t had one of those new widgets to play with, though, I admit, I’ve been curious. But I do know that $10,000 for power distribution and conditioning is an incredible investment in your audio system. $10,000 — for power? Wow.
So, when I heard that David Stanard over at Silver Circle Audio was ready to introduce a brand new unit at $9,500, I suppose I was ready for the sticker shock. With Shunyata already there, the question then was: well, what does ten large actually get you — or is this another audiophile snipe hunt? Look, I don’t mean to be crass — I think it’s taken as read that there’s quite a lot on offer in the audio’s high-end that has a sticker that doesn’t map to anything tangible, at least not in the real world, which is one of the reasons I came up with the Julia Rule in the first place. But I’m not hung up on price — price alone doesn’t determine value. Or its lack. If you can achieve something for less, or in some cases radically less, then there’s simply no value in the higher-priced offering — that’s a violation of the Julia Rule. Note that “incredible expense” doesn’t trigger a violation by itself — sometimes, it’s just a fact that you have to pay to play. Which blows. Especially when that cash could have done something interesting, elsewhere. Like a vacation for four in Paris and another in Hawaii. Just saying.
So, color me curious but dubious, and un-inclined to do much about it until my stars re-aligned. So, color me stunned when following a successful debut at RMAF this year, David — almost out of the blue — very generously hooked me up for a month-long side trip down Fantasy Lane with one of his new Tchaik 6 conditioners, and let me tell you this: I am not happy.
First observations — this thing is a tank. Holy squat-thrusts, Batman — this thing weighs a hundred pounds! Okay, maybe not, but 85lbs is still heavier than I’m going to bother testing for you. I threw my back out getting it out of the box. I threw my back out, again, getting it back in the box. Clearly, I’m a giant pussy. But wow, that thing is massive.
There’s a honking-big (and completely silent) toroidal transformer set inside a 12-gauge powdered-coated steel chassis, along with five fancy new “wave stabilizer” modules from High Fidelity Cables‘ Rick Schultz. I have no idea what these stabilizer things are or what it is they actually do, other than the obvious — they’re magnetic and they reduce noise on the current being delivered by the system. There are two on the input side (positive and negative), two on the output side, and one on the ground. Super-dense Terrastone footers from edenSound provide the mechanical grounding/isolation. Four pairs of Furutech GT-XD receptacles provide eight SOTA plugs for all your gear, and a brand-new top-of-the-line Vesuvius II power cord with updated/upgraded Furutech connectors rounds out the package. That last is quite a score — no power cord comes with the competing two-box unit from Shunyata, and the price for their top-of-the line power cord (which, one might naturally presume would pair well with their top-of-the-line power conditioner system) starts at $3k.
Like the Triton, the Tchaik 6 is non-limiting; I’ve run it with a giant Plinius SA-Reference and Pass Labs XA-60.5 monos (both Class A), and a variety of tube amplifiers, including a little 45 Cu integrated from Electra Fidelity and several different 300b amps from BorderPatrol. No problems, no clipping, no restrictions — in fact, I got something quite different.
What I did hear was consistent, if not blatantly obvious, and the characterization I’ll put forward is in comparison with my reference Shunyata Triton. Getting to the point, it didn’t matter what I was playing. It didn’t matter what I was “listening for”. What I heard was deep tone.
If that doesn’t mean anything to you, I’m not surprised. I suppose I could just tell you that the main effect, on introducing the Tchaik 6 into my reference system, was a deepening of the sound-stage, that it was like a move from 2-D to 3-D, but that might give you false impression that it wasn’t already wonderfully 3-D. Which it was/is. But with the Tchaik, it was more so. Which is problematic, because what does “more 3-D than it was before” even mean? Clearly, I need a better vocabulary. Hence, “deep tone”.
I’ve made the analogy before, between those improvements that can be heard in an audio system and the differences you can see in a photograph when the photographer uses a different F-stop. If you’ll pardon the aside, an F-stop is a function of how big the camera’s aperture is when the shot was taken — that is, it tells you how much light will fall on the sensor or film during the instant the iris was open. Counter-intuitively, a larger F-stop = smaller aperture and therefore less light, but rather relevantly for our discussion, this also happens to give you a better depth of field. Conversely, a smaller F-stop = more light, but renders the image with a shallower depth of field. In photography, a small F-stop can do neat things like blurring out a distracting background and creating a rather interesting, if artistic, image — but one that isn’t terribly realistic in its rendering of the world (just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there). Check out the two images below to see the differences between a low F-stop and a high one — and to make my point here, with audio, take a look at the tower in the background in both.
I’ll argue that some audio equipment just lets you “see” a bit farther into the image — almost exactly like a photographer using a higher F-stop. But that said, I also need to say that the differences weren’t night-and-day — the analogy with the F-stop only goes so far. I think of it more as the difference between F/11 and F/22; instead of a blurred-out background suddenly resolving into perfect crystalline clarity, it was more like faces resolving into friends. Said another way, the sound stage was there, already set, and already beautifully dimensional. But now, as more of the image fell into focus, I heard a bit more of the character each of the elements in the sound stage. They seemed more natural, more fully fleshed, more organic, more … in-focus. Every system I tried it with, every combo of gear I hooked into it, every time, the Tchaik just added this luscious sense of vividness. Of “deep tone”.
It was really cool.
I’d really, really like to have one — or two — and it’s pretty obvious why Jeff Catalano shows with Silver Circle at every audio show he goes to. It’s like a cheat. A last-minute polish. That one thing that can throw a world-class system just completely over the top.
An “extra” ace, hidden up your sleeve.
Look — I can’t justify this kind of expense for you. It’s an incredible outlay, I readily acknowledge that. But if you have a system that can support a $9,500 upgrade, a Silver Circle Tchaik 6 shouldn’t be on the list — it is the list.
I’m not going to argue about the price, how it got there, or why. None of that matters — regardless of the math, ten large is still a lot to ask, even when the value is there. The fact is that most systems wouldn’t warrant that kind of price on any single component. But unlike certain $10k speaker cables I could think of, you don’t need an ultra-resolving mega-system to hear, understand and appreciate what David has got going here. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.
Parting shot: the name may seem a bit odd — “Tchaik”? No, that’s not a misprint. Think Tchaikovsky, and you’re off and running:
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote 6 symphonies, the sixth of which was also named the “Pathetique.” The third movement of this symphony encompasses all that is great in music: delicate strings and woodwinds, flowing sweeping strings, powerful low brass and percussion. It is the only time I have heard and seen an audience almost burst into cheers at the conclusion of a single movement that was not the finale.
Look, I’m hardly one to tell a designer that now is the time to rest on his laurels, but jeez. I do not want to hear what David thinks actually betters this unit. That would be … catastrophic … to my budget.