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Music Matters 11: AudioQuest, Bowers & Wilkins, Classé

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by Mohammed Samji

Definitive Audio in Seattle, WA.

AudioQuest

Let’s be honest, unless you’re an electrical engineer (like I am), power probably isn’t very interesting. But somehow Garth Powell, a lifelong audio engineer from AudioQuest managed to keep attendees on the edge of their seats as he jumped up and down about the AC power going into your system for a full 11 minutes (yes, I was timing him). At the end he was out of breath, panting, and if I’d had a fresh bottle of water I definitely would have handed it to him, along with an ovation. That mans has passion! I tried to find some analogies to compare him to, but “intensely passionate” returned search results that were umm… ok moving on.

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The short version. The power grid is noisy. It gets impacted by noise from our appliances, computers, servers, wireless devices etc. Garth believes that your audio signal can be lost, masked, or highly distorted by the vast levels of noise riding along the AC power lines that feed your audio components.

The challenge is how do you clean up your AC Power without limiting current? Over the last 3 years, the focus has been on how to address this problem.

Introducing: the AudioQuest Niagara!

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What separates the AudioQuest Niagara from other Power Conditioners is its ability to create a current reservoir. Garth explained that the Niagara can provide up to 90amps of peak current reserve. The current reserve is ready to support those fast transients that make your audio system engaging. Queue that rim shot on the snare drum!

The current reservoir feature is supported on 4 of the 12 outlets on the Niagara.

The AudioQuest website describes this as:

The Niagara 7000 uses our patented AC Ground Noise-Dissipation System, the world’s first Dielectric-Biased AC Isolation Transformers, and the widest bandwidth-linearized noise-dissipation circuit in the industry. Our unique passive/active Transient Power Correction Circuit features an instantaneous current reservoir of over 90 amps peak, specifically designed for today’s current-starved power amplifiers. Most AC power products featuring “high-current outlets” merely minimize current compression; the Niagara 7000 corrects it.

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How does the Niagara sound?

Garth played a demo track 2 ways. First with the Classé CA-M300 amplifiers plugged into the wall, and the second time plugged into the Niagara. In both cases all source components were plugged into the Niagara (Classé CP-800 & Apple Macbook Pro).

How did it sound? It was definitely better with the Classé amplifiers connected via the Niagara. The backgrounds were “more black”. I also perceived greater dynamic punch, and almost as much as an octave on the top and bottom end.

The verdict: I believe more listening time is required, but it definitely caught my interest.

Bowers & Wilkins

B&W is in a good place. It’s their 50th anniversary, and they are in the middle of the biggest launch in their company’s history as they roll out the 800 Series Diamond D3 generation of speakers.

In the past 6 months, they have already released the B&W 805 D3, 804 D3, 803 D3, 802 D3 speakers.

But one actor is missing, the flagship B&W 800 D3 speaker. Although it hasn’t been released, B&W brought a prototype to Music Matters 11. Attendees were the first ever to hear it outside the factory! It will launch in July 2016 with an estimated price of ~ $30,000.

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Ok, what’s different between the B&W 800 D2 and upcoming B&W 800 D3?

Everything! Dave Baker explained that there are 868 total new elements. Only 3 parts remain the same from the prior generation. Specifically, the diamond dome tweeter (with a new enclosure), the speaker binding posts, and one of the capacitors in the cross-over.

A big change is that long-standing usage of the bright yellow Kevlar cone is gone!

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Over the course of 8 years of R&D for the D3, they found a better material. B&W calls it “Continuum”. It is a woven material like Kevlar, which helps break up the standing waves similar to Kevlar in the past, but does it better.

How did it sound?

My observation over the years is that B&W speakers have a signature sound, and listeners either love it, or it’s not for them.

During my 20 minutes of listening to the prototype 800 D3 speakers, I didn’t feel that way. Instead I heard something different. Something more neutral, refined, and extremely dynamic … I really liked it.

Dave Nauber of Classé Audio was the DJ at this point, and apparently he loves Beyoncé … those crazy guys from Montreal. He played a live track that probably made a few new Beyoncé fans in the room — it was engaging and dynamic. It fully demonstrated the speakers’ low octave capacity, showing speed, texture and ease. The low-frequency drivers almost did not move, making the speakers seem as though they were on an easy afternoon stroll. The combination of the B&W 800 D3 with the Classé amplification was a great match.

Another memorable track from Lhasa de Sela. The imaging was fabulous. A beautiful Xylophone on the left, Lhasa in the dead center, and background percussion providing wonderful low-frequency. The balancing across the top and bottom was impressive, with no masking of the mid-range.

If this is the performance now, with a just prototype, I think the 800 D3 will be the speaker to hear this summer.

Get your Occasional now

2 Comments on Music Matters 11: AudioQuest, Bowers & Wilkins, Classé

  1. I agree Garth is a fantastic designer. I show the Niagara in my store and I have also purchased one unit for my personal use. It’s that good.

  2. Tracy Harbur // March 9, 2016 at 1:10 PM //

    I have had the Niagara in my system for 1month and would not go back. Beat out my Shunyata in transients and decay. No question about it!

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