May 16, 2011

Pristine and Energetic – Running Springs Audio’s Duke Power Conditioner

This is my first time crossing path with Running Springs Audio. I saw it when I visited Ultimate Reference during their opening, and they graciously offered the Duke for me to listen to in my system.

I read somewhere where somebody said that we are actually listening to the electricity in our home. He is right. Our music signal is kept throughout the hifi chain as electrical signal, only until the very last step is the electrical signal converted to kinetic energy and then to sound at the loudspeakers. So it goes that the better quality the raw ingredient, i.e., the electricity supply, the better will be the end product, i.e., the sound quality.

Hence, we see now the great proliferation of power supply related products in hifi, with the use of myriad technologies.

Running Springs Audio (RSA) talks about its own technology and its construction approach on its website as follows:

“Running Springs Audio power devices do not use on/off switches, meters, lights, or dials, components that are generally known create noise in the line rather than remove it! After an extensive development process, RSA selected a mixture of passive voltage regulation with a differential topology and exceedingly high-quality proprietary components. This yields a product that, actually, surpassed the original three design criteria of proper voltage regulation, noise cancellation, and protection ….”

Its says its building blocks consist of:
* Non-ferrous high-quality aluminum chassis, no magnetic interference, or damaging field effect which can destroy inner detail, pace and roll-off high frequencies
* Internal Cardas wiring
* Proprietary high-frequency CNDI & DMS passive filter lowers noise floor without compromising dynamics and detail
* Proprietary platinum foil capacitors custom-designed and hand-trimmed to precision-matched +/- 1% tolerances
* Proprietary synthetic matrix hand wound inductors, far superior in resonance control and sound quality than the current generation of inductors on the market that use iron or air.
* Includes carbon fiber feet for isolation and vibration control, superior detail and greater dynamic contrast
* Internal carbon fiber resonance vibration control
* High current, sonically invisible circuit breaker that will not diminish current flow and offers unparalleled protection “

The Duke from the rear, note the 3 carbon fiber cones resting on top of the main chassis

The Duke is a heavy little fella. With a size not much bigger than a loaf of bread, it weighs 24lbs (11kg). Usage is simple, there is an inlet, which requires a 20A power plug, and 2 American style outlets. There is no switch, which RSA says has an adverse effect on sound quality. There is a circuit breaker, which will trip when anything goes wrong. RSA says that the Duke can cater to power need of up to 2,400 watts, which in most cases is more than sufficient for our power amplifier or monoblocks. The list price of the Duke with the Mongoose powercord is listed for RM9,187.50.

There was no more spare space on my hifi rack, so I decided to sit the Duke on the floor. RSA has thoughtfully supply 3 pieces of spike, which are made of carbon fibre. Using them under the Duke made a small but significant difference to the sound quality. With the spikes, the soundstage was more stable and the sound was a little more coherent.

The RSA Mongoose powercord that is bundled together with the Duke

I routed the 2 powercords to my monoblocks to the Duke. RSA also bundled in their own Mongoose powercord, the 20A version, to connect the Duke to the wall. The Mongoose was said to be developed in conjunction with Cardas. Indeed on the cable jacket it was written “Cardas Golden Reference”. RSA said it is the best match with its products. Well, I think with the 20A powercord bundled in it is pretty good value. You would have saved a couple of thousand Ringgits and some effort to search and purchase a suitable one for the Duke.

As the Duke continued to run in over a few days, the sound changed from slightly rugged to something more refined and smooth. After a week of continuous use, its performance stabilized.
The effect of the Duke in the system was easy to hear. Two things became obvious. The first was the quietness of the system, as if a layer of haze was removed, whether music was playing or not. The sound was also exceedingly clean and clear, making listening effortless and untiring.

The other was that on first impression the system sounded louder, I had to turn the volume a step down. After more listening, I realized that the system sounded more dynamic, it ‘jumped’ more freely, thus giving the impression that the volume was higher. There was also more energy in the sound, as if the musicians played and sang with greater commitment. The sound had more verve and the performances became more enjoyable. On classical music, the timpani whacked more forcefully, the overall sound was richer and had a good analogue feel; the scale expanded and the stage was more enveloping.

Just for my own confirmation, I plugged the monoblocks back into my Shunyata Hydra 8 (old version). It made the transient edge a little softer, the sound was also a mite lethargic comparatively. The Duke in contrast gave the system a shot in the arm, and everything perked up.

The effect of the Duke on the bass performance was something to behold. The bass became more solid, it held better as it went lower, it was weighty and much better organized (as opposed to some flabbiness without the Duke).

Was there any downside to the Duke’s performance? In the weeks that I had it in my system I could not come up with any. Every time I took it out to re-acquaint myself with the sound before, then putting it back in, I always preferred having the Duke in. Well, the one thing I can think of is that the Duke will not help you hide the system or the recording’s flaws. There is no added warmth or fuzziness to make the sound cuddly. There is just pristine, clean, clear sound emanating from your system...

Just like the name of the company that makes this – Running Springs.

Running Springs Audio is carried by Ultimate Reference, contact 03-77314999

No comments: