January 2000Quantum Products Symphony Power-Line Conditioner
by Doug Blackburn
The vast majority of audiophiles have had no training in physics beyond the classical model, so there is a big void out there when it comes to understanding the physics of audio beyond the classical model. One problem audiophiles have is assuming that classical physics and classical AC-power theory explain all there is to know about audio and AC power/signals. I keep looking for books that somehow tie more modern physics to audio, but I continue to come up with nothing. If one of you out there reading this happens to be a quantum physicist and audiophile, please write a book about how quantum physics and audio relate (or dont relate). Were waiting! Specifically, quantum electrodynamics would probably offer explanations for many audio-related issues that are "impossible" but audible.
Nonetheless, Quantum Products has forged ahead in spite of the absence of any directly supporting documentation and has developed a product that they believe applies quantum principles to high-end audio. Without any documentation of how audio might benefit from the application of quantum physics or quantum electrodynamics to solving known or unknown audio problems, I cant tell you whether Quantum Productss PLC is applying sound scientific principles or not. The best Ill be able to do is tell you what the manufacturer claims and what I hear. Youll have to use that information as you see fit.
Could you describe a symphony?
A physical description of the Quantum Products Symphony is probably in order first. There are two pieces: a petite wall-wart power supply and the small Symphony "box," which is 5 1/2"W x 5"D x 1 1/2"H. The extruded aluminum Symphony box is finished in black. On the back of the Symphony is a connector for the plug from the wall-wart power supply and nothing else. On the front panel there is only a power LED. The Symphony is on all the time when it is plugged in. You dont connect any of your audio components to the Symphony in any way.
Looking inside the Symphony box you find a single high-quality circuit board populated with perhaps a dozen inexpensive electronic components. Most of the real estate on the board is empty. What the Symphony does relies on the parts inside, but the parts inside dont represent all of what Quantum Products is selling. Quantum Products is selling Quantum Resonance Technology (QRT); this is what those components inside the box are claimed to do to the electricity in and around your home. The components inside the Symphony box would not produce the QRT effect without being "treated" by Quantum Products. The Symphony "box" is just a carrier for QRT. Quantum Products could have gone into the PLC business, placing the Symphony hardware inside the PLC and selling it for $800 to $2000. But they went another way -- supply something that can reliably deliver the QRT effect and keep the price low enough that it isnt a great burden for consumers.
Quantum Products has this to say about the Symphony and QRT:
We employ principles of physics and quantum theory to approach the problem of electromagnetic noise. The [QRT] technology utilizes an electromagnetic material processing method to influence the conductive behavior of electrons within electrical conductors. This process neutralizes a fundamental disorder in material structures at the subatomic level by exposing them to a "sustained resonance" of a high degree of order. "Sustained resonance" means that structures vibrate at a frequency natural to them. As a result, the efficiency and performance of the material structures increase and thereby alleviate negative side effects.
In the case of electricity, this "proprietary" technology makes coherent the random, chaotic motion of the electrons. Once made coherent, the electrons remain that way. As a result they do not become subject to random field effects such as radiated or induced EMFs, and can also sustain the flow of information at the quantum level.
It is [hypothesized] that a synergism of interaction between the atoms of the house wiring (and of connected electrical devices) and the electrons in the current stream flowing through them takes place. This should lead to fewer inelastic scattering events for the electrons and thus less emission of helical electromagnetic photons and greater fidelity of the information carried by the electron current.
In other words, certain laws of quantum mechanics predict that if the coherent electrons come into contact with the incoherent electrons in home electricity, those incoming electrons will behave coherently also. Within a few minutes, all of the electrons in your home will exhibit the coherent behavior of the electrons in the Symphony's circuitry. This coherent behavior lowers the noise floor of the electricity, and thus the noise floor of your audio/video system.
Translation: you plug one or two Symphonies into your wall. Because of the treatment applied to the Symphony circuit, the components in the Symphony induce a change in the behavior of electrons in the wiring in your home. The effect is "conducted" throughout local wiring, including all the wiring that supplies power to your audio or video components -- even the wiring inside your audio components themselves. This effect eliminates "electron noise" and makes the AC less susceptible to having external noise sources re-introduce various forms of noise to the AC lines. This sounds impossible or at least improbable if you consider only classical physics. There are, according to Quantum Products, quantum mechanical properties of atoms and specifically of electrons that permit a product like the Symphony to act on electrons to produce the results you get. As we will soon see, there are indeed audible and visible results from using the Symphony in your music and home-theater systems.
Quantum Productss description of what they do to the Symphony components sounds an awful lot like applying a very strong magnetic field to the circuit board. Equipment exists to do that very thing -- to generate very strong, very focused magnetic fields. You can vary the field strength, you can vary the field "shape" (sine, sawtooth, square, etc.) and you can vary the frequency of the field "shape." You can also reverse the poles of the field at various frequencies. Of course, the existence of this kind of equipment does not prove Quantum Productss claims for how the Symphony works. It only offers a possible insight to whats behind the curtain.
All right already! What does it do?
During listening evaluations, it was clear that the Symphonies -- I used two of them -- were indeed doing something. The hardest part of this review was assessing exactly what it was they did and how to quantify it so you would have an accurate picture of the degree of change. Lets tackle the degree of change first. Its not huge, not dramatic, and it will not blow you away. However, the modest change the Symphony makes will infuse itself into your psyche and make it difficult to enjoy the sound of your system when you remove the Symphony. I would place the degree of change in the same ballpark with moderate-cost passive power-line conditioners, an interconnect improvement or power-cord upgrade. I suppose if you think those changes are huge, you will also think the difference the Symphony makes is huge. But I dont categorize those things as huge myself. Changing from your old college JBL speakers to new Magnepans is a huge change in my book. But in spite of the "not huge" nature of the change, once you hear what happens, your reaction is likely to be "I want my system to sound like that all the time."
The moment you connect the Symphony there is an immediate change in sound and image quality. Over the next few minutes, you pick up most of the rest of the change, perhaps 95% of the total. For another 15 minutes the last 5% slowly appears. When you disconnect the Symphony, the sound and image quality revert to their previous state instantly. When you reconnect the Symphony, the same startup schedule will apply. It was pretty difficult to pin this particular aspect of the Symphony down, but I felt it was important to note this so that people would realize that there is something going on that is different than changing a wire, for example.
What the Symphony does for sound
Sound-wise you get more of that "silence" thing you read about when people connect good PLC equipment to their systems for the first time. Even if you are already using PLCs, the background with the Symphony gets even quieter. Even if you are using a PS Audio Power Plant, adding a Symphony or two will lower the apparent noise floor even more. The soundstage is cleaned up in ways that you never realized were problems prior to hearing the Symphony. All vocals have better dimensional relief within the soundstage. Each voice stands out clearly with great presence. Grouped voices become much more distinguishable as a group of individual voices. Even if you think your system does this very well now, you will hear improvements that will surprise you. Every stringed instrument from violin to guitar to piano loses a coating of "fuzz" that was on every note, a coating you didnt realize was there until you heard your system with the Symphony. Imagine the string sound being more polished and pure with the Symphony in use. Likewise, horns of all types lose a slight harshness that is replaced with a pure bell-like tone -- this is something Ive since noticed when listening to horns played live without amplification. They do indeed have a bell-like resonance down under the main notes being played. Lastly, as with most every improvement in background silence, every other sound the system makes seems just a little more detailed and pure. Interestingly, you dont need any particular reference recordings to hear these changes. Any recording you play will return these dividends. Even remasters of old mono 78rpm records are improved in the same ways.
Video-image quality improved a little bit across the board. There was one parameter that was easier to see than the others: improvement in dimensionality. This is most apparent in scenes with great depth of field or when something like a sharply focused face is displayed in front of an out-of-focus background. Star-fields are rendered more convincingly and have slightly blacker backgrounds and more finely rendered dots. Besides DVD and laserdiscs, on a lark I tried VHS tapes and cable-TV signals to see whether the Symphony would improve lower-quality video sources. Yep. You see the same improvements even with low-quality sources. Of course, you start well down the image quality curve and only get small improvements, but the improvements are indisputably there. As with the audio improvements, the video improvements are universal and independent of any specific video source or program.
When you connect one or two Symphonies to your main system, every other video display in the house looks better than you are used to seeing. The difference isnt huge, and many will not notice it without consciously looking for it. But if you know what the images on your computer monitor look like or on the TV in your bedroom, both will get better when you connect the Symphony. Likewise, audio elsewhere in the house improves also; the kitchen radio sounds a little better, the TV sound in the family room is a little better, the rap coming from your 13-year-olds room sounds better (as if that were possible!) -- you name it. QRT is indiscriminate, it seems. Whatever it does that makes the sound and/or image improve in your reference system, the same improvements happen everywhere around your house. Like in the main system, the improvements arent massively obvious, but if you are paying attention, they arent hard to notice either.
This whole thing sounds familiar
If youve been around the high-end for a while you might notice a striking similarity to the description of how the Tice Clock or Tices TPT process work. TPT is applied to most current Tice products. There are differences though. Tices TPT effect is much more gradual at coming on. You dont hear much change initially. TPT builds slowly for a full 20 to 30 minutes. Quantum Productss QRT seems stronger than Tices TPT effect. Id estimate the Symphony gives three to four times the change you get from Tices TPT effect. If you own Tice TPT-treated products now and are considering a Symphony or two, consider this: when I connected a Tice Power Block III Signature Rev. B at the same time the two Quantum Products Symphonies were connected, I got an annoying bright/brittle character to the sound. Neither one of these produced this kind of sound separately, but when they were combined the result was definitely not a good thing.
Two last checks
To make sure it was really the Symphonies causing the improvements in sound and video quality, I disconnected the power supplies from the Symphony boxes. This left the wall-wart power supplies connected to the AC power outlet with no Symphony connected to the wall-warts. The improvements disappeared, and I heard/saw absolutely no change in the sound/image quality compared to not using the Symphony at all. This test reveals that the components inside the Symphony are indeed responsible for the change in sound and image quality. Connecting the wall-wart power supply to the Symphony box causes the improvements to return.
I was sent two of the Symphony devices under the assumption that my medium-large house and moderately large audio/video system would sound and look better with two Symphonies rather than a single unit. Of course, no review of the Symphony would be complete without a one-versus-two comparison. And the winner is two. Man, I hate when that happens, but theres no denying it. In fact, in my system, two Symphonies sound just about exactly two times better than one Symphony. Video-image quality has also just about two times the improvement you get from one Symphony. However, if your system is not very complex, one Symphony should suffice.
All symphonies must end, Maestro!
While the degree of improvement/change is modest, it is all on the upside and difficult to give up once you have heard it. The improvement is one of those things that you acclimate to rather quickly. Three days later you forget why you liked the Symphonies in the first place. So you disconnect them to be sure they are really doing something. The moment you hear the system without them you are struck. "Oh yeah! Thats what the system used to sound like!" You just want to put the Symphonies back in the system. Not having the Symphonies means having to listen to the system the way it used to sound, definitely not my first choice. The Symphonies will remain in my system; music and movies just arent quite right without them.
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