Spiritual Audio VX-9 Power Conditioner
James Darby, Mike Peshkin & Dr. John Richardson
Part 1 – James Darby
At Stereomojo, we’re always skeptical about, well, pretty much everything. We want to know exactly the same things that you want to know: does it work, and if so, how well. But we’re never more suspicious than when reviewing products that are considered “accessories” by much of the audio community. Line conditioners are one such product.
Bill Glenn is the designer and owner of Spiritual Audio. He has spent 30 plus years in the electronic field and reviewing audio equipment and says his love of music grew from a hobby to a passion. We can relate to that. He fine-tuned his craft in the U.S. Navy as an Electronic tech working with Aircraft Radar, GPS and Real-Time Telemetry. As a civilian working for the Department of Defense, he noticed that the quality and care that is put into audio equipment is the key to a long lasting and superior product.
“One of Spiritual Audio’s design goals was to create synergy, or what we call component matching”, he told us. “The key is to find the right parts/conductors that match each application and work from there. We believe in high current ac cables and power conditioners that are truly high-end at affordable prices. Not everyone can make it to a live performance so we decided to try and bring the live performance to you in your own living room”.
Perhaps most importantly, Bill is, like you and me, a devoted audiophile.
About the product he says, “This entry-level 2500 watts/20-ampere device provides excellent performance, boasting 560 joules/30,000 amperes surge capacity with advanced power factor correction. The VX-9 uses state of the art passive filter technology that eliminates the use of coils and transformers. There is no current limiting or transient delay. No sonic coloration or loss of high frequencies. We use a combination of brass, pure copper, and gold cryogenic outlets with isolated filtering for analog and digital components”.
The idea is, since electricity goes through hundreds of different transformers, splices, switch boxes, miles of wire and who knows what else, it is full of electrical garbage and artifacts. If you feed yourself nothing but Big Macs, fries and Budweiser for a year while smoking 4 packs a day, your body will deteriorate and not last long. And if you ate a great diet but drank nothing but filthy water, you’d have similar results. Billions of dollars are spent each year on bottled water and filtration systems for the home. So, why would you want to feed your precious hi-end stereo system nothing but garbage all the time?
Unthinkable! Clean that current up! Plug your system into a box that filters all the crap out and guards against surges that can kill your gear, too. That’s what this product claims to do.
Bill also claims, “The VX-9 produces a huge soundstage with killer tight bass and an extremely transparent mid-range. The smooth top-end is very detailed and dynamic, just like its big brother the VX-12.”
Well, we’ll be the judges of that.
SOCKET TO ME!
As you can see, there are eight sockets on the back. I asked Bill a couple of questions whose answers I thought you would like to know, since I would, too.
JD: How would a prospective buyer go about determining if the VX 9 will handle their system components in terms of power needs, especially amplifier power? Is there any limitation to the amount of wattage that can be used with it? That also goes for cumulative power in terms of other components such as CD players, DACs and so forth.
Bill: Yes, the VX-9 max wattage is 2500 watts/20 amperes power/current capacity. You just add up the wattage from each component, amplifier, preamp, CD player, DACs, TV monitor and so on. The power surge capacity is 420 joules/30,000 amperes. Also amplifiers that exceed the wattage rating should be plugged right into the wall outlet with a separate power cord, and all the other components plugged into the VX-9. The VX-9 input power is 125 VAC 50/60HZ with two 250 VAC 10 amp fuses.
JD: There are 8 power outlets on the back with different colors. Can you explain their specific uses in terms of what you recommend to be plugged in and where (and why). Also, what sonic differences they would make.
Bill: The colors are not important because the outlet inputs are labeled above the outlet. Looking at the back of the unit from left to right: Digital-1 outlet. Digital-2 outlet. Analog outlet. Amplifier outlet. Each outlet has 2 inputs. There are 4 outlets and a total of 8 inputs. Also each outlet has been specifically tested for each application, like digital CD/DACs, Analog low power/front end equipment, and power Amplifiers. We use three different types of outlets to get the sound we want. Kind of like tube rolling. But I do it with ac outlets. Slick ha.
Also “Digital Source Tuning” works by switching your digital front end into the digital 1 and digital 2 outlets. The digital-1 outlet is next to the IEC input and fuses and sounds sharp and detailed. The digital-2 outlet sounds warm, rich and tube like. This allows the listener to tame, tune or tailor the sound the way they want. I use the digital-2 outlet because my CD player has silver output wires and sounds a little sharp and a little light. With my tube CD player I use the digital-1 outlet for a little more kick in the low end and a little bit more sparkle on the top end.
After a 24 hour checkout burn-in period, the VX-9 is sealed and should not be opened for safety reasons. We also send out the VX-9 spec sheet in the box with each unit, and I will also post the specs on the website.
The VX-9 is made in the USA and comes with a 3 year warranty.
With a product such as this, I thought it would be most informative to get the opinions of two different reviewers with two difference systems in two different houses. Let’s see what they have to say.
Fine equipment made for thoughtful aficionados is, at times, quite flashy. Pesonally, I like the industrial look. That's not to say the Spiritual Audio VX9 doesn't look good, it looks great! But it is designed to WORK, not look pretty.
The work it does IS pretty, however.
We’ve all seen the ads hyping devices like this and what dramatic improvements they can make in your system. Like you, I’ve wondered “do they really work some magic, or make any improvements at all”?!
I would like to say the Spiritual Audio VX-9 made the most impressive change I've ever heard in my system,.. I’d like to say that, but I'd be lying – or, as other publications might say, telling the truth. However, the truth is that the improvement is so dramatic that no one, absolutely no one could ever believe that a power conditioner could (and I mean this literally!) wreak havoc in my musical mind; improve the sound of my systems, and make me want MORE of the same...a return to these days of staying up really late and listening to "just one more side!"
I have never heard the muscular changes (that's the word entering my mind with every CD or LP I play) that the VX-9 did in either of my two systems. The vintage system, collectively, outclassed any modern equipment I've had in THAT set-up. The improvement in my big system...well, I'm still trying to figure that one out.
The hums and buzzes that had plagued both systems for a number of months disappeared. Not being an electrical engineer or a household electrician, I can't definitively say why, but I imagine the grounding techniques used in the VX-9 erased all the bugs. RAID! I'm not sure whether it's crawling, flying, biting, gnawing or sucking or what...but those bugs were eliminated.
This is what the designer had to say about the elimination of hums using the VX-9: The VX-9 has isolated passive line-noise filters for each outlet and each outlet is properly chassis grounded. All this is done to reduce or eliminate ground loops which can otherwise inject considerable "hum" into your equipment.
Music became easier to listen to! Lyrics more easily understood; instruments differing from each other (violin or viola?) easily discerned in every recording I played.
Instead of listening to a record that is quickly becoming a war horse, Famous Blue Raincoat), I played Jennifer Warnes' The Well, the Cisco recording. Warnes’ voice has always astounded me and of course, still does, but on this recording I was astounded by the bass information. I’d heard it before, but any more than what the VX-9 wrought and I would have gotten ill…my chest hurt from the pounding I received!
Ok. So it made a significant difference in my main system, but let me diverge down a path less traveled; the vintage system. The Scott 222C and Planex planar speakers have a wonderful warm, VINTAGE sound. A bit bloated in the lower mids and of course, limited lows from a small planar speaker. The VX-9 gave the music, for a total lack of any other word, power; a Charles Atlas course for us old-timers. Far more articulate, firmer foundation from the music's inception until it ended...A strong, forceful conductor rather than a Romantic one.
The sound from the big system was similar; everything seemed to have more meat...lean, clean, fighting machine meat.
Voices are more articulate, individual instruments rather than a stew of the entire orchestra, yet still combining to make music as it was written, as it was intended.
I’ve been enthralled with Tabula Rasa (ECM) ever since I bought the LP. The music speaks to me like no music has done in many, many years. I thought I knew the LP, its sound and every note. The VX-9 doesn’t paint a picture, it doesn’t “clean windows,” what it does is allow your equipment to ROAR when needed, whisper delicately or seductively when the composer and players do so.
Listening to the absolutely wonderful Direct Grace LP, Mark Cosgrove on the VPI, I was once again, shocked at how beautifully recorded the Direct Grace LPs from Soundsmith really are. Cosgrove’s fingers fly over the strings of his guitar…lightning. Although I’ve played the LP a number of times, I never heard how articulate Cosgrove’s music can be. Each and every string, plucked and released; no slurring of the sound, no mush!
The VX-9 is that type of component that raises the level of all others in your system. Not by augmentation but the fact that the power delivered is so clean, so pure, that all of your gear benefits…and of course, so do your ears.
Every piece of music I heard, whether streamed from my computer in the smaller system, or from the CDP in the big system, sounded…not new…REFRESHED!
Drums! Definitely something you have got to hear if you’re a Rocker. I’d always thought the more delicate type music, O.K., intellectual would be improved by great power cleansing. DELITANTE! All music is served like a king with the use of a great power conditioner such as the VX-9. I was shocked with all of it! (I’m recidivating, aren’t I?) I have never heard such a deep blackness from my system with any of the power conditioners I've used and...I can't think of any I've reviewed that did, either, although I had been impressed with the Grant Fidelity, and bought the BrickWalls.
But, although they did great things, blackness and cleanliness for instance, the difference is not simply a night and day change, it is, for lack of any other description, state of the art, MAGNIFICENT state of the art!
I listened to quite a few CDs, and although the Eastern Electric DAC makes CDs sound the best I’ve ever expected from any source, the addition of the VX-9 made (here comes the warhorse) Jennifer Warnes’ voice on Famous Blue Raincoat step out from any digital domain and be delivered with a warmth that previously was vinyl’s sacrosanct domain.
I am astounded, but let’s see what fellow Stereomojo reviewer Dr. John Richardson thinks.
Thanks, Mike. Happy to take it from here.
First off, I thought that the name “Spiritual Audio” seemed kind of funny; sort of like a company that makes PA systems for houses of worship. After thinking on it a bit more, I began to realize that the name isn’t so strange after all. I was once many years ago enlightened on the difference between the terms “religious” and “spiritual” by a dear friend who was a deep follower of eastern religions; she claimed that while I wasn’t very religious, she thought of me as deeply spiritual... I took it as a complement. After much thinking, and armed with an old school liberal arts education, I have come to think of spirituality as a deeper understanding of our complex universe and our place in it... our humanness, if you will. We become spiritual by being quietly contemplative and using our senses. Have you ever seen a baby’s first smile, observed a sunset over the open water, or met a family of deer at dusk on an abandoned golf course? I have seen/done all of these things, and each left me with an emotional connection to the moment; something that made me more human.
Many of us practice spirituality by listening. I love liturgical four-part singing. I do it, and I also like to hear it performed. But it doesn’t even have to be that... Go outside and listen to the birds and insects on a quiet summer evening, and you’ll know what I mean. I remember being extremely moved, almost to tears, the first time I heard Ralph Vaughan Williams‘ Serenade to Music, live in a relatively small concert venue. I also enjoy listening to this piece as a recorded work and am still similarly moved by its beauty, but not quite to the degree of hearing/seeing it live. Maybe it was the newness of the piece, or maybe it was the visible emotion of the soloists, but that first hearing is the one that really stands out. I’d wager, though, that more of that initial emotion, at least for me, could be retrieved as the recorded performance converges with my memory of the live one.
Which brings me back to the topic at hand: audio equipment. In this case, Spiritual Audio’s VX-9 power conditioner.
All I can say is “wow.” I took the device home, plugged my gear into it, and started listening. My first thought was something along the lines of “Is this really my system?” Everything was bigger and better: the soundstage, the weight and timbre of voices and instruments, the precise location of performers in the soundstage, and as Mike said earlier, the blackness of the background from which all of this emerged. It was revelatory, much like my first hearing of Serenade to Music. And spiritual. I definitely found myself connecting with the music and the performers on a deeper level; a more human level.
I’ve played with lesser such devices and have slept more soundly at night knowing that my gear was protected from deadly power surges. Maybe they even made things sound better, which was an added bonus. I just wasn’t prepared for what the VX-9 did for my system. It’s definitely the solid foundation upon which the rest of my system is built. Think of it that way, and one can see the logic of the investment.
James Darby: It works! At about $3,000, it's out of reach for some of you. If you've spent $5,000 or more (even a lot more) on your system, you may want to hear what this does. However, you MUST do some math; specicifically, addition. You need to add up all the power that your components draw (not speakers of course) to see if the VX-9 is capable of handling your system, especially power amps. If you have any doubts, by all mean drop designer Bill Glenn an email and he'll help you figure it out. His warranty (three years) does not cover damage to your system if you overload the VX-9.
Mike Peskin: At Stereomojo, we never use the phrase “highly recommended” since everyone else does and it means nothing. You know that everything everyone else reviews is “highly recommended”, right?
So let me just say this: if you really wish your system sounded like your buddy’s $$$$’s system, maybe it can. I’ll come and wash dishes, vacuum your floors and change your kid’s dirty diapers if you don’t agree with what I’ve stated here. That's a high recommendation, but pay attention to what Darby said above.
Dr. John Richardson: As regular readers know, I’m the local Cheap Bastard. I don’t like to spend a lot of money, even on my beloved stereo system. That’s about to change. As soon as I heard the Spiritual Audio VX-9, I knew it wasn’t leaving the system. I can’t go back to where I was before.
Anyone interested in what really good power conditioning can do for a system needs to take advantage of the 30 day trial period and prepare to eat beans for the next couple of months.
As for me, Uncle Sam tries his best not to allow me to spend money on anything except groceries and a roof over my head. What a silly idea! I will sell Coke bottles, collect and sell aluminum cans, make my own gasoline out of kitchen waste, but I’m going to have (at least) ONE in my big system, hopefully another in my smaller system. Pretty strong recommendation.
Back to HOMEPAGE