Singled out –

Learning the hard lessons of simple comparative listening

By Roy Gregory

“Change Just One Thing” is a mantra that might be tattooed across the forehead of many a reviewer and audiophile. So much so that even the mere suggestion that you might need to change more than one thing in order to achieve meaningful results – for instance, adjusting speaker position if you swap for a different power amp – produces a deluge of disbelief, outrage, derision and, unless you are fortunate, a visit from the (Audio) Morality Police.

Of course, any suggestion of intentional changes in the ‘Reference’ system is an affront to the ‘scientific integrity’ of the process – and yes, although it’s in single inverted commas, that is a direct quote. But what about unintentional changes? In reality, it’s almost impossible to change Just One Thing. The relationships between the elements in a system are so complex, the physical arrangement so fragile that you are almost bound to change something – and that’s a change you will hear; even if it’s only a shift in the position or dressing of a cable; which shelf an active component is on; exactly where a unit is placed on its supporting surface or couplers. And that’s before you get to all the stuff that you simply overlook or never even notice…

In the same way that working with audio equipment is to experience constant learning, it should also be a series of constant reality checks. The trick is being open-minded enough to learn from others and humble enough to benefit from the inevitable embarrassments. I occasionally think that the most valuable attribute in any reviewer is the ability to laugh at oneself!

This week, I received a visit from the irrepressible Larry Ogden of The AudioWorks in Manchester, UK. Larry is always welcome, not least because he cares – passionately – about what he does. He works at it – hard – and he believes in his process. That commitment and the fact that we don’t always see eye-to-eye just adds to the energetic nature of any subsequent debates. Prior to his arrival, I received a large, almost square parcel. Inside were the component parts of a modular rack – legs, cups, cones and shelves – all moulded in a new and wondrous material, dubbed AcouPlex. Larry loves AcouPlex. In fact, he loves it so much he was happy to travel all the way to France to share the joy.

It wasn’t the only reason for his visit but, in amongst a lot of other listening and discussion, we got to try the AcouPlex components under various parts of the system – and the results were very impressive indeed. Impressive enough that you wonder whether a simple supporting surface could (or should) have such a profound musical affect. Well, we’ll be reporting shortly and in some respects, this visit was also to backstop the review, so that I’d take the third-party judgements seriously. But that’s not the point of this story.

Part way through the process, we swapped the system’s digital source components from the massively expensive Wadax Reference set-up to the one-box CH Precision D1.5 – partly for contrast, partly because Larry was interested in hearing the CH piece and partly because it would allow us to play with the AcouPlex supports more readily. We set up the simple, stackable rack, positioned the D1.5 on the top shelf, levelled it using its internal spikes and left it to run while we went out for something to eat.

A slippery slope…

Returning, some hours later, we settled down for some late-night entertainment. Clearly, the one-box CH was going to struggle to match the performance of the six-box (and ten-times the price!) Wadax, but with a suitable period of downtime between hearing the two, its coherent musical qualities were doing a sterling job. Even so, maybe an hour into the listening, Larry suggested that we place a set of AcouPlex AC40 cones between the D1.5 player and the AcouPlex shelf it was sitting on. He wasn’t suggesting that the three composite polymer cones were going to turn the D1.5 into a Wadax reference system, but he did suggest they might restore some of the missing qualities, helping to at least narrow the gap.