Review of Aether Audio "Black Box" (Vortex Filter) by targa

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Good fellows, i have the black box from Bob.  i have been too busy to give them a good listen.  will do this weekend.  however, this is what i can tell you based on my limited testing/listening... 

i am sure that you all know and have plenty of experience with what good power conditioning can do to your system, right?  i have a very good Transparent Audio (retails $2K) power conditioning unit...  i immediately heard the improvements when i started using this power conditioning unit (and has been in my main system for over a year)...  well, using the black box improves the sound quality by a factor of 5(!) when compared to the improvements made by power conditioning... 

what improvements, exactly?  well...  much smoother sound, better clarity and separation of voices, more depth of soundstage, better micro dynamics...  improvement is easily audible and simply addictive...  can't go back now! 

more to come.  i will explain the details...



had a chance to listen to the Black Boxes (BB) in depth.  Want to provide some feedback after hours of listening and testing.  I will describe the changes I heard with the following dimensions:  1. detail retrieval, 2. air between the voices (separation), 3. grain level (or lack thereof), and 4. body of the voices.  I did not expect changes in tonality (warmer, cooler etc) and I did not hear changes in tonality.  Each black box has 4 setting (0 – 3).  The changes are described as incremental from one setting to the next.  I used a Shirley Horn DC for this test because of the good recording quality.  Here is a summary of my oberservation.

Setting 0 (when compared to no BB in the system):

1. detail retrieval:  i heard a jump in low level detail retrieval.  background noise dropped
2. air between the voices (separation):  also heard better separation of voices
3. grain level:  heard a little more smoother sound
4. body of the voices:  heard some improvements in upper and lower base.  baseline got a bit fuller.  this made the overall sound fuller

taken the changes altogether, I clearly heard improvement in the soundstage.  like when you put a very good power conditioner in the system.  I would say that the sound quality has improved around 5%.  Not too drastic but audible and very pleasant.  This is the same effect as my Transparent Audio power conditioner.  Now, I want to be clear that BB is not a replacement for power conditioning but an improvement on top of good power conditioning.  Each piece of equipment has its own function.  However, some can make a more significant impact than others….

Setting 1 (when compared to BB setting 0):

1. detail retrieval:  finer details improved much more.   
2. air between the voices (separation):  heard significantly better separation of voices.  Much better than setting 0
3. grain level:  the level of grain also dropped.  the singer voice was much smoother.  same applied for all voices but the improved smoothness in human voice was more recognizable (at least, to me)
4. body of the voices:  the voices became fuller.  i heard much rounder notes.  this area also improved significantly

taken together, the sound was more pleasant: smooth and full.  seemed like the overall accuracy (probably due to drop in distortion) improved in terms of voices, positioning of voices on the soundstage.  also, the soundstage got a bit wider but noticeably much deeper.  the improvement was more drastic than setting 0.  the separation of voice, the amount of air between voices was outstanding.  i could hear individual notes much better…  simply phenomenal.  i would say the improvements were in the 15% range over setting 0 and across all areas.

Setting 2 and 3 showed incremental improvements but the improvement were not as drastic as 0 to 1.   the improvements with 2 and 3 were, however, also across all dimensions.  I would guess that 2 improved 5% over 1 and 3 improved 5% over 2. 

to put this some perspective about the improvements from setting 0 to 1 (or 0 to 2/3 for that matter):  i recently bought a MHDT Havana DAC.  affordable and pretty well reviewed DAC.  i A/B tested to this DAC for 3 to 4 days (w/ 2-3 hours each day) before I could concluded the improvements over my modded player.  the BB made a more significant impact to the overall sound than the DAC and probably by a factor of 2 or 3.  when I used the BB, the heard the improvements immediately.  however, the reason why i compared the BB setting 1/2/3 to the DAC is because of the improved smooth sound brought about by the DAC. 

now, I would not say the BB (a lot cheaper than the DAC) can replace the DAC simply because each component has its own function in the system.  what I can definitely say is that the BB amplifies the equality of the DAC by a factor of 2 or 3.  in short, BB are phenomenal products….

note that I also have picked the Timepiece Mini (used in second system) in addition to my Timepiece 3.0.  I tested the BB with all my speakers (+ another sets, non SP Tech) and the improvements were consistent across all speakers.  I also tested the BB with 3 different Amps (Linar Audio 10, CA 840A and Lite amplifier..  all modded and tweaked).  The improvements in sound quality appear to be more significant with the cheaper amp than the more expensive/ better one. 

the detailed observation I described above was with my Linar Audio 10.  I would say that the BB used with Linar showed around 25% improvement in overall sound.  With CA 840A, around 30% and with the Lite amplifier (just use this to drive my rear speakers when watching movies) probably 40%(!)

given all being equal, the BB demonstrated to significantly improve the sound of my system.  using the BB was like I upgraded my amplifiers to a much more expensive amp or a much more expensive source.  taking the $ investment into consideration, the BB would definitely be the best investment to my system.  if budget is constraint, BB is still a MUST HAVE.  I have auditioned many speaker cables (with some costing 3 to 4 times the BB), and the best improvement I heard at times was like about 5%...

btw, I will bring the BB and my Timepiece Minispeakers to a session - on May 16 - that Jim and Fred here in Houston are organizing…  if you are local or close, you are more than welcome to join…