- Written by Rick Schmidt
- Published on 09 April 2009
First ImpressionsI was immediately moved by the improvements in bass in my stereo system. Bass had more authority, weight and texture. That is, notes had more character, overtones. I soon realized that it wasn’t just the bass that was improved though. I found the same difference in the midrange as well. I would not say that the high end was altered in this way by the presence of the Furman. There was seemingly a difference in the high end but I only noticed it when (much later) I took the Furman out of my system.
Sparkling GuitarI kept the Furman in my stereo system way past the time I should have been turning in the review. I think this is the most telling aspect of my time with the IT-Reference 20i. I can try to describe the differences in sound, I can try to describe the engineering - badly I’m sure. But I can testify to the fact that I listened to music more after plugging in the Furman. Vinyl sounded better, CD’s were way better.
I admit though there was another reason I kept it there for so long, it weighs 83 lbs. It is one of my least favorite pieces of equipment to move. Nonetheless, after I finally got up the courage to lift it up and move it to my home theater system I did a quick repeat of the music I had just been listening to, in this case the new album from M. Ward ‘Hold Time’ on vinyl, and of course, , still, Juliana Hatfield’s live CD, ‘The Thin White Line’. Immediately I noticed that the high end seemed to have more sparkle without the Furman, if a guitar solo was meant to soar, it was soaring more now that I’d taken the Furman out. But the general presence of noise made me want to switch the whole thing off.
Honestly, the music I was enjoying moments before was like an annoying buzz that I wanted to swat away. After a couple of days I was able to listen sans-Furman again, I attribute this to break in of my ears and brain. But still, it did seem like the high end of guitars soared a bit more than when I had the Reference IT in circuit. Everything else however was muddled. The bass, the voice, the back up vocals, the drums, all a bit merged together. Not good.
Sparkling FaceplateI was able to move the 20i to my home theater system but not without putting a nice scratch in the sparkly part of the front plate. What might look like grain in the photos here is a metallic flake finish in the silver portion of the box, it’s nice, subtle enough to not be noticed most of the time but makes a splash when there’s enough light around. This one now has a scratch in it however. I’m sure I did it with my belt buckle. Hey it was a triumph just to lift the thing, now I gotta be careful too? I fixed the scratch in the photos with Photoshop. In real life I don’t notice it from most angles so it’s not a concern to me, it might be to Furman if I planned to return this unit (more on that later). I bring it up though because it could easily happen to you too if you happen to get one of these.
In my home theater system the first noticeable difference was a pronounced 60 cycle hum coming through the speakers. With the help of Garth Powell from Furman the blame was quickly placed on my Cambridge DVD player and the problem was as quickly resolved by plugging the Cambridge into the same outlet bank as my Outlaw amplifier. All of this is stirring a memory of having this same problem before, with the Cambridge, for some other review that I did. I think this is a scenario that other users of power conditioners would be likely to encounter. Any degree of isolation between various components increases the likelihood of ground loop issues. The primary method for resolving these is not unique to the Furman: unplug things until the offending component(s) is identified. Then plug that component into the same power source as the main amplifier.
After that was resolved the effects were more like what I heard upstairs. From an audio perspective the instruments (if I was watching/listening to music) had better separation and texture. Small variations in guitar lines for instance on Aimee Mann’s Live at Queen Anne’s Warehouse’ were easy to hear and all the instruments had their own space. There’s a point in the song ‘Save Me’ where the guitar player steps up to his mike and contributes some background vocals, without the Furman in the circuit I had to focus to hear his vocal contribution. With the Furman, it was easy, here’s the back up singer here, here’s Aimee over here. (Aimee and I are on a first name basis, well, she doesn’t know me but I call her ‘Aimee’, I have no idea who that back up singer is).
Even more striking was the difference on with my favorite music DVD ‘Tell Me What Rockers To Swallow’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. Oh the kids these days. As with the White Stripes there are only two instruments in the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, guitar and drums. But the guitar makes an impressive racket, rich with feedback and overtones - just the kind of thing that can become muddled by a system and it would be hard to know it was happening. With the Furman in my system the difference was profound. There is a logic, a musicality to guitar playing like this but it can get lost by poor recordings and playback equipment. With the Furman it was not lost.
The other thing I had to look for of course was changes in the picture. I think these are the kinds of changes that most people feel more comfortable reporting because they trust their eyes more than their ears. The effect was very similar to the changes in sound. Edges were cleaned up such that pictures had better depth and were easier to look at. I’ve been waiting for Blu-Ray players to mature a bit before switching over so I’m still watching DVD’s. I use various scenes in The Fifth Element for comparisons, the first 10 minutes or so and the building diving scene – with the animated Manhattan of the future.
With the Furman there was more depth, easier to watch. I also plugged in Blade Runner just to see what I could see, I ended up watching the whole thing (for the 50th time maybe). I don’t know when that has happened for any of the equipment that I’ve reviewed. Overtime I realized that the general effect for my home theater system was less fatigue. Now that the Furman was finally downstairs I was spending more time with that system and less time with my stereo system.
Back to the Stereo
After another long while I reluctantly moved the Reference IT back upstairs. I had an HBO Documentary Films stocking cap lying around - it was swag from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s an ugly green, not suitable for wearing but it worked nicely tucked into my belt to cover the buckle so no scratches this time. I was especially interested to check out the differences in the high end that I mentioned above. Was I actually losing something in the high end with the Furman?
After plugging it back in and listening carefully I don’t think so. I think the difference is this, when the other instruments in the mix are presented at their best, not muddled, the high end is just one of many enjoyable parts. Without the Furman, my stereo still presents the high end about the same as it does when the Furman is in there. But, it does everything else a bit worse. So, when it’s not in there the high end tends to stand out and it is a more satisfying piece of the sonic picture to focus on. There’s usually only one instrument up there in the stratosphere so there’s nothing for it to get confused with.
The rest of the frequency spectrum confirmed what I had heard before. Instruments were separate again and the bass had authority. All the instruments had a subtlety and nuance that I just didn’t pick up when the Furman wasn’t there.