The gloves were off, and the gauntlet thrown. On May 26, 2008, Jim Pierce of Amazing Audio sent me a major challenge via email.
Jim and his distributor, David Kalin, had recently visited Casa Bellecci-Serinus to attend the Bay Area Audiophile Society’s (BAAS) first public demo of Reference Recordings’ bit-for-bit, high-resolution HRx DVDs. Here, they saw that my system included the Nordost Thor power distribution center and conditioner. This prompted them to write:
After reading your excellent review in Secrets of HT and High Fidelity on the Nordost Thor, I realized that you truly appreciate what the excellent Nordost Thor LC can do for a well-designed audio system. We here at Amazing Audio are positive that our Electric Bamboo Line Purifier will be as much better than the Nordost Thor as the Thor is to your EP-15A. We have had the opportunity to compare our “EB” to the Nordost Thor, Exact Power, Electro Clear, By Bee [sic], Audio Magic, PS Audio and others in several high-end systems. It consistently out performed each of them. The reason it can do much more than any of these fine machines is because its circuit design is unique and revolutionary, going where no other manufacture has gone before.
We are asking you to please give it a listen and give us your evaluation. You are the first reviewer we have approached because we believe that you have the listening skills to hear the amazing power of the “EB” and have the uncanny ability to describe in words what this extraordinary component does in a great audio system. We also discovered that you are fearless as to what others think of you honest opinions on an audio product.
- 8 Grounded Outlets – 4 Digital – 4 Analog
- 100% Passive Design Hubble Isolated Ground Receptacles
- 110V – 120V Operation
- Output Limits: 1650 Watts
- Dimensions: 6″ H x 13″W x 7.5″D
- Weight: 18 Pounds
- MSRP: $2,995; Introductory Price: $2,195.00
- Amazing Audio
The challenge was tempting. Given that Amazing Audio is located in the South Bay, less than an hour from my home, it was easy for Jim and David to bring over a unit. Knowing that Bob Walters, the new, extremely dedicated coordinator of BAAS, had not only installed an Electric Bamboo in his own system, but had also used it in more than one BAAS demo, provided extra incentive. Besides, I like to test my ears.
I soon decided to engage in a three-way power treatment experiment. Having once used the PS Audio P600 Power Plant as my power source, I asked Paul McGowan of PS Audio to send me his Power Plant Premier for review. Paul sent two, one for each of my loaner VTL 450 monoblocks. I was thus equipped to compare the Electric Bamboo to two entirely different units, one a power regenerator which can only output a certain amount of current, the other the Nordost Thor. The manufacturers of the Thor and Electric Bamboo claim that neither unit limits current.
I have since devoted multiple extended listening sessions to the Electric Bamboo. One, which included Bob Walters and Ori Mizrahi-Shalom of BAAS, involved extended comparisons between all three units. The most recent, conducted in the presence of David Kalin, involved extended comparisons between the Thor and Electric Bamboo while switching back and forth between two radically different-sounding sets of cables. (I explain why below).
Technical Description and Design
The Electric Bamboo line purifier is an entirely passive, transformer-free device. Unless viewed from the outlet side, which many owners prefer to position face up, it has a distinctly utilitarian appearance. In fact, save for the barely noticeable engraving of “Electric Bamboo” on one side, it is pretty plain Jane.
Designed by Jim Pierce and David Kalin, along with a few friends who have chosen not to take credit, the Electric Bamboo is manufactured in the USA. David and Jim have previously designed two speakers, the Galante and Grand Forte, both of which are available from Amazing Audio.
The EB has eight Hubble star grounded receptacles, four of which are designed for digital, the other four for analog. Plugging an analog component into a digital outlet, or vice-versa, will not yield optimal results.
Other design elements of interest include: (1) All components are cryogenically treated; (2) Audiophile grade Sonicap capacitors are used; (3) There are no transformers or other current limiting devices; (4) Special damping materials are used; (5) It has a non-ferrite design; (6) It has custom designed high performance “noise interceptors” on all outlets; and (7) It uses an audio grade 15A ceramic fuse.
In an extended phone interview, David Kalin explained the genesis of the Electric Bamboo, and described its features:
We were noticing that no matter how many equipment and cable changes we made, music seemed to change from day to day, be it in imaging or sound staging. We expected our power supply wasn’t being consistent. So we tried a few of the fancy name line conditioners that have reviews from major magazines, such as Nordost and Shunyata. Even though they corrected a lot of problems, the music still didn’t have that wow factor you get at a nice live concert. We weren’t getting goose bumps.
Because we had modified amps before, we started modifying some lesser quality line conditioners. After we made some significant improvements which brought us close to the Nordost and Shunyata, we decided to install better quality parts, fuses, fuse holders, and caps. We also used silver in key spots, and cryogenic treatment. To help dampen some of the electrical vibrations, we encased the unit in epoxy.
We spent two years tearing things apart, rebuilding, listening, and re-listening. Thousands of hours went into the development of this product. We kept coming up with new ideas, to the point where it began to drive us crazy. Finally, we ran out of ideas. I do have some new ideas how to build an even better product, but I need someone to do the investing, because it would cost about $5,000 just to buy the parts and build it.
We also tried different woods, and found bamboo the best for absorbing excessive energies that were vibrating around in there. When we’ve put it on brass cones and a slab of maple, and competed it against other line conditioners in showrooms around the Bay Area, it’s been head and shoulders above the rest of them. I think it may be because too many of them use too much capacitance, or use big inductors that limit current flow and don’t allow for a stable image when you get a vocalist singing ath high energy levels.
We eliminated the problems of other units with a truly revolutionary passive design. It shares a few things in common with the other designs, but it has technologies in it that no one else has tried. We’re glad that covering it with epoxy works, because it also conceals our secret knowledge.
I’m going to explain how the unit works in laymen’s terms, because no one on the planet seems to agree theoretically on the quantum physics level. On the sine wave that transmits AC, you’ve got ghost waves following it that result from other people’s refrigerators and computers. Those little ghost waves are not 60-cycle. If they’re not eliminated, they get into the power supplies of your components, and eventually put a blanket over the sound. When we’ve compared our unit to the Nordost, people have commented that it’s like removing a blanket that has been placed over the sound.
When we chose our IEC we listened to a host of them, and found Furutech’s gold over copper superior to their more expensive rhodium over copper. The Hubbell 688 outlets are brass with a very high copper content. The double-element, 15-amp, gold plated, ceramic body industrial and audiophile grade fuse we use is from Little, a manufacturer who builds appliances for heavy-duty industrial applications. Hence, it is non-current limiting.
The internal wiring is oxygen-free copper, different gauges throughout, 14- gauge in key spots, 12 in others. We also use high purity silver 12- and 14-gauge. All our metal parts except for caps are cryogenically treated in a proprietary manner that takes several days to do properly. The person we use to do it does a better job than others.
The digital outlets have different types of filters to eliminate noise on the high frequencies. We don’t use any resistors or magnetic or ferrite materials, because they degrade the sound. Instead, we found another way to remove the ghost noise that sounds like a blanket thrown over the speakers. Our filters also help get rid of high frequency glare. You’ll find sibilance highly reduced through our machine, with the highs intact in their full glory and harmonic decay. The noise that makes high frequencies irritating, noisy, spitty, or otherwise annoying to the ears is gone.
The problem is that the only way to measure high quality components such as the Electric Bamboo is with the human ear and brain. You can’t put these power conditioners on scopes and measuring tools and say that one will sound better than the other. It’s not possible. You can’t measure a tube amp and say whether it will sound better than a solid-state amp, because so many people prefer the sound of a tube amp.
Half the people we sell the Electric Bamboo to like to run it with the sockets face up. Our final product will have a black anodized aluminum faceplate with silkscreen lettering on the socket side rather than the plastic faceplate you’re showing in your photos. The rest of the unit will retain its bamboo siding.
I am very aware of the effect that negative reviews can have on the success of a product. Thus, I devote substantial time and effort to giving equipment a fair shake. Before I even accept a product for review, I send the manufacturer a description of my reference system and room, complete with photos. If they feel confident that my set-up is a good match for their product, I invite them to either ship the unit to me or, if possible, bring the product to my home, observe and help with installation, and join me for an initial listen.
I also have developed strict guidelines for how to conduct a review. These guidelines in part result from a recent, very negative experience I had while attempting to review for Secrets a set of floor-standing speakers that had initially impressed me when I heard them at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF).
Despite repeated requests to the speaker manufacturer to personally deliver the speakers and set them up to his satisfaction, he chose to stay at home. I thus found unpacking and installation left up to me. When my initial audition left me profoundly dissatisfied – the quality of the treble was irritating, cheap, and decidedly unmusical –I moved the speakers around a lot in hopes that a radically different position would alter my assessment. While moving much farther toward the rear wall helped somewhat, I still found the sound unsatisfactory.
I then engaged in multiple, time-consuming calls and email exchanges with the manufacturer. After he told me that he had made some modifications to the speakers before sending them to me, I suggested that perhaps he had done something wrong. This he refused to accept. I then spent a lot of time urging him to visit and hear for himself.
After informing me that he had recently made another modification to the internal wire, he said he would come down to make the changes here. Then he changed his mind. Even though he thus was asking me to review a pair of speakers that by his own admission sounded different than those he was marketing, he insisted that nothing could possibly be wrong with the demo pair. After all, another reviewer has recently declared them a “perfect speaker.”
It went on and on. I moved the speakers around some more, tried various tweaks, and continued attempts at dialogue. Numerous emails and phone calls consumed a huge amount of my time and energy. Finally, I threw in the towel and sent the speakers back without writing a review.
At that moment, I resolved to never again engage in such foolery. I simply cannot afford to bend over backwards for manufacturers who do not value the time and effort I devote to reviews. As a freelance critic who writes for 16 publications, volunteers a huge amount of time to public safety concerns in crime-ridden Oakland, CA, and is devoted to his spouse, time is at a premium. Ten hours expended on a review that goes nowhere means ten hours of unpaid labor that could have instead been devoted to a paying piece for Secrets, Stereophile, Carnegie Hall, Muso, Opera Now, Opera News, American Record Guide, or San Francisco Magazine (to name some of my outlets). The bottom line: I can’t afford it.
Thus, I adhere to the same professional protocol followed by reviewers for major print publications. Once a broken-in unit has been delivered and properly installed, I only re-contact manufacturers in order to conduct interviews, clarify technical concerns, and supply progress updates. I do not let manufacturers and reps know how I feel about their products in advance of the review. Nor do I censor my commentary for the manufacturer’s sake. I do not believe that readers are assisted by reviewers who soft pedal their concerns.
A Word to the Wise
The wise manufacturer who lives at a reasonable distance from a reviewer will make every effort to install their product themselves. In doing so, they can hear for themselves if the product is a good match for the reference system. In the case of a just-introduced product, they also have the opportunity to hear it in a very different reference system than their own, and make sure that it delivers as intended.
The most recent speaker manufacturer who brought his speakers here for their very first review was immediately dissatisfied with their sound. (We both were, but I intentionally withheld comment until after he voiced his concerns. At that point, there was no reason to hide my feelings, because we both were hearing the same thing). The manufacturer provided several possible explanations for the problem, and suggested he go back to the drawing board before I proceeded with the review. I of course acceded to his request.
He has since discovered where he erred in his design.
As mentioned above, I auditioned the Electric Bamboo on several occasions, at one point with a different brand of interconnects. My sonic impressions, even taking into account variations caused by the switch of cabling, were virtually identical.
I also listened to top end extension. Thanks in part to Nordost Valhalla cabling and Bybee Golden Goddess Speaker Bullets, my highly upgraded Talon Khorus X Mk. IVs sound remarkably open, clear, and transparent on high. But with the Electric Bamboo, I felt the highs somewhat damped compared to the Thor. It was as though the triangle on the opening section of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances had a curtain drawn over it, dulling and minimizing its impact. It rang less in space, and seemed to die off faster.
Here’s what I wrote after that first session:
First impressions can be deceiving, at least some of the time. There are also times when one hopes one’s first impressions are wrong.
That, at least is what I hoped when the Electric Bamboo came my way. Writing this shortly after Dave and Jim brought the unit over and we hooked it up, I’m hoping that moving around all my Nordost power cables, disconnecting a reconnecting my Nordost digital cable, and moving around the speaker cables ruffled the feathers of my system. For whatever reasons, the sound of the first movement of Reference Recordings’ fabled disc of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (Eiji Oue cond.), with everything in the system connected to the Nordost Thor, was very different than the sound when everything was connected to the Electric Bamboo.
For starters, the triangle and cymbals had much less resonance. It almost sounded as though a damper had been put on them. They sounded thinner, softer, and less consequential; there was far less of a sense of them ringing and resounding in space. Equally striking was the diminution of natural breath sounds around the woodwinds (clarinets, oboe, and the like), which are somewhat exaggerated on the recording due to Keith Johnson’s close mike.
While the sonic picture did seem, in one sense, cleaner and less uncluttered through the Electric Bamboo, I could not help feeling that the very resonance of the acoustic had been deadened. It was as though the Minnesota Symphony had moved to a considerably drier hall, in which overtones around strings and other instruments were harder to discern.
Dave told me to expect better bass control through the Electric Bamboo. In one sense, bass did seem tighter. What I could not tell, however, was whether it actually was tighter, or if instead, some of the bass resonance that my system has trouble controlling had been eliminated. In other words, was the bass really tighter, or was there just less bass to muddy up the picture?
When I changed recordings, there certainly was less booming of Ron Carter’s double bass on the first track of Chesky Entre Nous CD with sensational Brazilian vocalist Rosa Passos. But on listening further, I realized that what had initially seemed like better bass control was actually due to truncated bass. The bass sounded more in control because I was hearing less of it.
I also felt that coloration throughout was somewhat homogenized. Sharp contrasts between sweetness and raspiness were minimized. Everything seemed brought together in an unmistakably warm, sweet, but minimally contrasted mix. This was not a sound I was accustomed to hearing, either at home or in the concert hall.
On the positive side, the soundstage certainly seemed wide and deep. I in fact sensed more three-dimensionality. But, again, was that only because a host of overtones and complex harmonics had been diminished, leaving more of the core? I begin to wonder what wire I’d find inside, and how it might compare to the Nordost Valhalla used in the Thor.
Finally, one of the great things about the Thor is that its star ground does a superb job of eliminating component interaction. Even though I’ve got my two digital components connected to the Electric Bamboo’s two digital outputs, and my tube amps and analog set-up connected to the analog outputs, I’m hearing some buzzing through the right speaker which I did not hear before.
But today is Friday. Tomorrow is another day. I look forward to discovering if there’s a difference after everything settles in. My experience will determine which unit, the Electric Bamboo or the Thor, remains in the reference system.
My longest critical listening session was held with Bob and Ori in attendance. For several hours, we went back and forth between the Electric Bamboo, Thor, and PS Audio Power Plant Premieres. Because I’ve previously reviewed the Thor, and will soon review the Power Plant, I shall confine my comments to the Electric Bamboo, with occasional reference to the other units.
We chose three very different selections:
- From Blue Coast Collection – The E. S.E. Sessions, Track 2, “Slow Day,” by Jane Selkye & Chris Kee. This is a demonstration-class hybrid SACD of acoustic music, recorded and engineered by Cookie Marenco.
- Mahler Symphony No. 2. 1st movement, opening 5+ minutes, Iván Fischer conducts the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Channel Classics hybrid SACD. One of my Records-To-Die-For (R2D4) in Stereophile.
- Lyle Lovett: “North Dakota” Track 4 on an MCA disc
With the Electric Bamboo, I felt the edge a bit blunted on Mahler. Strings and brass did not have as much as much bite or zing. The sound was also a bit warmer than I was accustomed to, the colors more homogenized, with less depth and air around instruments. The performance did not touch me as much as usual on an emotional level.
On “Slow Day,” I heard less sibilance on the edge of the voice and guitar. (This is not in itself a bad thing if a system tends toward sibiliance). Where the Thor conveyed an extremely quiet background around Selkye’s voice and guitar and Kee’s acoustic bass, enabling vocal and instrumental color to stand out in all its glory, the Electric Bamboo lessened this effect. I also thought there was less control on the bass, with more indistinct pitches.
We then listened to these tracks on both the two PS Audio Power Plant Premiers here for review, then the Nordost Thor. Finally, we returned to the Electric Bamboo. I again noted how colors seemed more homogenized, especially on “Slow Day.” Most disturbing, on an uncompressed hybrid SACD whose stereo CD layer was carefully engineered, when Selkye at one point sang loud “woo hoos” high in her range, the volume actually seemed to decrease.
Eliminating the Cable Effect
Toward the end of our comparison, it occurred to me that, since the wiring in the Nordost Thor is similar to that in my Nordost Valhalla interconnects and cables, it might be possible that the Thor sounds better when paired with Valhalla cabling rather than cables from other manufacturers. If this were indeed the case, the Thor would have an unfair advantage over the Electric Bamboo in my system.
I thus determined to listen to both the Electric Bamboo and Thor using cabling from another manufacturer. When I sent an email to David noting my desire to do this, he offered to bring over cables that he thought would blow Valhalla out of the water. To quote:
We’ve compared our friend’s cables with those from Virtual Dynamics, the Analysis Plus Golden Reference, Genesis 1.1, and other cables such as Cardas Golden Reference, Tara Labs. 8. I’m sure they’re better than Tara Labs the Zero. I’m sure they’re much better because they’re much better than the 0.8. All the cables are RCA, and the speaker cables only have banana plugs. These are great for the highest level audio system a person might own. They’re made by Cryoset, and we’ll be a dealer.
Now this is interesting, I thought to myself. Tara Labs the Zero interconnects, which David has not heard but I have, cost almost $15,000 meter. (For all I know, the price has gone up in the past year). In the extremely expensive reference system I heard them in, they sounded fantastic. Yet David is sure that his babies, which list for $300 on the Cryoset website, are better. Well, maybe they are. Only one way to find out…
The Final Test
A few weeks later, David brought over Cryoset interconnects and speaker cables. Because the Talons are not set up for banana plugs, I decided to make things simple and stick with the interconnects in order to possibly put the Electric Bamboo and Thor on a more even playing field.
For our first experiment, we listened to the Mahler using the Thor/Cryoset combo. I found the sounds on high rather excruciating. Instead of a refined sound that drew me in, I encountered one that made me want to run for cover. (I also noted less bass than the somewhat bass-shy Valhalla, but that didn’t upset me the way the highs did). Within short order, I cried Uncle.
Quickly we switched to the Electric Bamboo/Cryoset combo. Ah, that was better. Highs were now tamed to listenable levels. Not that I particularly liked what I heard, or thought it “better” than the sound with the Thor. It was just that, with highs dulled and colors more homogenized, the entire gestalt became more acceptable. Certainly there was less detail than before. But what I did hear was certainly listenable and pleasing, at least on a surface level. It’s just that I wasn’t drawn to listen any longer than necessary to get a good sense of what was going on.
This leads me to postulate why some people like the Electric Bamboo as much as they do. If interconnects, source components, and/or speakers tend toward the bright and edgy, my hunch is that the Electric Bamboo may very well make a system sound “better” than power conditioners that do not filter the sound as much as the Electric Bamboo seems to do. But in a system whose components and interconnects are basically balanced and listenable from the get-go, the Electric Bamboo may very well have a negative effect.
I would also venture to guess that folks who have low-powered SET amps and/or speakers that tend to be strongest in the midrange rather than on high or low may be pleased by the warmth the Electric Bamboo can impart to the midrange. Similarly, those with Class D amplifiers that tend to blanche the sound may appreciate the homogenizing warmth the Electric Bamboo lends to the sound.
Finally, I note that my speakers not only have Bybee devices in them, but also use external Bybee Golden Goddess speaker bullets. The combination greatly lowers the noise floor, enabling me to hear details that other systems mask. The more I can hear to begin with, the more I notice what is altered or taken away.
JASON VICTOR SERINUS REFERENCE SYSTEM Digital Front End Theta Carmen II CD/DVD transport Theta Gen VIII Series 2 DAC/Preamp (Benchmark USB DAC-1 when Apple Titanium Powerbook is in use on the main system)
Amplification VTL 450W tube monoblock prototypes with KT-88 tubes Jadis DA-7 Luxe with GE 5751 Jan and Jan Philips 5814A tubes and cable from Pierre Gabriel
Loudspeakers Talon Khorus X speakers MK. III (with latest upgrade and Bybee Quantum Noise Purifiers) Bybee Golden Goddess Super Effect Speaker Bullets
Cabling Nordost Valhalla single-ended and balanced interconnects Nordost Valhalla balanced digital interconnects Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable Nordost Valhalla Power Cables Elrod EPS-2 Signature power cables
Power Nordost Thor Power Distribution System IsoClean or other audiophile grade fuses in most components Dedicated line for system
Analog Clearaudio Emotion turntable with Satisfy arm Soundsmith “The Voice” phono cartridge Benz MC-Gold phono cartridge Classe 6 phono preamp with better umbilical cord Symposium Platform under turntable
Accessories Finite Elemente Cerapuc supports Ganymede ball bearing supports Michael Green brass Audiopoints Audiophile grade fuses in all equipment. Acoustic Resonators Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and Corner Tunes Shakti stones on transport, DAC, amps, etc. Four Shakti Hallographs Echo Buster and Corner Busters Bedini Quadra Beam and Dual Beam Ultraclarifiers Marigo Signature 3-D Mat v2; Ayre demagnetizing CD Various CD sprays
Main System Room Dimensions Living room is 24.5′ deep, 21.4′ wide in the listening area. It’s big enough to accommodate 16 members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, positioned in four rows of four seats each. The distance from the front door to the end of the dining room is 37′. Sound extends far to the left and right of the speakers thanks to an 8.33′ wide archway into the dining room opposite the right channel speaker. Ceilings are 9′ high with heavy wooden crossbeams, each 17” in height. Heavy curtains cover windows behind the sound system. Floors are hardwood and carpet in front of the system, and hardwood elsewhere. Walls in the living room are a combination of plaster and wood, with a large granite fireplace in the rear. The dining room is all plaster. There is RoomTune and Echo buster treatment in corners, and either an Echo Buster or heavy tapestry at the two side wall first order reflection points.