It’s the time of year for saving money!
Sometime back in about 2012 a product hit the audiophile market that took off to a very fast start. Glowing reviews. Within a few years things had slowed considerably and the next step was the inevitable closure. This product touted a retrieval of transient detail and any part of the signal overshadowed by larger scale movements. Whereupon first hearing one, I was mesmerized and immediately purchased one for my system. I placed it squarely between the preamp and amp and basically forgot about it. I thought it would be a welcomed, permanent part of my system. Why? Simple, I loved what the component did for musical playback. Despite the intense controversy surrounding it, I liked it right away which continued until mid February 2019.
The BSG qol Signal Completion Stage operated on the premise of something they called “Phase Layering.” Basically, the input signal was copied, split into multiple segments and every other segment phase shifted one hundred eighty degrees. The final step was combining the segments back into one, merge that with the original signal, and pass everything along to the amp. BSG claimed the goal was better transient retrieval, better clarity and the extraction of information already present in the recording but obscured by the recording itself. Needless to say, there were scores of detractors.
What got me thinking about the qol this past February was a two year old email I recently discovered. Back in 2016, I had a multiple Grammy award winning recording engineer visit my home to demo my KEF Blades. He was thinking about buying some for his studio and wanted to see how they sounded. He was very curious about the qol and about a week later I received an email from him. Here is what he had to say about the qol Signal Completion Stage:
“Also, after researching your BSG Completion Stage further, it is altering the balance between the Mid portion of the signal (everything in the mix that is in the center image) and the Side signal (everything left-right). We call this processing mid/side in the mastering stage. It has the ability to seriously alter imaging, ambiance and frequency response from what was intended in the studio.”
Not a very glowing report.
After rediscovering that email, I decided to press the “Bypass” button on the front of the qol and temporarily take it out of the signal chain. I quickly realized at the very least, I liked the sonic picture every bit as much without the qol as with. On quite a few of my favorite five star songs, I actually liked it better. After about a week, I decided to remove it completely from the signal chain. My reasoning? Even in bypass the signal still flowed through the circuits – possibly altering what I should or could be hearing. I disconnected the power cord and the interconnects and connected my preamp directly to the amplifier. And wonder of wonders, the sonic improvement was readily noticeable. Best of all, the interconnects I removed from the qol were much higher quality than the interconnects between the phonostage and the preamp.
Replacing them seriously improved my analog section. In fact, it has never sounded as good as it now does.
I suppose this set me on some sort of mission. I decided to check every setting on every component to ensure everything was set correctly. I found the various filter settings on my DAC were actually turned off. How did that happen, and when? Good question, I have no idea. My only guess was I was playing around one day and didn’t put things back as they should have been. I also found the XLR gain on the DAC was set to increase by +6 Db. Nope, don’t want that either. I set that back to its preferred setting of 0 gain. The up conversion was correct – none. Next step was the preamp settings. Fortunately, they were all correct – as was everything else.
I settled back in my chair, put on some familiar music, closed my eyes and listened. I was shocked at how much more natural and tonally accurate things sounded than before. I spent an entire afternoon playing many of my one hundred or so five star songs, albums, streaming and basically having a grand ole time. I left my audio room about four hours later with a big Cheshire cat grin on my face.
Several things come to mind here. One, do not trust complacency. Just because I had done things one particular way in the past does not mean it might be the best way right now, today. Two, check system settings every so often. Hey, I know, this sounds like simple, basic, plainly obvious things any audiophile should do. I feel it is so very easy to become accustomed to what we hear, and how our systems present things, that sometimes we lose sight of paying attention to details. A quick, thirty second check will confirm that your settings are correct. Three, there is merit, in certain instances, to the notion of a shorter signal path. Yes, I heard an improvement with the qol set to bypass. When it was removed completely, then I heard the real improvement.
I suppose it is fair to say I fell victim to a desire for musical simplicity. I take great pleasure in walking into my audio room, picking up the iPad, picking out some music (or better still let the playback software do it for me), close my eyes and relax.
My system, at least in digital, allows this to be easily accomplished. Doing so also allows complacency, which if one is not careful, might lead to not recognizing an incorrect setting. Moral of the story, check your system settings. Even if you know they are right. Don’t discount the shortest signal path idea. It may not make any difference at all. Then again, maybe it will. And above all else, happy listening!
No surprise. Most of us have experienced, at one time or another, a product or “tweak” that “improves” our system TWICE — once, when it’s put in, and once, again, when it’s taken out. “Power conditioners” are just one of several common examples.
Hey Roger, hope all is well with you. I had a similar experience with a power conditioner as well, although that was four or five years ago. Take care…
Thanks, Paul. All is well. I just looked, and it seems that we aren’t yet FB friends. Let’s fix that.
True , and humorously put. Dont see you on fb much of l8. Hope you are well, cheers!
Thank you, Max. Send me a FB friend request. I appreciate your kind thoughts.
Sometimes “better” is really just “different”. That is why a change needs to be auditioned over a period of time, then removed, and put back again. I am probably a bit more OCD than most people, but I actually disassemble my system, room tweaks and all, every 3 months or so. Everything has to earn it’s place back in the system.
Never did buy into the qol hype. 6moons review pointed out lack of improvement, to put it mildly. Yesssss, system retuning periodically purifies/improves sound greatly. Including home theater system if separate. Especially if there are
any other people resident or coming in the house who seem to universally affect controls, wiring, etc. without meaning to.
A very useful article thanks.
This story should remind us all that audio critics (especially those with recurring publication deadlines) are hardly immune from making serious mistakes, no matter how enthusiastic they wax. Reviews for magic products especially (I include MQA in this category) must be taken with plenty of skepticism. As TweakGeekAudio said, “Sometimes ‘better’ is really just ‘different’.”
It also reminds us, yet again, that any subjective reviews of any product needs to be viewed as educated opinions, with none of them likely repeatable in any other environment by any other person. Does that mean they are a waste of time? Nope. They are more or less like any other opinion, subject to bias, or sensory desensitization, or maybe just reviewer fatigue. I’ll cynically add that those “opinions” are especially suspicious if they are pushed with excess fervor and emotions. I love reading them all, but I don’t confuse it with science.
You mentioned that you had the qol between your preamp and amp. I have mine connected before the preamp. Do you think it makes a difference in the sound reproduction?
Well, you kind of caught me there Godfrey. When I was using the qol, I would have said yes, I think it is better between the preamp and amp. Now, however, I’ve completely removed it so maybe my opinion is basically moot. If it is fairly simple for you to change the interconnects, try it and see. You might like it better that way. I can say when the qol was popular, between the amp and preamp was the preferred method. Like everything else in audio, which ever way things sound best is the best way to go. I’d still try it though. You might like it better.
After messing around with it, connecting the qol between the preamp and amp, I did notice that it sounded different. I preferred the sound where I connected the qol before the preamp. It gives a more vibrant mid-range.