AudioPrism first entered my consciousness in the late 1980s with the CD Stoplight pen loaded with green paint to paint the edges of CDs and make the CDs sound better. CD-edge painting has since become one of the more controversial tweaks; some swear by it, and some hear nothing. AudioPrism has come up with a range of other accessories since then, most recently a line of power-conditioning products that were followed by the subject of this review, the $125 USD Wave Guide.
While the accessory business built momentum over the years, Victor Tiscareno and Byron Collet of AudioPrism decided the time was right to enter the audio-component business in 1992. Victor designed a well-respected line of tube-based preamps and amps which, from the start, had excellent sound and a very high-end look. A little more than a year ago, Mark Levinson was looking for electronic components to round out the product line for his new Red Rose Music business. Someone put a bug in his ear about the AudioPrism preamps and amps, and before long, the AudioPrism audio-component business was purchased by Red Rose Music. AudioPrism still manufacturers the products, but they were significantly reengineered by Mark Levinson and Victor Tiscareno before receiving the Red Rose Music moniker. AudioPrism continues to exist as an accessory company, selling their products through a variety of dealers and other channels.
What's a Wave Guide?
It’s about a one-pound, 5"-long ovoid shape with two flat sides and a 5/8" hole through the center. There are two Allen screws (a wrench is provided with each Wave Guide) that hold the two halves together. You remove the two screws to separate the two halves, then put a power cord, interconnect or speaker cable in the hole, put the top half back on and put the two screws back in. That’s it. The Wave Guide should sit near the component into which the power cord is going, or in the case of a digital or analog component, on the downstream end. Of course, if the power cord, speaker cable or whatever is larger than 5/8", it won’t fit through the center of the Wave Guide. If the cord or cable is quite a bit smaller than this, AudioPrism includes two strips of foam to keep the wire centered in the hole. When you put the two halves back together, two pairs of guide pins help you keep everything centered. The two halves contain some magnetic material, and you can feel the halves repelling each other somewhat as you reassemble the Wave Guide. Tiscareno says there are other passive electronic components embedded in the magnetic material that he cannot discuss until he receives a patent. The shell of the Wave Guide is a black Delrin, and each flat side has a nice metal nameplate.
Having magnetic material in or near an audio or A/V system can be a problem. Phono cartridges don’t want to be anywhere near magnetic fields. Video displays will go nuts if there is a magnetic field nearby. The fact that the Wave Guide's field opposes itself when you assemble the halves (you can feel the halves trying to keep you from pushing them together), the external magnetic field is effectively canceled, so Wave Guide is, by design, magnetically shielded. Thus, it won’t affect video monitors or phono cartridges.
What does it do and where does it work best?
Well, Victor Tiscareno hasn’t been willing to discuss too many details. But passing electrical signals through the magnetic field with the action of the embedded (you can’t see them) components apparently removes something undesirable from the AC or audio signals. So the Wave Guide may be classifiable as some sort of signal-cleaning product -- AC power is an audio signal, in case you didn’t realize it; 60Hz (and 50Hz) is an audio frequency.
Keep in mind that electrical signals traveling in wires travel as much in the space around the wire as they do within the wire. Place a magnet in the space in which the wires’ electrical fields exist and that magnetic field cannot help interacting with the audio signal.
I found that the Wave Guide had the largest effect on power cords for amplifiers and power-conditioning or power-enhancing products that had amplifiers connected to them. The next most effective location was on power cords for CD/DVD transports, DACs, A/V receivers, and surround processors. They also have an effect on digital coaxial cables. AudioPrism recommends Wave Guides for interconnects and speaker cables, but I found these locations to provide minimal improvements in my system. AudioPrism indicates that there can be variations in effect in different locations and different systems, so do experiment in your system. Victor demonstrated Wave Guides on the speaker cables connected to his tube amplifiers at CES two years ago, and there was quite an audible improvement.
The power cords that pulled the most current in my system also seemed to benefit from putting two or three Wave Guides on them, though the improvement was not two or three times greater -- more like 50%. Power cords for lower-powered components and digital interconnects did not seem to be affected quite the same way. There may have been some small improvements, but a single Wave Guide would account for well over 90% of the improvement.
What does a Wave Guide do for the sound?
With the Wave Guide in place, your component sounds like you just upgraded it. You get sound that becomes a little more spacious and transparent, and images that are a little better defined. If the component has a bit of "grayness" to it, like most A/V receivers, you are going to be knocked out because that tendency is either greatly reduced or completely eliminated. In fact, the effect on an A/V receiver was actually the first thing that really got me excited about the performance of Wave Guides. After using a single Wave Guide on $1000 Onkyo and $1700 NAD receivers, I was completely disbelieving at how much of an improvement I heard. A single Wave Guide immediately became standard equipment on any A/V receiver that was in regular use here. The Onkyo receiver was improved so much that when it was used as a control center and surround processor only (amplifiers bypassed by using external amplifiers), it sounded like a much more expensive standalone surround processor.
Using the Wave Guides with Belles 100Wpc and 300Wpc solid-state amplifiers produced sort of an "oh, that’s nice" reaction. It wasn’t as great a difference as with the Onkyo receiver, but the greater openness, transparency, imaging and musical rightness were easy to hear and pushed both amps up the high-end ladder a rung or two. Not bad for a $125 investment.
In terms of digital, I use a modified Pioneer DVD player with full-size IEC adapter and VansEvers Pandora power cord. This combo improved in the same ways and to the same degree as the Belles amplifiers. This was especially noticeable in this digital component because the music became more relaxed and analog-like at the same time all the other improvements were in evidence. Both the Perpetual Technologies stock power supplies and Monolithic Sound upgrade power supply for the P-1A and P-3A improved about the same ways the DVD transport improved. As clean-sounding as the Perpetual Technologies products were, the one or two Wave Guides I experimented with still polished their sonic presentation. I could not recommend two Wave Guides for each of these components though -- just not enough of an additional sonic pick-me-up. You could get away with a single Wave Guide for both components by passing both small power wires through it.
In terms of home theater, video monitors get a slightly better-looking image, although the effect of a single Wave Guide on a direct-view-monitor power cord wasn’t large enough to get me terribly excited. Using Wave Guides with surround or center-channel amplifiers produced an improvement, but the degree was less obvious when viewing movies than when listening to music. If your surround system is for movies only, I would not worry about Wave Guides for the surround or center amplifiers unless you just have to have them -- you know who you are!
How many Wave Guides do you really need? For a simple system, say a receiver or integrated amp and CD or DVD player, two or three Wave Guides will probably do the trick. For more sophisticated systems, several Wave Guides will be far less expensive than major upgrades to the preamp and power amp and you will achieve similar improvements. But do you really need a dozen, as I tested? Well, it seemed ridiculous to have that many at first, but as I installed each one and found the best location for it, I was not happy about having to remove any of them for various testing purposes. I would have been much happier to have just found the right 12 positions and let the system play music. If you have a system with a stereo amp, a preamp, a transport, a DAC connected with a digital coax cable, and one power conditioner, you’ll probably find that six Wave Guides will be pretty satisfying. If your system is more complex, you could easily get to 12. As far as Victor Tiscareno knows, the record for the most Wave Guides in a single system is 53 -- the guy must be hearing something good to have kept adding that many. Victor says "I get all the Wave Guides I want for nothing, and I don’t have nearly that many in my system."
I compared a dozen Wave Guides ($1500 retail) to the VansEvers Unlimiter power-line conditioner for amplifiers and eight-outlet Model 85 for digital and analog components (combined retail about $1400). This was an interesting face-off and proved without question that the two products were not doing the same things. Both made the background quieter, giving a sense of improved transparency, but the Wave Guides’ improvement was more ethereal, spatial, and musical. The VansEvers equipment improved things in ways that were more solid, stalwart, and factual. They improved the sense of bass definition and impact. Details in highs were dredged out of the mist. The overall sonic picture was one that was cleaner, clearer and stronger. The Wave Guides contributed more of a musical, enveloped-in-space, and harmonically rich sense to the music.
The VansEvers PLCs employ straightforward engineering -- parallel capacitance filtering only, good-quality components, and careful attention paid to mechanical and electronic tuning. They tend to be among the most effective in making clear sonic improvements without any negative side effects. This speaks well for the performance of the Wave Guides. If Wave Guides are compared to a number of other well-known power-line conditioners, they will sound remarkably better because they don’t detract from the music in any way, as I’ve found most PLCs do to one degree or another. Together, the VansEvers components and Wave Guides were a match made in heaven, producing at once an authoritative presentation that was also able to amaze with subtlety, delicacy and nuance.
Catching the Wave
The Wave Guides give a system a compelling, "listen to me" quality that is as addictive as any desirable system improvement. If you get used to drinking $25-a-bottle Chardonnay, going back to a $6 bottle is pretty difficult. Pulling the Wave Guides from the system produces a similar withdrawal reaction. You just want the sound back like it was -- and soon. The increased space, improved imaging definition and heightened sense of musicality are all upside with no audible downside.
It’s not often an accessory product turns out to be an excellent value for modest systems and all-out systems. The Wave Guides are yet another product that will stand the test of time. They won’t wear out and they won’t become obsolete. They won’t be overtaken by technology. In 25 years when you are listening to your all-solid-state-memory, all-wireless, no-moving-parts audio system, you could still be using your Wave Guides. And there aren’t many audio components you will buy today that you can say that about.
Copyright © 2001 SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved