The Ref II has been with me for a month and a half, and I find it very musical to my ear. To be more accurate, I feel that
my audio/video components are very happy with the Ref II.
At first, I struggled with finding the optimal placement: what AC outlet should I plug in the Ref II for best results? I
tried several locations: the outlet next to my main (where a PE V Pro Custom sits), the next room where I run computer/hard
drives/router/DSL modem, and various places around the room and around the house. So far, I prefer the initial instinct:
Unplug and move existing Ref I to an outlet where a PE II had been sitting, plug in the Ref II, move the PE II to the
adjacent bathroom. This configuration gives my system the warmth I needed and lowest distortion leaading to longer more
relaxing listening sessions.
The setup in my room is half battery, half AC powered. Optima RedTops are feeding juice to RWA SB2 (xport) and Altman's DAC,
SinglePower MPX3 and AudioSector Patek SE are plugged in AM's power strip which in turn plugged in PE V Pro Custom.
For the last month and a half I have been listening to (and took notes of) mostly jazz and pop vocals, which I think are the
forte of my single driver speakers - Bob Brines' FTA-2000s. Classical orchestras, new age, operatic voices will be
auditioned and reported later in a Part II.
Now, onto the sound. Only a few hours in my room, the REf II already made an immediate and noticeable difference. The music
suddenly became warmer, edges around sibilant voices rounder, less harsh. Bass line got more tuneful. But beside the added
warmth (pleasantly so, not the overly warmth associated with lesser tube gear) it's hard to pinpoint exactly where the
improvements are. Most if not every ingredients of music seems to come together, like the various singers of a choir hold
their voices together, for the better and rendering a more organic performance.
There had been a weakness in my system that, even after installation of many PEs (PE I, II, II, IV, V) and Ref I's in the
house, disallowed me to enjoy male vocals. There was always some glare in male voices (Il Divo, Josh Groban, Nat King Cole
tracks). But after the Ref II came and stayed with me for a month, I found myself listening to (and enjoying) male vocals
more often that I used to. More so, female vocals are sounding better and better, not other way around.
Whether I play tracks of Diana Krall, Holy Cole Trio, Patricia Barber, Stacey Kent, Norah Jones,Sheila Chandra, Rene Olstead,
Jacqui Naylor or Il Divo (Carlos, Urs, Sebatien, David), Josh Groban, Nat King Cole, the performers consistently sing in my
room with warm, palpality and intimacy that I ever wished for. Accompanying instruments (bass, guitar, percussions, sax)
also play with colorful texture and good stereo separation. Voices are presented as a huge body, rich in tonality, swift in
speed, detailed yet not too much sibilance. Makes me wonder if and how adding a few more Ref II's would further expand the
big yet warmly intimate performance. And yes, the background is blacker. Quieter, lower distortion, that is.
Video, as a no surprise with Alan Maher's products by now, has improved as well. Color gets a shade more vivid, black get
blacker, there are less picture distortions. Pictures are getting easier to look at, sounds more listenable, more pleasant.
A side note: A music lover friend stopped by, had lunch with me, and we both had a listen before driving off to a local
audio store for an auditioning (he owns a pair of B&W 804s and is eyeballing a McIntosh MC-275 calssic tube amp). At home we
listened to a few "usual suspects": Diana Krall's I Miss You So Much, King Buiett Trio's Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You, Nat
King Cole's Autumn Leaves. In the dealer's sound room we listened to a pair of B&W 805s first, then the B&W 802s - oh boy,
do they look awesome! The 802s were driven by an MC-275, music source was a McIntosh MS750 Music Server. I was most
impressed by the playing of The Fairfield Four recording. The huge, fat, warm bass voice sits towards and hangs above the
left speaker, while other three accompanying voices sing toward the right side, much smaller in image size. When I got to
hear the song I Miss You So Much (Diana Krall), her voice tends to be placed in the center but far back behind the two
speakers. Overall, the presentation at the sound room was somehow cooler than that in my room, and I think the Ref II
contributes to it. Otherwise, I didn't feel losing much of high fidelity and more importantly musicality after coming back
to my room and listened once again to similar materials.
I like the Ref II for its effectiveness, high performance per dollar value, shorter break-in time, and its share of
audio/video tuning capability among those products of Alan Maher.