In the original Perry Mason TV series (1957-1966), District Attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman) is almost always the prosecutor who’s trying to jail the clients of defense attorney Mason (Raymond Burr). Usually, just when Burger seems finally about to win a case, Mason finds a way to reveal the real culprit and thus exonerate his client. So it is with me and Gilbert Yeung, founder and designer of Blue Circle Audio: He’s always saying he’s come up with a component that can do a particular thing, I almost always scoff at the claim -- and then he proves his point. Once, he said he had an amplifier whose output stage comprised 288 op-amps and could drive most speakers. I still haven’t figured out how he pulled that one off, but he certainly did.
Once, however, I did win a small victory: I told Yeung that the power cord he’d supplied with his BC6000 powerline conditioner produced an easily audible coloration. When the volcanic eruption from Mt. Yeung had subsided, he decided, in true Yeungian fashion, to offer the BC6000 with an optional IEC inlet, so that customers could use the power cord of their choice.
Most recently, Yeung has claimed to have designed a powerline conditioner (PLC) costing only $495 USD that would make audible improvements competitive with those of PLCs costing five to ten times as much. When, again, I scoffed, he told me he was eager to come by my home and plug it into my system. I thought this would be a waste of time, but I didn’t want to be rude -- and he had proven me wrong about the NSL. I decided to humor him. Yeung delivered the conditioner to my home and plugged it into my system.
To keep down costs, the PLC Thingee FX-2 six-outlet powerline conditioner (and some other Blue Circle Audio products) is built into a short (6.375”L x 4.5” diameter) section of pipe made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), with silicone endcaps. Embedded in the silicone at one end are four outlets; the other end has two more outlets and the IEC inlet. And other than the Blue Circle logo, that’s about it for what’s visible on the exterior. The FX-2 is a set-and-forget component that’s designed to be left on at all times.
The FX-2 is a non-current-limiting PLC that includes Blue Circle’s X0e low-frequency filter module. According to Gilbert Yeung, household appliances such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc., introduce noise into a house’s powerlines, including those that feed our audio systems. To remove this noise, he tunes low-frequency filters such as the X0e to specific frequencies.
Once the FX-2 was set up in my system, I broke it in by putting my CD player on repeat and letting it run 24/7 for two weeks. There was a definite improvement from week one to week two. At first listen, the sound had a degree of openness and detail, but also a slight edge. The bass was deep but a little loose. Following the two weeks of break-in, I noticed that the higher frequencies were definitely smoother. The midrange had better focus, with instruments and voices having more presence, and the bass was tighter, while retaining the extension I’d heard before. The size of the soundstage had increased.
Overall, I was surprised at the improvement the FX-2 had wrought in my system’s sound. It was more relaxed, and seemed to emanate from darker backgrounds than before. Music now began to take on a more rhythmic quality that sounded slightly more beguiling and more attractive. I began to think that perhaps there was something to this low-level noise from appliances -- it may not be directly audible, but its presence takes a little bit away from what we do hear. The overall sound of my system hadn’t dramatically changed, but it had appreciably improved -- I was hearing more of what was there, more of what I like about my system’s sound, more of the music.
One Sunday morning, listening to SiriusXM Radio in the car, I found myself so enjoying one selection that I had to pull over to write down the artist’s name and the album’s title: Ahmad Jamal’s Saturday Morning (CD, Jazz Village 570027). Jamal is now 84, and he’s still got it. On this album he’s accompanied by double bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley, and it’s obvious that these guys were enjoying playing with one another. The player who really got my attention was percussionist Manolo Badrena, in the album’s title track. The FX-2 let me hear the inner details more clearly, and the transient responses sounded faster, making the sounds of Badrena’s various percussion instruments more believable. The same was true of a track dedicated to the late Horace Silver (1928-2014), “Silver,” which has much more of a Latin flavor.
Kurt Elling’s 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project (CD, Concord Jazz 3395902) has become one of my favorite recordings of a male voice. I appreciate the way Elling takes chances in interpreting a song and making it his own. I found this especially true with his cover of Paul Simon’s “An American Tune,” which he sings so sweetly, and of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” which has a somewhat funky arrangement. One of several songs on this disc that were recorded live, “You Send Me” captures the sound and energy of the audience -- Elling obviously connected with them that night. The FX-2 did a slightly better job of allowing me to hear the timbre of his voice, and the sweetness of his falsetto in “An American Tune.”
For women’s voices, I’ve been doing a lot of listening to Louise Rogers’s Black Coffee (SACD/CD, Chesky SACD345), a particularly well-recorded disc. She treats us to the sound of her wonderfully natural, sweet, pure voice in this collection of standards, which she does an amazing job of interpreting. In each one, her genuineness allows her to communicate what she’s singing about, as in “Black Coffee” and “Pennies from Heaven.” Rogers’s husband, the excellent double bassist Rick Strong, lays down nice bass lines for the group -- during his solos, the FX-2 allowed my system to convey an increased amount of presence.
Toward the end of the review period, Gilbert Yeung checked in to see how things were coming along and if the FX-2 was behaving itself. I told him things were coming along just fine. Then he asked if I’d plugged any power amplifiers into the FX-2 yet. I hadn’t, and told him about my failed attempts to get any sort of good sound from power amps plugged into a PLC. This has occurred many times in the past, to varying degrees, with PLCs from Tice, Balanced Power, Chang Lightspeed, Isoclean, and other manufacturers. I told Yeung that I felt that the FX-2 was doing what it was designed to do, but that I didn’t want to embarrass it by stress-testing it with amplifiers plugged into it. No one would expect it to simultaneously handle source components and power amps, especially the fairly powerful, current-hungry amps I had on hand: MSB M202 and Bully Sound BSC 100m monoblocks, and a Musical Fidelity AMS50. Each MSB and Bully weighs about 90 pounds, and the Musical Fidelity 135 pounds. But Yeung, measurements and calculations in hand, wanted me to plug each of these amps, in turn, directly into the FX-2 while my preamp, DAC, and electrostatic speakers were also plugged in. “OK,” I said; “you asked for it.”
The first amps I plugged directly into the FX-2 were the MSB monoblocks. There was absolutely no loss in sound quality. Even more confounding, the noise floor dropped. This was no subtle “Oh, it’s a little quieter” improvement, but something on the order of “I don’t believe what I’m hearing.” I kept telling myself that there was no way a $495 PLC could make this kind of improvement.
I got the same sort of improvement, albeit without so deep a drop in the noise floor, with the Bully Sound BSC 100m monoblocks and the Musical Fidelity AMS50. The FX-2 performed better than a lot of PLCs I’ve listened to or borrowed. I own an Isoclean 60A3 ($3000), and the FX-2 was clearly better, for less than one-sixth the price. The race may have been close in the highs and midrange, but I thought the FX-2 sounded better in the bass. And the sound deteriorated when I plugged the amps straight into the Isoclean. Suddenly, the music was lifeless and anemic, with a noticeable shrinking of dynamic range.
Blue Circle Audio’s PLC Thingee FX-2 powerline conditioner is a stellar performer at any price. But for only $495? Are you kidding me? I don’t see how Gilbert Yeung does it, but he’s done it again: made another claim for a component that I tried to debunk but only confirmed. With something like the FX-2 providing the level of audible improvement that it does for only $495, I now don’t know what to think about the current state of the power-conditioning art: How much money is too much to spend on a PLC?
Evidently, a lot less than I thought. For $495, you get a darn good PLC in the Blue Circle FX-2. If you’re an audiophile on a budget who doesn’t put much stock in PLCs, the FX-2 is the one for you. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m buying one.
. . . Michael Wright
- Speakers -- KingSound King (with custom power supplies designed and built by Don Smith at Sound Design Labs), Meadowlark Heron, Sonic Hemisphere
- Sources -- Asus laptop running JRiver Media Center 17; Abbingdon Music Research DP-777 DAC; Merrill Heirloom turntable, Jeff Rowland Design Group Consonance tonearm, Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge; ASR Mini Basis phono stage
- Preamplifier -- Purity Audio Design Silver Statement
- Power amplifiers -- McAlister Audio OTL-195 monoblocks, MSB M202 monoblocks, Bully Sound Company BSC 100m monoblocks, Musical Fidelity AMS50
- Speaker cables and interconnects -- Crystal Clear Audio Cables Magnum Opus
- Power cables -- Sound Design Labs BD3-SE
- Power conditioner -- Isoclean 60A3, Sound Design Labs
- Accessories -- Epiphany Stand Systems Celeste Reference equipment stand
Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 Six-Outlet Powerline Conditioner with X0e Low-frequency Filter Module
Price: $495 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Blue Circle Audio
Innerkip, Ontario N0J 1M0
Phone: (519) 469-3215
Fax: (519) 469-3782