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Blue Circle MR1200 Music Ring Review

 

John Bugailiskis
Blue Circle gets the balance right with Music Ring

Your stereo system draws electricity from a wall outlet and converts it into the sound that is ultimately produced by your speakers. The more that electricity is corrupted by noise, the worse your system will sound -- garbage in, garbage out. The goal of all power line conditioners is to eliminate as much of this noise as possible and allow you to hear deeper into your music by lowering your music system's noise floor and removing the veiling you hear as congestion or graying of the sound.

Blue Circle's Music Ring uses some of the same filtering principles used by other power line conditioners, but its key technology is balancing the power feed to the system's audio components. Here's the basic idea: A standard North American power feed has three conductors -- a live conductor which will measure 120 volts as compared to ground, a neutral conductor which will measure 0 volts as compared to ground, and the ground conductor itself. The difference between the live and neutral is 120 volts to ground. The Music Ring converts these so that one conductor measures 60 volts to ground and the second is 180 degrees out of phase and so will measure -60 volts to ground. The difference of these two is still 120 volts to ground so audio components still receive their full required voltage. The effect of the phase shift is to cancel out noise. A spike appearing at the first conductor is cancelled out by an equal but opposite spike at the second.

Blue Circle's founder, Gilbert Yeung, says that when he designed the Music Ring his goal was to produce an exceptionally balanced AC powerline conditioner that will perform as good as the competition or better, while avoiding problems encountered by other balanced powerline conditioners.

One of the problem areas with other powerline conditioners is the size of the transformer. Many companies use one big transformer to obtain the necessary power. The problem with one big transformer is that it's noisier and suffers from slower response times than a smaller transformer. For the MR1200 model Yeung decided to use three 400 watt transformers to product a total of 1200watts.

"The result of our multiple smaller transformer is a faster response time and lower noise. Remember, transformers always make a little noise. But when it passes a certain size, it will make a much louder noise. We have found the critical size is not much bigger than 400watt," explains Yeung,

The Music Ring was also designed to "perform and not to be seen." That is why it ships in a plain box without any unnecessary meters and LEDs. "Those items are something that will show line voltage and other information, buy the user usually cannot do anything about it anyway. So why put it there when we can devote more resources into the internal parts?" says Yeung. This way Blue Circle can keep the Music Ring's pricing very reasonable compared to other companies.

For my review of the MR1200 I tested the Music Ring in two different systems: my reference system consists of Soliloquy 5.0s speakers, a Sima W-3050 power amp and P2001 pre-amp, Cambridge Audio 500SE CD player with Chord Solid 2 interconnects and Alpha-Core Python Mi2 speaker cable. The other system consists of 3A MM speakers, a Sima PW-3000 integrated amp and an Arcam Alpha Plus CD player, with Tara Labs Space+Time interconnects and Alpha-Core Goertz M1 speaker cable. In both systems, the Music Ring made a dramatic difference.

I sat back and started listening to Holly Cole's I Can See Clearly Now. I was immediately struck by the greater clarity and fluidity I heard all through the sound spectrum. The bass was deeper and tighter, the mid-range had added depth, and the slight sibilance in Holly's vocals took on more of a smooth "tube" like sound. It was a revelation to hear how much the low level noise I couldn't normally hear, had been impacting the music that I could hear. The quiet produced by the lower noise floor allowed the soft, subtle details of Holly's haunting Calling You to flow from the speakers in an enchanting, liquid fashion.

A somewhat unexpected benefit was greater impact to louder instrumental passages. I often hear the drums in James Taylor's Gaia (from Hourglass) squelched by systems not up to the task. I was pleased and a little surprised to hear how much more power, impact and depth these drums had with the Music Ring. The driving bass and drums of Animal Logic's I Won't Be Sleeping Anymore (from Animal Logic II) charged ahead with renewed vigor.

In auditioning the Music Ring, I also listened to Patricia Barber's Café Blue, and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Beyond their musical value, these recordings offer a sparser soundstage that was clearly affected by power line noise given the audible improvement when the Music Ring was plugged in.

It has almost become a cliché in reviews of power and cabling components to claim that the product under review makes as much difference in a sound system as a multi-thousand dollar upgrade to the source/preamp/amp/speakers (take your pick). That said, the Music Ring's effect is dramatic enough to qualify as a major system upgrade. It makes sense that a major cleanup of the power feeding your audio system will make a substantial improvement in the music your system produces.

Music Ring prices start at $699 (USD) for an 800 watt unit and the top of the line 2,400 watt unit costs $1,599 (USD). The MR1200 retails for $799. These prices compare well with a serious upgrade to a single component.

I had the opportunity to compare the Music Ring with Chang Lightspeed's CLS 9600 MK II power line filter which is priced the same as the MR1200. While the Chang did improve the sound of my system compared to the unfiltered AC coming out of my wall, it wasn't even in the same league as the Music Ring when you compare the overall improvement it made to the music

I was so impressed with the Music Ring that it has now taken its place in my reference system. Given the system-wide benefits the Music Ring offers, you owe it to yourself to hear what the Music Ring can do.

Blue Circle Music Ring MR1200 - MSRP $799

John Bugailiskis
Contributing Editor
Broadcaster Magazine
http://www.broadcastermagazine.com

John is an audio and PC enthusiast based out of Toronto, Canada. He is also the contributing editor of "Broadcaster" a trade publication covering the communications industry in Canada.
 

G-Man
About all that needs to be said on this subject has been said in the Bryston amplifier owner manuals. "All Bryston power amplifiers contain high-quality, dedicated circuitry in the power supplies to reject RF, line spikes, and other line-power problems. Bryston power amplifiers do not require specialized power line conditioners. Plug the amplifier directly into the wall socket" And this blurb is written by the company with the longest warranty and possibly the best circuitry.

Of course, what Bryston doesn't say is that the same is true, more or less, of all well-designed amplifiers. If you can afford a fancy power conditioner, you can most assuredly afford a great amplifier.

A good surge protector may well be wise--but line conditioners---a waste.
 

Anonymous
wow, thanks for your brilliant response g-man.. you sure have helped a lot of people "save" their money , because surely if it says one thing in a manual it can't be wrong. And thank you also for telling all of us folks that have heard the differences that we are obviously wrong and just delusional to be thinking that something as useless as power conditioning could ever help our sound/video improve.

you mention amplifiers, but you fail to mention: cd players, dvd players, pre amps, dacs, tv's, turntables, phono stages, and a host of other things, so really, you don't come off as a person whom is knowledgable on a subject, you come off as an asshat whom can read an owner manual. thank you for sharing (asshat).
 

Bryston may be correct. There may be numerous pieces of audio gear out there that do not require power conditioners, but you'll never know that for sure until you try it with your gear in your own environment. I was not a believer until I tried the MR 1200 in my home and with my gear.

As to the issue of well designed equipment, I think I qualify as an owner of same: Audio Reference Phono stage, BC3 pre, VTL 450 Signature monoblock power amps and Classe DR3 power amp. Guess what......all of this gear benefitted from being plugged into the MR1200. This despite having a dedicated circuit for my audio gear. So you never know until you try it. It cost nothing to try and the benefits can be substantial.

The improvement the MR1200 brought to my Classe DR3 power amp was almost (and I stress the word "almost") as great as substituting the VTLs for the Classe DR3. That's how significant the MR 1200 is to my audio set-up. The VTL 450 Signatures also benefitted from the MR1200. They are glorious when played in either tetrode or triode modes. The MR 1200 improves upon their performance in each of these modes. When played in triode mode and hooked up to the MR1200, they are absolutely incredibly breath-taking.

Synergy, with respect to how various pieces of audio gear interacts, is not universal, but rather specific to each circumstance.
 

Correction:

In the above post, reference to my phono stage should read Audio Research Reference Phono stage.
 

MUDCAT
John:

Thanks for your input. You stated that the MR 1200 enabled your amplification to perform at a higher level. I will not dispute that conclusion, but in what way did the 1200 allow your amplification to shine (i.e., better soundstaging and imaging; deeper, tighter, more defined bass; improved clarity; better dynamics, etc). Also, please quantify (5%, 7%, 10%) the improvement to your system so that readers can analyze and evaluate whether it is cost-beneficial to purchase this component. For example, if it enables my components to sound 15% better, it is a definite buy.

Last, what type of impact did it have on your other components (digital source, preamp and tuner, if any)? At this point, you have not told potential buyers the complete story!
 

John Bugailiskis says that a power-line conditioner gave him the equivalent of a major system upgrade. If the difference was that dramatic, surely he should be able to identify in a blind test when the device was in his system. If he can do that to a statistically significant level, he will go down in audio history.

To paraphrase something Dilbert once said to the pointy-haired boss, I humbly await his otherworldly explanation of why he shouldn't have to do that.

-- E. Brad Meyer (Boston)

P.S. G-man -- Keep up the good work. But why didn't you point out that this conditioner appears to put the system ground, that is, every chassis in the joint, at 60 VAC from ground? If the description is correct ("The Music Ring converts these so that one conductor measures 60 volts to ground and the second is 180 degrees out of phase and so will measure -60 volts to ground,") this is a very dangerous thing to do. Am I missing something here?
 

Mr Meyer:

Yes, you are missing something. The MR1200 has an internal Ground Fault Interruptor which eleminates the problem you refer to.
 

Mudcat....(great name!)

What you are asking is what sounds to me to be a formal review but I'd rather be listening than writing; however, I will add the following to my initial post:

The MR 1200 instilled a little more space and air around each instrument and performer within the soundstage (with the ClasseDR3). There was also a greater sense of (3D) dimensionality to the images within the soundstage. The VTL's are extremely holographic in there presentation of images. The MR 1200 didn't enhance on the dimensionality (with the VTLs) as much as it made it more discernable (I think).

The soundstage did not change in its width or height - if it did I did not notice this since my Dunlavys already throw an image well beyond my side walls (25') and present very realistic vertical images. What it did do is improve on the depth of field. Much more so with the solid state Classe than the tubed VTLs.

The tonal balance was slightly improved. I readily noticed this with the VTL 450 in the system and to a lesser degree when the Classe DR3 was installed. This comes as no surprise given the vast superiority of the VTL's in this regard.

Dynamics were also slightly better with the Classe amp The VTLs are a 450 watt (tetrode) beast - and are champions in this department with or without power conditioners.

I did not use different preamps, nor swap the pre in and out of the MR 1200; therefore, I cannot evaluate what effect the MR 1200 had on the pre. Actually I didn't care which components it affected. I evaluated the MR 1200 as an entire system and determined that it did make significant improvements. When I get some down time I may try taking the pre out of the MR 1200 and evaluate the effects.

One expression that I use to hate (in fact detest intensely) in audio - and reviewers use it all the time - is "a blacker background". I never knew what this meant, not having experienced it. What the heck is a blacker background??? If something is black it's already black and it can't be blacker. It's like being more dead. I thought it was something made up by the audio press to dazzle their readership. I had this discussion with Kevin Allen from Harmonia Audio one day and we both came to the same conclusion about this statement after hearing the MR 1200. I hate to admit it but when I first listened to my system with all components plugged into the MR 1200 it became very clear and obvious what this expression represents, in audio terms, and that this phenomenon really exists. I don't know how to describe the effect other than to say "the background was blacker!!!" I guess what than means is less noise, grunge or whatever you want to call it within the audio signal chain. Somehow the MR1200 cleaned up the noise within the individual components plugged into it. Maybe I shouldn't say "Somehow" since Gilbert has posted the technical explanation of how and why the MR1200 works. And in my system it works. I actually bought Kevin's MR1200. I just couldn't and quite frankly wouldn't give it back. Sorry Kevin.

I cannot put a quantified value on the improvements brought on by this component. How does one establish defined criteria to do so? And how can you measure this in absolute terms. I do not believe it can be done. That's beyond my capabilities to do so. To do so subjectively is another matter but becomes relevant only to the individual and within the context of their own unique system. Listen for yourself. Find a good Blue Circle dealer (I guess that's redundant...all BC dealers are good - right guys?) It costs nothing to do so and there is no obligation on you part. I think you may be pleasantly surprised. But before you do, make sure you have some extra greenbacks lying around for you may not be able to part with it!

Happy listening.
 

MUDCAT
Thanks for the feedback. I had not been here in awhile. The reason I pushed you for more information is that I was seriously leaning toward buying the competitively-priced MR 1200, but kept hesistating for this or that reason. However, based on your apparently honest comments (and others), I will definitely purchase the MR 1200 the first week in December 2003 for my relatively modest system and post my initial impressions here two weeks after I receive it - optimistically late December 2003 if Blue Circle has my model in stock and ready-to-deliver. I will specifically evaluate its impact on my Fanfare FT-100A AM/FM Tuner, Sony 555ES CD/SACD player and Sony 24" TV, and build quality.
 

does anyone have any recommendation for those of us who can't afford a $700 line conditioner? I have an excellent receiver (for about $1000) and about $2500 invested in speakers, so its certainly not a "reference system," but will another $700 help my system sound that much better? What about the Monster Power stuff for about $200? Or a UPS from a computer?
 

I am confused by the specs. Does this unit actually REGULATE (ie keep constant) voltage?
 

Dsmith
Howard,

I believe the answer to your question is no - it is not a voltage regulator, but I think you could use it in combination with a voltage regulator if you needed that. If you want voltage regulation I think the best best is the Exactpower.

Dsmith
 

Mike Williams
Unregistered guest
I guess they are saying Bryston amps are not quiet, clean or transparent enough for you to notice a difference...I never hear Bryston mentioned as a true high-end amp. They are decent, more reliable than anything, with a great warranty....

Those who don't believe in conditioners don't own any; so really can't say whether they help.
Those that do use them don't like to waste money like everyone else. They use them because they work..
 

New member
Username: Argosclasse

Post Number: 1
Registered: 01-2004
I LOOK FOR the documentation about Classé audio power amplifier model DR3
many thank's for your help
 

Unregistered guest
Dear Ladies and Gentilman, I have rewarded myself with a budget HT system by most standards. ( Sony HDTV, Paradigm monitors, Sony AV reciver and DVD Player ) I have invested in modest cables of the Canare Star Quad veriety and did my best to set everything to my rooms best levels and placment. That being said I would like to invest in a quality power line conditioner to run my whole system thru. I have reserched units from Equiotech - Blue Circle - Monster Cable and the like, could anyone give advice on which would be a fine choice for my needs. I share passion for Audio and Video in equal amount, and would invest upwards of $1,700.00 for something that would help me with the AC current comming from my aging(1910) home. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Kevin
 

New member
Username: Hawk

Post Number: 115
Registered: 12-2003
Kevin:

Given the age of your home, I trust you have had the electrical system redone. You may need a voltage stabilizer as well as conditioner. Check out the Monster Power AVS 2000. MSRP is $1499, but you can probably get it discounted through Kiefs (www.kiefs.com).

Good luck!
 

Bronze Member
Username: Eramsey

South carolina United States

Post Number: 14
Registered: Feb-05
WOW! John if these guys are engineers they must have slept through their math classes! -60 plus 60 is 0! not 120! Ladies and gentlemen I believe I smell snake oil! E. Ramsey AAS industrial electronics.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Eramsey

South carolina United States

Post Number: 15
Registered: Feb-05
Ok. After reviewing the website I see that the voltage is split into two phases which of course will add further noise and distortion through the introduction of 2 60Hz harmonics with the U.S. model as opposed to one. Splendid review John! Wonderfully and completely subjective with no electrical testing or measurment! BTW, Panamax has been using "balanced line" filtration for years. E. Ramsey AAS industrial electronics
 

Anonymous
 
Eric,

I just have to correct you on your post about voltages so as not to confuse the masses.

You don't add the voltages, it is the DIFFERENCE that is important. Thus 60 - ( -60) is indeed 120 volts. Just as 120 - 0 is 120 volts and in a 240 volt system 120 - (-120) is 240 volts. You see we want to measure how far apart the voltages are not sum them.

No snake oil in balanced power (just like there is no snake oil in 240 volt power for your clothes dryer or stove).

Mark Alston
 

Bronze Member
Username: Eramsey

South carolina United States

Post Number: 19
Registered: Feb-05
Mark, I was not saying that "balanced power" is snakeoil. Unfortunately, however the Blue Circle is "polyphasing" a single phase system. This is generally not a good idea. Assuming the Blue ring uses a voltage divider to seperate the 120 vac which is really about 108-110 vac rms, this will consist of two resistor networks, which is the most practical and cost effective solution to do this. The use of these two seperate networks will induce more noise into the output voltage and possibly consume more power. Traditional designs use a no step isolation transformer with a ratio of 1 to 1, before passing each line (l,n,g) through a filter consisting of a capacitor network and a mov circuit. Purely from a mathematics standpoint 120-(-120) is zero since the sign must change inside the parenthesis, this is in agreement with Kirchoffs law that states the sum of all branches as compaired with output voltage must equal zero. So you are correct, it is indeed a diffrence of potential between the two phases but incorrect to say that it is not additive, when you use a digital multimeter to measure the voltage between two points, it effectively "sums" them through the use of vector addition. E. Ramsey AAS industrial electronics
 

Bronze Member
Username: Eramsey

South carolina United States

Post Number: 20
Registered: Feb-05
Actually you are right Mark. 120-(-120) is 240 but I maintain my position on all other points. E. Ramsey AAS industrial electronics
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