Bybee Technologies Quantum Interconnect Filter
by Dave Duvall
Jack Bybee, while not only being a theoretical physicist, is one of the most easy-going folks you'll ever meet. He may not agree with that, but every time I've run into him at the shows, Ive thoroughly enjoyed his company. Bybee worked for the Navy as a private contractor from 1971-1974 with the mission of designing wire technologies and power-purification systems to lower the already low noise floor of DC-powered passive sonar systems in submarines. In plain English, Jack translates that to mean "we had to be able to discern the noise of a whale burping from a Soviet Sub."
Partnered with Carl Brinkman, an avid audiophile and savvy marketeer, Jack formed Bybee Technologies, Inc. in 1997 to bring his line of Power Purifiers and other related AC-treatment devices to high-end audio. Last year Bybee teamed with legendary audio designer John Curl to add RFI filtering and surge/spike protection to their AC products, attempting to bypass some of the sonic downside of doing so. Since then, a line of speaker filters were introduced that have been widely accepted amongst the audio press as statement products. This year, Bybee is about to announce a new line of interconnect filters, and who knows what they'll be filtering next year? I could imagine their products OEMd into other manufacturers products, but I don't know if that's in the cards or not.
The theory behind his Quantum Mechanical Filters is that of superconductivity. While electrons travel through most electrical wires somewhere around 50%-60% of the speed of light, it was discovered that the use of certain ceramics mixed with such rare earth metals such as Zirconium, Yttrium, Neodymium, Praeseadoyium, and Lanthanum oxides could create conductivity at 92% of the speed of light at room temperature. Bybee Quantum mechanical filters were also developed to create a barrier to clean, align, and stabilize individual electrons, while the surrounding damped mass absorbs the irregular discarded electrons. Pretty heady stuff, eh?
My life and "Quantum Filtering"
It's always fun when simple folk like myself can introduce fancy terms like "Quantum Filtering" into their vocabulary. It makes me feel that I've actually progressed from the caveman stage a bit.
A couple of years ago when I reviewed Bybee's original Power Purifier, it was being distributed by TAD Systems of San Mateo, California. Since then, Jack and Carl Brinkman have started manufacturing and distributing the products themselves. The original Power Purifier, still in use in my system, had one level of filtering of the incoming AC line, while subsequent products have gone to multi-levels. I asked Jack if at some point too much filtering negatively affects the sound, to which he answered that he personally has the equivalent of 20 sets of filtering on each leg of his AC, and it only gets better as he filters more stages of the signal. What with having introduced Quantum Filtering at both the power-cord and speaker levels, it probably only makes evolutionary sense that the Interconnect Filter would come to be.
According to Jack, the Interconnect Filter is "the greatest improvement [offered] of all his products." They work on the same principles of passing the signal through exotic metals and ceramics that the AC products do, but instead of filtering the raw AC, they are now filtering a modulated audio signal that has been constructed from the original AC. Bybee states that the Interconnect Filters "tame the overshoot of a square wave signal," which results in less signal distortion and brings us closer to linearity. In principle they also work to absorb quantization noise, and Jack suggested that I also try them on a digital cable. But in their primary usage, they work on an analog interconnect to solve phase anomalies on the low-voltage signal.
To keep things in context: the review system
Nothing much has changed of late (a sign of musical pleasure), so the rundown goes as follows. Muse Model Five transport via I2S connection to the Muse Model Two Plus DAC (with HDCD filter); Audible Illusions L-1 preamp (with Amperex 7308 tubes); Belles 150A stereo amplifier (with Vampire binding posts); Kimber BiFocal-XL speaker cables; Kimber PowerKords; Cardas Golden Cross interconnects; PSB Stratus Gold speakers; TAD Systems (Bybee) Power Purifier (amp direct to wall); home-brew racks, isolation (I've gotta try Barry Kohan's Bright Star Audio products!) combos, and absorbers; a lot of good music (albeit on CD); some extreme love and care; and a hope for good will amongst men.
The downside of being a reviewer
I'm not a rich man; not even a member of the six-figure income bracket. My day job is in management (until I get fired, as most managers do), and I've got the mortgage and a couple of kids to feed. Workin' Man, remember? But I've got this audio-jones coupled with a love of music, and feeding my habit with so much great-sounding audio gear is not going to make me a member in good standing at Audiophilia Nervosa Anonymous (ANA).
Which leads us to...
...the fact that the Bybee Interconnect Filters cost $600 per pair, and I have grown accustomed to their presence. I have two pairs of the production models in house, so you're looking at $1,200 plus tax should you decide to accept this mission. Soooo...we need to find a way to rationalize this expenditure (unless you've got the larger income that I don't) or better put -- how do I talk myself into this one? Spoken like a true junkie.
Of course, this wouldn't be an issue if the damned things didn't improve the sound of my system. As I'm sure is evident by this point, the Bybee Filters don't just make a difference, they make a difference that I enjoy, that is in peace and synergy with my system, and asks the question, "Where else could I invest but $1,200 in my system and get the kind of results I'm hearing with these filters?" At the current state of flux with this system, I'm getting close to ringing just about all the performance out of her I'm going to get. Of course, I was thinking this same thing prior to the arrival of the Bybee Interconnect Filters too.
Do I think they make the sound more "accurate?" Who's to say? I wasn't at the original recording session for any of the music I own, so accuracy is pretty hard to pin down, though a lot of reviewers throw that term around too easily. I'd bet I'm guilty of it myself somewhere in my intrepid past. Let's just say I've learned a bit over the years. Would I say the Interconnect Filters help me accept the illusion as a second cousin of reality? I'll go that far. I've heard a fair amount of live jazz, classical, and folk, as well as all the amplified, distorted, electric music that a soul can handle, and I recognize qualities that are similar between all of it and the recorded equivalent. But two things here: It's never going to be "just right," and those who claim their musical memory of live sound is an excellent reference need to understand how valuable A/B/A comparisons are -- and the difficulty of setting the orchestra up behind your rack for some meaningful observations. But when you hear a number of similarities to a live experience, things can get a bit magical in your listening room.
May I play some music for you?
I spun some rock early on in the review period, with the Bybee Filters attached to the input jacks of the preamp and power amp, as instructed by Jack Bybee. Listening to "Green Grow The Rushes" by REM (Reconstruction Of The Fables [IRS IRSD-5592]), I detected a bit of dimensionality to the sound that was missing without the Bybee filters. I've always felt this was a somewhat bright recording, but the interconnect filters alleviated a lot of pain in listening to this great music. Because Fables was recorded in the mid-80s, when CD still had some learning to do, the digital brightness and the flatness of the soundstage didn't seem unusual. That the Bybee filters could help this at all did seem out of the ordinary; they either added some admirable qualities to the sound, or uncovered things that were on the disc but were not getting through. I'm going to vote for the latter because playing the beautiful HDCD-recorded Café Blue by Patricia Barber [First Impression Music FIM CD 010], which is the antithesis of bright, did not demonstrate an overblown warmth and rounding that I would suspect would have been the case otherwise. Those two recordings clearly show how far the 16-bit/44.1kHz format has come since its inception. DSD or 24-bit/96kHz promise (and I have heard for myself) the subtleties that may finally put us over the top.
Taking one more step in the rock world before moving on to some music a little better for evaluating equipment, I got into "Anybody Seen My Baby" by the Rolling Stones (Bridges to Babylon [Virgin 7243-8-44712-2-4]). With the Bybee Filters on the inputs to both preamp and amp, the bass line rounds out a bit, yet maintains its enormous drive. There was a noticeable increase to the presence of Mick's voice, as the band seemed to take a step or two back with the filters in place. I sensed a taming of the brightness that appears to be recorded into this disc, but not at the expense of losing any sparkle to Charlie Watts cymbals, making listening a little easier on the ear. Although I personally don't think that Don Was hit the EQ balance right on this disc or Voodoo Lounge, his work is still a blessing over the, as Jagger once called it, "mixed on a boom-box" sound on a lot of earlier Stones recordings.
Moving on to mellower modes, Chris Isaak's "Blue Spanish Sky" (from Heart Shaped World [Reprise-9 25837-2]) demonstrates acoustic guitar recorded well. The guitar work here, as well as Isaak's voice, both seemed more whole and harmonically complete with the filters and imparted more of the resonance of the guitar body and his chest into the presentation. Removing them during this A/B/A session showed that the filters also relieved a slight layer of grain in the upper regions of frequency that I didn't even know existed. This was not a world-class difference, as this slight grain texture was just that, slight, but it was noticeable. This was certainly a benefit that would be missed for a short period of time after removing the Interconnect Filters. Our brain is kind though, and this level of nuance can be forgotten, but the Bybee Interconnect Filters are a welcome improvement in this respect that I'd rather live with than without.
Diana Krall has a mature voice that is hard to believe comes from such a young woman. And yes, all you hound dogs, she's even more attractive in person than she appears in photos. Needless to say she's another female diva to me, and I've got a thing for her music. While her vocal range is somewhat limited, there is a breathiness and body to her voice throughout her working range that will make you forget about such trivia. When I removed the Bybee Interconnect Filters during a session involving "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (All For You-[Impulse! IMPD-182]), I heard the loss of a bit of richness, and Kralls voice took on a bit more leading-edge bite and sibilant spit. Her piano seemed a little bit more jangly when the right hand reached for the upper registers. With the filters, the piano sounded a tad more connected from bottom to top, and the higher notes didn't seem to attack the listener as aggressively. Russell Malone's hollow-body electric guitar took on a small increase in life, with his strings producing a rounder sound and the guitar-body resonance becoming a larger factor.
Eije Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra perform a wonderful rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition on the Reference Recordings label [RR-79CD]. My favorite portion for critical listening is "Gnomus," as it runs pretty much the gamut in audiophile terms as well as being an exciting piece of classical music. I used this piece to test the effectiveness of positioning the filters, not only on the inputs of the preamp and amp, but with one set on the preamp output and one on the amp inputs, thus filtering only the set of interconnects furthest down in the chain. In the first position, the overall sound was a bit more present with more of a distinction between the background and the music. I felt a better sense that the back wall of the acoustic space was not immediately behind the orchestra, with more air between performers and more bloom to their instruments. These were similar observations that I'd made when listening to 24-bit/96kHz and SACD demos at HI-FI '98, but if memory serves me well, it didn't take critical listening to pick up on this with the higher data-rate recordings. With the filters inline, tympani whacks were less constrained, more dynamic and visceral, and trumpet "blat" was diminished ever so slightly. Removing the Bybee filters would compress the orchestra from front to rear, back to acceptable but compromised levels.
The Bybee filters on both ends of the last interconnects (output of preamp and input of power amp) was the icing on the cake. Again playing "Gnomus," the orchestra opened up a bit more, individual instruments sounded cleaner, and slight improvements were heard in terms of detail and dimension. Strings were lovely as they worked down the scale in a coordinated frenzy. I could hear a better relationship in space from the strings to the woodwinds, and back to the percussion section. Hell, I was even able to take this one step further by removing the Audible Illusions L-1 preamp from the chain, feeding the Muse Model Two Plus DAC (with non-HDCD attenuation bypassed) direct to the amplifier. Now here was a combo! Sans preamp and with the Bybee Filters on both ends of the DAC-to-power-amp interconnects, in a transmitter/receiver fashion, the system made me wanna cry (and wonder how a passive preamp might sound).
In the realm of ones and zeros
Only thing left to do was to try Jack's suggestion of using the filters on a digital cable. My Cardas Video/High Speed Data cable wasn't long enough, and I didn't have the right combination of BNC/RCA adapters to use with my Max Rochlin Memorial cable, but I did have the right setup to work with the Audio Alchemy DST powered digital cable. Bottom line, the Bybee Filters on each end of the DST cable did offer improvements to the digital SP/DIF signal similar to those described previously. However, I still preferred using the Muse Model Five transport and Model Two Plus DAC via I2S and saving the Bybee filters for use on the both ends of the preamp-to-power-amp interconnect. There's a clarity with I2S that just isn't there with SP/DIF, with or without the filters attached. If you're doing SP/DIF only, I believe you'll also hear the benefit of the interconnect filter and possibly find it a worthwhile investment.
My PSB Stratus Gold speakers are not the strongest I've heard in depth perception, but the Bybee Filters effect on the sound could be exemplified, in one way, as if better front-to-rear separation had somehow been incorporated into the speaker design. This would be a good way of answering the question, "Are the Bybee Quantum interconnect filters cost-effective at $600 per pair?" In my case, $1200 added to the cost of the Stratus Gold speakers would have me comparing them against speakers in the $3500-$4000 range. I would be bold enough to say that I do hear that kind of jump in performance, but would caution that I am not aware of how these filters would perform in a more refined (normally equating to a more expensive) set of components. I suspect they'd perform admirably.
But depth was not the only area that benefited by using the Bybee interconnect filters. Dynamics, air, bloom, and background noise were all improved to some extent. I don't want to exaggerate their effect, but I don't want to underemphasize it either. As I reflect back on my review of the original Power Purifier AC conditioner, I find that some of those final comments have the same weight here.
I enjoy music on this system without the Bybee interconnect filters; it has reached a comfortable level for the dollars concerned. However, with the choice, I'll go with a pair on both ends of the preamp-to-power-amp interconnects for sure, and if money weren't the object, there's a good bet you'd find another pair on both ends of the DAC-to-preamp interconnects. For those of you who have the fiscal means and who value squeezing everything out of your system you can, the Bybee Technologies Quantum Interconnect Filters may very well become an indispensable part of your playback chain. Consider the latest products in the Bybee line heartily endorsed by yours truly.
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