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Product Review
 

Blue Circle Music Rings (MR800 and MR1200) Balanced AC Line Conditioners

March, 2004

Darren Hedley

 

Specifications:

 

● Balanced AC Output (120 Volts)

● 800 Watts (MR800) or 1200 Watts (MR1200) Supply

● 6 Industrial Grade Outlets on Each Model

● Size: 3.125" H x 16.75" W x 8.25" D

● Weight: 29 Pounds (MR800); 38 Pounds (MR1200)

● MSRP: $699 (MR800); $799 (MR1200)

 

Blue Circle Audio

 

www.bluecircle.com

 

Introduction

I’m not sure if it was a blessing or a curse when a friend of mine started me on the path to finding audio nirvana almost ten years ago.  At that time, I was like many consumers who do not appreciate how realistic and involving music can sound when played on “quality” audio equipment.

I was happy, or at least I thought I was, in my ignorance.  That was until I had the opportunity to listen to a two-channel system consisting of a Krell CD player/preamp, Krell monoblocks, and B&W Nautilus speakers.

From that point on I knew my mass market receiver and speakers would no longer suffice.

My evolution into audio has seen a limited number of changes in speakers and electronic components.  Each change or upgrade was based on a significant amount of research and listening, and usually involved replacing the component that would give me the best improvement for the money (at that particular moment).  I found this method to be the most beneficial, as I was able to enjoy a new level in fidelity while staying within a predetermined budget.

When I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing the Music Ring by Blue Circle Audio, I jumped at the chance.  This is one area of my audio/video system I have partially neglected, as I was more concerned about the other components first.  For each upgrade to my system in the past I considered testing different line conditioners, but did not believe they would make as much of a difference as a new DVD player, amplifier, speakers, etc.  This was a total misconception on my part.

Description

The Music Ring is a balanced power line conditioner and distribution center, which is designed to take the unbalanced power in the AC line and convert it to balanced power.  You may be asking yourself, “What is unbalanced and balanced power?”  Unbalanced power has a hot conductor (120V to ground), a neutral conductor (0V to ground), and the ground.  Balanced power reduces the amount of noise contamination in the power through Common Mode Rejection, although this is only for the power line after the transformer, not before it.  Balancing is done by converting the 120V to a +60V to ground and a –60V to ground.

When I received the Music Rings (MR800 and MR1200), I was surprised at their heft, especially for their size.  This is due to the balanced transformer inside. These things are really heavy.

The cosmetics of the Music Ring are simple and differ slightly compared to similar components available on the market.  The front of the unit has a toggle switch, a LED to indicate power on, and a simple silk-screened logo.  The Music Ring is covered in a shiny black powder coat, which differs from the majority of components that are brushed metal.  I was also surprised to see that there were three rubber feet, instead of the standard four feet on most components. The three feet serve as a tripod, which means it will lay on uneven surfaces.

The MR800 and MR1200 both have six industrial grade outlets, allowing for connection to the majority of components in a home theater rack.  The outlets on the Music Rings provide a firm connection to the plugs, so there is no fear of having the plugs getting accidentally unplugged.

As you may be able to guess from the model numbers, the MR800 outputs 800 watts and the MR1200 outputs 1200 watts.  Both Music Rings have 8 individual filters at the output to eliminate RF and EMI.

Performance

I connected all of my equipment to the two Music Rings as soon as I unpacked them from their boxes.  This gave me the opportunity to live with the Music Rings in my main system for awhile, in order to become familiar with any sonic and visual changes.  My main system is used for both listening to music and for home theater.  I also had a small secondary two-channel system at the time of this review in another room, which I also used to test the Music Rings (but I will get to that later).

After a week or so of using the Music Rings, I began testing the changes the Music Rings made to each component in my system.  The first two tests were on my subwoofer (D-Box David 300) and my rear projection television (Toshiba 40H80).

When I switched the subwoofer from being plugged into the Music Ring to being plugged into the wall outlet there was a significant change in the bass produced.  I switched the connection several times, comparing different types of music (classical, hard rock, country and new age) to hear the difference.  The Music Ring brought out the best of my subwoofer; the bass was much tighter and the boominess was reduced substantially.  I consider my subwoofer to be the weakest link in my system, but with the Music Ring it began to squeeze more value out of a relatively inexpensive speaker.

I had the friend I mentioned at the beginning of the review come over to watch a movie and one of the first things he commented on was the bass improvement in my system.  He asked if I purchased a new subwoofer, as he has always bugged me about getting a new one.  The fact that the improvement was due to the Music Ring completely took him by surprise. The improvement in bass may be due to the balanced transformer storing energy that is released during transient peaks.

The next component I tested was my television.  I used my Video Essentials DVD to check the changes in color, contrast, brightness, etc.  I also watched several scenes in DVDs such as “Shrek” (I love that movie) to check for improvements as well.  I noticed some improvement in the amount of picture noise while watching television; the picture seemed to get a bit smoother.  I was also able to see a slight increase in the contrast when viewing the Video Essentials patterns.  Overall there were improvements to the picture on my television using the Music Ring, although not as substantial as the improvement to my subwoofer.

The next component on my list to test was my DVD player (Panasonic RP91).  Again I used Video Essentials and watched a few DVDs to see if there were any differences.  There were more substantial changes to the picture, as there was more color saturation and increase in contrast when viewing the test patterns.  The changes were more noticeable with the DVD player and could be clearly seen in “Shrek”, which looked brighter and clearer in darker scenes.  I was once again impressed by the improvements.

I then performed tests on my audio components, again involving my DVD player, which I use as my CD transport and DVD-Audio player.  I also tested my amplifier (Bryston 9B THX Ultra) and my pre/pro (Proceed AVP-S), using various types of music, including my favorite disc for testing audio Ray Montford’s Shed Your Skin [Softail 9801CD (1998)], which is a great recording and has a variety of instruments.

Of the three components, my DVD player appeared to have the most improvement in audio when listening to music, as the instruments seemed to be a little more defined and separated.  There was also a slight improvement in the bass, although not nearly as much as when testing the subwoofer. Improved image quality and audio detail are probably a result of the Music Rings filtering out AC line hash that would otherwise get into the component signal path. The balanced AC could also improve the quality of the ground path in the components.

When I moved on to testing my amplifier and pre/pro, each tested separately, the changes were not as noticeable, and I was unable to pick out significant changes.  This got me to testing all three at the same time, all plugged into the Music Ring or all plugged into the wall outlet; this is where I could clearly hear the improvement.

Everything became much more defined, the bass was tighter and the individual instruments could be clearly distinguished. The music was much more dynamic, producing a larger soundstage.  The acoustics in Shed Your Skin had much more impact; I could feel the percussion and hear the chords of the acoustic guitar ring out in the songs “One Witness” and “May it Begin”.  I was enamored by the sound of the guitar, being a guitar player myself (to a limited degree anyway).

Classical music was much more enjoyable too, as I found it much easier to hear each instrument in the various orchestras.  I was so caught up in what I was hearing that I listened to the entire two CDs of Simply the Best Classical Anthems [WEA WTVD87038 (2001)], and I didn’t even realize how late it was.

I found myself listening to a number of CDs, as there were subtle nuances that I hadn’t really been able to hear before.  The bass improvement and increased clarity of the dialog in movies made a tremendous impact in watching DVDs as well, especially in movies like “The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring”.

As I mentioned earlier, I also had a two-channel system in another room during this review.  It consisted of a CD player (Teac PD-D2410), an integrated amplifier (Classé CAP-151) and two old speakers (Sony APM-33W – the ones with the square drivers).

I began by listening to the CD player and integrated amplifier plugged directly to the wall, ensuring I had a good reference.  When I plugged both the CD player and amplifier into the Music Ring, the bass, which was previously boomy, got much tighter.  I had always thought that the bass was just limited by my old speakers.  The mids and highs seemed clearer, as the individual instruments became more distinct and easier to hear at lower levels.

After listening to a variety of tracks from a few CDs, I then decided to listen to the CD player plugged directly into the wall and the integrated amplifier plugged into the Music Ring and vice versa.  The Music Ring seemed to make the biggest difference to the CD player in terms of bass and mids, whereas the difference to the amp was identifiable in the highs and a little in the bass.

Conclusions

The Music Rings appeared to have the greatest change in the components I consider to be the weakest links in my systems.  It likely has to do with the susceptibility of lower-end components to noise in the power lines, which the Music Rings substantially improve upon.  Higher-end components also benefit, but the improvement isn't quite as significant, probably because they have better power supplies, which likely help reduce some of the impact line noise has on the components. It may also be that the transformer's stored electrical power supplements the component's power supply during transient peaks, improving the bass.

As you may be able to surmise from my review, I enjoyed my experience with the Music Rings immensely.  The improvements Music Rings make, both on the audio and the video in any system, can be very dramatic, especially when the enhancements to each component are added together.  If you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck, and want to see and hear the benefit in your system with a new component, definitely check out the Music Rings from Blue Circle Audio.
 

- Darren Hedley -

Associated Equipment:

 

Pre/Pro: Proceed AVP S-Video

Amplification: Bryston 9B THX Ultra

CD/DVD: Panasonic RP91

Television: Toshiba 40H80

Speakers: Magnepan 1.6QR, CC3 and MGMC1

Subwoofer: D-Box David 300

Connectors: Cardas, Acoustic Research and IXOS

Speaker Wire: Liberty

CD: Teac PD-D2410

Amplification: Classe CAP-151

Speakers: Sony APM-33W

Generic connectors and speaker wire

© Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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