Product name: Tuning stick
Manufacturer: Akiko Audio - The Netherlands
Cost: From 99 euros depending on connection (Currency conversion)
Reviewer: Mike Cox - TNT UK
Reviewed: November, 2013
I have to be honest and say I am not a fan of add-ons for audio systems where the science is unclear and the marketing literature full of words that to me make no sense. I love good solid engineering well executed, something like the Kubrick DCX turntable I reviewed recently. In the world of audio there is much that is difficult to explain, why do cables sound different especially digital connections like USB or SPDIF? When we received the offer to review the Akiko tuning stick I was a little nervous about taking on the challenge, how would I rationalise and explain what I might hear when I could not understand the science!
I have to say from the beginning the experience has been positive, Sander van Berlo has been the perfect gentleman with prompt and clear emails plus the tuning stick bundle was dispatched very quickly, arriving in a few days in-spite of UK customers and excise! All the tuning sticks look the same but infact are different being tuned for their specific use, they are made from a carbon fibre tube filled with crystals, carbon and a magnetic material all damped with black resin. The label on the side of the carbon tube is also part of the design, it is a fine metal foil and is "Energetically treated, that causes it to contribute on a sub molecular level".
If we start with the AC tuning stick, the carbon tube is connected by a single solid core to a regular power plug of your choice. When ordering you take your pick from European, US or UK mains plugs. The connection in the plug is to the earth or ground so making it safe for all voltage supplies. Akiko recommend the AC tuning stick is plugged into a spare socket on your power strip our a wall socket along side the audio system. The aim of the tuning stick is to clean up the ground so giving a "calmer and very natural sound". In my system finding a suitable socket was difficult. I have two wall mounted sockets, both in use feeding the power amplifier and the PS Audio P500 mains regenerator. The regenerator then feeds the DAC and USB supply with the pre-amp needing no power as it is a MFA transformer pre-amp. I decided the best socket was a spare on the back of the regenerator alongside the feed to the DAC and USB power supply. These sort of audio accessories are never going to make the same sort of change to a system as replacing a main component like amplifier or DAC but they can help the sound and this is what I found. My system is is already quiet, the pre-amp contributes no noise and the Power amp (Emotiva XPR-2) plus DAC produce no obvious noise even when your ear is up close to the speakers. Even so, the addition of the AC tuning stick seems to have increased the silence of the background and the music is more relaxed, perhaps more analog when playing a digital source.
Next up is the RCA or phono tuning stick, with the connection to the outer or ground. The recommendation from Akiko is to fit the stick to any un-used input or output on your amplifier, CD player or other source. I started by adding the stick to one of the inputs on the pre-amp and then out of curiosity moved it o the SPDIF input on my DAC (La Voce). In both positions the RCA tuning stick changed the sound, on the pre-amp it again increased that blackness behind the music where as on the DAC the music seemed to gain some vitality and rhythmic bounce. When changing the RCA tuning stick around, even though I was at the back of my system and behind the speakers I could hear the sound change and on balance I preferred the affect when the tuning stick was connected to the DAC. I have a number CDs that I find difficult to listen to (Queen- The Works and Led Zepplin - The best of vol 1) as they seem coarse and hard. With the tuning stick connected to the DAC the sound seemed more refined and easy on the ear, without the tuning stick it was as if the DAC could not resolved the detail and glossed over the music. It would have been interesting to have had a couple more of the RCA tuning sticks, adding one to the pre-amp and another to the power amp input, then perhaps you can have too much of a good thing?
Last up comes the universal tuning stick, this has no connecting cable, just a pair of Velcro straps to attach it to your favorite cable. I received a pair intended to be fitted to the speaker end of the speaker cables. These tuning stick I found the most difficult to assess, it may be my cables had some affect that reduced the impact of the tuning stick. In an effort to try and understand these tuning sticks better I swapped the, power amplifier, speaker cables and speakers to my Leak ST50 (rebuilt), NVA speaker cables and a pair of Eryk S Concept Superioro speakers. This combination is the complete opposite end of the scale compared to my regular setup. Even with the different setup the impact of the universal tuning stick when attached to the speaker cables was not as obvious as with the RCA and AC stick. Next I strapped the universal stick to each end of the 1.6m mains cable that feeds the Emotival XPR-2 power amplifier, this mains feed is straight from the wall socket with no filtering so there is likely to be more noise. The mains cable is a special screened cable of unique design made by a friend using a Furutech mains plug for the wall socket end and 20A IEC from Wattgate. The universal tuning stick gave of their best in this setup, the friend who made the mains cable also came to the same conclusion when he borrowed the tuning sticks. The universal stick on the mains cable seemed to allow the amplifier to reveal more detail from a quieter background. With the Dire Straits album Love over Gold the introduction to Telegraph Road starts quietly and builds up slowly emerging from silent back ground with more obvious bass with better tonal structure showing through.
The science behind the tuning stick from Akiko Audio is difficult to understand but there is no denying they do have an impact on the sound. There is little risk to trying these devices as there is a 14 day money back guarantee so I recommend a listen. Start with the RCA tuning stick and move it around your system inputs and outputs to find the best location. If you get on with the first tuning stick then try an AC stick in one of those unused sockets. The overall affect on my system was positive with the cumulative affect being greater than the individual stick. I wish I could give a scientific explanation backed with measurements but I cannot, I just go with what my senses tell me and enjoy the results. The news from Akiko Audio since I received the review samples is they have now released an XLR version of the Tuning Stick.
The electronically amplified rendering of music is always cause for a certain increase in "noise", especially when coming from a digital source. The Tuning Stick has been developed to lower this noise floor, so the music is experienced better. It may seem like magic, but applying selected materials does influence the sound (in the same way that choice of materials influences the sound of a speaker or cable). By combining different materials, we also combine their physical properties. Measuring the results then becomes a very complex task, but the fact that it works and is appreciated by many music lovers is a result we are extremely proud of.
© Copyright 2013 Mike Cox - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com