A lot of the terminologies we use when describing audio is about sound we hear in live music, but that isn’t nearly enough. Reproduced sound/music needs more, such as choosing names for things in an audio environment, especially for things high-end. Reviewers need a system of terms in this field and, thanks to a few of the past masters like J. Gordon Holt and Harry Pearson we have a pretty good vocabulary. We also have access to specifications to (hopefully) help us understand the technology of components under review. However, this evaluation is one that is based on listening/hearing and a brief description of what I have unearthed (pun intended).
The QKORE component is a passive grounding device that distributes artificial, “clean” earth for every audio component in a sound system. The unit uses an electrical as well as a mechanical approach to achieve this. It’s a rather uncommon component that integrates Nordost’s patented monofilament technology with purpose-built, low-voltage “attractor plates (LVAPs)” which are constructed with a proprietary metal alloy and a passive electronic circuit. The design’s function is to draw stray high frequency noise and voltage-generated magnetic fields to its artificial ersatz earth point, thus leaving a “clean” reference thereafter. The unit is housed in a mechanically tuned casing, which sports gold-plated WBT binding posts that easily connect each component to an artificial ground. By providing for a balanced and very “clean” ground point, by-products of electrical balance imperfections between voltage and ground are no longer added to other pollutants, thereby dramatically increasing the performance of high quality audio circuits.
The QKore6 is a small component measuring 10.6 x 7.8 x 8.8 inches and weighs a rather hefty 17.2 pounds. It comes with a 2metre RCA to Banana QKORE wire, has three multi-use binding posts for audio circuitry, two binding posts for left and right monoblocks, and one “QBASE Ground” binding post to ground your distribution block. If you are using the Nordost QBase, the ground connection provides effective ground on the primary side of the power supply, as well as on the secondary side of the power supply, for system components, including those with separate left and right chassis.
Connecting the system to the Model 6 — top model of three —would have been a bit of a challenge for me, but not for my capable helper — Nordost’s Canadian Agent Bruno de Lorimier.
He connected the entire system, which included the Nordost QBase, the Bryston digital player and DAC, the Bryston preamp, and the two mono 7B-3 amplifiers.
Before we get to the sound
As this evaluation is about grounding, I’d like to quote JGH when he defined ground as “the electrically common or neutral parts of an electronic device, usually at chassis potential”. Also as “part of a household AC supply whose electrical potential is that of the earth outside of the house — the center tap of a 230-volt AC supply”. Seems straight forward and relatively easy to understand, but there is a lot more to consider when it comes to an audio system’s many components, the interaction of said components and all the effects the components’ circuits introduce to the final sound.
So, let’s talk about ground and earth not only as it relates to electricity, but also how it impacts the sensitive electronics of an audio system’s components, especially, but certainly not limited to digitally circuits. We need to know that electronic equipment communicates internally through a digital pulse known as a bit, or as a string of bits known as bytes. A common bit resembles a square wave pulse. The amplitude of this pulse can vary greatly with electronic equipment design and application. Specifications frequently require an isolated grounding (IG) system when there is concern for electrical noise on the equipment grounding system. The main reason for this is that noise can cause operational problems for electronic equipment (most us likely experienced this with anything operated by remote control). By using an internal ground system, in lieu of a solidly grounded (SG) system, one may believe that we've eliminated potential problems. This isn't necessarily true, because internal grounding systems can create operational problems, even when you install them according to NEC requirements and IEEE recommended implementations. What I have learned is that there are three approaches to limit noise. One is to stop noise escaping the system, the other is to stop circuit and, of course, to use a combination of the two. And then there is the Faraday cage, also known as a shielding tent that encloses the electronics— that would be for the whole component, but not for each circuit or part thereof. Chassis ground is best when a direct low impedance connection can be made to the signal ground at several points, if single point ground is to be maintained (Nordost has the appropriate green coloured super-low capacitance cables to connect every component in the system).
Well, the manual has a glaring omission of them — it is after all, a passive component. This is as good a spot as any to reiterate my position. I am a little perturbed that many audiophiles and much of the audio press places too much importance on specifications. Many have fuelled the subjectivity war of words, stubbornly clinging to this illogical tenet by refusing to investigate possible grounds for an audio-related occurrence. It makes good sense to me that, when there isn't a frame of reference, many subjective evaluations are bound to lead us off the course of the accuracy many audio engineers/scientist embrace. My and consequently most Inner Ear evaluations espouse subjectivity, though I look for a correlation — a balance between science/technology and the experience of listening. Audiophiles should be willing to use their ears and find methods to prove that they hear subtle sonic differences. Test your hearing and, if you must, do double-blind listening test. I do not believe in them because they invite bias or predisposition, but it is one method to evaluate a listener's level of audio awareness. This brings me to the…
A quick listening test with all but the power amplifiers connected immediately revealed the presence of the QKore by literally taking the image on the sound-stage up by a couple of feet. Whatever I had been familiar with on that stage had become much more defined, more involving, but all that without changing the fundamental sound — the sonic signature of the system. This pleased me because I didn’t really want to “hear” another component, hoping that the QKore would enhance, rather than change the sound. It did.
Later, when the amplifiers had been connected, I noticed a much improved bass energy and resolution in addition to reaching an octave lower into the depth of all bass — plucked and strung as well as on pipe and B3 organ music. Great, I thought, as it didn’t change the sonics I enjoy, but added instead what on occasion I believed was wanting.
I used two preamplifiers — the new Bryston and the tubed Weytech Labs — and began to assign values to the sonic characteristics of the system’s performance with the two quite different preamp designs. The best performance for the vitality and precision of sound came from the Bryston preamp, but the Weytech Labs in the system added some degrees of musical realism to the sound that I enjoyed. I’d say that many sticklers for perfection would be happy with the Bryston, whereas those used to vacuum tube sound would opt for the Weytech Labs — but should not expect this tube job to sound all that much laid back as many tube preamps do. This, being a more personal choice, doesn’t make a difference to the QKore’s performance. It will work with all audio systems including modest desktop stereos or headphone gear — the Bryston preamp has a class A headphone section I also used for my listening tests. However, I believe that The QKore will be most appreciated in all-out, high-end separates. I was, and I suppose all those who believe their audio doesn’t need extra ground to lower the noise floor, are mistaken.
I had no beef with the sound of my system right up to the point of the first audition of the QKore. Only after having listened to it did I begin to understand how much “clean” and “noiselessness” in electronics benefits the reproduction of a music signal. It is so audible and was instantly missed when removed from the system after a few weeks of getting-acquainted auditioning.
I recently read a review online where the author tried to convey his conclusion and enthusiasm by “gushing” — the extensive use of audio jargon — and I quote “ ‘Speed’, PRaT, bloom, body, density, palpability, definition, delineation and energy without losing sight of the whole feeling of music, anchored, solid and raw with high octane energy”. Additionally, “well defined, dense, palpable, articulated, extended and natural”. Wow, all wrapped up in but a couple of sentences and possibly overly descriptive for some readers. It was for me, and—although I could have used some of the audio lingo used here — I began to ponder the possibilities of writing a relatively short and coherent synopsis.
I hope that this makes short-and sweet sense when I say that my totally grounded audio system now sounds more open, more detailed, and more neutral — well, all that but most of all the system has more PRESENCE. I believe that presence is similar to ambience but here it is distinguished by a lack of background noise. This, in a well assembled system contributes to the integration by which a well-balanced audio system becomes whole as the QKore deals with the parts of the electronics that contribute immensely to the final sound of a system.
I again used my Ethera Vitae loudspeakers for this evaluation and am happy to report that, by adding the QBase and QKore to my system, I now enjoy more detail, weight, energy, power, intimacy and musicality than I had ever heard before.