Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
AC Conditioners
Accessories
 
 

The BSG Technologies ql™ Signal Completion Stage
 

Getting Closer to the Truth!

 

 August, 2012

 



The notion that our expensive and well-regarded components end up burying vital musical information is hard to believe; shucks, the revealing of musical information is the very reason we choose our beloved components so carefully in the first place!

Perusing a high-end audio print journal some time ago, I was quite fascinated reading a very enthusiastic report on a new sound retrieval device called the BSG Technologies ql™ system (herein ql). My fascination was piqued by both the new theory of operation, and by the insights of the author, Robert Harley, whom I highly respect and consider a straight shooter. I started wondering if there is indeed information that my system is not revealing?

Needless to say, I was quite excited to see BSG Technologies at the 2012 CES with the ql technology on full display. Oh, I must have spent a hour in that room listening with the ql in and out of circuit, and I did hear some improvement with the technology engaged; but only some. I did not consider the degree of improvement particularly significant, let alone earth shattering.

But that, as it turned out, had more to do with the conditions one encounters at every CES and how difficult it is trying to listen for a sound change in a totally unfamiliar system and room. I therefore requested a review sample and was told by Larry Alan Kay, former publisher of the high-end magazine Fi, that their unit was a prototype and that when the ql™ was officially ready, I would be among the first to receive a unit. As promised, a fully functional BSG Technologies ql arrived at my doorstep some months later.

BSG actually are the initials of its inventor, Barry Stephen Goldfarb. With dozens of patents to his credit, Goldfarb is also a musician who decided to take on the challenge of elevating reproduced music closer to the real thing. After many years (8!) of research and development, Goldfarb felt he achieved his goals with the help of Dr. Robert L. Clark, Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences at The University of Rochester and an expert on acoustics. Larry Alan Kay and others, then launched as a commercial enterprise BSG Technologies.

The ql technology is housed in an understated chassis. As much as I like the brushed aluminum and overall layout, it was hardly different looking from the prototype I saw at CES, though I was impressed with the number of available RCA and XLR inputs (four) and outputs (two).

 

A total of seven selection buttons make up the front panel along with the company’s name and logo. A power button places the ql in standby while a toggle switch on the rear powers the unit off and on. Next to the standby button are four input selection buttons. To the right of the input buttons is the bypass button, which for the most part is pretty useless (as my comments below will make plain). The mono selector is also a bit of a mystery to me; I only used it out of curiosity to hear the differences it made.

I have a hunch the technology offered in the ql might be geared more toward professional applications and recording studios. The fact that Larry Alan Kay is a long-time member of the audiophile community may be the reasoning behind why it has become available to us non-professionals.
The ql is an all-analogue device, which I found disappointing considering my upstairs Behold rig is mostly ruled by digital devices. Recently, I got a turntable with a phono stage but chose not to experiment due to my unfamiliarity of these components. Downstairs is where the more affordable and versatile (analogue ins and outs) Behold Gentile resides alongside the TIDAL Piano Cera loudspeakers and this proved to be a perfect match for the ql. Why? I could plug up to four different components directly into the ql and keep the same input on the Gentile. The nice little wafer-thin remote that comes standard with the ql makes switching inputs a cinch right from my listening chair. I used the Italian North Star transport and DAC combo but on occasion swapped out the North Star transport for the PS Audio Perfect Wave transport. Interconnects and AC cords were mostly Echole's Obsession series cables while I did flirt with the new and interesting Telos Platinum series cables of Taiwan which only recently arrived.

Sonic impressions
         

Jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan’s newest CD, Friends (Mack Avenue Records), features other great contemporary guitarists like Bucky Pizzarelli and Russell Malone who join Jordan on the funky and up-tempo Seven Come Eleven. The first thing, or rather sensation, I noticed with the ql engaged was the enormous sense of space that had overtaken this recording. Jordan's electric guitar playing presented more of life's dynamic swing, sounding as if someone turned up the volume on his microphone while leaving everything else as it was. Moreover, the instruments appeared a tad more forward in their presentation. But I wouldn't qualify the sound as exaggerated or highlighted in any particular frequency. Overall, the sound seemed richer in harmonics, more three-dimensional and sophisticated in terms of its overall breadth and space.

Jordan's Bathed in Light is perhaps my favorite track on the Friends CD. The all-star ensemble also featured Kenny Garrett on soprano saxophone, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Christian McBride and Kenwood Dennard on drums and keyboard. In my opinion, few things sound better than a trumpet and sax swinging together in a melody  — particularly on this smooth and introspective beauty. Payton takes off on a solo riff after the melodic opening and miraculously sounds relieved of any electronic artifacts whatsoever. In fact, I was somewhat surprised at the power of his trumpet's projection onto the layered stage and the improved sense of focus and resolution it possessed. Interestingly, the melody maintained a steady harmonic flow that appeared unchanged by the ql but solo performances certainly appeared to gain a "jump factor" and come to life in ways I had not encountered previously.

Unfortunately, bad recordings seem to sound worse with the ql in my system. Using a less than stellar Blues sampler disc I found, I decided to see how it would behave through the ql. If there was anything missing on the disc that the ql uncovered, it was more noise! Unfortunately, I didn't experiment much further for my sanity's sake. However, please note: poor recordings with high levels of distortions are more objectionable when played through the ql.

Life in the Bypass lane
Disengaging the ql was as easy as depressing the bypass button. Listening to my system now in “normal” mode, I just wasn't as impressed. The soundstage lost some width, along with a loss of excitement, expressiveness and front to back expansiveness. In short, with the ql disengaged the music wasn't nearly as engaging. At the same time, the music wasn't as transparent as I had remembered.

The ql's bypass circuit is, of course, still in the signal path whether the unit is engaged or not. And of course the ql requires an additional set of interconnects as well as an AC cord. The sound you end up with depends to a degree on the type and quality of cords used (which, in turn, depends on one’s budget). So things can get pretty dicey when choosing cables for the ql. As excellent and exorbitant as Echole's Obsession Signature cables are ($7,500 per pair and $6,800 for the AC cord!), I had great sonic success using a pair of $200 Straightwire interconnects and a matching AC cord.

Of course in the end the Obsession Signature proved superior in almost every way. But no matter price or sophistication, there is no cable that is as neutral and accurate as no cable—so to get my system back to its original status meant physically taking the ql (and it’s cables) out of the system altogether.

Going back to feeding the Behold Gentile directly from the North Star Transport/DAC combo brought back the transparency and immediacy I felt the system had lacked with the ql in - but in bypass mode. The sound stage was not as expansive or inviting as with the ql in circuit and engaged, nor was the overall satisfaction as high, but I still felt the system sounded wonderful. The question I repeatedly asked myself was, "Could I ultimately live happily ever after without the ql in my system?"

I reinstalled the ql with the Straightwire cables and heard again how the soundstage took on a sense of spaciousness and bloom I simply found remarkable. Moving up to the Obsession Signature cables added more sparkle and an overall sense of musicality that made the prospect of living without the ql challenging.

I've been enjoying the benefits of certain passive tweaks over the years that featured Stein Harmonizers, the Novum Resonator, the LessLoss Blackbodys and most recent, the Quantum Chips (see reviews here in the archives). Each has taken me closer to a sense of musical enjoyment and satisfaction I never thought possible. The Steins and Novum Resonator are both somewhat intrusive as to draw attention to themselves. I am most thankful that mine is a dedicated listening room. However, my downstairs rig is not. Located in our dining room, I have to share this space with family and friends and as a result employ no passive tweaks whatsoever. Needless to say, to have the ql require only a single rack space has been a huge relief. Tucked right below my transport/DAC combo, the ql's almost uninteresting exterior, which has no blinking lights or large LED read-outs serves as a blessing in disguise.

Most importantly, the BSG Technologies ql won me over in how it presents music in a less artificial manner and thus offers a more life-like venue on many of my favorite recordings. My only real reservation is that there is no digital version of the ql technology yet, which would have afforded me the opportunity to try the ql in my big upstairs rig.


Taking the ql on the road....
Lending the ql to our own Dan Secula offered some interesting discoveries and insights regarding its performance - and its recording quality. Firstly, Dan heard the same sonic benefits offered up by the ql in his own system: the sense of space, bloom and presence was magnified without sounding overdone he related. He reiterated "...bad recording do sound worse, but great recordings sound unbelievable" I could tell by our phone conversations that he was smitten by the ql technology.


Dan has a myriad of playback devices that include the Laufer Teknik Memory Player, Behold CD player (and electronics), a Reel to Reel, Sony DAT machine and a pair of TASCAM CD recorders (photo above). Using the analogue outputs from his Memory Player, Dan recorded onto his TASCAM CD recorder via the ql and reported an enthusiastic thumbs up. Stating all the improvements noted in his listening sessions were successfully transferred onto CDR. In fact, Dan paid me a visit with this ql-enhanced CDR only days before completing this review. I must concur, the CDR sounded more airy and reverberant than the original - which where included on the same disc for quick A/B comparisons. Personally, I would have chosen the ql enhanced songs for my own listening preference as they simply sounded more audiophile quality. If this serves as even a small precursor to what recording studios will take advantage of with the very same ql technology, then I think we're in a win-win situation.

Heck, just maybe, sometime soon, the company will announce they've released a digital version. As it stands now, my smaller rig is a beneficiary of all the sonic improvements the ql has to offer. It’s true, I think that $4,000 is a lot to ask for any component that ultimately qualifies as a tweak — especially without the opportunity of hearing it. But once you do hear it, you might find yourself surprised that this particular “tweak” is an actually necessity! Highly recommended!

 

Manufacturer's comment.

Our sincere thanks to Clement Perry and the Stereo Times for a terrific review of BSG Technologies QL Signal Completion Stage. When the title of the review includes Getting Closer to the Truth! we have to be pleased. Clement obviously gets it, as getting closer to the truth from our systems is exactly what we have attempted with our technology. Were sorry, though, that we were not able to provide what Clement Most Wanteda digital version. Our technology has been rendered in digital as well as analog. Digital is available for licensing; we made our high-end unit in analog because the overwhelming majority of high-end systems are running signals in analog at least as those signals leave preamps (or whatever serves that function, even DACs); we also wanted to make ql available to vinyl aficionados who do not wish to take their analog signals into digital (and, yes, Im one of those). Clement has given us food for thought if we decide to make another high-end version.

Were also sorry that Clement did not find our bypass as transparent as he would have liked. But we provided bypass only for convenience in making quick comparisons. Our experience is that users stop going into bypass after a week or two; after that, they settle in with ql as a permanent part of their systems, like other components that find a long-term home. And please note that Clement did not report a loss of transparency or immediacy with ql engaged. Clement also said two things that leave us pondering a question or two. He stated that bad recordings sound worse with ql, which is contrary to our experience and that reported to us by many others. We dont know if the blues sampler that Clement mentioned was mono, stereo or a mix of both. But, if he listened to mono tracks without
switching ql into mono, he was not hearing the ql circuitry. The stereo circuit works only with stereo recording. Our completely separate mono circuit needs to be engaged if one wants to hear ql technology with mono material. Please try some old material (Armstrong, Robert Johnson, Caruso, Toscanini or an early Blue Note) to hear just how great mono records can sound.

Our only other quibble related to calling our component a tweak and comments about its price. It is a full-scale active electronic component, not a passive device. It is based in physics (acoustics), not voodoo science. And it costs less than many cables (which, although important, do only the job of attempting to stay out of the way and be invisible). We never thought that the Signal Completion Stage was meant for systems costing less than roughly $15,000. In that context, there is nothing that can bring as much improvement to such a system for less than $4,000. In fact, because ql reveals previously hidden and buried information, the best way to think of the technology may be as a new audio signal for this century; after all, the old one has not been changed for roughly 100 years! If other things move on, why cant sound signals?

Were interested, too, in Clements and Dan Seculas experiment with ql for recordings; were in the early stages of discussions with some well-known recording engineers, but its too early to predict what will happen or when.

Lets close with a thank you to Clement for something more. We love it when an audio review turns us on to new music so we appreciate the tip about Stanley Jordans Friends.

Happy Listening,
BSG Technologies
 



Specifications:

Frequency response: 10Hz–
50kHz +/-0.25dB
Signal-to-noise ratio: >106dB
Input impedance: 20k ohms
(balanced)
Output impedance: 50 ohms
(balanced)
Inputs: Four balanced on XLR
jacks, four unbalanced on RCA
jacks
Outputs: Two balanced on XLR
jacks, two unbalanced on RCA
jacks
Front-panel controls: Input
select, bypass, mono, power
Dimensions: 17" x 3.3" x 13"
Weight: 25 lbs. (shipping)
Price: $3995
Address: BSG TECHNOLOGIES
3007 Washington Blvd., Suite
225
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 827-2748
Website: www.bsgt.com