Akiko Audio is a Dutch company dedicated to allowing audio enthusiasts to obtain the very best from their already well constructed systems by offering a range of products/tweaks which could give you a couple percent more positive attributes from the sound.
Such tweaks, I feel, are not and should not be claimed to be game changing in their effects, however when combined with a well put together system can prove to have a beneficial effect on the systems performance as a whole.
The Tuning Sticks themselves are very unobtrusive devices, slim barrels with a variation of connectors which are plugged into a spare socket on a component and claim to aid in its grounding potential and clean up background noise and thus enhance detail. The AC versions have your country’s designated power plug fitted and can be plugged into a spare wall socket or spare socket on a mains extension block.
Sent to me were a few variations, an RCA male version (€129), XLR male version (€129), a UK 3 pin AC version (€119) and a pair of Velcro on Tuning Sticks (€99 each), which are suggested for use actually on cables themselves.
I began by trying the RCA in the front end, namely my Squeezebox Touch (SBT) once the amp had been on for an hour (I always leave my sources switched on). Yes, I could hear a benefit there appeared to be a little quieter background and very slight clean up of grain around the sound. The top end had a little bit more of a cleaner and sparklier sound.
Instead of adding another straight away I wondered what effect the same stick would have on the amp, so I removed it from the SBT and placed it into one of the spare input sockets on the amplifier (Akiko state that any input or output socket can be used as they are all connected to the common ground). The effects of this were very different to the SBT, I could here a stronger midrange which held a more defined focus in the soundstage, accompanied by a little more slap on the upper bass, interesting….
Unfortunately I only had one RCA Tuning Stick but the next best thing was a male XLR version which I could use with the DAC. I’d have liked to have had two RCA versions to try in combination.
So, I popped in the XLR version to the rear of the Totaldac, on the AES/EBU connection which I am not using. The effect was a stronger interpretation of what I experienced previously with the SBTs and with the RCA back in the amp (after a quick removal to have a listen) the combination of effect was very pleasant indeed lending its hand to an even deader background, gaps between tracks were virtually silent, with only the smallest amounts of electrical noise heard with one ear close to the speaker.
I can imagine many people already beginning to smirk at this review and I don’t think that is fair. If a person has tried a product that falls into the category we are addressing here and it didn’t work for you then fair enough, but please don’t make assumptions and make claims against something which you haven’t personally tried and tested. There are many cases of this kind of behaviour on internet chat where the person saying a product has no effect has not even tried or heard the product. I have a very open mind about anything which is sent in for review, I don’t make any assumptions, nor do I read reviews prior to determining my own thoughts and writing them down and I believe this ethos for conducting reviews without any outside influence is essential.
Up until this review I had never heard of Akiko Audio but from the previous few paragraphs I hope you can understand that I am personally appreciating their benefits.
Right, next up, I think I will have a go with the velcro versions which have the same barrel design but are simply equipped with two velcro cable ties which pull the barrel nice and snug to the cable they are used on. I placed them onto my Audioquest K2 speaker cables but I was dubious them having any effect as the cables have the external 72v DBS battery system attached, or even if the sticks could pose a potential problem interacting with the DBS.
Akiko assured me when I contacted them that they have tested Audioquest cables with DBS before with their sticks and there were no issues. Playing music proved to me there were no issues and also suggested that the more of these Tuning Sticks you have in the system the more benefits they offer – cleaning up grain but not adding a brightening effect to the sound and also lowering the noise floor even further.
Annie Lennox is always tough to listen to at high volumes, the Akikos, whilst cleaning up the presentation, gave her higher pitched vocals a better sense of control and somewhat easier to listen too without cringing.
Bass notes were a little bit tauter and the a Tuning Sticks didn’t go so far as make the bass so tight it became dry.
Treble extension was better controlled as a whole allowing for more micro details and dynamics to come through delicately and cleaner, more easily heard and appreciable.
Adding the final power plug version of the Akiko Tuning Sticks to the spare wall socket made the small amount of noise through the speakers all but invisible, remember I am using an all valve system so for it to be completely eradicated would be wishful thinking! Music sounded organic, more ambient and harmonic, as if someone had rubbed out the child’s pencil from colouring outside of the lines, the picture still retained the same colours but all the edges were clean and the picture had an overall cleaner description and was easy to see… or in this case hear.
Now as a little last test to see if it was only higher-end systems that could show the effects of a Tuning Stick I popped an adapter onto the RCA version of the sticks which converted it to a 3.5mm jack and took it into the kitchen and plugged it into my Internet/DAB radio.
I listened to a couple 128kbps stations and felt that the sound was definitely cleaner sounding and streaming music from the NAS to the radio seemed to behave in the same manner, maybe its due to the radio only having a two core power cable that the effect was more apparent or maybe the Tuning Sticks do what they do regardless, adding their obvious ability to clean up background hash and noise regardless of situation circumstance?
Either way their effect is noticeable and sustainable.
The Akikos are a truly remarkable and somewhat magical product, there’s no snake oil here I don’t believe, just an influential process of increasing great grounding without needing to bury twelve foot rods in the back garden and trailing armoured earth cable into the listening spot. The effect is that the system has a cleaner, clearer response and allows for the music to really sing. I’d liken this effect to the way in which the listener has chosen and tuned a system to his liking yet to a better more efficient degree. A possible comparison could be the benefits of a linear regulated power supply over a stock switch mode wall wart but on a lesser level. I’m not saying that the Akikos will dramatically transform your system, but as an additional tweak to an already well sorted system I would conclude that their benefits are worthwhile and noticeably positive.
To form a preconceived opinion of this product without first trying it in your system could be seen as arrogance and to allow you to make up your own mind Akiko do offer a money back guarantee.
Ordinarily there would be no hesitation in giving a recommended award for a product which I personally felt improved overall system performance. However with the Akiko Tuning Sticks, like some other products on the market of this type they can cause controversy amongst the hifi community, so based on this I’m giving them the recommended award anyway!
Author – Danny