Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

On the Necessity of a Power Plant

I know there’s a policy of having us writers not write about PS Audio products. But sometimes it’s something that’s just screaming at us (well, me) to do. Paul McGowan’s recent video/pod-thingy about Power Plants (a device that regenerates AC power and supplies it to an audio system) brought this to mind.

[I trust readers will know we’re running this as an audio system story they may be able to relate to, not to sneak in a product endorsement. – Ed.]

I currently use a DirectStream P20, because I got a great deal and so could afford it. Before the P20 I had a P3. Even before that I had an early iteration – it was called a Power Plant Premier. I first encountered one in David Bock’s studio/anechoic chamber, where he tested mics. He got it from PS Audio’s Paul McGowan, to whom I had introduced him in 1996. I didn’t even know about the device at the time but David swore by it, and told me about when he built a unit that was functionally very much like the Power Plant Premier when he worked as a tech at the Hit Factory in NYC. His unit was built out of a repurposed power amplifier.

Anyway, I’ve moved up in the world of these things: from the Chinese-made Power Plant Premier to the Boulder-built P3 and now the P20, and it’s that initial impression with the PPP I want to talk about here. Which might have been subtle to the average listener, but not to me.

I knew my system very well – it had been unaltered for years, as I’ve written previously. The one change I can point to that in some ways resembled the magnitude of the change I encountered with the PPP was the addition of a truly stunning power cable – the Kimber PK10 Palladian. Mid-bass tightened right up (not that I previously knew there was any tightening to do) and “reality” was rendered much more “real.” It was astonishing. So it was with the Power Plant Premier: I was, again, literally, stunned.

On thinking about it, it made perfect sense.

The vast majority of us build our sound on alternating-current power (the few exceptions being those who run their systems on battery power), and that AC power is subject to all kinds of depredations before it enters our walls. But unless you’re very, very, lucky, live in the middle of where no one else does, and have no electrical demands on the lines that bring you power, you may have no idea of what sonic effect the impure AC power is having on your system. (This is presumably why music sounds best late at night.) Of course, I live in a single-family house – lucky me – in a very crowded neighborhood smack in the middle of Los Angeles, where the power draw is in high demand by everyone.

In any event, I didn’t know what I was hearing regarding the effects of “raw” AC power, until the power to my system was separated from the source and quite literally regenerated. And once I heard that “truth,” I had some conversations with Paul and became an acolyte and a proselytizer. I realize that it’s likely that few people can actually afford to “rebuild” their AC power using a product like the P20, but even if you can’t afford it, you ought to at least hear it.

But it’s that first listening with the PPP that I most vividly remember, that sensation of being left with my jaw-hanging open.

Of course, the bigger picture is that this is about a whole category of products – AC power regenerators – and not just those from PS. But very few companies build anything like them And while I assume my system sounds incrementally better with each iteration, the truth is, after that initial shock, I have little patience for listening carefully to any changes – I just assume that they’re there.

Accuphase makes AC regenerators (and they’re pretty nice looking): http://www.accuphase.com/power_supply.html, as does a company called Monarchy Audio (https://www.monarchy-audio.com/AC_Regen_frm_Main.htm).

In any event, if you care to trust me, I’ll tell you: if you need it, and most of us do, you have no idea how your system can actually sound until you hear it with fresh-built power.

And I guess I’m still a proselytizer.