Everything matters

September 2, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Back in the 70s, 80s, and even into the early 90s there was no such thing as Power Plants or power conditioners for high-end audio. Heck, there weren’t even high-end power cables.

Back then we just plugged into the wall and went about our business.

And we had some great sounding systems back then because everything we knew about mattered. We paid attention to cables and amplifiers and speaker placement. And it all mattered.

AC power issues that we now know held back performance were not a thing. So we did the best we knew how to and got great results unaware of how much better they could be.

I remember the first time I heard a power conditioner. A passive one from MIT. Arnie Nudell and I were shocked at the difference it made.

It took us about a week to realize that while the sound was cleaner and quieter it also had been stripped of its life (as all passive conditioners do to some degree) and so we returned to plugging into the wall.

Everything matters in the audio chain.

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24 comments on “Everything matters”

  1. We discovered the same thing here in Australia Paul…that power conditioners stripped
    the sound of it’s ‘life’, as you put it.
    Luckily, in the land ‘down-under’, we don’t seem to be as plagued with horrible electricity
    supply issues as you are in the U.S. & in Canada.
    Consequently I still plug my electronics directly into the wall, with no apparent SQ problems.

    Btw, since I spaced my loudspeaker wires 2″ apart a couple of weeks ago,
    I have been rediscovering my CDs library all over again…bloody marvellous!
    😀 ✌

    1. As always…the better the general power quality for the house, the smaller the positive effects of power filtering or regeneration and the more relevant their own compromises.

    2. Can’t try solid wires because i have to move the speakers every day. But I’ll figure out how to separate what i have.maybe go crazy and get them off the floor too. Free and oddly enjoyable.

  2. But what does this mean “robbing life” from a technical point of view? I guess that recording studios didn’t use any power conditioning for their equipment. As these sometimes huge and heavy passive “power filters” obviously only interacted with the power supply modules of the gear connected the weak point could be found in the design of these power supply modules? In the 70th, 80th NAIM Audio was known for offering big external power supply boxes for their top tier amps and preamps!

    1. IsoTek conditioners are used at Abbey Road, apparently they have a big thing with UMG (Universal).

      As you say, Naim have been making external 24v DC power supplies for their components for over 30 years.

      The first power unit I bought was from Olson, who have been in business since 1961 and the product I bought has been made since 1970 (and still is, and I still have it). IsoTek in the UK started making commercial power conditioners in the 1980s and for audio from the 1990s. I’ve used IsoTek, PS Audio and now Shunyata.

      I recall Paul’s experience was over 20 years ago, a bit out of date? Besides the technological advances, the real progress has been the range of products for different applications, high and low current, AV, etc. If I had high power monoblocks far apart, I would use two single outlet IsoTek regenerators (very similar spec to the P20) a 4-outlet conditioner for sources and a single outlet conditioner for my server (as it is in a separate room). The total cost would be about the same as a single P20. I am a bit surprised that PS Audio haven’t developed a more flexible product range.

      These things need to be tried out, I got my Shunyata on a home loan and there is a local PS Audio dealer who could probably do the same.

      1. Interestingly ‘Royal Ascot Mike’ recently removed his 15 year old IsoTek power conditioner & replaced it with a ‘Chord Company PowerHAUS M6 Mains Block’.
        According to Mike the difference in sound quality is stunning.
        Apparently the IsoTek went straight into the rubbish bin.

        1. IsoTek Aquarius has been a go-to basic conditioner for almost 20 years. I bought one in 2009. He probably had that. The ifi Power Station is a great product for small money, the Chord is M6 looks a bit like the Shunyata Venom and costs the same. Quite a lot of the cost goes on a very well built, solid device.

          There has been a big market here for quality DC power supplies, for hundreds of devices, including servers etc. Used to have them made to order, but the Hysos Ferrum is apparently very popular because of the variable output.

          If you’re into this stuff, I suppose the first question is do you get one box for lots of components or separate supplies for the components that need them.

        2. yes FR Martin the Chord PowerHAUS M6 did make an appreciable difference over my very old IsoTek GII Vision which was powering most of my audio components bar the Musical Fidelity M8xi integrated which never seemed a good idea to me as it pulls a lot of power so this stayed directly into the wall……….the Chord was on loan from a terrific high-end supplier who persuaded me after talking power products to trial it at home before buying stating that in his opinion its the best device that he has ever placed betwixt wall and component. He was right! everything opened up and I feel and hear that its making my system the best it can be including the MF….it’s that good. Yes at 2k GBP its a lot of money for a “power block” albeit a very big lump of kit but it really did make a difference so well worth the spend IMO……worth looking into but we do have very good and pretty much uncontaminated power over here in most parts of the UK…..it offers NO protection from surge and has no on/off switch or indicator light……I like that!!!!

          Baldy Bloke.

  3. The part of today’s story that amazed me is the time line. You heard an early model power conditioner and were blown away. Then it took a week to realize that something was amiss before the initial enamored perception faded into darkness.

    How often does that experience (the “wow” then the “meh”) happen to audiophiles? Someone focuses in on one detail at the expense of something else. The timeline part of the story should be the highlight of the post and todays lesson.

    Fight the impulse and be sure of what you’re hearing – Even the ‘experts’ can be fooled by 1st impressions.

    1. I had the same jaw dropping response when I purchased my first P 300 power regenerator so many years ago (I actually put a second unit in my system shortly thereafter) and my jaw just kept dropping with every listening session for the next 20 years. Well, not exactly, but very close. I was never disappointed in Paul‘s design and this component is how first I discovered PS Audio. Today, I own a P-12 and would probably still own the P 300 if it didn’t finally give up the ghost a few years ago.

  4. “It took us about a week to realize that while the sound was cleaner and quieter it also had been stripped of its life.”

    I think Paul reminds us of an important lesson applicable to many components and many initial listening impressions. When we think we hear something new and desirable, we tend not to analyze whether anything has been lost, and whether the sound has been improved on a net basis.

  5. It is interesting that some power conditioner brands claim that power regenerators strip the life out of the music because they restrict the amount of power that can be delivered. Ah. so the marketing war of words goes on.

    I happen to have both a power regenerator and a power conditioner in my system. First, I should mention that I get my electrical power from Con Ed. the company that is the definition of dirty power.

    I use a PS Audio P15 to power up everything in my system except my big 750 W/channel stereo power amp ( which has its own 20 amp circuit ). For that even the mighty P20 does not supply enough power. I did, however, want some kind of surge protection for the amp as opposed to just plugging it into the wall. After discussions with manufactures and online research I chose a Shunyata Research Denali 2000T. It provides unrestricted line power with minimal power conditioning and has an excellent power surge unit in it. My listening test found no difference in the sound of the amp with or without the 2000T. I attribute this to the superior power supply in the mp itself and the minimalist approach of the 2000T.

    1. Hi Tony,
      Thirty years ago surge protectors were a no-no due to the fact that they also sapped some life out of the music…but these were only basic, general-purpose surge protectors & not specifically designed for high-end home-audio.

  6. Power regeneration is something new to me although power conditioning is not. In the 1990s, I had an extensive computer lab in my basement at 7300′ of elevation in lightning-prone rural Colorado. SCSI disk drives were constantly failing. I installed a pair of APC Smart UPS 7.5 kVA units. They were absolute beasts, modular and stacked the power head on top of batteries. 220 VAC was required. Each module of the stack required a hand truck to move. I can’t speak for the accuracy of the sine wave output, but the SCSI disk drive failure issue stopped the day I brought up the UPS units. In my case, it was most likely power surges that caused the failures. Now, I have whole-house surge suppressors installed in the entrance panel. I take every opportunity to keep that danger out of the sound system.

    1. Didn’t APC venture into the audio market at one point? As I recall they used isolation transformers ( or maybe they didn’t ). A google search shows they do home theater units.

  7. The evolution of linear power supplies from the 60’s to present time has been dramatic. And now we are subjected to high frequency digital switching power supplies. It’s no wonder the older power filter systems can not do the job anymore.
    Also the power companies are using the AC in many ways we are not aware of.
    As an example: I had an job interview, late 70’s they had a device that would transmit data over the power lines. At the time it was for substation control. Today who knows how far it has progressed. Regen power I’m suspicious of, seldom does one fix cover all the bases. Balanced transformers seem well suited for today’s noise solution but cost for a large system is prohibitive.

  8. An attraction of some of the earlier post-2000 passive power conditioners (such as those made by Shunyata) was that they were also power distributors, offering multiple outlets and sophisticated surge protection, like the Power Plant does. True, they robbed some of the life out of the music, but companies like Shunyata made new power cables that brought clarity and audibly added energy at the frequency extremes, making the conditioners sound better, even acceptable. I now own the P15, which is of course superior to the earlier passive power conditioners. But I also own a late generation Synergistic power conditioner, which is excellent. I use high-end Synergistic power cables to mate with their power conditioner as also with the P15. Depending on the specific system and local power grid quality, certain power conditioners can sound as good or even slightly better than power regenerators (as one well-known reviewer concluded in a listening test comparing a certain PS Audio power regenerator with two certain high-end Synergistic and AQ power conditioners). I would not pooh-pooh any of those products as each has certain strengths and weaknesses to discerning ears. What sounds best in one system might not sound best in another. And, of course, the power cables selected to go between the regen’s or conditioners to the gear also has a big impact on the ultimate sound. With any upfront power device, system synergy needs to be confirmed. Everything does matter.

  9. Well goodness me. Not a soul is gonna get any fight from me with regards to Paul’s post advocating the importance of clean power. It matters. My experience owning the P3 has been that of a good one. The differences in soundstage clarity, vocal clarity and bass extension are present. The differences are subtle in some areas, but it is the kind of subtlety that really really matters.

    Happy I took the plunge and so is my system!

  10. I also had bad experiences with powerline conditioners so not knowing whats junk and whats good chose to just plug directly into the wall with the only modification a new wall outlet. Never had a problem. Reading opinions online only made it more confusing. Figure I need to spend more than I want to on one to get one that sounds good so for me it’s the wall which sounds good and costs me nothing.

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