The pass through chain

June 18, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

In yesterday's post, I gave a bit of background on our path at PS Audio of increasing power transformer sizing. Quite by accident, we had found that oversizing the power transformers in our products delivered audibly superior performance.

It was the increased wire gauge with its subsequent lowering of impedance that brought us closer to the power source, the power utility's transformer feeding our home.

The lower the impedance the less restriction. This turned out to be something we could easily hear.

By the late 1980s, large low impedance power transformers graced all of PS Audio's products. We had found yet another in a growing army of secret sauces to crafting great audio products. It wasn't so much in the analog circuits themselves, but surprisingly (at the time) in the power supplies that fed them.

Fast forward a decade later as the 1900s were ready to get modernized into the 2,000s. It was a time following my stint with loudspeakers at Genesis Technologies that found me thinking once again about big, low impedance power transformers—something every audio manufacturer should have been paying attention to but sadly was not.

It was as if our discovery of lowered impedance on the AC power line had faded into the dustbin of audiophile lore.

Lamenting about this problem with two old friends, my former partner in Genesis, Mark Schifter, and Northrup Gruman engineer, and fellow audio whacko, Doug Goldberg, an idea was sparked. It was Doug that casually reminded me to think about the AC circuit as a whole, not in pieces. That the power transformer within an audio product doesn't sit alone. Rather, it reflects not only its own internal impedance but the impedance of the power lines feeding it. In other words, it was a system—a chain—not an island unto itself.

That's one of those aha! moments. That our audio equipment sits hundreds, sometimes thousands, of feet away from the source of AC power—the big utility transformer feeding our home and those of our neighbors.

When it comes to delivering power over wires, with distance comes increased impedance—something we now understood had to be lowered for better sound quality.

What would happen if we could eliminate the impedance of the wires feeding our homes?

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24 comments on “The pass through chain”

  1. "We had found yet another in a growing army of secret sauces to crafting great audio products."
    Tomato? BBQ? Sweet & sour, Chipotle? ...oh, hang on, they aren't secret.
    How about 11 herbs & spices?
    They're pretty secret.

    So is a bigger power supply to an audio component still economically viable if you use a PS Audio Power regenerator as well?
    Will 'PS Audio' start producing their audio components with external power supplies only & will there be, say, 3 different grades of power supplies available for each PS Audio component?
    1/ Standard (10amps)
    2/ Ballsy (30amps)
    3/ Relentless (Sorry Dan)
    So I could buy a pair of M700s & then choose which power supply I wanted to 'match' it up with (see above)?
    How about an active 'power supply'?
    Something like a power regen. that plugs straight into a PS Audio component effectively turbo-charging the amount of current I'm just babbling.
    I'll go back to trying to figure out the "secret sauces" that Paul mentions.

    Should we tell Steven how much a pair of Magico - 'S7' floorstanders cost & see how many cars he could buy instead? 😉

    1. No, FR, you are probably correct, as what you describe is what Naim have been doing successfully for 30 years. Except it is expensive and box-heavy. M700 probably consume about 10w of power and with my post-card sized knowledge of electronics and preference for Class D I've given up trying to get my head around the techno-babble, take simple steps to reduce electrical noise and let the ears decide. I have the benefit of starting with Class D/streaming 12 years ago when it was pretty harsh sounding, and saw it as the future due to cost and efficiency, but did not expect it to come out of my lighting fixtures.

      I heard the Magico M3 (with Naim Statement etc.) and even if you gave them to me with a free car I'd say "no thanks". On second thoughts, I'd accept the car (if electric) and put the speakers on eBay. I found them deeply unpleasant to listen to.

      1. Steven,
        In hindsight mentioning a D class amp as an example was maybe not the best choice.

        No doubt the room that you heard said Magico - M3's in was an acoustic disaster area.
        From my experience with the Harbeth's that I owned in the 1990's I believe that loudspeakers that really suite Rock 'n Roll don't really suit classical, jazz, blues female vocals acoustic guitar, unamplified music & vice-versa.

        1. I understand what you are saying but I listened to both the M3's and S7's when I was shopping for speakers. The M3's do great with rock 'n roll if you put a good subwoofer with them. The S7's to not need a subwoofer ( assuming you give them enough power ). My wife enjoys jazz more than I do. We play jazz and even a bit of classical on the S7's. They sound just as good with jazz and classical as they do with rock. Just because the woofers in the S7's are not called on as much in jazz, acoustic music or classical does not mean the stop sounding good.

      2. I guess Paul's post a few days ago about our special way of talking about audio gear has come back to haunt me. I have now idea what "deeply umpleasant" means other than you did not like them.

        1. I don't do audiospeak and I struggled with that post as I don't know what a quarterback is. "Deeply unpleasant" is English, it means I ran out of the room screaming - metaphorically.

          I don't like heavy bass as it gives me heart palpitations and does not sound realistic, my listening room is probably far too small for speakers that do good bass minus the palpitations and I have neither the financial resources or inclination to go there. If I want to hear the lowest octave of a piano properly, I'll go and listen to a real one.

  2. I presume Paul used the image of a gate as some sort of barrier to be climbed over, except the image is of a stile, which is designed to provide walking access to humans (under ancient Rights of Way laws), but to block wandering beasts moving from one field to another. Dare I say it, quite a good analogy for mains conditioning. More generally, it could be an analogy for, when faced with a problem, rather than find a way over it, find a way around it. As someone who enjoys long walks, this type of stile (not the step ones) is a solution that takes all the effort out of a problem as no climbing is involved and no locks are required.

    1. Also known as a kissing gate…..because the free end of the gate ‘kisses’ either side of the enclosure rather than being locked to it, as you mentioned.

  3. Great post Paul, broadening my understanding and appreciation of what goes into high end hifi audio....thanks and keep it coming !

    Received my copy of '99pct true' - thank you very much.

  4. With reference to the conversation about speakers above, it’s always fascinating to me how one man’s meat is another man’s poison. All systems and rooms are different but it makes me question how similar or different is our hearing? We all see the same, taste and smell I’m less sure about and then there’s hearing. I wonder if there’s a way of measuring its equivalence 😉 Would that help explain away the differing views?

  5. Magico speakers are for measurement junks. They measure better than real instruments.
    So I get it that tonyplachy bought these ones.
    For me this man is also the champion when it comes to unreal(istic) statements, like a few days ago when
    he wrote the PSA DAC sounded better than the dCS stack. I've heard both and his statement is hilarious.
    When it comes to dacs, right now no company outperforms dCS and MSB.
    Apart from mr. plachy and the folks of PSA (obviously) I don't know anyone in the audio branche who disagrees with that.
    But maybe next year this changes, when PSA/Ted Smith comes with his new "miracledac" (Obsidian ?).
    Let's wait and see.
    B.t.w.., the abovementioned does not mean that PSA makes no excellent dac. I've got one myself.
    But better than dCS...yeah right -:)

    1. Wow, this is the first time I have ever replied four times in a single post.

      jb4, I am not sure what a measurement junk is or how anything measures better than real instruments do. My speaker shopping led me to either the S7 or the Wilson Alexia. Since both Magico and Wilson speakers have been highly praised Stereophile and HFN&RR as speakers that sound great and measure well I'm not sure if you put Wilson's in the same category as Magico. It took me nine months of comparing the two ( actual listening ) to make a choice. While the actual drivers in each are different the mid-range and high frequency performance of both are very similar, however, it was the more realistic bass of the S7 that made it my choice.

      Now, as to my unrealistic statements about DAC's. Obviously I hear PS Audio's DS DAC on a daily basis. I have heard EMM and Playback Designs a couple of times and the dealer I bought my S7's from used an MSB transport and DAC to play the SACD's that I used for the auditioning. It does DSD as DSD ( no conversion to PCM ) and sounds about as good as the DS DAC but it cost four or five times more. The same is true of the other two mentioned above.

      I have heard dCS probably a dozen times and have met with their engineers on two occasions. I have discussed with them the ring DAC, their use of FPGA's and the circuit board construction. Their build quality is second to none, their latest gear uses the same transport mechanism as PS Audio now uses and if you want to pay for this kind of construction including face plates that are milled from a single chuck of aluminum please do so. The last time I heard dCS was at the NYC premier of the Vivaldi system. It was played using Constellation amps and a massive pair of Rockport speakers ( this was slightly before I saw the S7's but even so the speakers were massive ).

      I hope you understand that dCS converts all digital data to 4.6 bits ( 24 values ) at a sampling rate of 2.8224 MS.p.s. ( that is the same as used by DSD ) but this is PCM and not pulse density modulation ( PDM ) which is what DSD is. They then use a random scheme to select 24 out of 48 possible "identical" resistors to convert the digital date to analog. The FPGA is programmed to due the random selection. To my ears there is a difference between PCM and PDM. I find the PCM sounds digital where as the PDM does not. Even the dCS engineers told me that many people hear a difference between their system and the true DSD players. Some people are in the dCS camp and some people are in the DSD camp. I think you and I know which camp we are eachin.

      FWIW, I think that some of the magic of the PS Audio DS DSD is using transformers to due that actual low pass filtering that converts the PDM data stream to analog and also couple the analog to the output terminals.

      Also, FWIW, if you want the most bang for the buck in a DSD DAC look at the two top end Marantz single box SACD/CD players ( $7K and $4K ). Both have many of the same attributes as the best DSD DAC's and sound pretty darn good.

  6. I remember a course I took in my last semester of electronics schooling called Transmission Line Theory. Wondering if this subject comes into play as part of your discussion today.

    To all of my fellow Audio enthusiasts debating Tony’s Magico Speakers… they are great but they are not the only speakers in the Universe. For me (subjectively) there is nothing like the MBL 101 X-Tremes with their associated amplifiers. I’ve never heard anything like them.

    The Italian Philosopher Stunato once said “Salsicca His Own”.

  7. British "Ring Circuits" are one way to reduce A/C circuit impedance, although I think US electric code forbids them. Many years ago Russ Andrews published a paper about this titled: The Power & The Glory.

    Another way to reduce A/C circuit impedance is to run a separate circuit to your listening room for each major component in the system. Of course these should be installed so they're all on the same phase, assuming a 120V system. This is what I do and the improvement is very noticeable, especially on front end components like a DAC. It's a bit like bi-wiring a speaker.

    1. Thanks for posting your agreement jb4.

      I found a dealer that’s not far from me that carries MBL. I’m going to book an appointment for an extended listen even there’s no way that I could ever afford them. The last time I heard them was at the New York City Audio Show years ago and even in a hotel room filled with listeners I could not believe my ears.

  8. Interesting to read some of today’s replies and ideas. Because it was determined way back when… that electronics (I’m assuming mostly power amps) weren’t designed with proper power supplies (the heart so to speak) 1st low impedance transformers were needed then from there a Power Plant (power regenerator) was needed.

    Not wanting to delve into the realm of proper versus the external fix… I have one(ish) question to start. Is a certain class of amp / preamp subject to more benefit from a regen power plant versus another? Assuming a ‘proper’ power supply is part of the original design, does that mean a power plant will have less of an improvement effect?

    As far as speakers go, they are probably the most individual choice anyone can make in this audiophile passion driven hobby 😉 Myself I prefer a true planar dipole ribbon covering part of the lower midrange starting at 450Hz up to the top octave of 20KHz with the compromise of the 10in acoustic suspended hybrid part only realistically handling down to the low mid bass. So room and sub integration became a major and somewhat ongoing challenge. The point being one person’s ‘sweet’ can be another person’s ‘sour’.

  9. What is this obsession with size? Big transformers? I wonder if it is not like having bigger steam locomotives.

    Yesterday, we were driving to dinner in Santa Monica in my wife's car. Doris Day started to sing "Make someone happy" on Sirius. The sound in the car was amazing! Despite the recording being very old and the compression from Sirius, her voice sounded absolutely uncanny. Like she was singing in front of us, it wasn't the same for the instruments, they sounded distant. Which again tells me that psychoacoustics is what matters. The car, despite being a rather expensive one, doesn't have a "thousands of dollars" system. But because it was specifically designed to be in that environment, they got something incredible. The interaction of speakers with the "room", in this case the inside of the car, matters most.[The very low bass is not that good, alas]

    I replaced an old Theta Casablanca and humongous hybrid amp for an RME and Hypex based Class D. Neither uses big transformers. They use a different power supply. And the sound is (measurably) transparent. I don't need big boxes or dCs $$$. Today, I played some Brazilian music, or better said, a Brazilian singer. Caetano Veloso singing Pecado from Fina Estampa. Another amazingly sounding record. Smaller ensembles can sound so much closer to live music in real spaces. We just get confused with rock or large symphonic pieces as the "original" is either very difficult to capture or we don't even know what the original is anymore.

    It is in the room interaction where the action happens. This is why more and more speaker manufacturers are integrating vertically. Amps are transparent and cheap. Software for DSP is more easily available. Even Paul uses ICE amplification. It seems easier for speaker mfg to integrate than electronic manufacturers to build "passive" speakers. The $$$ is in their electronics. But Class D modules are cheap, cool, and small. No big transformers necessary.

    The only place (I know) where output impedance make big effects is in headphone amps. Given how headphone impedance is much more variable than speakers. Though it matters with speakers too.

    1. CtA,
      There you go again, showing your ignorance about home audio.
      What if the component is not 'D' class?
      Even DACs sound better with larger power supplies.
      It's not about size, per se, it's about greater current, lower impedance & ultimately better sound; a concept that, in practical terms, seems to completely elude you.

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