Component Reviews

PS Audio Power Products


Published on October 19, 2009

PS Audio Power Products

PS Audio Power Products

PS Audio Power Plant Premier AC Regenerator
$1700 SRP

Remote Control Power Regenerator; 10 Power Port AC Receptacles; MultiWave and CleanWave; Turn-on Delay; 45-65 Hz Input Frequency; 90VAC Under Voltage Limit; 145VAC Over Voltage Limit; 144,000A Peak Current Surge; 6000V Maximum Voltage Surge; 330V Clamp Level; 2160J Energy Dissipation; <1 dB loss for Coax; 1200 VA Continuous Load (max) w/ < .5% distortion; DC Trigger;  Detachable IEC Cord; Included Rack Ears; 17" W x 16.5" D x 4" H; 35 pounds; three-year warranty.

PS Audio Power Port Premier AC Receptacle
$100 SRP

Custom built receptacle with internal contacts machined out of pure copper and gold plated; standard single-gang style; charcoal gray.

PS Audio PerfectWave AC-12 Power Cable
$700/1M, $875/1.5M, $1000/2M, $1300/3M SRP

8 gauge; Pure single crystal copper solid core conductors (PCOCC); gold-plated ends; Poly-ethylene dielectric; 4 shields; removable ground pin.

PS Audio PerfectWave AC-10 Power Cable
$500/1M, $625/1.5M, $750/2M, $1000/3M SRP

10 gauge; Pure single crystal copper solid core conductors (PCOCC); gold-plated ends; Poly-ethylene dielectric; 2 shields; removable ground pin.

PS Audio PerfectWave AC-3 Power Cable
$100/1M, $125/1.5M, $150/2M, $200/3M SRP

12 gauge; OFC high purity copper conductors; combination Poly-ethylene and Polymer dielectric; 2 shields; removable ground pin.

PS Audio
4826 Sterling Drive
Boulder, CO 80301
720-406-8946 (voice)
720-406-8967 (fax)
http://www.psaudio.com


Associated Equipment

Meridian 568 preamplifier, Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier, Mark Levinson No. 29 amplifier, Oppo DV-981H DVD player, Bowers & Wilkins Signature 8NT speakers, miscellaneous audio cables and standard power cords and outlets.

Background

It was suggested to me that I test multiple PS Audio components together in order to judge the maximum effect on my system.  I was sent a barrage of power cables, a wall socket, and the AC regenerator.  I’ve reviewed previous PS Audio power products—all with positive results.  The older P300 and P600 components were physically huge in comparison to the streamlined Premier.  I had purchased some power ports years back, but didn’t end up using them.  As for power cables I’ve always been a skeptic and had varied results (even with very expensive products).  There are quite a few power cord advocates out there and the two audiophiles I lent a few power cords to while I was working on other reviews reported positive results—one bought a few of them from a local dealer!

Methodology

I arbitrarily picked four tracks to use for the initial critical listening:  Track four from Anna Nalick’s Wreck of the Day, track six from the RVG edition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Roots and Herbs, track 10 from the MFSL version of Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman and track five from Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage.  I tried a few other discs as well, but these four seemed sufficient to exploit the range of sound.  Throughout the testing I focused on a few questions: 1) Is there a sonic difference?  2) Is it a significant difference?  3) If there is a difference, is the sound better, worse, or just different?

Power Port Premier

The Power Port Premier claims it will not degrade over time, offers improved connectivity, lowers noise, and is easy to install.  My first complaint is that the device is not available in a decora style (which all my outlets are) and that it is gray (which would normally be a problem, but because my equipment is in a closet, it was not).  I didn’t have a standard cover plate, so I left it bare.  Most do-it-your-self types will opt to put the socket in themselves, but I had my electrician do it.  He installed it in moments to a dedicated 20 amp circuit.  For curiosity’s sake I asked him what he thought about the outlet.  He told me that he believed that it was probably constructed better than a standard outlet, but that the outlets in my wall previous to my remodel had worked for many years, so it probably didn’t matter from an electrical standpoint.  Whether it would make a difference in sound remained to be seen.

In many ways the Power Port Premier was the easier of the devices to test.  I have four dedicated 20 amp lines in the closet, so with one being occupied by the newly installed Power Port I could plug and unplug equipment from the standard line to the Power Port and back.  I tested the differences with the DVD player (which I used at a CD transport/CD player) and the preamplifier.  I left one plugged into the standard outlet and moved the other (one at a time) to the Power Port outlet.  

Before I began the testing I thought the Power Port (though well-constructed) would offer no difference in sound.  I was wrong.  Although with both the CD and preamp I felt there to be a difference, it was not huge.  In both cases I felt there was an improvement with the Power Port.  I can’t explain to you why except to say that perhaps re-stripping and re-attaching the wires in the wall to the outlet somehow improved things.  With the DVD player there was improved clarity with the Power Port and with the standard outlet the sound seemed thicker, there was more noticeable hash on top and the bass was not as natural.  With the preamp I noticed improved high frequency, deficiencies in the recording were more evident and bass was improved.

Perhaps these differences would have been present when using a hospital grade outlet (which I don’t have) or a $5-10 outlet versus this one at $100.  All I can say is that there was never any degradation with the Power Port and there appeared to be a sonic improvement.  Considering most tweaks are usually hundreds of dollars, this one seems reasonable for the amount of improvement.  I would try one in your system before going hog-wild and buying a bunch.

Power Cords

As I said earlier, I am generally a skeptic when it comes to power products and power cords.  I tried some $600 Transparent cords in the past and not only did I feel the cords to make very little difference, I felt the price was outrageous in relation to the amount of change.  So here I am with a $875 cord!  The Levinson amp has a detachable cord so I was able to use it in the testing in addition to the preamp and DVD player.  I used the same methodology as above.  I took the Power Port out of the equation and only used the standard outlets.  I planned to start with the less expensive cord and work my way up.

If you measure the efficacy of these cords by their size and weight then they must be good!  The diameter of the AC-3 cord is 2” and the plug is 4.5”!  (The other cords are even larger.)  These cords are heavy and you could hurt someone if you hit them with one of these.  I took a picture of the cords from this review in order of size.  The one on the left is an 18-gauge cord, next is a 14-gauge and the rest are 12, 10 and 8.  The female side of the PS cords fit snugly into the component, so you may have to push.  This is good because the cords are so heavy if they didn’t fit tightly they’d probably fall right out.  On the electrical side I found myself pushing rather hard.  Sure enough, when I inspected the plug I noticed that not only is the neutral prong wider (like a two-prong cord), but it is also thicker than a standard 3-prong cord.

PS Audio AC-3.  My co-worker tried the AC-3 on his integrated amp at home and thought it was a heck of a good deal.  After plugging it in I was expecting a massive improvement.  The first component I tried was the preamp.  This component was using an 18-gauge basic cord.  I switched back and forth multiple times and there was a noticeable difference.  The sound with the AC-3 seemed to have better transient response and sound louder (even though the level was not changed).  I left the cord in place and grabbed another (I was sent at least five or six of these).  The M-L amp was using a 14-gauge standard cord.  When I switched it out the sound was noticeably worse.  The “life” of the music seemed to be ripped away and the sound was “muddled” for lack of a better word.  I left the standard cord installed and moved on to the DVD player.  With this player the sound was also subjectively worse.  The sound was robbed of high frequency detail and extension and other detail was noticeably missing from the sound of the guitar and voice.  I concluded that the cords were in fact affecting the sound, but that a larger standard cord was a good first step with any component.  Although the AC-3 was modestly priced it was not an improvement with two out of three components in my test system.

PS Audio AC-10.  My experience with this cord was different.  This cord was at least the equal of the bigger standard cord and with the amplifier everything sounded a bit richer.  However, it was significantly more expensive.  In my opinion, based on the degree of difference I heard in my system, the money would best be spent elsewhere.  

At this point in the review my system underwent some changes and I replaced the Mark Levinson amp with a Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier (that has a hard-wired captive AC cord).  I also decided to switch music.  The four tracks I used were track one from Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend, track five from Tracy Chapman’s self-titled disc, track 11 from the soundtrack to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and lastly, James Galway playing flute on Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor—track seven.

PS Audio AC-12.   With the preamp I moved up to the best cord I had and the improvement over the AC-10 cord was in imaging and clarity.  My biggest complaint about this cord is the size and heft.  I didn’t feel comfortable leaving it plugged into my preamp as it seemed to be weighing down the back IEC jack and I didn’t want to cause damage.  An installer friend warned me about the possibility of losing connection completely due to the extra weight of the bigger cords although this never happened.  On the disc player the difference between the 10 and 12 cords was very slight.  The improvement came in a slight crispness and a tad cleaner sound.  

Just for kicks I went back to the standard smaller cord and heard an increase in hash.  I used the AC-10 and AC-12 cords and compared them versus the standard cords.  With the stock cords there was more edge and the sound was not as clean and musical (although this wasn’t a tremendous difference in my system).  I would definitely recommend an upgrade to standard cords (if it is an option) although you might have a struggle to determine the best value.  Overall, the AC-10 cord made the most sense to me for a uniform improvement although the price of replacing all my cords with it would be a bit much.

At http://www.powerstream.com/Wire_Size.htm you can calculate voltage drop for a specific gauge cord.  14-gauge wire with a nine foot length and 20 amps of draw will only drop one volt—surely not enough to impact a typical piece of gear.  A 16-gauge cord that is directly wired (if I read the chart correctly) will work safely in at least a 20 amp capacity–much more current than would normally be used by standard A/V components.  Larger cords will handle more current, offer less resistance and lower voltage loss to the component, so theoretically they are superior from that standpoint.  Whether there is a difference in sound is something you have to determine for yourself.

Power Plant Premier

I’d had the Power Plant plugged in for at least a few weeks with components connected (even through an outage or two) without any problems.  As soon as I unplugged it and plugged it back in with my amplifier to begin the review process the unit shut down and made a consistent clicking sound.  Apparently the regenerator had gone haywire and the unit would not work at all.  My second sample arrived with a comprehensive checklist (don’t remember if the first piece had one or not), but everything tested fine, so I put it back in service and let it run.

The back contains five individual zones that are a guide as to how to separate the different categories of equipment, i.e. digital, video, analog and power amps.  These isozones make up three different power zones that have switches to control how they operate.  They can be delayed, switched or always on.  There are triggers to remotely turn the unit on and two CATV ins and outs as well as a phone in and output.  The mode button on the front cycles through displaying voltage in, voltage out, difference in voltage, THD % in and THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) % out.  The display can be dimmed in two levels or turned off.  My system measured 122V in, 121V out, 2.1% in and .4% out.

The remote offers similar controls and in addition allows you to turn on the MultiWave function or use CleanWave.  According to the manual CleanWave “places a series of higher frequencies that ride on the main sine wave to help ‘degauss’ connected magnetics.”  I followed the directions and ran the CleanWave function.  I listened to track six from Lenny Kravitz’s Mama Said disc before and after.  The whole process takes about five seconds.  I didn’t notice any audible difference.

In older PS products there was more than one setting for the MultiWave option.  According to the manual in the MultiWave position “the peak charging time of the sine wave is extended to help connected equipment lower power supply ripple and therefore improve the performance.  MultiWave can have the same improvement gained from adding a larger power transformer or more power supply capacitance to connected equipment.”  Since this function can be toggled from the remote it is an easy process to go back and forth between both modes and listen for differences.  Even the manual states (in the extensive Q&A/Troubleshooting sections) that not all equipment will benefit from MultiWave.  I started my listening with the MFSL version of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road track 9 and used the AC-10 and AC-12 cords from above.  Years ago I remember hearing a fairly significant difference with the MultiWave function, but not so with the Power Plant Premier.  The difference was in the amount of top end air and there was a tightening of the focus of the soundstage.  This was not an audible improvement in my setup.  The top end sounded too “smoothed out” and the narrowing of the soundstage didn’t improve anything.  Overall the changes were very subtle.

In order to somewhat isolate the improvements made by the AC regenerator I went back to using the stock power cords.  With the PS cords the high frequencies were cleaner and the voice was more natural and sweeter on Kurt Elling singing “Never Say Goodbye (for Jodi).”  I proceeded with another comparison with Sting’s Sacred Love SACD track 6.  With the better cords the bass was improved and reverberation was more natural.  With the stock cords there was more top end and the images were somewhat blended together.

Lastly I did a comparison taking the regenerator in and out of the system.  With track two from Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s Peace Beyond Passion there was an increase in hash and scratchiness that is gone with the Power Plant Premier in the system.  With Paul Desmond’s disc Skylark I listened to track one.  There was improved clarity and more natural sound with the power regenerator.

Conclusion

Due to the size of the differences heard many of these products require auditioning in one’s own system.  My experience with the Power Port was surprising, but it made an improvement in my system and was only $100.  
The power cords were much more difficult to test, but my opinion is that they were relatively pricey compared to the difference they offered in my system.  I would absolutely recommend an upgrade to any detachable cord you can—even a thicker, cheap cord sounded better in my system.  To me the AC-10 offered the best value vs. performance and wasn’t too heavy or hard to manipulate in my system.  Some may find even the AC-3 is too heavy and thick to work with.  All the cables were extremely hard to twist and if it is necessary to work them around a corner…good luck.  The AC-3 was a tough one for me to put a finger on.  It seems like it should have offered an improvement across the board, but it didn’t.  It is worth investigating if you are replacing a stock cord.

The Power Plant Premier gets a thumbs up!  It never failed to offer an improvement, although I would determine if the MultiWave offers an improvement in one’s own system.  I left it off in mine.  The piece is solid and although the first sample failed, it made it through a few outages during a storm or two and none of my connected equipment was worse for the wear.  The Premier doesn’t limit current to connected equipment, seems to reduce noise on the line and gave my components the chance to sound their best.  Often these devices sacrifice performance for protection, but I didn’t feel that was the case here.  Recommended.

– Brian Bloom              big_brian_b@hotmail.com




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