Learning the hard way about AC power solutions


A number of years ago, so a different system back then, I heard subtle but definite improvements when I inserted my new PS Audio Power Plant Premier regenerator. So, tighter and punchier bass and greater pinpoint focus applied to images. I was convinced that my regenerator improved my sound and helped to protect my gear. Back then, I had Thiel CS3.6 speakers, a CJ power amp and a BAT line stage. Today, my system is quite different and much more revealing of what you connect to it.

As I upgraded my gear over these years, I left my regenerator connected, because I could still hear improvements when I upgraded my phono stage, my speakers, and finally my power amplifiers. One of my dealers told me one day that my regenerator hurts my sound, but I knew better, and he was selling high-end power conditioners that made me think that a sales pitch may be on the way. This was probably the first time, that I would not follow his advice, because I knew better. Hey, hearing is believing, right?

We bought a new home and now I have a completely different room, that includes a lack of full corners to support my speakers' reflected sound. I was missing body, so missing some fill-in, and a loss in bass energy. My Horning speakers are rear-ported, so are somewhat dependent on those corners. My dealer recommended adding quality subs or going with different speakers. Yikes! So, I'm talking to a manufacturer's rep of British subwoofers and I had sent him pictures of my system and my room. The first thing that he noticed, was my regenerator on my rack and he asked me if I ever unplugged my gear from that and went straight into the wall instead? He told me that he heard that the regenerator sounds worse, but over time, and because of this I might not notice those changes. I was still a believer of my regenerator, because I could keep hearing improvements.

Recently, I've been working on my AC power in the new home. I've been wanting to add a whole house surge protector, and did not want go straight into the wall without some kind of surge protection in place. From a buddy, I borrowed a Juice Box One, that provides some conditioning and costs around $800. I was in awe by what the Juice Box did for the sound, or by what my regenerator was hiding. Imagine, getting one of the biggest upgrades in sound quality by removing a fairly pricey product that was designed to improve your sound. This switch out, added layers of dimension to the soundstage, opened up the sound, filled in more body, and made the entire presentation much more musical and alive. A/B testing between the two, the regenerator now sounded sterile and almost dull in comparison.

The regenerator still had a feature that I could use, and that was to monitor the AC power coming into it, as it displays this info on its front display. In my old house, my AC input varied by about 5 or 6 volts during the course of the day. However, my new house only varies by one volt, so I asked myself, do I even need conditioning? I had already added two dedicated circuits for my gear with isolated grounds, so maybe I only need surge protection. Plus, I now needed to return the Juice Box One back to my buddy.

With 16 inches of snow on the ground and my AC panel outside, I procrastinated, and pushed back the whole house surge protector project. So, instead, I wound up getting a Brick Wall surge protector with eight outlets, and I read some good things and a couple of so-so-things about the product. I needed to try something without the regenerator, so this was my test. The Brick Wall is about one tenth the cost of my regenerator. So, a worst case scenario, I move the Brick Wall over to my TV if it fails the test.

I removed the regenerator and plugged everything into the Brick Wall. I experienced the same upgrade in sound quality with the Brick wall that I experienced with the Juice Box One. The other day, I decided to take the chance and unplug only my power amps from the Brick Wall and go straight into my dedicated outlet without surge protection. I got this from one of the so-so reviews about the Brick Wall regarding power amps. This kicked up the dimensionality and musicality of my system yet another notch! In my case, this was yet another lesson that less can be more. I am now done procrastinating about adding the whole house surge protector, so let it snow!

I have also gotten back from this experiment much of the missing fill-in, so more body, even with my existing corner situation. Yes, I still have less bass energy with my room setup, but the improvements have become so great, that I can easily live with this setup as is. Will this work for everybody? Does it only work with certain types of gear? Do you have decent AC power? I don't know, but I encourage those who are willing, to at least give it a try, but think about using some kind of surge protection for safety if you do.

Oh yeah, I already got the "I told you so" from my dealer.

Kenny

kennythekey
Kenny, the AC power game is endless. 

kenny-

depending on where you reside, the AC game, can be challenging.
The Brick has a good reputation considering its price. Another factor, are you trying to condition a simple 2-channel system vs a complete HT system?  Possibilities are endless.

A Power re-generator comes in to play (no pun) if you live in one of our major U.S. cities and/or congested suburb of such.

Back to your opening system- which CJ power amp and BAT line-stage did you own?

What gear is in your system now?  Keep me posted & Happy Listening!

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that there is no one-size-fits-all AC solution. I’ve tried TONS of power conditioners, regenerators, isolation transformers, etc., and most of them have yielded improvements of varying degrees, but the right solution for person A might not be the right one for person B. For the last several years I’ve used a combination of conditioning and regeneration that, while not perfect, has overall done a pretty nice job of cleaning up the AC in my main rig. But it’s not the solution for every application. There are a lot of ways to scale the power mountain,, and the right one for a given situation depends on MANY different variables.


My experience with power conditioners has been as follows....at first way better, then "seems I'm missing something" and then WTF and back straight into the wall. I've come to accept it's all a trade off.  My current config is amps to the wall and preamp and digital out of the high current outlets of the P5.  
I will parrot what lynott so clearly commented, one size does not fit all when it comes to mains conditioning and handling. Each case is unique.

Source is king, and mains is the "other" source. Only when you have lowered your noise floor will you realize the profound effect it plays on keeping us from our musical enjoyment. The micro dynamics and detail revealed will continually astound you. That's my experience.

Happy Listening!


The most important AC power solution is to start with dedicated lines and upgraded outlets.

AC is challenging, and there may be no one correct approach, because of being dependent on environment and equipment. So, as your equipment and location changes, do your past solutions still work? Do your current solutions actually work, or do you just believe they should? In my experience, I did hear improvements to my sound as I upgraded my equipment, but I would find out that those improvements were still under the veil of my regenerator. Lifting the veil, made all the difference.

himiguel - It is a game, because power solutions seem to run hand-in-hand with your audio equipment upgrading. So, an integral part of the puzzle. However, in my case, the experimentation is taking me backwards and away from that game. I understand the bad AC power challenges that are out there, but now that I seem to have a stable AC situation going on, I want to try minimalism.

jafant - I have a dedicated 2-channel system. Recently, I moved out of a medium sized city, and now I'm further out in a more rural area. Probably, why I have better AC.

My older gear, was a CJ Premier 11a, and a BAT VK5i. I was also using a BAT MS10 Phono Stage. These were popular components in the early and mid nineties. Today, I'm using a combination of Horning, TW-Acustic, and Tron gear, and I pulled out my even older Boulder L3AE line stage, as I'm waiting to save up and purchase a new line stage. Though, I can't believe how good that old Boulder sounds in my new system. I think you can access my system, because it is public.

lynott - I agree.

gshepardbuster - Yup, that almost sums it up for me as well. Right now, I have my analog gear plugged into the Brick Wall, and my mono blocks plugged directly into the floor (floor outlets). My digital stuff is unplugged for now, so I'll try it in the Brick Wall and will even try it with my regenerator. That should be interesting.

r_f_sayles - Once, I get my whole house surge protector installed, I will try my gear direct and then experiment with the Brick Wall as an A/B. I'm going to seek out the best sound with the least amount of add-ons. Instead, of believing that I've found the best solution, I will try to borrow different S.O.T.A. conditioners, to see if they really sound better under my conditions. No more, "it must be better" solutions.

My power amps were built and fine-tuned without the integration of any conditioner, so straight to wall. That speaks to me.

Kenny

I would agree Kenny, why incorporate anything more, than is necessary. Because someone said so... that is not good enough. Each case is unique. 

I have found it much simpler to understand what a power treatment is doing (or any other component for that matter), by listening to it in a kit for for a good long bit, perhaps even days listening to things I know intimately, then removing the treatment and listening again, immediately. It becomes a no-brainer from there. 

TY- Kenny.


you bet location matter, especially, if you are on the grid of one of our major U.S. cities. Big city living is laden w/ black & brown outs that will

decompensate everyone's electricity.  Country living is where it is at!


Keep me posted & Happy Listening!

Kenny -
A number of years ago, so a different system back then, I heard subtle but definite improvements when I inserted my new PS Audio Power Plant Premier regenerator
Exactly how many years ago would that have been ?

Electrolytic capacitors will degrade over time and are probably the source of most components SQ degradation.

I've heard that NAIM recommends you return your NAIM amp after 10-13 years to have it "re-capped"

Personally - I have re-capped the crossovers in my speakers and found a huge difference in performance - but then I upgraded to mundorf caps in the process.

So perhaps your regenerator is just feeling "a little tired" and needs some perking up.

Remember - the regenerator is working for the sum-total of ALL components plugged into it - so it's really overworked by comparison to the rest of them

BTW- there could be other components in their that also needs some "perking up" so I would recommend taking it to a qualified technician - not all of them will touch a power supply - let alone a regenerator.

Better still contact PS Audio and see what they have to say about it. At least ask them for the name of a reputable service centre.

Regards...

When I lived in town, we had at least ten power outages a year. And, my house was at the end of the line. Now, I think I can trust my power enough to take a barebones approach.

williewonka - If it's the caps in my regenerator, I would be disappointed, because I purchased the PPP in 2009, so just before I started to upgrade my gear. I used to live in Boulder, and could bicycle over to PS Audio, so I have used them for service in the past. I did replace the caps in my Boulde L3AE line stage before I re-inserted it back into my system. I know that made a big difference.



I use isolation transformers from Plitron. Raw transformers are relatively inexpensive, but you need to have them installed correctly and inspected.  Plitron also sells complete boxes. They sell direct.

The electrical inspector said, "I used to work in a power station, but this is the cleanest power I've ever seen." I agreed. I could hear the difference. Exotic cables made a positive difference without Isolation, but not with isolation. An exotic power conditioner made a positive difference without isolation, but not with isolation. Isolation was better than either alternative alone.

The best part: it's physics, not subjective.

I tried different passive conditionners for many years. Now I ordered a big Torus  and hope it is end of the story

Thanks.
After, l finish my whole house surge protector job, plug directly into my AC, and spend some time listening, l will then tryout some conditioners. Hopefully, I won't want them!
I have in the past plugged into the wall, used several filters including the Uber filter and finally bought a PurePower 1500 Regenerator with UPS backup. The regenerator was a major improvement in sound. My whole system is plugged into the regenerator. Twice I have had power failures and my system kept playing. Did not even notice the power was out. If I get some time I will pull the regenerator out and give a listen.
Alan
ahendler,
I did not decide to pull the plug on my regenerator until after I moved out of town and found stable AC. If you have crappy AC, I would add some surge protection, just in case.
Alan:

I've experimented quite a bit with regenerators, and my current one is a PurePower too. (I've had it for about four years now.) Within its envelope, it does a great job. I have a very small, purist-type rig, so I'm not pushing it past 20-25% load on its readout, and that's with a moderately sized SS amp on it. It helped the source quite a bit, but I was really surprised when I plugged the amp into it. No loss of dynamics, no sense of constriction. Instead, the whole presentation became, for lack of a better word, ENERGIZED. The background became blacker, and images just sorta popped out of the soundfield without sounding overbearing or unnatural. By comparison, without the amp plugged in, the presentation "sagged" and was slow and dull. That's by comparison, not objectively speaking, of course. 

Every now and again, I take the PurePower out of the system and listen for a few days. And every time I breathe a sigh of relief when it's back in. But that's just me and my particular system and power situation.
Even though, I'm now out of town and in a more rural area, my home is still in an older and settled community of about two to three hundred homes. The power lines are all underground. For whatever reason, the AC fluctuates no more than one volt during the course of the day. Another factor would be harmonic distortion. My regenerator measures my input THD at 4.5% and that also hardly fluctuates. The regenerator is measuring its output THD at 0.5%. Despite this difference, my system sounds signifantly better without the regenerator.

I can't help but think, that this has to do with my type of equipment and how it's been designed, or as williewonka speculated, my regenerator may be tired. For example, my mono blocks are 300b SETs, so how they manage power is different than lynott's SS amp.

I had reached out to the guy who designed, hand built, and fine tuned my amps for a recommendation. He told me to go straight into the wall. However, the AC power must be a consideration, so good. My dealer, who I trust and respect, swears by the conditioners that he sells. At the same time, his business is in the heart of NYC, and when he goes out to demo his gear, it's at shows in hotel rooms in other big cities.

So, after I finish tweaking or is that un-tweaking my AC for my best sound quality, I will ask to borrow a conditioner and then hear for myself. In the meantime, I may bring my regenerator to PS Audio to be checked out.
Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
I'm fairly certain that it's your Power Point Premier that's malfunctioning. I had a PPP and they were quite unreliable. I went through 3 in 2 years. And when they had a glitch, they would default to a "pass through" state, where you would just get AC straight from the wall. 

I've been using a PS Audio P5 (the PPP's replacement) for several years, and it's been flawless. It also shows you the incoming and outgoing distortion, as well as voltage. 

I would try a P5 or P10 and compare it to your other options. 
This thread inspired me to take my 5 year-old Power Plant Premier out of the system last night to see the effect. I long ago realized that my integrated amp had significantly better dynamics and frequency extension when plugged straight into a dedicated wall outlet than into the PPP. I recently installed the PS Audio Bridge II to replace a Squeezebox Touch, at which point my PerfectWave DAC was the only component running into the PPP. I like simplicity so I hoped the DAC might go straight into the wall, leaving me with a very lean and mean two-component system.

Well, the experiment lasted about 15 minutes. Without the PPP supplying power to the DAC, my soundstage width was narrowed and its depth was stomped flat, with timbres taking on a shrillness that damn-near hurt my ears. Moral of the story: a system should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. The PPP went right back in and I was once again listening in bliss.

My home A/C, for what it's worth, isn't bad:  comes in at 124V and about 1.9% distortion, goes out of the PPP at 120V and 0.4%.
Thanks! for sharing- cymbop.
I live outside Omaha, Nebraska. We have clean power and are not close to industrial or commercial areas. I had my power supply checked and it was clean. Now, what we do have is lightening, and an occasional power surge/drop. The Spring can bring on a show. So, I installed an APC H15 and moved on. I have a dedicated line for my system and what i needed was protection. Don't believe in conditioning (unless you are really in an area of a corrupted power supply) regeneration, or any other high price baited gimmicks.
Have found that power conditioners with filters have an adverse effect on bass level/impact due to a voltage drop under load in the filtered output.  Surge suppressors with no filter provide the protection that I want without degrading sound. 
A fact to remember;
all of these products/devices are "filters" one way or another. The key is find the product that jives well w/ your taste.  Some will steal current from your system, so, stay away from those particular models.
The most important thing you can have upstream of your gear, especially tubes, is a MANUAL RESET GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter). If you get a brown-out or one of those quick on-off flashes the GFCI will shut everything off and needs to be manually re-set when line voltages stabilize. They’re about $30 on Amazon for a 20-amp model. Otherwise, as the caps discharge during the outage and the juice comes back on, there will be a collision of outgoing and in-rushing current, which ain’t good for any power supply. Then downstream fiddle with cables and "conditioners" all you want. The cheaper ones automatically re-set. You don't want that.
I agree with Kenny, Miguel and others that the AC game is very challenging (but worthwhile) to get right. Personally, I would say that the face of that game has been changing all along and is now going more in the direction of "quantum" physics than the "cap-across-a-load" designs of the past. Cap designs were once looked at as ’da bomb’, but not these days I think. Not only is a cap’s optimal performance much too short in practice, but cap designs almost universally act to screw up impedance and rob power - hence the tonal weirdness and loss of dynamics or ’directness’...things end up just not sounding right. There are newer solutions that go the quantum route that sidestep all those issues (the first of which were the Bybee devices)...no power limitations either...and I would think that they will last at optimal performance much longer and can be used with any equipment. Although they performed very well actually, Bybee devices tended to be just *too* expensive and I think you can expect the price of other manufacturers of quantum-based filtering to come steadily down from here on out as newer and better materials and processes seem to be coming out more often now. But, there are still bad solutions all around and I expect this will remain a challenging topic for some time.

I completely agree though, that once you’ve solidly arrived at an effective AC solution for yourself, about the first thing you realize is just how uniquely positioned you are to consider a more minimal system...along with maybe much more latitude in considering gear as well.

It sounds very difficult to define a concrete solution for all situations, and I think that's where I originally went off course, as I went with the hype.

Thank you all for your input. When I get the chance I'll have my regenerator checked out by PS Audio for performance.