Most audiophiles know about it, but won't admit it to anyone.
No one likes to talk about it, and would rather avoid the subject.
It's a controversial subject because it can't be seen.
How does one measure its improvement to your audio system?
Just how little or big are the gains if you invest in increasing its quality to your audio gear?
I'm talking about AC power.
Let me go back quite a few years, as this will all make sense later.
Back in my younger, hot rodding days, I always knew that if your motor wasn't built on a solid foundation, it would be unreliable and an inconsistent performer as more horsepower was cranked into it.
I was one of the early adopters to really experiment with breakerless ignition setups and transistorized ignition modules.
Don't all cars come with electronic ignition and computerized fuel injection today?
You have to remember, back in the 70's, computerized ignitions weren't even in existence. I mean, we're talking about carburetors and $1/gallon gas!
Personal computers and cell phones weren't even in the conceptual stage, definitely in the realm of science fiction dreams.
Yes, the good old days.
While everyone else was busy bolting on chrome parts and dual high rise carburetors, being more concerned with how mean their motors looked and sounded, I was quietly researching ignition systems.
Without a potent electrical current feeding your spark plugs, combustion will be anemic, resulting in lost power, and mediocre performance.
All those cool, go fast goodies bolted to your shiny new motor meant absolutely nothing if you couldn't ignite the mixture.
Your motor is only as good as your ignition system.
The best description I heard about ignition systems was, “It's like throwing a hand grenade into a phone booth. If it's a good grenade, bye-bye phone booth!”
Well, I was looking for the ultimate grenade.
All my friends were constantly changing out fouled spark plugs, regapping distributor points, and constantly fiddling with carburetor mixtures.
They would brag about amazing performance gains one week, and be ripping things apart and tuning like mad men the next week.
They would be mumbling under their breath about needing more power that was mysteriously lost after those amazing power gains the week before.
I never had any of those problems, because I realized that putting your time and money into the ignition system first, rather than shiny parts and carburetors would solve all those issues.
Build the foundation first, and add all the fancy stuff later.
I don't think it's a coincidence that every car manufactured on the planet now comes with electronic ignition and fuel injection, controlled by several onboard computers.
Reliability has dramatically gone up as a result.
It was then that I discovered an interesting human phenomenon: humans are sensory creatures.
If we can't see it, touch it, smell it, or hear it, we want nothing to do with it.
Since electricity can't be seen, but it can definitely be felt (just ask Nikola Tesla about AC current), most don't want anything to do with it.
Because it can't be seen, people are afraid of it, or don't really understand it, and sweep it under the rug.
What does this have to do with audio gear?
What does all audio gear run on?
No, not diesel, ethanol or E85, but ELECTRICITY.
Audiophiles make the same mistakes as my hot rodding friends all the time.
They want the most impressive looking tube mono block amps with 16 tubes per side, shiny chrome transformer covers, and a preamp with a dedicated, separate chassis, tube regulated power supply.
And of course a DAC with a separate matching power supply to complement a really impressive CD transport, or the coolest new air bearing tonearm and matching turntable.
None of this equipment is going to sound impressive at all if you're using that wimpy, stock power cord it came with, or looks like something off an old desk lamp.
Why is it the last upgrade that most audiophile's make is to the power delivery system to their equipment?
Because it's something that can't be seen or touched, so it can't be important.
I suppose running Oyaide wall outlets and Furutech circuit breakers in your home's electrical system just doesn't seem as impressive as watching 24 tubes glowing gloriously in the dark.
Well, it may not look as impressive, but the sound coming out of your system will change your thinking forever.
I'm amazed to find that there are high end audio dealers out there that don't believe power cords, and line conditioners make a difference.
What you can't see or touch can't improve performance, right?
Just as I learned how important a foundation the electrical system is to high performance motors, I also learned that the same applies to audio gear.
Even more important is the most basic foundation of your power source: your home wiring and outlets.
Over the past few months, I thought I was slowly losing my mind, aging rapidly, or both.
The lights in my house seemed to be much dimmer than I remembered, or was my eyesight going?
Not just in one room, but in the entire house.
Our refrigerators and freezers were making funny noises which usually means catastrophic failure of some sort is right around the corner.
And worst of all, my audio system's performance had seriously degraded. All attempts at cleaning all connectors and contacts, known tweaks that always worked, and troubleshooting resulted in zero improvement.
I was depressed.
My audio system was dying.
Then two nights ago, the lights began flickering throughout the night.
Of course the natural tendency was to blame the electric company, as they probably had old, faulty equipment that hasn't been replaced in years, and they were waiting for it to fail in a spectacular shower of sparks followed by impressive subwoofer explosions before doing anything about it.
I'm serious, I called their emergency maintenance phone number, and the voice mail said, “please press 1 if you see a shower of sparks or hear an explosion...”
Oh great, that really raised my confidence level in our local electric company.
I may not be alive to make that call if I was in the middle of that “shower of sparks and explosion”.
Last night, the lights began flickering, but even worse.
I went to sleep, woke up the next day to discover that half of the lights in the house would not power on.
None of the circuit breakers were tripped.
Surely, this was the fault of the evil local electric company and their lack of maintenance.
Conspiracy theories and paranoia raced through my mind.
Hawaiian Electric was called, and they quickly diagnosed the problem.
The technician wanted me to take a look at something.
He pried open my rusted, corroded main service panel.
The power lines from the utility poles are directly tapped into this panel, which then feeds your entire house wiring from outlets to lights.
Everyone knows what it looks like, it's that military issue looking metal box bolted to the side of your house with the electric meter on it.
There are two “legs” inside this box. Each one is 120 volts. Combining the two gives you the 240 volts needed to run your water heater, range, and large air conditioners.
Hawaii is the worst environment for electrical equipment.
High humidity, constant trade winds, and salt alkali in the air, combine to form a potent weapon that corrodes and rusts everything made out of any type of metal or alloy.
The right 120 volt leg had completely rusted and corroded to the point where it just burned out and could no longer pass any current.
Our home is a little more than 20 years old, and the weather had been eating away at the service panel and contacts during that time, and for the last 8 years that we've been here, the power had been degrading so slowly that we didn't really notice, until a few days ago.
Well, it was a relief to know that I wasn't aging rapidly or losing my mind.
With the new service panel installed, and a bright, shiny new cable attached from the service panel to the utility pole, everything was powered up.
The lights in the house are now so bright, I need to wear sunglasses.
The heater now pumps out extremely hot water.
The refrigerators and freezer are now humming smoothly at higher rpm's like finely tuned Honda generators.
And, of course, the best part is, my audio system sounds better than it ever has in 8 years!
Now that I'm getting full, clean power, the tubes are now getting full bias current, and the transformers and capacitors are probably very happy as well.
I can imagine the dirty power and noise flowing through my electrical outlets as my service panel stuttered and coughed before its slow, tortured, untimely demise.
Instead of investing a lot of money into shiny new equipment, do yourself a favor, and check out the condition of your home's wiring, and especially, the condition of your service panel and circuit breaker panel.
It may just save your life, and your house.
I was one of the fortunate ones, as my service panel died peacefully.
If it had decided to go out with a bang, and do some serious arcing before giving up, my house could have literally gone up in flames like a bottle rocket.
You read about house fires all the time, due to faulty electrical wiring or overloads.
I always thought those were stories made up by the fire department to scare people because they really didn't know what caused the fire.
Let me tell you, this is a serious issue, and one you can't afford to ignore, unless you want to end up like the guy who loses it all in Vegas.
Losing your house would be a serious financial setback for anyone.
It's not a cheap fix, but neither is the level of audio gear we're talking about.
Improvements and upgrades in these areas will result in clean power going to your audio gear, and a bigger improvement in sound quality than you could possibly imagine.
If your wiring and service panel are in good shape, invest in a set of quality power cords, AC wall outlets, and a good line conditioner.
Upgrading your power supply to your equipment is the single most significant upgrade you should do first before any other upgrade.
There is no upgrade that will give you as significant a performance gain as lots of clean power to your audio gear.
Even if you upgrade one of your components, that new component will still sound even better with clean power and full voltage.
You may discover that you've never heard what your current gear is truly capable of, as your corroded wall outlets are choking off your AC power, and your service panel is about ready to fall off the side of your house.
Electricity is the fuel that feeds your audio gear.
The better the quality that you feed your equipment, the better it performs, period.
Your tubes, transformers, transport and turntable motors; will stand up and sing like you've never heard them before.
If you think your $5000 worth of high end cables sound great, try listening to them through a clean, audiophile grade power source.
If you think your system soundstages, images, and has depth beyond your back wall, you are in for a mindblowing experience when you upgrade your AC power.
Power is something you can't see, but in the audio world, it's something you can definitely hear.
Ever since this experience, I've been on an even bigger power trip than before!