Review: PS Audio UPC - 200 AC filter
“What you really need is a conditioner.” “get a line conditioner, it’ll fix your problems.” “every system needs a conditioner.” “Until you add that conditioner you’ll not know true high end audio.” “You’ll be amazed!” Yada, yada, yada.
Sure. Let’s see if I can avoid breaking my hand as I reach you out my wallet.
Conditioner? Why do I, or anyone else, for that matter, ‘need’ a conditioner? I’ve got a new house. Brand new electrical service. Brand new power drop from the telephone pole. All the gear pulls power from individually dedicated 20 amp circuits for each device! I bought expensive power cords. How can you say that with any sincerity?
Because it’s true.
When all this started, again, for me back about six years ago, old ideas and poor information wound up costing me severely during the building of my then system. So did my ‘contempt prior to investigation’, I am prone to, but that’s a story for another time. I was eager to get myself a good sounding stereo. In fact I was eager to get both a good sounding stereo and a Home Theater rig. Both. That would be just fine. Finances. That one word says it all. OK. We’ll compromise. I’ll get an HT system, that can be both stereo and HT. Super! I’m a born genius! Begging your pardon, that’s both a tough nut to crack, and still a pricey one to swallow. Yes, certainly it can be done too… but then there’s that ’finances’ bit again.
To make what could be a long story even more monotonous, that system was as threwn together and ill thought out as anything I’ve ever done. I made mistakes a plenty. I took the advice of salespeople at mass fi and mid fi dealers. Did little, or no research. Just threw money at it. What I got was sterile, analytical, and overcharged. Lovely. My fault though. Not their’s. Old ideas played the bigger part of the debacle. I felt all that was necessary to provide great sonics was great components. I gave no thought whatsoever to peripherals. Accessories. Cabling. Isolation. Ah, yes, or to power line conditioning.
Beguiled by the systems posted here and the information at hand I started out assembling another system. Those old ideas I mentioned? I was an electrician for a number of years, and an electronics tech before that episode. Fate changed that for me. Then in sales thereafter. All sorts. Mainly electronics, go figure, and major home furnishings. How does an old electrician used to working on the basis of empirical evidence get convinced of the need for the finer points to an audio system? How to convince someone whose modest budgetary constraints indicate frugality as the rule rather than the exception?
You say I need wires? Power cords? How much are they? You can’t be serious. Oh. You are. Well I’ve got some from the dealership, and they cost nearly a $100 a pair. I’ll just stick with these. Wire is wire. Right? Condition what? I don’t hear anything out of the ordinary going on in my stereo. (BTW, stereo’s are stereos until one has thrown sufficient enough fundsat it to call it a system).
OK, I can see you’re hard to convince. There’s this one other way to find out for sure. Are you game? Well, yes. OK, than you have to try it for yourself, in your stereo, and in your home. That’s how. Though even that notion came slowly for me. Still does. I think I was born in Missouri, though the paperwork does not agree. Regardless, that bit about trying it is sincerely the most sage advice yet to come from the world of upper end audio. Myth or magic, you try it, you’ll see.
The conundrum for me came as much from how they talked about it as from my past experiences in the electrical industry. “I don’t hear any hiss or junk coming from my speakers!”, I said to them. “you’ll hear things better and less grundge with a conditioner. It will help you get to that next level of performance. Is what they said to a man. Then there was my personal favorite, “You’ll hear less of what you’re not hearing now.” Super! Thanks.
Stick a fork in me, I’m done… er, sold.
I took the plunge. Did some research, and decided to go passive.. I had come up with two primary reasons for the passive path: One, no hands on action in overtly redressing the line signal, Two, it was less expensive to boot than some of the other configurations available that use balanced power line technology, for instance. But who? Simple again. What’s popular? Just looking at the amount of online info can provide insight there. Mind you I’m not a ‘run with the pack’ sort, but it did say something to me by the sheer number of entries alone. Now which one. More than a little and less than a lot was the budget. My motto, as it were. It did have to be an improvement in overall performance too.. That was a given. It did improve things for sure. I got myself a PS Audio UPC-200. Not terribly pricey, and actually little more than a pair of their wildly popular Ultimate Outlets in one box, though they do indicate it is somewhat different inside using some undescribed technology.
Once it finally arrived I rushed to integrate the unit into my rig. Where? Simple. The amp. Why? I’ve no clue. Just made sense somehow. So there it was, all dull and techy looking with it’s little light glowing and not making the slightest sound. Just sitting on the carpet. Working. Keeping to itself.
Ever throw a bunch of money on the floor, in a friendly or an unfriendly, crap game, or poker game? It’s pretty impressive to see hundreds or thousands of frog skins on the Berber. The PS Audio UPC- 200 didn’t look near as impressive. It did possess that exciting element of gambling, as I was yet to be win, or rather, be convinced, but had placed a serious wager on it’s potential helpfulness.
I let it run in for almost two hours before I took a peek. Nope, it’s not doing much yet. If something was happening, it was going to be a while longer to become apparent. PS Audio told me prior to the purchase it would take about a month to get up to it’s full potential. Don’t you just love those conservative manufacturers? A month. Sure. It didn’t take that long but it did take a few days till something you could not avoid noticing began to transpire.
With every piece of high end audio gear there is one of three things that occurs when you get it all hooked up and running. You make at least one of these declarations:
Wow!! That’s special.
When is this thing supposed to do it’s stuff?
That’s it? That’s all it does?
…some folks may even use stronger verbiage to express their feelings in this last choice.
My initial thoughts on the newly inserted unit was the latter. I’m an impatient sort however. Things do change, thankfully, and my premature acknowledgement did. Eventually. I found that just leaving the UPC-200 energized is sufficient. Using it, aids it’s egress to optimum performance. I’ve had some items that take nearly 400 hours to open up, some that acted as though they had a clock installed at the factory and would not open up until a preset time had elapsed, then bang. There it was. I’ve never had something brandy new that took less than 150 hours to really start pumping properly.
If you stop to think about the average audio fan and how much they use their gear, 300 hours can be a years worth of use. I average about 6 to 10 hours a week of dedicated listening. More if making the trek down Audionervousa Avenue, doing the Lenoard Nimoy thing, “In Search Of…. The better component.” Sometimes not even that much. I’ve also found out, from my own experiences and those of modders and manufacturers, simply leaving a thing energized goes a long way to improving performance. Even with rotating equipment. Albeit, definitely some rotation there is required though not the constant day after day onslaught of the let’s play “melt a disc”, you hear frequently discussed. It’s a high enough cost to pay for the gear that we needn’t pay a virtual year of it’s life to be able to enjoy it fully.
The UPC – 200 is in the 150 – 200 hour range. Thankfully as a conditioner leaving it energized around the clock is usually a given. Drawing current through it does help a bit more, though not tremendously. Within two weeks I was quite the happy-er camper. They were right, “I was hearing less of what I hadn’t heard before”.
The geography of the UPC – 200 IS straight forward enough so that the manual is not entirely necessary. However do take a gander at it before setting up the item. It does make some contradictory statements about leaving the thing under power, or not, but aside from that one item, it is helpful. I’ve had no diverse issues leaving mine on all the time whatsoever. IN fact I hate to turn it off. (more on that later).
Four 20 amp NEMA outlets configured in two pairs, line up across the back of the unit. One 15A IEC input leads the array at one end. A sculpted faceplate, four sorbathane ringed feet, and a small light appoint the device. It’s surprisingly heavy for it’s size. Solid was my impression. When I shook it, (I’m prone to shaking and drop tests), there were no rattles. Underneath the box near the outlets & input is a sliding switch. Be advised. This switch is not so easy to move from the High Current position, to the Dual Mode, setting, as it is recessed into an alcove and the knob is quite difficult to manage in that tiny slot.
The UPC-200 provides some degree of flexibility in configuration. Either HC or DM. HC allows for operating analog devices throughout all it’s four outlets. Like four amps. I don’t know anyone with four amps, but it could happen. In this setting, the ‘quieting’ is heightened. You will receive the max blackness factor of approximately 60db. According to PS Audio, in Colorado. Set to the Dual mode, which allows for unlike components, say digital & analog, the factor drops to 40db, again, according to PSA. I had not the equipment to test there claims. There is however, a distinct audible difference in the ‘blackness’ levels between the two position choices. Being as it was on the amp, with no other devices attached, I chose the HC setting.
Wrangling the enormous power cords I use with the BAT VK500 w/BP about and realigning them some, I set one to each of the twin outlet pairs. The connection to the 20 amp NEMA outlets, wasn’t good. A secure snap was not happening. Not even a slow yet snug fit was going on. I tried the remaining outlets. Same thing. Naturally. The power cords snuggly fit into the household receptacles. Hmmmmm. What’s up with that? I pushed harder. Finally. They fit in place. Though care needed be taken to not bump the box. So doing would or could interrupt the power to the amp by the plug simply falling out. The IEC supply connection was fine. The NEMA outlets had some inner amount of play to them. Ultimately the power cords to the Gold Dragon II’s were in the sockets.
I called PSA about the loose fitting NEMA outlets the following week. They said return it and they would fix the problem at no cost to me. Actually, at first they told me they would send more outlets and I could fix it. I declined pursuit of that option. Although no soldering was needed according to PSA, I sure don’t trust myself as a tech any longer. Nor was I willing to instruct anyone else to accomplish the task. Send it back? Gee wiz. It took six weeks longer than it was supposed to just to get it. I waited nearly two months and 10 days to get the item. Some issues with production designs, and changes in production to the ‘faceplate’ according to PSA, were the blame for the delay. Great. Well it ain’t going back just now. If it works that is… and it did.
The only plugs that fit securely into the NEMA outlets are the little ones of the non migratory type that are attached to normal mass media devices. TV, VCR, Cable box, etc. larger aftermarket cords, not just the VooDoo Cable cords but my Shunyata as well, all seem to need a strong hand to integrate successfully into the PS Audio UPC-200. Once done in such fashion, they remain secure. Now, let’s see, was it ”Energize?”… or is it “Engage.” It did power up.
Since warranty was inadvertently drawn up, the standard warranty is only 90 days. UNLESS you register the item with PSA during that time, it’s all you can count on. Once registered (and you can either fill out the little postcard in the box or register online), it turns into a three (3) year warranty. It is also transferable.
I recall my feelings quite well, when first the UPC200 began to do it’s thing and it was very pleasing to me. My system then, and now are differently configured. Then, the sound came across ‘rounder’. I remember telling a friend of mine exactly that. The Edges had been sliced away. The Darkening of the background was such a subtle ongoing change that I didn’t notice it quite nearly as much as the essence of the music. I do not care for an attention drawing top end. Not at all. Extension, yes. Air, yes. Sweet? Without question. It was all more so provided with, than without the UPC 200. The striking personality of the top end in my then system was not completely refined enough to my liking though easy enough to take for the most part. Improvement there would be an excellent thing. It’s sometimes startling conveyance of musical information was now more of the ‘well heeled’, variety. Symbols lost a few degrees of their normally present heat and became more properly tuned. Piercing properties of the treble were handed more ease. The bandwidth was wrapped in an opaque velvety cloak of midnight blue. Blue?
Some years ago, crossing by ship the North Atlantic, I had the occasion to do some much needed goofing off. I decided to relax by strolling the decks, and take some air. I leisurely took in the vistas of greatness that make up the night skies formidable span, and the vast churning floor below forming the sea, both meeting at the nondescript horizon beyond. The stars simply litter the night sky yet stay hidden from view till one is in such a venue as to enjoy them. It’s really quite special. Thus revealed, the skies bejeweled countenance is, truly remarkable. The undulating, writhing force of the living carpet supporting the ship foamed against the hull, uncovering partially the life existing within it’s confines. The ‘deep’ gains secrecy in it’s shadowy persona as your gaze into it intensifies. A shimmering episodic trail of lights chases along the outer hull of the vessel as it cuts through the waves along it’s course. The iridescent multitudes of plankton acted as a torch. Flickeringly unveiling a stark absence of color which lay beneath. Only a superficial gesture of shallow glow lit the surface. The plankton gliding about the ship’s boundaries, forced “élan vital” to the aspiring oceans relentless movement, formulating being, and bringing life to it. Just as the stars twinkling on and off again, animated the heavens, so the tiny plankton did the same for the waters lashing the sides of the ship. Finding myself in the midst of such majesty and feeling the vitality of which I was surrounded, I found the whole of it very much so spectacular.
That aside comes to mind in relating the nature of the PS Audio UPC-200, as it performed in my system. Both experiences were akin to each other. As satisfied, and in utter awe of nature’s grandiose show, so was I likewise impressed by the exhibition given by this little passive conditioner. Each enterprise brought about some very big grins.
With the PS Audio UPC-200, the shimmering bits of musical content are not occluded. Neither are there omission of minor details. Each contribution is noted for it’s own separate incursion into the whole. A grip of the content with a blackening velvety shroud encapsulates the background allowing the thrust of the music to live as it will. Texturally competent, the depth and breadth of the ensemble remains unencumbered, distractions such as sibilance and glare are also far reduced all the more as to indicate that the remnants are but those of the recording, and not those of errant artificial additives of power line incongruities.
If there is indeed any compromise to the sound with the integration of the UPC-200, I would have to say it comes at some expense of ‘air’. Though spaciality remains seemingly unaltered, the air formerly separating the components of the value are more so removed. They linger still in their proper assignments, now separated by ‘void’ , than by ‘air. This does in fact gain one greater contrast however, yet refers to a preference for it’s acceptance of course, or it’s aberration. Venue retrieval seemed unaffected.
The ocean at night, is not the ‘deep blue’, as though some would surely suffer it to be. It is black. The lengthier it’s depth, the more prominent it’s shading. Black, though, does have shades.
The PSA offering provides such shading. I feel on some level that attenuation of the tones are occurring. The extent of this shading is not detrimental to the portrayal en masse, as much of the shading transpires at or in the regions that are the more prone to be seen as detrimental. The UPC-200 seems to absorb these unwarranted critters with little difficulty. Further consideration of this apparent ‘attenuation’ gave way to another thought more pertinent than it’s predecessor. It is indeed not of the lessened harmonic quality variety, rather one of dynamic scope. Lessening the air about the instrument creates for the tonal elements a sembalance of greater emphasis. Hence the leading edge of the note seems more striking and therefore more dynamic. Pace, flow, nor intensity are altered. The curious absence of surrounding artifacts give the impression of grander proportion to it’s introduction. A bas relief of the music, so to speak.
Playing some recent additions to the library of individual vocalists adds to this conception of subtractive addition. Vocal presence in my system is routinely quite the thing. Dimensionality and weight are reasonable enough to allow for it. Adding the UPC-200 to the fold gave further improvements and in the area of vocals and soloists, relatively an easier noticed change. Improvement by reduction is a more difficult task to discern, especially if it is a subtle one. Try turning down the volume for example. It takes longer to adjust hearing to less volumne than it does to adjust to a likewise increase.
Spinning discs, got to go ‘round…
On the Brooks & Dunn release of “Hillbilly Deluxe”, on the cut “Believe”, a soulful spiritual remembrance sung by Ronnie Dunn, the emotion is more than plainly felt and heard. The back up singers whispering echoes of the lyrics harmony sounded more distinct, and supportive with the UPC-200 far more with, than without it.
With former Roomful of Blues guitarist, Ronnie Earl’s 1995 Rounder Records release of “Grateful Heart – Blues & Ballads”, Ronnie and the Broadcasters set to a new frame, an R&B classic from Otis Reding, “Drown In My Own Tears” one of the standout tracks on the album, of which there are several including tributes to John Coltrane, and Carlos Santana. A studio album, this offering reunites former Roomful Of Blues member, Per Hanson on drums, and adds Rod Carey on bass and Bruce Katz on piano, & Hammond B3 organ, also joining is tenor saxman David "Fathead" Newman. (this album was noted as Downbeat's Blues Album of the Year following it’s release)
The cut begins with a woeful intro by Fathead, and a sympathetic piano accompaniment, with Ronnie in the background tripping lightly the strings of his guitar. Each of these musicians are quite easily discerned save Earl’s guitar. Without the Upc 200, the lingering faint strumming of the guitar is veiled and almost hidden in the background. With the UPC200, the notes come with more verve. Again, to reiterate, the music is lifted from off the noise floor and stands in greater relief. Nuances are kept in tact, though with more there, there, to coin a tired phrase.
On the CD that more than duplicates the PBS special of the “Celtic Woman” performance released under the same title, the violin prelude to the boddy of "You Raise Me Up", is free from any semblance of grain or haze. The violinist is mixed clearly above center stage and well back providing greater scope and an inspirational entry to the number. the sound of the violin presents a liquidity and mellow enchantment, quantifying and providing ample contrast to the sympathetic vocal harmonic it is prelude to. The UPC-200 keeps the music at the fore as it attends to it’s work in reduceing the noise floor further, and thus allowing the light of the performance to involve and satisfy.
The only item I had on site with which to compare, on some level, to the UPC200 was a Shunyata Research Hydra 2. Many of the noted diffs between the two re related in that review under Accessories (http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/frr.pl?raccs&1156524081&read&3&4&). For those who do not wish to refer to that review I’ll hit the hot spots here.
The primarily and most prominent difference in sonics is how these two diminish or reduce the noise floor. The UPC paints across it a more deeper hue of pigment affecting the space between the instruments and performers by extracting the air which is oft times the present separator. The fashion with which this reduction, as formulated, does neither impede or refract the sound stage itself. It does provide, in it’s course, an illusion of an increase in leading transient energy. Thus offering up apparently a livelier message, or just more bounce. This is indeed a matter of degrees only, and not an extreme difference by any means.
The H2 on the other hand is more the deft of the two competitors. Air remains to a greater degree, and content is handled with less astringent measures.
On the SR H2 I found better than with the PSA UPC200.
I also thought to be more intuitve with the H2 than the UPC 200.
Blackness of background
IF the UPC is set to it’s Dual Mode, is no different than with the H2, to my ears.
UPC200 - 3 years (Registered)
Hydra – 1 year
With so much performance for so little expense, what could be it’s shortcomings?
Settling time for optimum performance. The PS Audio UPC-200 takes some time to attain it’s peak level of background reduction. Mine takes several days from a cold start. Breif losses of energy also detract from performance, as the UPC-200 needs again more time to work it’s way up to it’s top level. Less however, in the case of being set to Dual Mode. The longer the break of power, the longer it takes to regain it’s top presentation level. I never clocked it but you couldn’t help but notice the disparity from being full on, and a momentary break in the power supply to the offering it showed thereafter.
The location of the switch used to segregate the device is hidden away and recessed so much that gaining access to it is more than a simple task. Especially if you have all the outlets filled, or even just some of the outlets filled. Placing that switch on top or to either side would be far better ergonomically and operationally.
Fit and finish also come to mind… though fit being the item standing out. Loose NEMA outlets, remember? This could well be an issue with but my own unit.
This last bit is but one of preference. I’d much prefer to see the inputs and outputs in a more accessible configuration. Say opposite each other. Though in any case with more space between them for access and egress of peripheral power cords.
In retrospect the UPC 200 is not the end all be all offering for quieting a systems issues with power line gremlins. It is only one way to approach them. There are a multitude of other paths. The gain to price coefficient, does however, indicate this item to be of good value and worthy of consideration.
Having had my UPC 200 now for almost a year, in every imaginable spot in both rigs, I am satisfied both with it’s attributes and it’s faults. Naturally, once set and satisfied with the location of the UPC-200 in their system, it is soon forgotten. For those of us who just can’t keep their mits off the gear and must tinker with it from time to time, or for those who are still searching for the proper fit of power cords to their rig, the UPC-200 is not a hard thing to deal with, but it’s time to performance level attainment, and accessibility features will slow down the process of finding the right mix of power cabling. There is definitely no A/B/C‘ing with this unit. Correlations will come by some note taking for the best results. Apart from that instance, once in it is soon forgotten, aside from the benefit it promotes in the system. I do recommend you try one for yourself. It works very well regardless the placement in my rig, and is transparent enough to allow different power cords to infuse their own character into the fold, while still presenting a greater depiction of the body of the work being played. True to the nature of it, “you’ll hear less of what you are not hearing now.”
BAT VK5i tube preamp w/remote control. Fully balanced throughout. Outfitted w/2 Amperex PQ US 7308 whites w/sheild: 6 - 6DJ8’S Matsushita 70's NOS: 2 NOS Tung sol 5881’s.
It is isolated via a layering of Mahogany blocks, vibrapods, PB shelf material, MDF shelf material. All tubes are outfitted with herbies tube dampers. Peaks, Teflon, and nickel.
BAT VK500 w/BP. A solid state dual mono amp using a singular chassis. Fully balanced unit that provides 250wpc @ 8 ohms. 450wpc @ 4 ohms, and plays like a 300-350 wpc amp given it's considerable storage capacity. It uses two VooDoo gold Dragon II's power cords as primary supply cords, it also uses a Hydra 2 passive conditioner.
Sony SCD xa 777 es CD Player. the CDP uses a Shunyata Python Helix VX as supply cord. M.I.T.Magnum 3 III RCA w/rca to xlr Cardas adapters at the preamp. serve as the ICs. Isolation is via herbies ‘iso cups’ w/ebony balls, using the same layering as the preamp described above.
VSA VR4-JR loudspeakers w/aftermarket spikes. Red cherry.
Synergistic Resolution Ref X2 Active 1m XLR (MAIN ic), connects pre to amp.
M.I.T. Magnum 3 III RCA 1.5m
Nordost Blue Heaven 2m (source IC)
Synergistic Signature 10 X2 Active bi wires now config'd as standard supplying the upper module
Synergistic Alpha Quadd series X Active on JR bass driver only. also config'd as standard and driving the lower module
Shunyata Taipan Helix Alpha (VK5i)
Shunyata Python Helix VX - cdp
VooDoo Gold Dragon II (2 for vk500)
VooDoo Black Dragon
PS Audio – OEM
PS Audio UPC 200
Shunyata Hydra 2
Velodyne CHT 10 inch active sub. (preamp outputs VIA Cardas xlr/rca adapter).
VooDoo 20 A IEC adapter.
Cardas RCA/XLR input adapters.
Herbies Audio Labs:
Tube damper rings - various
Iso cup w/ebony
Four 20 amp dedicated power lines w/Hosp grd. outlets
Hydra, Chang, Transparent