Category Archives: Power Conditioning

A few good examples of fact vs. fiction in the high end audio world:

Is a power conditioning necessary for audiophile quality sound reproduction?  Yes, most of the time.   Is it worth spending big bucks on an uber high end power conditioning unit in order to improve sound quality?  Never in my experience.  (Should I spend (waste?) money on power conditioning?)

Do RCA interconnects (I just got the Zu Audio Wyle interconnects. and The quest for some bang for the buck in interconnects and speaker cables) make a big difference in signal quality?  Not really…  unless you use uber-cheap ones running critical analog signal paths, like pre-amp to amp or SACD to pre-amp.  Is it worth spending more than about $100 on them?…  Probably not.  If carefully chosen you will get the maximum quality you can at that price point and any additional $$$ spend will be wasted.  Same applies to speaker cables.  Physics is physics (Speaker Cables).

Does the quality of your source make a difference to sound quality?  Absolutely.  Do you get big improvements in sound quality with superior source recordings and carefully upgraded playback components?  Positively.  Along with your speakers, that’s where you get the most “bang for your buck”.  The rest of the equipment has a very important but also very simple task – amplification, and amplification only (Why I prefer analog preamplifiers that lack tone controls and Doing a little research on vintage Sansui… and Circuit topology, why less is more).  With the exception of digital audio reproduction of course, which adds Digital to Analog Converters (DACs) to the signal path.

It really is pretty easy to steer clear of the B.S. and avoid wasting money on glittery “upgrades” that don’t improve sound quality and may on occasion even detract from it.  There are two different types of audiophiles: those that love the music and those that love the gear.  I am the former and as such I invested thousands of dollars collecting music before I spent a nickel on high end gear.  In order to bring out the best in those carefully chosen and cared for recordings I seek out the purest signal path possible to bring the “music to my ears”, which involves getting to know the gear as well.

Should I spend (waste?) money on power conditioning?

Dirty household current can certainly adversely effect sound quality, usually dramatically so… Think hum, but that could also be from a ground loop and best eliminated by an isolation transformer (Hum?…  Maybe it’s just a ground loop).  Power conditioning should be redundant to the power supplies provided in your components, which makes claims of better sound quality from overpriced, dedicated power conditioners (some cost thousands of dollars) illegitimate.

Remember, that if you are going for audiophile sound quality, then you are purchasing components that have already gone to great lengths to optimize their power supplies to that end.  Then of course really high end audio provides separate power supplies for each channel.

Such high end audio manufacturers are assuming you are running off household power (including the incumbent flaws there-in), that is what their equipment is designed for.  If you think you need elaborate power conditioning units to improve sound quality, then I would re-think the components you are purchasing.

Rather than “second guess” the adequacy of the power supply in your components (you’ve already chosen ones that are exemplary in that department, right?), money spent on the purchase of elaborate power conditioning units for your high-end audio components could be better spent elsewhere, such as high quality recordings.

That said, a power conditioner can serve a simple but indispensable task, that of surge protection from lighting strikes or other aberrations from your local electric provider.  Consider it a sacrificial part of your audio chain, rather than one that is essential to audio quality.  If lightening strikes and takes out your $100 power conditioner and saves thousands of dollars in high end components , it will be the best dollars ever spent.

Oh… and about “high end” power cords?  Same comments as on power conditioners.  Sure you can spend up to $2K and go solid silver or something ridiculous like that, but why on earth would you.  Any manufacturer of high end audio gear will have considered the quality of the power cord they have provided and even designed it specifically for the power supply of that component.  So not only are you “second guessing” their choice, you are also superseding their design and quite possibly introducing mis-matched wiring.  Of course this would mean that not only have dollars spent on an “upgraded” power cord been wasted, they have actually been spent to degregate the quality of the power supply in the component they are used with.

Why batteries are the ultimate power supply (for low level signals)

shoots!  might as well build up another pre-premamp that uses 9V batteries while i’m at it.  i know for a fact that this is a perfect match for the Denon 103R moving coil cartridge, which has been in production since 1961 and still available and highly revered today .  part of the pre-preamps magic is the independent power supplies for the right and left channels from the 9V batteries.  we are talking milliamps of amplification, so the batteries actually last for months and are an extraordinary stable power supply and it this makes it cheap to make since no AC to DC conversion or power regulation circuitry needed.

I already knew my Denon 103r cartridge was gonna be magic with Maggie’s cause I had run the combo before in the 70s and it was the best quality playback I had ever heard, bar none. SP 10 deck with Decca tonearm with 103r cartridge into a prepreamp I built myself that ran on 9v batteries, dual mono design and very accurate power supply for low level signals, into a AofO preamp into a couple CC-2s bridged as mono blocks. They have come out with better power amps for Maggie’s since then, like the PA-7, but my Kefs still LOVE my CC-2s…