HiFi: Power Conditioning vs Power Regeneration. No, it’s not Snake Oil.
By Steve Huff
There is controversy in todays topic, but there should not be. To those of us who assemble and enjoy high end audio systems we pick and choose our components carefully. The speakers, the front end, the amps, and yes, even the cables. All of the things including the room in which the system sits makes a difference in the sound, the presentation and the feel of our audio system.
In todays world of high end audio we are bombarded with product after product that is promised to improve on our listening experiences. One of these areas of improvement is within the way we power our systems. It’s a fact that some of us have bad, dirty or issues with our electricity that we do not even know about.
In fact there are audio systems being powered by bad electricity every day, and one of those systems may be yours. You probably do not even know it. One way to test for this is to answer a simple question.
Question: Does your audio system sound different to you on different days or times? Have you ever sat down to listen and realized your system just wasn’t sounding as good as it was just the day before?
If you answered YES here then you probably could solve this issue just as I just did and I am very surprised that this solution is something that some within the audio world feel is “Snake Oil”.
If you have been into setting up an audio system and getting serous about it one thing you may have heard about is power conditioners. There are quite few brands making quality power conditioners these days. Audioquest, Isotek, Shunyata are just three of the most known brands in this area of audio products.
These products claim to clean your electricity for better system performance. They are said to remove grit and grime from your line and therefore lowering the noise floor of your system. This in turn would allow the music to “breathe” better, to flow better and to emerge from silence. This will improve things such as imaging and 3 dimensionality within a system.
I have bought and tested three power products that claim to condition electrical lines for better system performance.
I have been using one of these conditioners for several months now, and I have previously talked about it. The $1200 Audioquest Niagara. This is a simple box that you simply plug your components into and just let it run 24/7. It’s a set it and forget it product much like a power strip.
These Audioquest Niagara products have garnered some amazing reviews and press. So much so, it’s almost unbelievable to understand that a $1200 glorified power strip could actually change the sound of a system. I have to say that inserting the 1200 into my reference system did very little to change anything. I heard a bit more shine on the top end, a little bit, just a tad. More clarity. But these were very small improvements. It sounded like I had cleaner power, but it wasn’t night and day nor was the sound change worth $1200 or even close to that.
I kept in in place to add one more level of protection for my gear in case of a power surge or spike. Knowing it was there provided at least some peace of mind but I wasn’t quite sure if it was really needed within my system.
One day I noticed my system had some buzzing coming from it, and some hiss. I was testing a new product and there was noise coming from the product itself and my speakers. My Audioquest 1200 did nothing to solve this, so it seemed to me it wasn’t a power issue but a “product issue”. Even so, I started to get obsessed with this noise as it was now the second piece that did this in my reference room.
I bought a DC blocker to make sure it was not DC on the line causing issues and it didn’t do much of anything. I then decided to finally try something different. Something that a couple of friends of mine have urged me to try for years.
For years I have read great things (and not so great things) about PS Audio’s line of Power Regenerators. These are called Power Plants as they literally create all new electricity that is clean and without distortion. They also regulate voltage on your line. They also create an all new sine wave and show you details on the large touch screens. For example you can see the voltage coming from your wall (mine ranges from 123 to 128 and depends on times of day) and the total distortion coming in (mine is at 6% right now). These also eliminate all DC from your line which can cause buzzing and issues with some gear. (Usually tube gear).
Then you can see what the unit is putting out to your gear, and that is distortion free clean DC free electricity for your audio components. In theory, there should not be any noises coming from gear or speakers. There should be an improvement in the sound as well. But the question is, DO THEY WORK?
Some say these are nothing more than Snake Oil but this simply can not be for one very important reason. These are not sold at a carnival sideshow. They have been around since the 1990s from PS Audio and they have not been sued or shut down. There is a full 30 day no questions asked in home trial period, meaning you can get a full refund for any reason after trying one for yourself.
If this is purely Snake Oil, then one can try it for themselves and see. If it is, they can get their money back easily. So this means these products can not be snake oil, as snake oil is a scam..something that doesn’t do a thing for your issues other than bleed your wallet. Snake Oil salesmen make the sale and RUN, never offering trials or refunds. So no, these are not snake oil.
I will also say that these offerings from PS Audio are not cheap, and the big flagship power plant 20 is a cool $10k. The lowest model, the PP 12 (power plant 12) is the smallest and costs $5499. This can power most systems as long as you do not have amps like me (Class A monoblocks) and has the capability to handle 1200 watts. The 12 has “whisper” fans inside that keep it cool, but the larger models like the 15 and 20 do not, they run 100% silent.
I decided to try one, and placed an order for the PP12. PS audio allows for instant trade in credit as well, so I entered in my Audioquest Niagara for trade and they gave me full retail for it. That eliminated $1299 from the cost of the 12 instantly. By doing this we can get the discount in the value of our trade and if we love the power plant we simply send the trade in with the supplied label. If not, we send the PP back for a refund. What an easy way to give these things a try.
After I placed the order the shipment was shipped within 3 hours and it was in my system 2 days later. Wow, impressive.
I removed my Audioquest 1200 and placed in the much nicer looking PS Audio PP12.
When I powered everything up, that problem piece I had with the buzz and hiss? Well, no more buzzing. As for the hiss, still there but it turned out to be a defect with the integrated amp unit. But the loud buzzing sound from the unit? GONE. So right out of the gate the power plant is doing things the Audioquest could not do.
After I removed that piece and placed in my reference set of Cary SLP05 Pre Amp, Pass Labs XA 60.8 Amps, Fleetwood Sound Deville SQ Speakers, Lumin U1 Mini Streamer, WEISS 501 DAC and Cardas Clear Reflection cables.
After an hour listening session I was stunned at the change in the sound within my system but wow, the 12 was getting RED HOT! The fans started to go so fast it almost sounded like a jet plane ready to take off. Surely this could not be? A piece that is supposed to remove all noise adding a loud noise? Surely something was off. It was. The Pass Amps were taxing the PP12 so I removed them and plugged them into the wall.
This lightened the load on the PP12 but now the sound suffered. YES, the amps sounded BETTER, MUCH BETTER into the PP12. After a chat with PS Audio they concluded that I would need the PP15 or PP20 for these amps as they use 300 WATTS each just when on. Being Class A, they run hot and use power. The little PP12 was not designed for such power hungry monoblocks. Oops.
I sent back the PP12 to PS Audio and they sent me a PP20 (that I upgraded to and paid for). I decided to go for a 20 as it could handle my system with ease. There are no fans to make noise and it’s supposed to be even better in regards to what it does. The ultimate power regenerator from PS Audio comes at a cost though. This unit is $9,999.00. Just a hair under $10 grand.
WHOA! That seems insane, right? Well, it is possible to get a better price so I would suggest calling to order. I do not think I have paid retail for any audio gear in close to 10 years, you shouldn’t have to either. There is also the used market and these pop up from time to time in very nice condition.
Well, the 20 arrived and this is a massive 105lb beast that Debby and I managed to lift up onto my audio stand. It’s huge but also has a massive 7″ touch screen and well, besides looking like a modern microwave it’s a serious looking piece of audio gear.
OK, the PP 20 has been in my reference system for weeks and guess what? It’s totally transformed my system to heights I never knew existed for my room and system. It has brought an amazing silky inky black background for all music to emerge from. It has refined the sound in such a dramatic way, it’s uncanny. My system now sounds like it always has at 2AM when the electrical grid is less polluted. It sounds like this anytime of the day or night. It’s incredible how the details now emerge, the bass weight increases and everything sounds more 3D. It’s night and day and its unbelievable to me.
You may know what I mean here when I talk about the system sounding different at noon vs midnight. During the day, your neighbors and town/city are fully lit up. Everyone is using their electricity, and the grid is polluted with grime and noise. This in turn lowers the quality of your systems sound during the day (for many of us but not all). Sure you can install a dedicated 20 AMP line, but that doesn’t do what this PS Audio is doing.
I have a friend who has the 20 with a dedicated line into his audio room. The line alone did not do what he had hoped and his system still sounded grungy during some times of the day. When this happens the sound shrinks, you soundstage gets smaller, and the sound may get harsher or sound “off”. You may lose body, and just want to stop listening. I know I have done this many times. This also causes many audiophiles to think something is off with their system, so they go searching for a new amp, dac or whatever.
When you notice your system sounding different on some days. Worse on some days, better on others or at others times then I will say without question your issues lie within your power. I know this as the PS Audio PP 20 has solved this issue within my system. Not only does it sound better than ever, it sounds like this any time, any day and without fail. This PP20 is NOT snake oil of any kind. Rather, it has truly shocked me with how it has cleaned up my power and made everything sound so good, anytime of the day or night.
WITH THE PS AUDIO PP 20 in PLACE.
My soundstage grew deeper, imaging is now more precise and realistic, there is more body and bass within the music and the highs are more airy. Debby noticed and YES for us it was a pure night and day improvement. It was amazing really, and proved to me that I had power issues. I can literally hear the absence of distortion as the sound is so clean, so pure and so musically satisfying. I couldn’t believe it.
In fact I was in denial. I removed the PP12 and put the Audioquest Niagara 1200 back in.
WHOA! The sound was thinner, brighter and lacked that soul, that body, that musicality and emotion that was only there with the PP20 in place. Yes, it sounded a shade better than even the PP12 did, and without the fans I was enjoying a pure SILENT room and system.
After many back and forth, and living without the PP20 for 3 days before putting it back in again I am so thrilled to say that the PP20 is the real deal. If you have issues with your electricity (you may not even know it) then this product will fix them. What it did for my power was revelatory. It was dramatic. So much so that I see the PP20 just as important, if not moreso, than the amplifier and preamp within MY system.
Now I live very rural. We are 30 minutes from the closest gas station or store or hospital. We do not have many neighbors and we live on 20 acres. Even so, our electricity is not the greatest coming from the wall.
AMPS TO THE PP OR THE WALL?
If you research these power plants online some will say to never plug your power amps in to a power plant. This may have been the case for earlier units and older models but the PP12, 15 and 20 are fully capable of powering your amps and delivering pure power to them with plenty of current. Especially the PP20.
When I plug the Pass Labs XA 60.8’s into the wall it’s almost as if they lose some life. When they are in the PP20, it’s as if they are different amps, and improved greatly. It’s as if they are using 75% of their capabilities when going to the wall and 100% when going to the PP20. That is not hyperbole. It’s true and what I have experienced within my system.
The sound is more 3D, more pure, grander, sweeter, more transparant, smoother, airier, and well, everything has improved to all new levels.
I can not go back to listening without the PP20 nor could I go with the amps to the wall. The thing is, it’s so obvious. It’s not one of those things that is hard to hear. It’s instant and took me seconds to understand this was not leaving my system.
YES POWER IS IMPORTANT
The bottom line is that YES, power to your audio components is important. While you may not have bad power, many of us do and it seems it is only getting worse as time goes on. I feel the PP20 is one of the most important purchases I have made within my HiFi journey. Yes it stays and it will not go back. The Audioquest has been kicked to the curb as this is on another level for me (It should be for the cost).
It was hard for me to make this purchase mentally even with the 30 day trial. I hear so many conflicting reports about these power plants. Some like to label them as BS but that is not the case for me unless “BS” stands for “Berry Special” lol.
If you have a nice system and find that it sounds off on some days, and not as good as it has prior you may benefit from a power regenerator. If you have a system that sounds amazing at 1AM but not so much at 11AM then you could benefit from a power regenerator. If you have buzz that comes from some components or even transformer hum from a tube amp, you may benefit from a Power Plant. If your voltage, like mine, has swings all day long you may benefit from a power plant.
Bottom line, this PP20 is like having the city power grid at your front door, served just to you. There is no pollution from your neighbors on your line when a PP20 is installed and powering your audio gear. It’s that simple. It really works.
I leave the PP20 on 24/7 and yes it does improve over the first few days. I’d say it took a week to settle in and deliver the most improvements to my system.
I feed my PP20 with an Audioquest Blizzard Power cable and could not be happier.
I have zero affiliation with any audio company, PS Audio included. I bought my PP20 with my own money and evaluated it over several weeks. I make not a cent from this review in any way, shape or form. Thank you.