About Power Conditioners

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Power conditioners are something I’ve long struggled with. There would seem to be less dispute about their potential to offer sonic improvements than many product categories. If you hook up an oscilloscope to the incoming power, that garbage on the line is quite visible. Clean it up and all is well, right? Not so fast…

My first time really looking at them was in Las Vegas at CES many years ago. PS Audio was in a hotel room with a scope showing the incoming power. It was terrible. They had 3 conditioners hooked up showing their output waveforms. The brand I was selling, APC moved the spectrum of the noise around but didn’t really decrease it. The Monster brand (I don’t recall the model) actually had more grunge on the output than the input. Theirs decreased it substantially. I sold their product for a while. But…

I have actually worked with many different power conditioners since then. Most did what you would expect: they lowered the noise floor and seemed to make things slightly more pure. But, in my experience, they also had a negative effect. They seemed to rob the music of some of its “urgency”. It became more polite, more restrained, less fun. And this was only connecting source components to them. Most would not handle the current demands of power amps and if they did it dried out the sound even more. I’m not going to bash the things I’ve tried but they include three of the most respected examples of the type, all quite expensive, plus a few more less known ones, including one designed for the medical industry that was not being marketed to the audio community. I know many swore by them but for me a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The one exception was the flagship piece from Fuhrman. I sold them and had one in the old store and was pleased.

Fast forward a number of years. Work came out that Audioquest, with whom I had a long relationship, had been looking at this for some time. Love Audioquest but… I knew they agreed with me about the product category. Then I was told that they had hired Garth Lehrman, the chief design engineer at Fuhrman, to head up the project. Interesting. Garth is a musician who is also one of the most intelligent designers I’ve ever met. He totally understands my issue with most products and conversations with him almost always focus on how things affect music, not just sound. I’m in.

The Audioquest Niagara products are remarkable. I asked Garth a couple of years ago, while the final prototypes were being completed, about the 3 models they would have, good, better, and best. My concern was that anything other than the best would put me back in the world of compromised music performance. He assured me that no product that did that would be forthcoming. None would degrade the sound, there would simply be differing levels of benefit. Fast forward, and he’s right.

Just a couple of things of note about these. First of all, the majority of these products won’t handle a power amp. Not so with these. In fact the improvement when you plug a power amp in is jaw dropping. They are all about getting noise to ground and once you look at things that way, you realize it is important to have all of your components plugged in to the 12 outlets provided. Beyond that, hearing is believing. This is the first product I’ve encountered that is not compromised. Now it’s hard to imagine listening without one. To quote Mikey, “Try it, you’ll like it.” (The cereal commercial, not Mike Fremer)