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February 2004
Enjoy the Music.com Review MagazineAudiolics Anonymous Chapter 53
Fat And Thin Components
Article by Bill Gaw

 

  Here it is, Jan 9, and I am not at the Consumer Electronics Show. Whoopee!! Iíve lived up to a pledge I made to my wife last year not to attend. I know, its the best place to meet manufacturers and dealers, but its such a hassle running through several huge venues over three days, and finally hating the experience. This year Iíve decided to attend the European Electronics show in Munich in May, and my editor has graciously allowed me to take his place, as the Stereophile Show in New York will be on the same weekend. Hopefully the three days there will be a better experience.

This month, I have two products to discuss, the RGPC Pole Pig, (The Fat) by the Richard Gray Power Company and OMEGA MIKRO Planar AVIII and Planar Ebony Interconnects (The Thin) by Ron Baumann of Insound, and Pierre Sprey of Maple Shade Recording Studio.

 

RGPC Pole Pig

Richard grey Power Company Pole PigThe Pole Pig is the newest addition to the Richard Gray line of AC products. Until now, their products have consisted of large inductors with built in surge protection. They are placed in parallel with the electronics, either having the unit just plugged into the wall next to the equipment plugs, or having the equipment plugged directly into the several outlets on each unit. Either way, the electricity that feeds the equipment runs in parallel to the inductors, so the units do no damage to the signal. They are primarily electrical storage systems, which allow equipment to receive more instantaneous current.

Several years ago, I had four of their original RGPC 400 units when I was using high power amplification with my B&W 801 speakers and having tremendous problems with the AC coming into my house, and indeed, they markedly improved dynamics, which was what they were designed to do. Since my changeover to low wattage ďClass AĒ amplification with horns, and the marked improvement in the AC that comes in, I have been able to remove them except for one which I use on the television in the living room.

Unhappily for the company, when they first came out with their RGPC units they got a bad review in Stereophile, I believe because the reviewer did not understand that they were not a line conditioner, noise reducer, etc. Since then, other reviewers have given them their due, and they have become a mainstay in many high-end systems.

Now, they have decided to get into the isolation side of the equation with two new products, the Pole Pig, for lower wattage 120 volt isolation, and the Sub Station for high wattage 240 or 120 volt balanced AC isolation. Since I run 120 volt and do not have a 240 line into my media room, they sent the Pole Pig for review.

The unit is equivalent in size and looks to their RGPC 600S inductor, and when used together with any of their inductors, the system is called the IsoGray System. The isolat8ion transformers provide removal of ground loops, while the parallel chokes remove line noise and inter-component cross-talk between digital and analog components.

The Pole Pig is designed as a very heavy isolation transformer to remove noise coming in on the hot and neutral legs of the AC, has a built in surge suppressor using 280 volt clamp and a MOV, and is said to eliminate ground loops when all of the low wattage equipment is plugged into its six outlets. It comes with a 6 foot, 12 gauge 20 amp power cord to plug either into the wall, and an additional 3 foot cord to plug into one of their inductors, into which one would plug the high wattage equipment.

It is very important that you read the included directions before using the unit (which I donít normally do but for some reason did this time) as they emphatically state that one cannot plug more than 700 watts total into the unit, otherwise the circuit breaker will pop, or worse, a mushroom cloud may form.

They did not send me an inductor along with the unit so I schlepped my own 400 into the room for some of the testing. Primarily used the unit alone with various combinations of equipment plugged into it. Before I discuss the combinations must admit that with all of them, before I heard any difference ,I had to remove my Walker Audio Velocitors from the system. These units are so good that they completely mask any improvements other line conditioners may make. Unhappily, they are expensive and their benefits should not be compared to the Pole Pig. As the unit is only good for 700 watts, I used it on individual and small groups of equipment in varying combinations compared to plugging them directly into the wall as follow.

Two pre-amplifiers, Walker turntable, Denon 2900 Universal Disc player. With all units were plugged into the Pig, there was a marked improvement in both analog and digital relating to a decrease in the noise floor. There was less hash, especially with digital, where especially SACD sounded more analog. Highs with CD were less analytical, with better retrieval of ambience. Interestingly, I heard only a minimal improvement with vinyl. This changed though, with the pre-amplifiers and turntable in the unit and the Denon into the wall. The analog cleaned up almost exactly like it does when I turn off all of the digital equipment. Thus, concluded that the isolation from wall noise is significantly better than the isolation obtained between various pieces of equipment plugged directly into the unit.

Electrohome 9500LC projector - This unit is the best of the best for CRT projection, but it is very sensitive to line noise. All I have to do is turn it on connected to my home theater computer, and can tell from the image whether Iíll be able to listen to my system, as poor electricity leads to a dull, less saturated and less focused image, exactly what one can hear audio-wise. While the projector pulls a little over 700 watts, the Pole Pig did fine, not popping its circuit breaker. One could tell whether the unit was in or out of the system, as when in place, the picture improved considerably, becoming more focused, and saturated. I would have loved to see what the unit would do if the source component were also connected, but didnít want to risk burning it out.

Pole Pig with one RGPC 400 - My  400 unit is about 8 years old now I think, so probably not up to present standards, but I did try using the tandem plugging the disc player and preamps into the Pole Pig and my amps and Pole Pig into the 400. This was not really the optimum way to check on the combination as all the amps run Class A and in the past I had found that the 400 didnít really do much for them, but I did notice a slight decrease in noise floor compared to having only the source components connected.

I had the unit for two months, kept trying it in an out of the system, and did not notice any change in my findings. Thus there doesnít seem to be a break-in time. The Pole Pig, is $1495 per unit, and weighs a ton for shipment. While fairly expensive,  itís considerably less expensive than other line conditioners Iíve tried, and certainly does as its manufacturer claims. Although not in the league with the Walker Velocitors or the Sound Application units, itís also not in their price league either. I have found that you get what you pay for with line conditioners, and the Pole Pig does what it should at a reasonable cost.

 

OMEGA MIKRO

Omega Mikro Power CordIn AA Chapter  47 I reviewed the OMEGA MIKRO Power Cords available from Mapleshade Records and found them to be superb for use up to 900 watts continuous, 1800 watts peak, probably the best I have had in my system. Matter of fact, now use them on all of the most important equipment. Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio suggested that I try their interconnects and loudspeaker wires. Had seen and heard their loudspeaker wires years ago at Clark Johnsenís Listening Studio, where they were his primary cable,  but had been afraid to use them as they were super thin, had very little support, and as a reviewer, I am always changing things around in my system which leads to accidents.

On the other hand I was intrigued by their interconnects as they follow the same criteria as those espoused by Alan Wright in his SuperCables Cookbook, whose interconnects I use primarily in my system. Both companies use the theories based on the work of Professor Malcolm Hawksford of the University of Essex, England, who published a paper entitled The Essex Echo: Malcolm Hawksford Looks at Maxwellian Theory and Interconnect Memories, which was subsequently reprinted in Stereophile in October, 1995. Mr. Baumann states that he came up with similar ideas at about the same time.

Using mathematical equations and theory, Hawksford showed that:

1) the purer the metal and the higher the conductivity the better (read silver and copper of high purity)

2) skin effect does occurs at audio frequencies, leading to high frequencies running faster along the surface of a wire with low frequencies running slower internally

3) the lower the dielectric constant and the thinner the dielectric the better

4) mechanical vibration of the cable should be minimized to keep the characteristic impedance of the cable continuous along its entire length. Thus the best wire is the thinnest with as little dielectric and dielectric absorption, either running a significant distance apart (Omega) or very close with little movement between the conductors (Wright).

 

Thus, both companies use very thin foils and low dielectric absorptive materials. Alan uses 0.05mm thick, 3mm wide 5-9ís silver and Omega uses 3/10th mil thick copper. Alan recommends thin Teflon or poly sticky tape for low dielectric absorption, running his foils in parallel with only a thin tape in between for RF isolation and to keep continuous characteristic impedance along the cable.  Omega configures theirs with a fine organic dielectric over copper mesh such that it has a 99% air dielectric to isolate the copper from the surroundings and RF. In addition, some of the Omega wires are cryogenically and high-energy treated, and the Planar Ebony uses a battery charged DC shield to further decrease RF and dielectric effect, which they began using in 1990, and which several other wire manufacturers have started doing.

I originally wanted to do just a review of the top of the line Ebony LCX using a three meter run between my preamps and amps, but Lloyd felt the Ebony would be too fragile and expensive in that long a run due to difficulty in build. So he sent me a three meter run of the Planar AVIII to run between the preamps and amps, and Omega sent a one meter run of the Planar Ebony LCX with battery charger, which is the exact same unit used on their previously reviewed AC cords, but using a different battery configuration.

Before I get into the superlatives, have to list a big problem with them. These cables are super-fragile, especially the Planar Ebony. The foil is so thin (one can almost see through the Ebony) that even a small tug on the wire in the wrong direction will break it. One of the Ebonyís broke as I was removing it from my system to ship it back. One has to use extreme caution when maneuvering them around. Happily, Omega has a 30-day no questions asked return policy and will rebuild them for a very nominal charge in the first few months.

Second minor problem is that these things really need to float in the air for best results. Allowing them to touch any piece of equipment, carpet, etc., negates some of their wonderful attributes. If you canít suspend them, forget getting them. I ended up hanging them by some sewing thread to wooden poles I constructed.

So, were they worth the trouble? In a word, YES!! These are the best all around sound-wise interconnects I have ever hear.

First there appears to be no break-in time. These cables sounded great from Day 1, and I could not discern any change in them over the two months I used them.

Second, these cables are as close to having a direct connection from one piece of equipment to another as I have heard. Time smear is gone, leaving a soundstage that is wide open, deep, with palpable air between the instruments. All of the harmonics for each note seem to arrive at the same time, thus no smearing of the image. This also leads to very fast razor- sharp transients. Thus, both the Mikro and macro dynamics sound true to life.  I have to admit that they even beat out my Wright Foil cables, which until now were the champs in my system. This does present a problem with multi-mic'ed or studio recordings as one can actually hear the different sound spaces of the Mikrophones or recording booths.

Third, bass is very tight, giving one the ability for instance to be able to tell what type of mallet the timpanist is using. Highs extend out forever, especially with analog. I started using these at about the same time I got back my updated Walker Proscenium turntable, which Iíll be discussing next month, so Iím not sure which was more important, the interconnects or table, but my room has become alive when listening to the best vinyl, allowing the hall sound to come further into the room than Iíve experienced before.

You will probably ask now whether the greater expense of the Ebony over the Planar is worth it. While I couldnít do an actual comparison since the Planar was longer, I can tell you the Ebony when not attached to its DC charger box, lost some of its ability to block out RF, and the soundstage lost a little of its completeness. One get a similar effect if one disconnects the DC charger from the OMEGA MIKRO Power Cords.

All in all, these interconnects have to be the all around best I have had in my system, and if they were less fragile and were made in a balanced configuration, I would replace all of my system's with them. Expense be damned. But as a reviewer I could not afford to keep rebuilding them every time I break one.

One can obtain them through Lloyd Walker at Walker Audio or two other dealers listed on their web sites. The Planar AnalogVIII passive cost $1795 for the first meter and $200 per meter more, while the Planar Ebony Active LCX at $2735 plus $200 per meter more. With my experience, unless you are super careful and wonít be moving cables ever, I would not get them in more than a 1 meter run, but Lloyd has 2 and 3 meter runs in his system and does not have any problems.

Are they worth the cost? Only you can decide. If you want the best interconnect available, go for it. I did.

 

 

Manufacturer's Reply

Editor,

We are delighted that Dr. Gall found our OMEGA MIKRO interconnects to be the best heís heard. Regarding the fragility of our products our customers learn to handle them with the same care they also learned when handling moving coil cartridges. We have three distributors: Lloyd Walker, Sidney Goldberg and Fred Kat and around 30 dealers.

Throughout our 15-year history we have designed our products to bring the listener ever closer to the sound of live acoustic music. Our unique facilities include the use of Pierre Sprey's Mapleshade Recording Studio and it's master tapes. Mapleshade uses the purest recording techniques to capture the sound of a live performance in the studio or at a recording site Ė analog tape with no overdubbing or electronic effects. We attend live concerts and recording sessions Ė jazz, classical, rock, soul, and gospel, to maintain current our memory of the live music experience.

We use these live sessions as our reference when we design a product. In carefully documented experiments, we compare the effects our design variables - e.g., copper thickness, annealing protocol, dielectric configuration - have on the reproduced music. Does the design variation make the music sound more or less like the live performance? If it sounds more like ďliveĒ the design variation stays, if not it goes. We employ a rigorous listening protocol always using the same one-minute test samples drawn from our favorite recordings. We're meticulously careful about the quality of AC power during our listening experiments: All appliances like heaters, A/C's, refrigerators, dimmers and fluorescent lights are turned off to keep the RF (EMI) environment constant.

The latest research on hearing, though still evolving, guides our designs far more than theoretical work or mathematical models like Dr. Hawksford's (although we respect and appreciate his work and contributions), e.g., we pay particular attention to accurately reproducing the leading and trailing edges of the music because we believe that that is where the excitement of live music is. We've found that minimizing the amount of dielectric and reducing skin effect usually helps get us closer to the excitement of live sound Ė but not always! Regarding mechanical rigidity and constant impedance, weíve found that the extra dielectric and heavier materials needed to achieve them hurt the sound. For us, achieving better sound always trumps theory!

Ron Bauman, inSound, Inc.
Pierre Sprey, Mapleshade Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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