Hello Fellow Audiolics! Welcome to another meeting of our support group for the insatiable tweak. Over the years, approximately 25 percent of my columns have probably had something to do with trying to improve the audio Gremlins that affect all audio systems. If you've read them you know the battle this audiophile has had trying to get decent sound all day long rather than only late at night. You've also most likely been battling the same problems; just maybe didn't recognize them as such. Please review my previous articles for the Odyssey my audio system has gone through over the past 20 plus years to maximize its sound reproduction.
So what are the distorters of audio reproduction that can affect all parts of the audio chain, even the most expensive equipment? There are many, from how the audio is originally captured, to how it is stored and manipulated to take up minimal space and cost, to how it is transmitted and received, to what your home equipment does to it before it is presented by the reproducer, to what happens to the image and sound between the reproducer and you, the final receiver of this information.
While there are many of these gremlins affecting how our systems reproduce audio and video, the Number One cause of distortion on both the transmitting and receiving end, that is partially controllable by us, is the crappy electricity that pollutes the electronics. And I do mean pollute. This was much less of a problem back in the good old days, when tube electronics could take a voltage surge much better than solid state equipment, and inductors were used to smooth the DC wave produced by tube rectifiers. Unhappily, solid-state rectification doesn't work as well to block out the noise transmitted along with the 60Hz. supposed sine wave from the electrical company, although I'm sure there are engineers out there who'll disagree with that remark. Also, there were many fewer distorters of the AC affecting the power supplies and thus the purity of the signal. Like a lot of other things, electricity now is no way near as pure as it was back in the 50's. Maybe one of the reasons behind the Golden Age of Recordings from the 50's was their relative lack of electricity-produced distortion.
I am sure everyone has experienced the marked improvement in sound and video that occurs if one uses their home theater system late at night. In my area, usually sometime between 9 and 11 o'clock, the sound opens up, veils are lifted and the stage solidifies. Video cleans up with purer more saturated colors, darker blacks (at least with CRT systems), and scan lines become tighter and cleaner but less noticeable. The better the system, the more striking these changes, but it can even be heard and seen on very modest systems. One can even appreciate the change on clock radios and simple televisions. What is the cause?
Back in the early 80's, when I first got into the high end, I originally thought the improvement was the system warming up, as I would normally watch for several hours, from 6 to 11 or 12 o'clock, and the everything would improve over the evening, from very grungy at 6 to glorious at 11. Because I thought it was a warm up phenomenon, I began leaving all of my equipment on all of the time. This certainly made my local electrical carrier very happy with the increase in my electrical bill, but heh, this was the eighties and who cared how much it cost as long as the sound improved. Then I had a week off from work, and began watching during the day, and found that everything was okay early morning, was pretty good in the afternoon, and became very poor during the early evening, subsequently improving at night. Interestingly, Sunday afternoons were almost as good as late evenings, and during snowstorms it would reach an optimum. Obviously, this was not a warm-up problem. Matter of fact, I found that if I shut the system down for several days, warmed it up for a couple of hours, and listened, that the sound was improved over what I found at the same time of day with the system on for days. These are phenomena that we'll discuss in a later meeting.
Thus, I concluded that maybe there was something coming in on the electrical lines that made the difference. So I called up my guru, Clark Johnsen, formerly of the now defunct Listening Studio, explained what I had seen and deduced, and heard a laugh from the other end. He had been observing this for years, and had developed several tweaks of his own to combat the situation. This was before the home industry picked up on it.
Interestingly enough, just about at that time, I made the acquaintance of Nick Venice, of Queens, New York, who had also purchased his equipment from Clark, and he introduced me to Sal Demicco, of Distech, Inc., who introduced me to George Tice. The two of them had been working on electrical gremlins from the audio side for several years.
It turns out that there are several things happening.
First, current and voltage waves don't necessarily have to be in phase with each other on the AC line. Capacitance and inductance changes on the lines and in the house may separate the two in time, so that the AC to DC converters in your equipment do not function optimally, as most only use the peak of the sine wave, and how would they find that if the two peaks are spaced apart.
Second, The 60Hz wave is almost never a pure sine wave due to several causes.
Third, Radio frequency interference (RFI) is picked up from the air by the transmission wires. I like to think of the electrical grid as the largest antenna farm in the world, with every radio signal in existence being picked up by the wire.
Fourth, and my own theory, is that I think the grid is picking up noise from the sun and possibly from space. I think that is why the system sounds better a couple of hours after sunset. Things go on in the ionosphere after sunset that allow better radio reception, especially in the AM and short wave bands, and I think whatever it is, also cuts down on the grunge carried by the grid. I have never seen this discussed, but I would love to hear from any engineers who have theories as to how the sun could affect noise coming in over the AC.
Now the transformer on the street, which is the source of your electricity, filters some of this out... but not all gremlins are filtered. There are also usually several houses attached to the same transformer so you are also picking up noise from their houses and all appliances in yours, especially motors, computers, fluorescent lights, etc. Sal noted this, and he was the first to try to improve the sound through the use of special electrical cords to shield out some of the noise. Thus the high end AC wire industry was born. George then began using transformers, inductors and capacitors, for shielding and improvement of the power factor (the relation of the voltage to the current waves), and thus was born the high-end power improving equipment.
I took hints from the above individuals and began experimenting. What I have found is that there is no single piece of equipment that can cure all of the faults with the electricity. Thus, like the audio system itself, to eradicate the electrical gremlins, one needs several levels of protection to eliminate as many as possible.
Experimentation began first with power cords, which made an improvement, but never enough. They probably have three functions; to act as low pass crossover filters for high frequency noise, to maximize electron transfer by decreasing resistance, and to prevent RFI pickup through shielding. Silent Source, Nordost, and Insound make the best I have found so far for a reasonable price, and I am still experimenting. I believe most of them act as first order low pass crossovers, which helps but does not cure.
Next came Red Rollers added to the outside of the interconnects and line cords, and Wood Blocks to the AC cables. A 60-Ampre service directly to the listening room to isolate it from the rest of the house also helped, and also improved the slam of the system due to improved current flow. All of the outlets were changed to hospital grade, and each plug had at first Caig DeoxIT GOLD (formerly ProGold) applied, and now Walker Audio Super Silver Treatment, to cut down on junction noise. All of the grounds were isolated, all of the chassis were star grounded, and tied in to an 8 foot copper grounding rod placed just outside the room, and further attached to a large bore 100 foot long grounding cable buried alongside the house and running to a 600 foot six inch diameter well pipe.
I won't bore you with the weeks and months of experimentation and frustration I went through with only modest results. Finally I got the bright idea: Why don't I completely isolate the system from the grid and run on batteries. No connection, no noise. Problem though was that all of the equipment still needed AC unless I wanted to produce everything from 5 to 500 Volts DC for the tubes, transistors, and op amps. A 5000-watt home generator was tried, but it produced horrible noise as it was putting out a very spiky wave. Next, regular uninterruptible power supplies for computers were used, which unhappily were primarily noise reduction devices with battery backup that only turned on when the AC went off. Then I came upon MSB, a high-end audio company out of California, which made supplies designed for audio. These converted AC into DC, charged batteries, and then produced a near perfect 60Hz. sine wave at a regulated 120 Volts. I purchase four of them, hooked the equipment up to them, and listened. That did the trick. Now, I could listen even at six and get decent reproduction.
Interestingly enough, even this still allowed some grange through, probably from RF from the air and noise produced by the various power supplies in the system. But now the system at six o'clock was as good as it had previously been at twelve, and at twelve it was improved. In addition, I found that the amps seemed to have gained some muscle. Turns out the batteries have very little resistance, so that the units could pump out power faster than the house line could supply it. MSB was great with their service, and they even lent a friend of mine a couple of their units at a CES a few years ago, where the power was atrocious. I think he got several dealers for his equipment due to the improved sound from these systems from the isolation, but they discontinued sale of the units. As these units died off, I went to Toshiba industrial uninterruptible power supplies that put out a pretty good sine wave, but still let through some AC noise and were also somewhat noisy in the listening room. Thus they were removed and the search went on.
All the above has been written so that you'll hopefully learn from my errors, as I think I've finally beaten the electrical grungies. For the first time in 25 years, music reproduction here is stable over a 24-hour period and is superior to anything my system has ever produced. Unhappily, the battle requires several different levels of roadblocks.
First, one needs to make sure the electricity entering the house is optimal. This requires having the electric company install the proper sized transformer outside your house, and at least check the main step-down transformer for your area and its connections, as any connection problems will lead to electrical noise. While my electric company refused to give me my own transformer, they did replace it with a larger unit and checked all connections back to the step-down unit and found several loose ones, which significantly improved my sound. Unhappily, they refused to replace the aluminum street wiring with copper.
Get as large a service as you can accommodate, as the larger the service box, the thicker the wire that will be coming into the house, and thus the lower the resistance, and make sure the wire from the pole is copper rather than the cheaper aluminum. Twenty years ago, I had a 200 Ampere service put in with a 60 Ampere sublime directly from the top of the box to my media room using copper cable rather than aluminum. While more expensive it cuts down on resistance and noise to the system. I wish now that I had gone with a 400 Ampere service now as we've since added central air, electric heating, etc. The nominal difference in price of the install vs. the expense of high-end audio equipment will certainly be worthwhile. At the same time have the best ground possible put in as this will also significantly improve the electricity and decrease noise. Mine runs for 50 feet underground to a 600-foot well pipe for minimal resistance.
Four gauge copper wire was run from the first tap off of the service to a 60 Ampere junction box in the media room. From the 60 Ampere junction box in the media room, I have hotwired a Silent Source 50 Ampere cable from a 30 Ampere hospital grade circuit breaker, with the other end having a 15 Ampere IEC plug feeding my Thor Power Distribution System, reviewed in AA Chapter 78. Hot wiring is always better than the most expensive outlets and plugs, especially when the hot wiring is either soldered or Walker silver paste is used to decrease the resistance at the connection. The Thor unit is the best AC noise reduction unit that's ever graced my system, and it along with the other improvements, has almost completely eliminated electrical nasties.
All outlets from the Thor and other equipment have been treated with Walker Audio Super SST silver paste to decrease resistance at all connections. Both Omega Micro and Silent Source AC cabling is used throughout the system depending on the amperage of the equipment being supplied. Silent Source 50 Ampere ac cable is run from the Thor to one of three Walker Audio Velocitor Power Enhancers. A fourth cable feeds into an Environmental Potentials EP 2450 Home Theater Power Supply, AA Chapt 75 & 76,which has been extensively modified by yours truly to high end standards, feeding the video side of the system. A fifth cable runs to a second EP2450 and from there to a fourth Velocitor at the back of the room for the surround channels. Each Enhancer then feeds through the above types of cables into the various equipment.
Finally, most of the equipment have Bybee Slipstream Quantum Purifiers, for reduction of Quantum noise from the AC, and all of the speakers have Walker Reference High Definition Links at their inputs to reduce transmittance of RFI by the interconnects and speaker wires. Most of the interconnects and speaker wires are self-made Vacuum State silver foil made up to minimize RF pickup.
The above system produced the best sound reproduction that's been available here, including running on pure sine wave uninterruptible power supplies. I thought that the maximum of electrical improvement had been achieved until I received a package from Doug Joseph of Environmental Potentials as he sent along one of their units.
EP 2050 Home Protection Waveform Correction Absorber
I installed the unit myself and heard a measured improvement in background noise, which was already almost nonexistent with my 109dB efficient speakers, but one could hear a definite decrease with the unit in place. This amazed me as the system had sounded so good even before the install. Unhappily, at my place, there is no way to just use this unit to test its capabilities alone, but they must be significant if one can hear the difference with all of the other electrical enhancers in the system. For $550, it is more expensive than most whole house surge suppressors out there, but it is built to commercial standards, meaning very rugged, and will take care of commercial sized spikes for all equipment in the house and do an excellent job of noise filtration at the same time. For me it was well worth the price as it has brought my sound and video system to the point where I could live with it forever.
Finally, fellow Enjoy the Music.com writer Wayne Donnelly sent me a new power cord adapter from Jack Bybee, owner of Bybee Technologies, www.bybeetech.com , whose power cords and filters have been reviewed here previously, AA Chapter 63 & Chapter 74. Wayne sent me two of Bybee's newest iterations, the Golden Goddess Audio/Video Enhancer. This is basically an adapter unit with a male 15 Ampere AC plug on one side and a box on the other containing several of his Slipstream units, with a female AC plug on the other side. This is to be used between the wall outlet and a piece of equipment with a captured power cord to give much of the same benefits as Jack's Power Charger AC Cord.
As my main system has only one captured power cord, and all of the equipment either has Bybee's filters built in or receive their electricity from The Walker Velocitors which also have the Quantum Purifiers, to give it a real work-out, one of the units was placed between the wall plug and the power cord of the six-way outlet to our second high definition media system in the den. While his power cords were no longer available, quantum purifiers seemed to produce the same effect as their big brothers with "smoothing" the electricity,thus giving a cleaner presentation to both the audio and video. Of course, having a regular power cord in the loop probably degraded their performance compared to the full Bybee power cord treatment, but even with Silent Source 20 Ampere cables to the various pieces of equipment with detachable power cords, there was a distinct improvement in reproduction.
The only captured power cord in my main system belongs to my Pioneer 9090 Laser Disc player. I could find no difference in either audio or video playback, but remember, I already have Jack's Slipstream units built into my Walker Audio Velocitors so I wouldn't expect much change anyway.
Interestingly, the second unit was placed on the power cord of the 50-inch 1080I CRT projector television and then on the input to the DirecTV HDTV receiver, and there was no further improvement. On the other hand when the two units were used on both of the above, the effect was equivalent to using one with the six way outlet. Jack will probably be a little upset by this, but at $490 each, do yourself a favor and if the six way outlet has a captured power cord, get just one of these and use a good multi-outlet unit to get the equivalent benefit of using one on each piece of equipment, and if it has an IEC plug, go with the six foot Power Charger at $650.
And now a "few" words from Doug Joseph of Environmental Potentials.
Dr. Gaw, (apologies in advance for the length of the note — just a few things that I wanted you to know even if it does not make it into the final document — I realize you are probably pressed for space...)
Your description of our protective circuit would be accurate for any other product on the market. The fact is that there is not another product out there that can upgrade an electrical system like the EP product line. Why? The answer is that in the modern facility, and certainly in the enhanced electronics world you specialize in, you do not protect
anything with a 30-year-old legacy TVSS design that merely clamps and shunts to ground. Ground is not a mythical sinkhole where energy goes to disappear. Ground has impedance and is part of the loop. It is certainly no where near the path of least resistance in the modern electronics circuit. So shunting to ground is a poor practice that every manufacturer of a surge protection device (they are called suppressors because of the suppression to ground action that was reasonable back when the load being protected was a large induction motor - now it's a PLC, VFD, or some other digital logically controlled low voltage printed circuit board) employs across the board
— except for EP.
The key characteristic for us (and this should be very important to your readership as this is the biggest issue for sound and video quality) is the speed of the event, or frequency. At 3kHz, any anomaly that occurs is removed when the system is protected with the EP product line — period. Not clamped off the top and sent elsewhere, not diverted, not anything except completely removed. It is the speed of the event more often than the magnitude of the event that is destructive on a day to day basis. No one will argue the effects of lightning, but it is a small part of the power quality equation — anyone stating otherwise is uninformed and has never worked in the industrial markets where they are more concerned with high frequency reactive power and ground loops rather than flashover lightning.
Without getting too technical, the bottom line is this: There is not another product out there that can completely remove and eliminate the disturbances on the line — period. Every other product out there has a residual byproduct contribution. Every other product out there becomes non-linear when voltage is shunt to ground and current begins to pulse in direct proportion to the voltage drop. It is not a relevant or valid concept any longer, yet we still see people buy $50 pieces of absolute garbage at the big box store to protect their huge home entertainment investments — it's just crazy except for the fact that they do not know this is available to them now - it's not just for the automotive industry where it has been the standard over the last six years replacing well known electrical manufacturers along the way such as Square D and Cutler-Hammer. That's right, the biggest and most recognizable names in the industry cannot touch the power we bring to the system (I have a third party comparative study that shows how much better the EP product is and the industry acknowledged IEEE testing standards that were used to make this claim — "competitive" products do not even complete the testing before failure in many cases!). I hope your readers embrace the opportunity and contact us when their power quality needs come to the forefront and they need a real explanation of why Metal Oxide Varistors, Silicone Avalanche Diodes, Brick Walls, surge strips, and the fictitious "max surge current" ratings floating around the market place are a complete waste of time.
Here is a clue as to why: Did you know that there is only one facility in North America that can produce 180,000 Amperes — and even then it is only for 1/2 of a cycle, or Hz? So how do other companies physically test for 250,000 amps or 500,000 Amperes of "max surge current?" That's right — they don't! Even worse — they can't! And the most amusing part of all of this is that EP products are parallel devices so if it is 480/277 Wye or single phase residential power it doesn't even matter what the current levels are - all I need is the correct voltage configuration to protect you. The marketing of big numbers for whatever reason has appeal to the uninformed consumer — probably why we have never been a big retail player like a Monster or other flashy packaging marketing outfits. If you bought surge protection at a big box retailer not only was the money wasted, but you have not protected anything — science tells us that, not EP North America marketing slicks. If you are connected to a surge strip for over six months - unplug everything, break it open and look at the stacks of MOV's and see what condition they are in. Now when you see them all tore up and broken down from the heat generated when clamping — ask yourself: Why did the indicator light still show that the device was operating and that your equipment was protected? Then call EP North America and we will be happy to discuss....
Doug Joseph President / CEO