Silver Circle Audio PP1 5.0
Raising the ante by lowering the floor.
Review By Rick Jensen
here to e-mail reviewer.
will start with the conclusion because it shouldn't
wait. The Silver Circle Audio pure power one 5.0 is a watershed product.
There is life before you use the 5.0 and life after it. After is better.
The pure power one 5.0 (PP1 from here on in) is a new
product from Silver Circle Audio, which is based in Houston. Silver Circle
has been making a range of interconnect and speaker cables, as well as
power cords, since 2002. Also in the product line are the "predecessors" of the PP1 5.0, the pure power one and the pure power
Is This An Amplifier?
The PP1 is a large and heavy component. It measures
19" x 8.5" x 14" and weighs approximately 110 lbs. It takes two fairly
strong people to move it around, unless you are the sort who buys his skin
cream from Balco. At first view, you would not think you were looking at a
power conditioner of any type. It is unlike every other power conditioner
that I have seen (and I have not seen them all, not by a long shot) in
that, in spite of its size, it looks very good. The overall
appearance resembles that of a large solid-state power amplifier, and one
that is handsome to boot. The sides of the unit that I reviewed are made
of Bubinga, or African rosewood; cherry, ash, and jatoba are also
available. The brushed front panel is finely done and elegant in its
lettering and simplicity, and the little blue light that indicates power
on has a little of that pretty Hovland glow.
There is just one button on the front panel, an on-off.
The rear panel is a little busier, as you might imagine, but still very
simple. There are eight places to plug in your gear – four twin Furutech
Gold 20-amp receptacles. I was interested to see that, in contrast to my
old Tice unit and to a few Monster power conditioners I have or have had,
there are no demarcations such as "analog" or "digital" or "power amplifier" among the receptacles. I have always been just a
little suspicious of those groupings, as though isolating the digital
plugs an inch away from the analog was going to markedly clean things up.
Given that there are those who would radically isolate the power source
for everything digital from everything analog, merely to pair receptacles
in a given conditioner has seemed to me to be underwhelming. Equally, it
just seems better to design the unit so that any voltage is effectively
clean and isolated from any other. In any case, one can always plug the
digital units on the left and the analog on the right, and just keep the
sources a bit discrete.
On the rear panel is also the inlet for the power cord,
made as well by Furutech, and fuses. It is worth noting that the PP1 comes
with Silver Circle's premium Vesuvius power cord. The cord, which
appears to be very substantially built without being inflexible, is at the
top of Silver Circle's range. It retails for $900 on its own for a 6-ft.
Other than that, all the design is on the inside of the
unit. Responsible for most of the weight of the PP1, as well as the
extraordinary performance of the unit, is the proprietary 5.0 kVa
isolation transformer that, according to Dave Stanard, the president of
Silver Circle Audio, itself weighs over 75 lbs. I didn't remove it to
find out, but it is damned heavy.
You Mean It Sounds Like Nothing?
A very engaging and warm guy, Dave Stanard likes to
emphasize that he is no brilliant audio designer. (He might like to be
called brilliant, but not as an audio engineer; happily, he has worked
with engineers specializing in power transmission to arrive at this
design). Stanard says that he simply has assembled a group of very
high-quality parts, some of which are stock and some of which are
proprietary, based on their contribution to the elimination of noise. The
PP1 evolved by trial and error, without a dogma guiding the design.
My first question in regard to the PP1 was as to why it
costs what it does. After all, as I tell my friends, it's a very big
power strip, right? Stanard points out that the parts cost is very high:
the receptacles retail for $400, the IEC plug for $100, and the
aforementioned cord is not cheap. Wholesale cost is much less of course,
but the total parts cost, claims Standard, is a higher percentage than one
will find on other high-end audio products of any sort. While I cannot
vouch for the numbers, I can say that the result is spectacular, and so
perhaps the money has been well spent.
In addition to the ingredients mentioned above, there
are other elements that attest to the care with which the PP1 is
assembled. All the wiring is 10-gauge silver-plated copper, all the
contacts are Caig-Deox It Gold-treated, and the face plate is a 3/8-inch
solid block of anodized aluminum. Silver-plated copper was used because
Stanard, who started out by designing speaker cables, found that the
silver was faster but the copper, while mellower, did very well with the
bass. As a result, all of Silver Circle's speaker cables use a
combination of the two metals, as does the PP1.
The goal of the design was pretty straightforward: get
rid of noise in the line. Stanard says that of the three types of noise
(common-mode noise, as from motors – think of a hair dryer),
differential mode noise, and DC noise in the AC line, the PP1 attempts to
eliminate the first two. (He may add to the PP1 to address the DC in the
future). While this may seem simple, it is not always easy. My own house
has been very problematic in terms of line noise. I have used many
different power treatments (although no power regenerators) without a lot
of success. The line may be relatively quiet for hours and then worsen
later on. Indeed, there was one time a few years ago that I was unable to
review a superb power amp because it didn't like my line enough to work
in my listening room. (It worked beautifully elsewhere in the house but
unfortunately that was not where the appropriate components resided.) I
ran a dedicated line into the listening room but confess that I did not
have the dedicated line come in directly from the street. Consequently,
although the line is better than it was, it is still noisy as it runs
through the circuit panel for the house. Yes, I know I need to replace it,
but maybe we'll sell the house first...
Thus, the PP1 had its work cut out for it.
Happily, it did not take very long to see if the PP1 was
up to the task. I plugged my components into the PP1 and then checked to
see if it was on. It was, but there was no noise. With the volume set at
normal listening level I had to go up to the speakers and put my ear to
the tweeter in order to hear a small hiss that I assume comes from the
tubes in the signal path (conrad-johnson Premier 17LS and 15, Music
Reference power amp). Nothing else. To say the very least, I was startled
to hear the silence, and brimming with optimism.
But How About The Music?
That optimism was rewarded once the music started. First
on the turntable was Alison Krauss "Let Me Touch You For a While" from
New Favorite (Diverse 001LP). It would be a cliché to say that it
was as if I were hearing it for the first time, but that was precisely the
impression from the first few notes. It never let up. As the PP1 does not
of course have a sound of its own, I will not pretend to say that it "sounds" like this or that. Rather, it clears the air completely so
that whatever is on the signal source can get through as well as your
system will permit. Consequently, clarity, a sense of air and
freedom, and an ease of presentation of the entire soundstage all invited
more and more listening.
Similarly, what one might hear by inserting the PP1 into
the system will depend on the components. Without going into excessive
detail, for me, the bass was more full and better defined, the mids were
liquid and defined, and the highs were more extended, more detailed and
utterly non-fatiguing. Female vocals gained intimacy and male vocals had
less chestiness in the lower registers. Patricia Barber's piano on Café
Blue sounded more like the instrument in my living room (albeit played a
tad better) – resonant, filling the room without overloading the
The width and depth of the soundstage did not 'change' but the apparent volume of that stage increased – within
the bounds of the soundstage there just seemed to be more room for all of
the instruments. Interestingly, that impression of greater volume, more
elbow room, held for jazz bands ("For Duke") playing in real
space as well as for amplified music that did not reflect a real space. I
put "Uptown" by Prince from Dirty Mind (WB BSK 3478) on the
Linn. I have played the song at least two hundred times. With the system
plugged into the PP1 there was so much more room, so much less crowding of
the various synth lines that I had to turn the volume up. At that point,
it became quite clear to me that I was turning the volume up significantly
higher on every record, playing the music louder, and yet making less
noise. All this from a big power strip.
One consistent impression on all unamplified cuts was
that of more precise localization of the instruments. Whether classical,
as with "Land of Hope and Glory" from Elgar's Coronation Ode
(EMI ASD 3345), or jazz -- Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section
(Analogue reissue APJ 010), it was easy to 'see' where the music came
from. I do not believe that the localization changed at all but rather
that I perceived it as such because there was less noise masking the
musical information. As though the windows were all cleaned.
It would not be an overstatement to say that whatever is
good in your system is likely to be better with the PP1 up front. At the
same time, it is also accurate to state that the bad stuff will come
through better, too. In my case, I was able to hear more clearly some
midbass wobbliness from the turntable (it didn't show up on CDs), as
well as excessive coolness on most standard CDs. Neither of those flaws in
my system could compete with the overwhelming improvements on so many
other fronts. For better or worse, you will find out what is in those
boxes but it seems quite clear that most good systems will be able to
sound much better.
Should I Get One?
the case that the PP1 – or any power conditioner – will bring as much
satisfaction and joy as a sexier toy like a new amplifier or new speakers
is not easy. All it does is give you nice clean power. In my case, though,
the improvement in the system wrought by the PP1 exceeds that of every
component I have used in the last 25 years, with only the insertion of the
Grand Prix Audio Monaco equipment stands being a close second. And it is
worth noting that the GPA stands did much of the same – they allowed
everything else to sound better by quieting things down. For me, the PP1
has raised the ante by lowering the noise floor. I continue to be nothing
less than astonished by what I can now hear. As stated at the outset, this
is a watershed product. Anyone who suspects that his power is not
perfectly clean would do well to sample the PP1, with the caveat that you
might not want to unplug it.
Type: Power filtration and distribution
5.0 kVa Proprietary 75 pound isolation transformer
Massive black anodized aluminum chassis
Furutech Gold-Plated IEC inlet
10 AWG silver-plated copper power path wiring
Proprietary hand-built EMI/RF filter
Custom hand-built "soft-start" circuit with 30-amp rated relay
50-amp rated terminal block
Standard with Vesuvius Power Cord
5.0 - 4 Furutech Gold 20-amp receptacles.
All contacts treated Caig DeoxIT Gold
Extensive internal vibration dampening
Dimensions: 19 x 8.5 x14 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 110 lbs.
Silver Circle Audio
3507 Shadow Bluff Court
Houston, TX 77082
Voice: (281) 870-8272