This article is primarily a survey of PS Audio’s extensive family of power delivery/power conditioning products, but it also serves as a technology primer that discusses the types of power problems this class of product aims to solve. We’ll start by looking at the common power-delivery problems we all encounter and then examine the solutions PS Audio has to offer.
To research this article, I equipped both the Playback A/V lab and my home listening room with various PS Audio power products to assess their ease of use, cost-effectiveness, and practical real-world benefits.
For most of us, electrical power seems like a given—kind of like sunshine, air to breathe, or hot and cold running water. Isn’t the power delivery system found in most American homes good enough as is? On a basic, operational level the answer is “yes”; if you plug in A/V gear correctly and switch it on, it will indeed run and provide satisfying entertainment, as millions of consumers can attest.
But let’s ask a subtler question: is traditional in-home power delivery all that it really should be? The answer to that second question may well be “no” since there are a number of obvious and not-soobvious power problems that can crop up every day. What kinds of problems? Here’s a short list.
It’s tempting to think that AC power is delivered to our homes in pristine form, with perfectly shaped 120V waveforms that alternate at a rock-steady 60Hz. But in reality line voltages fluctuate (often by ± 8V or more) and waveforms are far from perfect (sometimes exhibiting 10 percent distortion or more). This isn’t necessarily a huge problem, but as a general rule when your AC power is “out of spec,” so are your A/V components.
In theory, typical household wall outlets should deliver 1,800 watts (15A x 120V = 1,800 watts) of electrical power. But is that really what we get? Common household AC receptacles, power strips, and power cords are serviceable (in that they meet applicable construction and/or electrical codes), but not much more. They don’t, for example, provide particularly high quality plugs, receptacles, conductors, or insulators, and they do almost nothing in terms of filtering out noise. In truth, garden-variety wall outlets, power strips, and cords can become bottlenecks that constrict power delivery.
Household appliances, computers, electric motors, telephones, and ignition systems can induce noise on your power lines (for example, that annoying “whirring” sound you hear through your speakers when the neighbors fire up their hedge trimmer). But noise can also be induced by A/V components plugged into the power lines, especially by digital components. Noise sources impose visible and audible background “hash” that negatively affects movie and music playback.
Spikes are fast-rising blasts of voltage (like those sometimes encountered during electrical storms) that can instantly damage A/V components.
Surges are slower-rising increases in voltage that may not cause immediate damage, but that have harmful cumulative effects that can lead to premature component failure.
Brownouts are the opposite of surges, where there are substantial drops in voltage. Again, when AC power is “out of spec,” A/V components can potentially be damaged or deliver sub-par performance.
In broad terms, there are two main reasons to consider specialized power delivery/conditioning products.
Anyone who’s ever lost a prized A/V component due to spikes, surges, or other electrical problems would surely tell you that “an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.” While good power conditioners aren’t cheap, they can more than justify their cost if they keep your components from going up in smoke.
The visual and sonic benefits of good power conditioners (and other power delivery products) are real and easy to observe, though some products offer much more bang for the buck than others.
The fact is that some power products change the performance of A/V components without making real improvements (and some products might even take picture or sound quality backwards). For obvious reasons, we can’t recommend products whose effects are unpredictable or less than beneficial.
But other power products—and we’re please to say the PS Audio components covered in this review all fall in this camp—take a “do no harm” approach, meaning that they let maximum power through to your A/V components while stripping away noise, background hash, and other impurities. As a result, these components don’t so much change but rather reveal your components’ inherent performance characteristics and in an unusually pure and coherent way—sort of the A/V equivalent of the Army’s “Be All You Can Be” motto in action.