Index to This Issue Home Page

 

 

Product Review - PS Audio Power Plant P300 AC Synthesizer with MultiWave, and Notes on the New P600, Just Released - November, 2000

 

Jason Serinus

Divider

 

PS Audio Power Plant P300 AC Synthesizer

300 Watt Capacity

Outputs: 4 AC Outlets (115 Volts Balanced Power)

Size: 5 1/2" H x 8 4/4" W  x 19" D

Weight: 30 pounds

MSRP: $995 USA

PS Audio Power Plant P600 AC Synthesizer

600 Watt Capacity

Outputs: 4 AC Outlets (115 Volts Balanced Power)

Size: 9" H x 17" W x 19 1/2" D

Weight: 90 pounds

MSRP: $1,995 USA

 

 
PS Audio International, PO Box 2037, Avon, Colorado, 81620, USA;
Phone: 877-772-8340; Fax: 970-845-0914; E-Mail  sales@psaudio.com; Web http://www.psaudio.com.

Background

Ever since reading Stacey Spears’ technical assessment of the Power Plant P300, I have remained in awe of his knowledge and unstoppable curiosity. If you have read our DVD Benchmark reviews on numerous DVD players, you know that we have shown objectively measured improvements in the electrical performance of the players' circuitry using the P300 to supply Lab Grade AC. It's no longer voodoo. These things really do work. Because of the importance of PS Audio's AC synthesis technology, I have written not only my own views on the P300, but my observations on the effects of having Multiwave in the latest version, and some notes on the newly released P600.

A millennium ago, in the spring of 1999, I was privileged to be the first reviewer to receive a beta test P300. After unplugging my Audio Power Power Wedge 116 and connecting the Power Plant to my system, it took a matter of minutes to discover that it had transformed what I was accustomed to hearing. A good six months before a print magazine review was published, my glowing reviews appeared in the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) High Note newsletter and on the web (posted on "another network," as they say).

Needless to say, the second I learned about MultiWave, I contacted Paul McGowan to find out when my Power Plant could be upgraded. This time, I was the second reviewer on the planet to audition the benefits of MultiWave.

Listening

I strongly believe that, when you know someone whose ears and audio discernment you trust, listening and experimenting together brings many rewards. Foremost is the gift of not allowing one’s fantasies and wishes as to how something “should” sound to obscure how it really does sound.

Thus, I installed the P300 in the presence of a fellow audiophile. This sound and mastering engineer has a sonic set-up quite similar to that used in the Sony mastering facilities. We have shared music listening countless times, and have grown to trust each other’s hearing and sensibilities.

Actually, I connected the unit the night before he came over, giving it some time to warm up. I also left my Power Wedge plugged into the wall, so it too would perform optimally during our comparison. Although the P300 cannot handle large amps – only after writing my reviews did I discover that it can in fact handle my Hsu subwoofer amps – my Pass Aleph 5, and the Krell KSA 50-S I owned before it, had never been plugged into the Power Wedge.

My friend brought over three recordings. These included the fabulous Shostakovich Jazz Suite track that we have listened to countless times at each other’s abodes, and a disc that he had recently mastered. I in turn played four of my then favorite “test” tracks: an Obradors song sung by the exquisite soprano Arleen Auger on her infinitely beautiful Love Songs collaboration with pianist Dalton Baldwin; the marvelous “Blues No More” track on Terry Evans’ superb Audioquest/JVC-XRCD Puttin’ it Down; the first movement of the Schubert String Quintet D. 956 as played by the Emersons and Rostropovich on a sonically imperfect, musically transcendent DG disc; and Herbert Howells’ emphatic orchestral “Procession” on a splendid Chandos recording. We also listened to a few of the classical tracks on the old Sheffield/XLO Test & Burn-in CD, tracks that we both know inside out.

We were both stunned by the Power Plant’s impact. CDs that, with the Power Wedge 116, had sounded like “good recordings” magically took on a life of their own. The veil was lifted, and in its place was air, air and more air. The noise floor, which I thought had been quite low to begin with, dropped even more, in part because the presumably ground loop-induced hum I had always heard on my right channel virtually disappeared. Bass was much tighter, midrange fuller, and highs clearer. The chimes on the Shostakovich recording finally sounded real. Voices and instruments became palpable and alive, as each took on a rounder and fuller quality. I heard so much more detail than with my old Power Wedge. The plucked strings in the Schubert Quintet sounded tight and true, far most satisfying than the loose “kaplunks” I had previously learned to forgive. Drum thwacks on the Terry Evans track were far more convincing, in part because they were so much more in control. On everything, I noticed an improvement in dynamics, ranging from hushed pianissimo to stunning fortissimo.

As we continued to listen, I realized that the benefits of “clean power” had been transformed from the realm of words and ideas to that of intense sonic and sensual satisfaction. The Power Plant was doing exactly what I thought it would.

The differences we heard were so great, that only the most dramatic of analogies can begin to describe the improvements. My friend commented that my system sounded as though I had just installed a preamp that was two notches better than the excellent one I now have. I in turn equated the extra dividends in sonic veracity to the differences I had heard between 16/44 CDs and 24/96/Sony DSD. My friend even speculated that, with the Power Plant in my system, using an inexpensive 24-bit DAC would still sound far better than my Power Wedge/$4000 20-bit Theta DAC combo.

Experiences Confirmed

A few days later, I invited fellow reviewer Paul Knutson to bring over his excellent Sound Applications power conditioner for comparison. Manufactured in the Bay Area by Jim Weil, the Sound Applications unit has become a favorite of many audiophiles. My friend also brought three of his favorite “test” jazz CDs, offering tracks by vocalist Diana Krall, the Jacques Loussier trio doing (in?) Satie, and Doug McLeod. I provided the previously auditioned tracks by Arleen Auger, Terry Evans, and the Emerson String Quartet, adding the stunning beginning of the Pierre Boulez DG-4D recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.

Of course, people listen and hear differently. If you are a long-time reader of printed audio magazines, you may recall that, perhaps five years ago, one magazine assembled a panel of reviewers to critique and rank by overall quality various mid-price loudspeakers connected to the same system. It was simultaneously enlightening, amusing, and disturbing to discover how differently these reviewers heard the same sounds. To many readers, the wide divergences of opinion led them to question the credibility of reviewers’ perceptions. As I remember, the magazine never repeated this experiment. 

Paul Knutson and I also had divergences of perception. Where we agreed was when he commented: “Airy highs, better space, and delineation than I’ve previously heard here,” and “far deeper, very clear.” We also agreed that the Sound Applications unit created a wider soundstage. I certainly heard truer timbre, more air and depth, and in general a greater sense of reality with the P300 than I did with the Sound Applications unit. While the Sound Applications device sounded much less “filtered” than my Power Wedge, it did not offer me the extra window on sonic reality that continues to leave me startled every time I listen to my system with the Power Plant installed.

Two weeks after this experience, I hosted six guests at a Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) system-hopping event (members go around to several houses on a Saturday afternoon). My last guests, a fabulous couple who loved the classical music I was sharing with them, ended up buying two Power Plants within the week. The audition was that convincing.

Some weeks after these auditions, I briefly passed the beta unit on for audition by another BAAS audiophile. This man owns three different power filters, including the Sound Applications and an older Bybee TAD purifier, which he uses in the triad configuration/combination he has found to sound best. He pronounced the P300 a “triumph.” Although his turntable would not work properly when plugged into the unit unless the frequency option on the Power Plant (see below) was set for 60 - I had the same experience - he was easily convinced that the P300 had bettered the devices he had on hand. "Filtering out the garbage once it's there is not as good as never letting it into the system to begin with,” he declared.

Most recently, I invited over a friend who, in his eleven years teaching at the former San Francisco College of Recording Arts, trained many of the sound engineers in the area. He is constantly called upon by those in the know to repair both home and professional equipment, and to help set up broadcasting equipment. He brought over the two jazz tracks that he has used countless times to audition my system: the “Little Jazz” track on the Clark Terry Chesky Portraits recording, and a Kaaren Allyson Concord jazz “Robert Frost” vocal track. Again, the before and after differences were startling. At last, Clark Terry’s trumpet sounded totally convincing, as did the accompanying drums and cymbals. For the first time, we also heard the artificial reverb around Kaaren Allyson’s voice. There was nothing to do except close our eyes and enjoy.

Changing the Frequency

Paul McGowan (of PS Audio) explains that the power supplies of most components benefit from frequencies above 60 Hz. Power Plants give one the option of setting the frequency, in increments of 5 Hz, anywhere between 50 Hz and 120 Hz. I know of no other power conditioner or unit that allows one to manipulate the power frequency in this manner.

As each friend came over to audition my beta unit, we experimented with changing the frequency of power that the Power Plant was outputting. Although I soon discovered that raising the frequency anywhere above the normal 60 Hz caused the digital clock on my VCR to shift to Martian time, and my turntable to so speed up that a Pavarotti aria sounded like a performance by Tetrazinni as she was about to have her goose cooked, the huge sonic benefit of raising the power frequency for all other components was immediately apparent.

Changing the frequency affects not only the depth of sound but also the entire tonal balance. While some people thought that everything sounded best at 120 Hz – this was Paul McGowan’s original assertion, one he later abandoned – I settled on 75 Hz as ideal for vocals, and 85 Hz as best for instrumentals. At those frequencies, a noticeable increase in depth was accompanied by a concomitant increase in midrange richness and bass extension. With the Power Plant set to 75 Hz, vocals and instruments such as harpsichord sounded ideal; at 85 Hz, I heard a truth to piano, drums, and other resonant instruments that has set my jaw agape. For the first time, I could actually clearly hear the body of a timpani or drum.

On my system – I’m certain it’s different for other systems – increased frequency enhancement to midrange and bass was accompanied by a concomitant diminution in the impact of highs. Highs were clearest at 75 Hz, and slightly diminished at 85 Hz. Above 85 Hz, the midrange and bass tended to overwhelm the highs, flattening out the leading transients that had made them feel so alive and real. Even though depth only got better and better with ascending frequencies, going above 85 or 90 so tilted the sonic balance in favor of mids and lows such that I stayed with the 75 Hz to 85 Hz range. I was convinced that the 75-85 frequency range was best for my system, and I now never deviate from this range of settings.

Life without the P300

As soon as I learned about MultiWave development, I sent my beta P300 off for upgrading. Living without it left me stuck with the opportunity of again experiencing how much a difference the Power Plant had made to my system.

To put it simply, spoiled as I was by a year of clean power, I hated what I was hearing. Solo instruments, voices, and even full orchestras felt flat rather than three-dimensional. Even worse, instrumental textures seemed congealed to one another. There was virtually no sense of space or air around instruments or voices, no sense of a living, breathing entity. Instead there were all these sounds, slightly disorganized in location, pasted on the rear wall before me. Bass control was lost, and the midrange felt shallow and deflated. The difference was so great that I felt I could not fairly evaluate the sound quality of recordings. With my reference lost, I found myself stalling the completion of CD reviews, and working on other projects.

I realize that all this may sound like a bunch of words to readers who have not experienced the difference that good power conditioning, let alone power regeneration, can make. I had a few visitors over during my period of Power Plant Wasteland who pronounced my sound system the best they had ever heard. But when they returned after my P300 had been upgraded to MultiWave, Lord A’mighty, did they acclaim the difference!

The Upgrading Blues

Alas, upgrading my beta P300 proved no simple task. While regular P300s can be upgraded either in the factory or at home by simple installation of an upgrade card, the ten or twenty beta units on the planet require major engineering overhauls. After five weeks of struggling to review CDs and equipment without the depth, control, and air that the Power Plant had brought to my system, I convinced Paul to instead send me an actual P300 with the MultiWave installed.

All was not perfect, however. I soon learned that my beta P300 had one advantage over the stock units. The beta P300s are housed in old Ayre amp boxes which have large heatsinks, while the regular P300s lack heatsinks altogether. As a result, P300s run quite hot to the touch. My new MultiWaved P300 worked fine when operating all my front-end components. However, when I connected my pair of Hsu subwoofer amps, which my beta unit had accommodated without problem, the standard unit ran so hot that it automatically shut down. Not even turning the unit upside down and removing its bottom, which allowed the heat to rise unimpeded, adequately cooled the unit during the heat of summer. Only when I installed the P300 fan upgrade was I able to run my system as I had previously, with the Hsus connected to the Power Plant.

In all fairness, the P300 is not designed to accommodate power amps, even small ones like the two that run my Hsu subwoofers. That my unit can handle them is, in Paul McGowan’s words, a “miracle.” Had I not plugged in the subs, I would not have needed the fan to keep the P300 from overheating.

I also note that adequate heat sinks are incorporated in the design of the P600 and P1200; the P600 runs fairly cool to the touch, and does not overheat when handling its full load.

At Last

Jump ahead eight weeks. My preamp tubes, which went into shock after I had spent one too many times turning the overheated P300 back on too soon after it had shut off, are now replaced. The MultiWaved, fan-equipped P300 is installed in my system and working fine. The fan is not totally silent, but its low whir sounds just like the air conditioning in major theaters, and is certainly tolerable. The main sonic dramas playing out in the Serinus domicile are again confined to the music on CDs and occasional screams from an overheated neighbor. Safe experimentation with the MultiWaved P300 could finally begin.

In a nutshell, MultiWave allows one to get the most out of the frequency manipulation option of the Power Plant. As good as the basic Power Plant sounds, the MultiWaved version sounds even better. MultiWave basically adds sine waves of different frequencies together, for example, 60 Hz and 180 Hz, and they occur in sequence rather than on top of each other. This is not the same thing as a square wave, which has 60 Hz, 120 Hz, 180 Hz, 240 Hz, etc., all occurring together at the same time.

At first, it seemed that the frequency setting – in this case, the MultiWave setting – that PS Audio suggested as ideal for most systems, did not sound ideal for mine. This setting, SS1, “a single 60 Hz sine wave, with a minute amount of a 180 Hz sine wave mixed together to form a single Partial Square MultiWave” provided incredible depth, but seemed to leave everything sounding too shiny and bright. (Curious, isn’t it, that the highest setting on the standard P300 sounded too bass-dominant, while the first and “most preferred” setting on the MultiWaved unit emphasized the high edge of sounds?) Nor did PS2, PS Audio’s “second favorite MultiWave,” deliver the kind of tonal balance that felt right to a heart and soul accustomed to the sound of live performance in a variety of venues.

After much experimentation, I found I preferred either SS3, “a series of Sequential Frequency Partial Square MultiWaves composed of 50 Hz, followed by two 90 Hz Partial Square MultiWaves,” or SF4, “a series of Sequential Frequency sine waves composed of 50 Hz, followed by two 120 Hz sine waves” (normally bright recordings sounded better with SF4). SS3 also proved ideal in a totally different set-up, a recent Bay Area Audiophile Society demonstration of Silverline speakers and ART Audio electronics (reviews forthcoming). Although offering a little less depth than with SS1, SS3’s depth and imaging are still superb, and the tonal balance is right on.

Rather than rely on my sonic memory, which had now gone without my regular P300 for close to three months, I called upon the assistance of my friend Joey, who had bought a P300 after he had heard the multitudinous sonic differences that mine had wrought. Joey brought over his non-MultiWaved P300, warmed it up, and joined me for listening. Out came my pile of reference CDs, changed a bit since the original Power Plant review. Discs whirled on the Bedini Ultra-Clarifier, then were placed atop a CD Blacklight and inserted into my Audio Alchemy transport. Several tracks were played using Joey’s P300, and then heard with my MultiWaved unit.

Sometime later, after I had temporarily moved and repositioned my Chameleon III speakers in order to review other speakers, I discovered that the jostling had disturbed the Chameleon tuning. It took awhile, but when I had finished my readjustments (which are quite fine, by the way, and challenging to get just right), the most highly recommended SS1 setting sounded much better than before. In fact, my speakers exhibited greater control than ever before. As I write these words, I am still in the process of replaying favorite vocal recordings and marveling at the differences.

The Simple Conclusion

When heard virtually side by side, assessing the differences between basic P300 and MultiWave P300 was a no-brainer. Joey and I spent less than two hours on the project. Why spend days on something, when the conclusions are so definitive?

As great as the P300 sounds, the MultiWaved P300 unit sounds even better. No frequency setting on the regular P300 – and we tried them all – can achieve the combination of air, depth, transparency and realism afforded by the optimal settings on the MultiWaved unit. MultiWave makes everything sound clearer and more lifelike. Music is more engaging and enrapturing with MultiWave. Most striking is the sound of chimes and gongs, which sound stunningly real, and the sound of sopranos and mezzos, who seem far more present in the room rather than recorded on a disc.

Having now lived with the MultiWave P300 for several months, and had the opportunity to hear it in my system through top-of-the-line Nordost cabling and review power cords from Shunyata and PS Audio, I can attest to the wonders it delivers. The better one’s equipment and cabling, the greater the advantages. Just the other night, I listened to the excellent Sony Masterworks reissue of soprano Eileen Farrell’s circa 1970 Verdi recordings. La Farrell’s voice has just the right combination of warmth, sweetness, and brilliance that one dreams of hearing reproduced on a good system. When the orchestra opens up behind her, my entire room fills with sound. I hear absolutely no stress from my 60W Pass Aleph 5.

I followed this recording with Reference Recording’s new Copland 100 Minnesota Orchestra rendition of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.  The horns sounded believable, the drums were astounding. Just last week, I sat in the first row of the First Tier of Davies Symphony Hall for Michael Tilson Thomas’ wonderful San Francisco Symphony performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7. I listened carefully to the timpani and percussion – one hardly has to strain to hear them in Mahler – and recalled that sonic memory as I auditioned the Copland. What I heard from my Chameleons and Hsu subs was a convincing replica of both the leading edge and resonant body of a drum. While I know that full responsibility lies with my improved sonic chain – how I will ever afford some of these power cords, I do not know – I could also hear what a difference the air and three-dimensionality afforded by MultiWave meant to the entire picture.

Each and every sonic benefit bestowed by the Power Plant is enhanced by MultiWave. MultiWave’s sonic improvements are so wonderful that I cannot imagine anyone owning a Power Plant, or considering buying one, doing without this $250 upgrade. 

Life with a MultiWaved P600

I have been working forever on a power cord review. Finding the free time to switch back and forth between cords, and explore the best use for each, has proven a challenge.

Alas, it also proved too much a challenge for my P300. Undoubtedly this is because I insisted on plugging my two Hsu subwoofer amps into the unit, needing the control that the Power Plant provides. While these amps only use a small amount of power each, there is an initial surge of current that challenges the P300’s circuitry. I thought that, with the installation of the fan to keep the unit cool, all would be okay. Probably under “normal conditions,” it would have.

However, nothing is normal in the world of a reviewer. While turning the P300 off and on a number of times in rapid succession, wanting to keep my equipment warmed up as much as possible as I quickly switched back and forth between power cords with the help of fellow reviewer Paul Knutson, the P300 died, Replacement slow blow fuses blew before I could even turn the unit back on. PS Audio did a miraculously fast turn around on repairs, but the repaired unit did not even last long enough for me to play music before something blew again.

Thanks to the most gracious Paul McGowan, I now have a MultiWaved P600. What a baby! The shipping box is huge, weighing 90 pounds, and required my assistance to the UPS driver to get up the stairs. The unit itself is the most massive component in my system, save for my speakers. It’s quite handsome, in a silver front, blue, and red light, black heat sink, curvy mechanical sort of way. It sure looks solid, making me feel confident and proud to see it on my rack. Most importantly, it runs silently and cool compared to the P300, and can handle with ease everything in my system including my Pass Aleph 5 (the Pass runs in pure Class A).

This is the first time since starting to assemble a high-end system that I have been able to plug my power amplifier into a power conditioner or power regenerator. My original Power Wedge 116, which dulled my system in ways similar to my temporary experiment with a single Richard Gray Power Company cube (which literally turned my highs gray), could not accommodate high current amps. Neither, as I have now made abundantly clear, could the P300.

Plugging my power amp into the P600 gives me yet another level of realism, control, and clarity. Though it may drive my electric bill up significantly – Power Plants are perhaps 50% efficient, and the Pass supposedly draws 250W power even when it’s idling – it is making me very, very happy.

There seem to be two minor issues with the unit. The fact that its wattage meter is inaccurate is temporarily saving me from confronting, until the electric bill arrives, the reality of its high current-sucking nature. Also, on some of its MultiWave settings, it causes the power supply in my Theta to make a low whirring sound. The sound is not very intrusive – it’s softer than the sound of the P300’s fan, and the sound one hears through one’s speakers when using tube equipment is louder – and enjoyment is not curtailed. On the contrary, enjoyment is enhanced as never before. 

As I write this, the P600 is still breaking in. It will take two more days to fully hear the benefits of plugging my amp into it. But what I hear now is so conclusive, that there’s no point waiting to write it down.

I also note that, just yesterday, I went to a Bay Area Audiophile Society meeting where a dealer was demonstrating two different systems. The lack of air I heard, even with “standard” power conditioning, was disturbing. The MultiWaved Power Plants are so good that they will spoil you in no time.

For those who can spring for the extra cash, the MultiWave P600 is a dream. Combined with the Shunyata and PS Audio powercords and Nordost cabling I am now using, it has taken my listening to a new level. I am very, very pleased. And that’s what it’s all about.

- Jason Serinus -

Update on Experiences with the PS Audio P300 Power Plant - January, 2001

It happened again. For the second time in three months, at least one of my tubes burned out in my Bruce Moore Companion III preamp. This time, whenever the preamp had been cooking for awhile, the left channel almost totally disappeared. 

What could be causing such rapid tube deterioration, I wondered? When I mentioned the problem to our own Stacey Spears, he told me he had discovered that, with certain MultiWave settings, output voltages reached 130 or above. Since most U.S. equipment is made to operate with no more than 120 volts, we speculated that excessive voltage might well have contributed to premature tube failure. 

While at CES 2001, I raised the voltage issue with Paul McGowan. Paul told me that voltage output of the MultiWave-equipped Power Plant is adjustable once one is in voltage mode. On my P600, the voltage mode is the second of the three mode settings available by toggling the right “Mode” button on the front panel. The first position allows selection of the MultiWave combination, the second the voltage. The third provides a highly inaccurate display of the amount of watts equipment connected to it consumed – the actually amount is far greater – and the fourth dims the front panel. Depressing the button once more returns you to the MultiWave selection mode. 

Unfortunately, the displayed voltage number, which is set at the factory to 117, is not the voltage the Power Plant outputs in any other than Sin mode. Voltage output varies greatly depending upon the chosen MultiWave setting. In the MultiWave PS2 setting, for example, a Power Plant front panel which displays 117 in voltage mode is actually outputting 130 volts! Once in voltage mode, voltage output must be adjusted by hand in order to keep it within  safe limits. None of this information is supplied by PS Audio in its literature. 

It just so happens that, when I set the Power Plant to optimal SS1 MultiWave mode, the power supply in my Theta DAC emits a low whirring sound. When not listening to music, I had begun setting the Power Plant to PS2 mode, which does not cause whirring. Unfortunately, this was resulting in an output of 130 volts to my preamp’s tubes. No wonder the tubes were burning out! 

When I asked Paul McGowan what I should do, he replied, “Have Stacey Spears go through each MultiWave setting and measure the voltage output for you. Once you set the correct voltage for the MultiWave setting you’re using, things should work fine.” 

Less than 48 hours after returning from CES, Stacey completed his measurements. This information follows. I encourage you to share his findings with all MultiWave users by sending them the URL for this page.

Voltage settings for the MultiWave Power Plant

Mode  FP117      115            117            120

------------------------------------

Sin      116            116            117            120

------------------------------------

SS1    121            111            113            116

------------------------------------

PS2    130            103            105            108

------------------------------------

SS3    122            111            112            115

------------------------------------

SF4     116           116            118            119

------------------------------------

SSS    130           104            106            109

------------------------------------

SS6    130            104            105            108

------------------------------------

SF7     116           116            118            120

------------------------------------

SF8     116           116            118            120

------------------------------------

SF9     116           116            118            120

------------------------------------

The first column lists all the possible MultiWave settings plus the basic default Sin, which deactivates MultiWave. The second column shows the actual default voltage of the P600 when the front panel’s voltage mode setting displays 117. The next three columns are the values you need to set on the front panel to actually get the Power Plant to output 115, 117, or 120 volts.

 

Jason's System:


© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Return to Table of Contents for this Issue.