Anaylsis Audio

Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
Accessories
 
Richard Gray Power Company – IsoGray Power Delivery System
Delivering Clean, Clear, Pure AC

 

October 2006


BACKGROUND PERSPECTIVES
Some folks truly believe in the age-old saying that, “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” While this may very well be true in some aspects of life, it doesn’t necessarily hold true for the audiophile search for sonic nirvana. In fact, today, many audiophiles are learning that what they don’t hear, see, or know may be holding back the overall performance of their cherished audio systems.

One particular area that’s under attack these days has much to do with the “hidden” sonic anomalies that exist in our home’s electricity (AC). Today, our homes are littered with all kinds of electrical devices that generate various types of grunge back into the AC line. For the most part, most of us are largely unaware that this even causes a problem. In the past, reviewers have talked about how good their systems sound, typically late at night. For the most part, this is the result of far fewer demands being placed on their home’s internal AC lines since many of those devices mentioned are inactive during late night hours.

With today’s push for higher and higher levels of resolution, even minor disruptions in the flow of audio signals through our systems, has a far greater impact on the resultant sound than ever before. Previously, most audiophiles focused more of their efforts on basic system components (i.e., speakers, electronics, turntables, cartridges, transports, DACs and perhaps to a lesser extent cables). Recently, far more attention has been focused on things such as power line conditioning and power cords.

Currently, a multitude of products are available – all claiming to offer the best possible solution for addressing the problems brought about by so-called “dirty” AC. Issues such as line noise, grunge, power surges and/or various other types of artifacts, are the enemy these devices attempt to attack and destroy. Although different types of devices have been around for quite some time, many of the newer designs attempt to go beyond offering primarily the basic function of surge protection. Many of these newer devices also incorporate technology to recondition the AC coming from the wall outlet itself. This reconditioned AC is supposedly stripped of the noise, grunge and various other artifacts that are so much a part of the raw AC. Unfortunately, one of the main complaints against a number of these devices has been how they also seem to rob a system’s natural expressions of power, dynamics and overall impact. As a result, at times the cure has been considered worse than the problem. Needless to say, this sonic effect is not acceptable and serious audiophiles have simply continued their search for the perfect solution.

This particular review will focus on line-conditioning products made available by the Richard Gray Power Company (RGPC). Previously, I have had very positive experiences with some of this company’s earlier products – specifically Models 400 and 1200. However, it was during a series of long telephone conversations with Dick McCarthy, my main contact person and head promotional guru at RGPC, that my interest in the products reviewed here was piqued. By the way, unlike the Mark Levinson company, Richard Gray really is part of the company and responsible for the design of most of these products.

Along with surge protection, cleaning up dirty in-home AC has been the primary thrust at RGPC. In fact, product development at RGPC has pretty much been inspired due to the company’s location in New Orleans, a city that McCarthy has often referred to as the “lightning capital of the South.” He and his colleagues are all too familiar with the potentially negative affects of severe AC line fluctuations, power outages, surges and a variety of other nasty disturbances. Essentially, RGPC products are designed to address various types of unexpected power disruptions, as well as the elimination of noise and grunge that invade in-home electrical power. For the most part, these products are designed to improve the overall quality of the existing AC current available at your home’s wall outlets.

Just as a point of reference time wise, these particular telephone conversations occurred prior to Hurricane Katrina striking New Orleans. Fortunately, the company did not sustain any noticeable physical damage during this storm. Not only are they now fully up and running again, they also are participating in the restoration of local institutions, such as local schools, that were damaged in the storm.

Please note that during this review, I will not attempt to construct a “white paper” on line conditioning or anything remotely close. However, if anyone reading this is interested in finding out more about this subject, I suggest you check out the RGPC website at www.richardgraypowercompany.com for detailed information. For the most part, this review will describe my experience(s) with the RGPC Power Delivery System and how it impacted the overall performance of my reference high-end audio system. Specific RGPC products that will be included are: PolePig, Substation and HighTensionWires.

GETTING STARTED
Upon McCarthy’s recommendation, my initial efforts were to replace my system’s existing power cords with RGPC power cords (aka HighTensionWires). For the most part, these power cords are fairly flexible and relatively easy to work. Although rather unassuming looking - their overall fit and finish is very good. The construction of these 8-gauge power cords is done in such a way to provide the highest delivery of current possible with the least amount of interference and/or compromise.

According to McCarthy, these cords are designed to deliver power to electrical components as neutrally as possible. He further went on to say that each cord is hand soldered to insure the best possible mating of materials. The geometry is loose which reduces the degree of inductance and capacitance. Furthermore, these cords contain no Teflon or other dielectrics that can degrade their performance.

After letting these cables settle into my system for a 24-hour period, and with all components powered up, I took a quick listen. My initial reaction was quite favorable and I was generally impressed with what I heard. Overall, the sound had a slightly sharper attack along with improved snap and focus. Additionally, there were subtle, but noticeable improvements in the bass, dynamic flow and impact.

Beyond that, the sound of my system was slightly quieter and somewhat smoother overall. I also detected nothing in terms of the overall sonic character being altered or any changes to the overall tonal balance. For the most part, these power cords were doing precisely what they were intended to do and I was off to a very good start.

NEXT STEP
Knowing that putting the power cords in was just the very first step in achieving the total RGPC IsoGray Power Delivery System, I was anxious to move on to the next product. At this time, the affectionately named product PolePig was prepared for installation. This particular product derives its charming name from another product that is typically found mounted on outdoor utility poles. The PolePig serves as a mini power station and provides improved Isolation. Its intended use is primarily for line level electronics, not amplifiers. This is a task reserved for the larger and more powerful unit called the SubStation.

Installation of the PolePig was simple and totally straightforward - basically offering a plug and play scenario. This unit itself plugs directly into one of your wall outlets. The unit also has six AC receptacles on the back. Once plugged in, the unit essentially stays powered up continuously. There’s also a light panel switch located on the back allowing the user to have the front panel logo glowing lightly if desired.

At this point, I plugged my RGPC Model 1200 line conditioner unit into the PolePig. The 1200 provides RGPC’s patented surge protection, noise removal without current limiting and high current on demand for the electronics plugged into it. Essentially, this arrangement provided an important aspect of the IsoGray system for my front-end electronics. After letting things burn-in and settle down overnight, I was able to notice an immediate and very definite difference. To my ears - there was a further reduction in noise of my already very quiet system. This resulted in the entire soundstage opening up with a dead silent background. Whatever low-level noise was there before was now reduced to an almost imperceptible level.

According to RGPC literature, an isolation transformer separates components from other devices connected in the home that commonly cause group loops. They can also be used to correct incompatibilities between your components’ ground voltages. The RGPC Isolation Transformers eradicate them.

With this technology in my system, music now emerged from my system in a clearer, cleaner manner and with greater articulation and improved dynamic impact. Overall clarity and detail retrieval were noticeably improved as well. Further, I observed that these improvements were across the entire frequency spectrum and with an overall level of improvement that I could have easily lived with things as they were. Despite being very pleased and almost wishing to stop at this point, I continued on as directed by McCarthy. In order to get the full effect of the RGPC IsoGray system – putting the mighty Substation in place was required.

MORE JUICE VIA DEDICATED 240-VOLT LINE
After long discussions and a strong recommendation from McCarthy, I received the 240-volt version of the RGPC Substation. Although the company does in fact offer this same unit configured for standard 120-volt operation, the 240-volt unit is really their ultimate and preferred unit. I opted to go for this particular unit which made it necessary to have one of my existing dedicated 120-volt, 20 amp circuits converted to 240 volts. This was easily handled, through the services of a qualified electrician, and soon I had a new dedicated 240-volt, 20-amp circuit for powering the Substation and ultimately my full system.

In the looks department, basically the SubStation is a hefty, rectangular shaped black box weighing in at seventy pounds. On the front of the unit is a chrome faceplate with the company name and logo in black lettering. On the top of the unit, there are four AC receptacles and the unit comes supplied with it’s own dedicated AC power cord. Additionally, there is an on/off switch on the side allowing the user to completely turn off power to the unit if so desired. Once I powered it up – I basically left it on 24/7. RGPC also provides an optional, upgraded power cord for this unit however McCarthy advised me that by using the 240-volt version – any differences between the upgraded and stock AC cord would be virtually indistinguishable.

Just so you know, the 240-volt version of the Substation essentially knocks down the incoming 240 volts to 120. This allows the user to plug his/her electronics directly into one of the four available AC outlets on the unit. Based on McCarthy’s recommendation, I plugged my amplifiers directly into the Substation. Additionally, having this new source of reconditioned AC, I plugged my RGPC Model 1200 line conditioner directly to the Substation along with my line level electronics. With the more powerful Substation in place, the need for the PolePig was basically eliminated.

According to McCarthy, one of the key advantages of 240 vs. 120-Volt AC is that there is approximately 1/10th of the loss of 120-volt lines. Also, with the 240-volt RGPC Substation - you can avoid the loss from the breaker panel all the way to the equipment rack and convert locally to 120-volts right where the equipment really needs it – at the rack! Running 240 volts also provides additional benefits such as true balanced power (i.e., 120 volts on each side), phase cancellation for common mode noise reduction (i.e., lower noise floor with less likelihood of ground loops), and overall safer operation due to being able to float a short to neutral with a balanced line. Beyond this, it is far less susceptible to lightning strikes.

Another advantage of running with the 240-volt version of the Substation is that fact that there is more power available than what a typical 15-amp outlet can provide. With the 240-volt RGPC Substation – there is 2400 watts of continuous power vs. 1800 watts with the typical 120-volt line. Additionally, the Substation has the ability to handle much greater current demands on a continuous basis as well as an in-rush of power caused by turning on all your equipment on at the same time. In this case, the Substation can handle up to 3800 watts instantaneously.

In my system, I simply placed this unit behind my equipment rack and connected it directly to the dedicated 240-volt line. As with the other RGPC devices, I allowed it to burn-in overnight basically to settle in. McCarthy also suggested that this would allow my system components to adjust to this new source of much cleaner, stronger AC. Hey – who am I to question the guru so I did as instructed?

Truth be told, even though I was expecting something positive – I really wasn’t prepared for the level of improvement that I experienced. Wow, did this change make a difference or what? Basically, the improvements were anything but subtle. All at once there was greater immediacy and life-like quality to all musical sounds. Additionally, there was a noticeably improved dynamics flow as well. Beyond that, the already very, very quiet background now sounded even quieter. In fact, it was shockingly quiet resulting in my ability to easily hear subtle musical clues emerging from this very quiet background. What this did was give the music a noticeably more authentic and realistic sound and basically I was in musical heaven.

For all intents and purposes, both the SubStation is designed to provide greater current on demand. From what I experienced, I was able to clearly observe that this unit truly delivers on their promise and very effectively enhances the overall dynamic capabilities of an audio system. With the Substation in place – I basically had 240 volts of true balanced power feeding my electronics. Clearly my amps sounded as if they had been turbo charged and were operating with more power and dynamic headroom than before. Along with this, there was greater ambiance retrieval and improved dimensionality. Add to this, a more tactile sensation to the music and you quickly start to understand how I was so impressed.

My system was now performing beautifully and sounded absolutely stunning - and definitely beyond its previous level of performance, which by the way was awfully good to begin with. Music now had a more effortless quality to it along with greater control, impact and improved articulation. In particular, the bass now seemed to reach slightly lower with increased authority and slam. Whether listening to acoustic upright bass, organ, bass drums or whatever – the overall improvements were noticeable and made listening to music all that much more enjoyable.

One of my favorite recordings is Ray Brown’s CD or better yet – the SACD, titled Soular Energy [Groove Note 1015-3]. With the RGPC Isogray system in place, Ray’s superb acoustic bass never sounded better. In particular, his masterful playing sounded even more expressive with enhanced clarity, vibrancy and impact. Plucked strings became easily distinguishable and were rendered with outstanding authority and enhanced naturalness. Along with this, the incomparable Gene Harris on piano now sounded even better than ever. His style, technique and overall contribution to this fine recording was definitely enhanced with the Substation in place.

With the increase in headroom, dynamic shifts were even more pronounced and flowed more naturally. Along with this, there was a greater sense of palpability and organic feel to the music. All this was provided with a sense of delicacy and finesse that was truly surprising but totally and thoroughly pleasing.

In terms of the critically important midrange – with the RGPC IsoGray system in place, the degree of naturalness, tonality and accuracy of timbres was further enhanced. With the entire soundstage more open and seemingly much deeper, midrange sounds emerged with greater overall intelligibility and expression. Additionally, the level of dimensionality and like-life quality was improved. All manner of music, whether voice or musical instruments, were presented with a much higher degree of musical authority.

For example, the wonderful, sassy, late Sarah Vaughan, on her wonderful recording titled Crazy and Mixed Up, [JCV XRCD2], sounded absolutely sensational. By so effectively reducing the noise floor of my system, the RGPC IsoGray system allowed her voice (and piano) to emerge ever so effortlessly and naturally. Hearing all the wonderful nuances of her incredible vocal range and singing style became almost breathtaking. Yes, I loved how this recording sounded previously but now I was able to enjoy it that just that much more.

As challenging as they are, choral groups and massed choirs with the RGPC IsoGray system come through noticeably clearer, better articulated with each voice much more distinct yet totally integrated into one cohesive sound. Having the ability to easily hear individual voices deep in the soundstage is now a pure joy and provides enhanced musical enjoyment. A good example of this is on the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s CD titled Time Flies, [Narada Jazz 72435-76895-6]. Track #4 (Open My Heart) has a wonderful mixture of instrumental and vocal sounds. Throughout this selection, the voices soar and range from soft to loud along with Ramsey’s piano keeping pace as well. With the superb quieting and dynamics provided by the RGPC IsoGray system – it becomes noticeably easier to hear the individual singers clearly separated from one another as well as from the instrumental playing as well. Again, overall listening enjoyment is enhanced which is what it’s all about.

In terms of how high frequencies were rendered, with the IsoGray system in place, essentially they went from very, very good to now being pristine, clean, clear, open and very extended. Largely due to incredibly quiet background produced by this system, the highs floated freely and delicately from a completely black and silent background. A very good example is Shirley Horn’s wonderful recording titled Here’s To Life (with strings).

The mood of this recording is a mixture of sensuous splendor, spirited playfulness and quiet enticing romanticism. Complementing Horn’s wonderful voice, at times sounding more like spoken whispers than outright singing, there is an abundance of delicate sounds from various types of percussive instruments including cymbals, bells and chimes. Due to the superbly quiet background produced by the IsoGray system, each instrument (and voice) comes through very naturally with a good sense of body along with being superbly clear as well as shimmering and hanging effortlessly in space.

Transients became quicker and sharper along with greater definition and articulation on the leading and trailing edges. For example, instruments came through my system with just the right amount of snap and bite, as you would imagine hearing at a live session. Just check out Clark Terry’s trumpet or Steve Nelson’s vibraphone on the James Williams Sextet recording titled Talkin’ Trash, [Columbia 7464-66874-2]. On this particular recording, both Nelson and Terry provided numerous examples of how their respective instruments should be played. The IsoGray system let their style and technique shine in a manner that sounded authentic and life-like. What more could you ask for?

CONCLUDING REMARKS
Since putting the RGPC IsoGray system in place, the sound of my system has improved significantly. Reproduced music now emerges from my system with a totally quiet background along with an expanded soundstage that covers the back wall behind my speakers. From what I can tell, McCarthy’s assertions are right on target. Getting rid of the noise and grunge, contained in the typical home AC, is possibly one of the most effective ways to optimize the sound of a hi-rez audio system. (Although I’ve not tried this – I also understand that the benefits for high resolution video are just as profound.)

The total cost for the full IsoGray system depends on the number of power cords needed for your setup. For my system, the total retail cost was approximately $7,000. The good news is that you can actually put this system together on a phased-in approach rather than doing the entire system all at once. Doing it this way will allow you to experience the overall sonic benefits incrementally. One particular value-added service that RGPC offers is that when you visits their website, you can list a profile of your system and the company will make recommendations as to which RGPC products and technologies to install. According to McCarthy, they receive close to 100 of these types of requests on a weekly basis.

Based on my very positive experiences with the RGPC IsoGray system, it’s a no-brainer. The benefits derived from these components are real, and I can’t imagine being without the type of high-quality, noise-free electrical current it provides. It truly enhances my listening pleasure and that’s what it’s all about. Anyone seriously interested in significantly raising the overall performance level of his or her cherished high-end audio system should definitely check these out.

Bill Wells

                         _____________


PRICING & SPECIFICATIONS
HighTensionWires – MSRP with 15-amp IEC Connector (standard configuration)
.5 meter = $450.00, 1 Meter = $495.00, 1.5 Meter = $595.00, 2 Meter = $695.00, longer lengths available upon request. Also can be supplied with Heavy Duty 20-amp IEC for additional $20.00.

PolePig
Dimensions: 8.75”W x 5.25”H x 11”D
Net Weight: 40 Pounds
Outlets: 6 commercial grade Hubbell
Power Cord: 2 – Detachable, 6 ft 12 AWG cord, NEMA 5-15 plug
20 Amp IEC Connector
Input Voltage: 120 VAC 60 Hz
Output Voltage: 120 VAC 60 Hz
MOV: 18,000 Joules, 480V Clamp
Fuse: 1-10 Amp fast blow-replace with Littlefuse 3AB
Draw at Idle: < 50 watts
Maximum Capacity: 700 watts
Indicator Light: Orange Illuminated Front Panel – rear switch
Rack Mountable: Yes – with Middle Atlantic Shelf Kit, RSH4A4S or RSH4A4SW (Dual Mount)
Price: $1,595 (black or silver finish)

Substation
Dimensions: 13”W x 9.25”H x 6.625”D
Net Weight: 70 Pounds
Outlets: 4 commercial grade Hubbell individually fused, 20 amps each
Power Cord: 240V: 7.5 ft 12 AWG cord, NEMA 6-20 plug
120V: 7.5 ft 12 AWG cord, NEMA 5-15 plug
Input Voltage: 240V: 240 VAC 60 Hz
120V: 120 VAC 60 Hz
Output Voltage: Both versions: 120 VAC 60 Hz
Fuse: Both versions: 4-20 amp fast blow fuse-replace with Little fuse
3AB
Breaker: Both versions: 20A-ganged breaker
Draw at Idle: 240V < 50 watts
120V < 100 watts
Maximum Capacity: Components plugged directly into unit – 2000 watts
Indicator Light: Green Neon top mount - No user serviceable parts inside
Rack Mountable: No
Price: $2,995 (black finish). Check with factory regarding
optional RGPC HighTensionWire AC cable.


MANUFACTURER
Richard Gray Power Company
2717 Prytania Street, Suite 6
New Orleans, LA 70130
U.S.A.
Tel: (800) 880-3473 or (504) 897-6688
Fax: (504) 891-0102
Web Site: www.richardgrayspowercompany.com
E-Mail: Info@audiolineresource.com