Richard Gray's 400s Power Company Line Conditioners
...And Then Some
Commentary
Mike Silverton
19 April 2000

It's odd, how events that relate fall into proximity. ST's publisher, Clement Perry, sent along a pair of Richard Gray's Model 400S Power Company line conditioners for my comment. Within a few hours of their arrival, Perry forwarded an e-mail from reader Bob Wood about my Wilson WATT / Puppy 6 report. Wood, who owns the WATT / Puppy 5.1's, said something in his note that resonates with the subject at hand. "Had I fully understood what I was buying into with the 5.1's, I might not have done so. That said, I have yet to believe I've taxed their virtue. So I tweak away, with some major success."

Rose-colored glasses removed, "I might not have done so" can be read as "Someone! Please! Get me out of this maze!" As a WATT / Puppy enthusiast, I lean toward another interpretation. Surely Wood means that the WATT / Puppies inform in blunt terms about other aspects of one's system and environment, and that the news is not always good. I noticed that about my own 5.1's soon after I acquired them. I too have tweaked away with similar success, which brings us to Richard Gray's remarkable Power Company line conditioners.

There are people out there, intelligent, accredited people, who dismiss external line conditioners as an audiophile pipe dream. (They are likewise contemptuous of designer cables and much else in the way of high-end iconolatry. We all draw the line somewhere; oneself, for example, at hardwood pucks. A subject for another time.) Rather than permitting himself to be buffeted about by opinions, one better spends his time confirming results. The term, I believe, is listening. The pursuit of good, end-user sound is nothing if not a personal thing. One might even call it a mission. Permit me to begin my own story in the confessional.

As a music lover and householder, I most sincerely appreciate the importance of surge suppression. My building was hit by lightning one summer while the beauteous Felicia and I were away on a vacation from which we returned to an assortment blitz-borne oddities, including a fried voicemail machine. The audio gear survived, plugged, as it was, to an Adcom line conditioner and, some few years later, two generations of API Power Wedges. Long since removed from audio duty, the Adcom stands sentry in my study, protecting computer, printer, and phone-voicemail-fax. All this makes sense. But seriously better sound? Time was I aligned with those folks who scoff at the notion that treating one's incoming juice counts among the significant improvements an audiophile can make.

In order of arrival, the line-conditioners which have made the greatest enhancements to my system's sound are a pair of Quantum Symphony freestanding pods and this just-arrived Power Company duo. At the moment, I'm using the Quantums and RGPCs simultaneously. I'll report on the RGPCs alone, Quantums removed, after I've done with the subject from the opposite direction.

Bill Stierhout's Quantum Symphony first. Ante-RGPC, I heard them extracting a film of grime by means still mysterious to me. Apart from the Quantum's own power line, one plugs nothing in; thus freestanding. To parrot observations made elsewhere and often, aural veils, grunge, grime -- they go by an assortment of aliases -- are conspicuous not by their presence, which, owing to their threshold machinations, we fail to remark, but rather by their eviction. Nasties removed, all improves: better sense of soundstage, dynamics, timbre, all those lovely rainbows we audiophiles pursue in quest of gold.

Clem makes the point in his Power Company piece that the Quantum Symphony pods work synergistically with Richard Gray's innovation, but that the latter makes the greater overall difference. I'm curious to see whether I agree. From this preliminary position, I very well might, since the effect that the RGPCs exercise is rather overwhelming in an entirely positive sense. (I live in what is most likely an electrically dirty area, Brooklyn's Park Slope, in all other respects a charming old neighborhood -- tree-lined streets abutting a park judged by many the city's loveliest.... It's possible that the cleaner one's line into the house, the less obvious the benefits of conditioning. We speak of the RGPCs as a pair, which is how Richard Gray suggests their use, in triplicate better yet. That's per application, by the way. Perry, with his discrete audio and video systems, has seven in operation.)

A generality that probably holds water: successful line conditioners are not metaphysical devices, whether or not one understands the principles by which they operate. They do not reconfigure the cosmic gearbox. If a listener as ignorant of electronics as I -- and my ignorance cannot be overstated -- if such a listener hears a marked improvement in his system, something's right, period. In this I resemble that famous American who said that he cannot define pornography but knows it when he sees it. I'm probably correct in suggesting that the devices I'm recommending simply allow one's electronic components to operate at the top of their form. When we speak of superior macro and micro dynamics, greater harmonic complexity, better detailed soundstaging, we merely acknowledge having thwarted those distortions which impede our perception of a good recording. I'm obliged, however, to emphasize good: I've played a few things where I notice little in the way of difference -- recordings which I'd have described in any case as mediocre productions.

I've listened to a ton of CDs in order to arrive at a suitable characterization of what is for me a remarkably effective upgrade. Rather than bludgeon the reader with the usual list of discs surveyed, let's try for brevity. RGPCs in place (in tandem with my Quantums -- that's important), I note a heightened perception of just about everything the audiophile cherishes. I'm especially taken with the extraordinary transparency a good recording reveals. Soundfields are likewise remarkable: large, liquid, coherent. It's not that I'm hearing these delicious qualities for the first time; it's a question of degree. Miniscule gradations stand out in sharper relief. Big sounds explode. One has the sense that a well produced compact disc comes a great deal closer to its potential. In short, nothing's gone south, as has been reported in reviews of line conditioners I've elsewhere read: compression, a sense of lifelessness, etc.

Dan Sweeney reports in issue 122 of The Absolute Sound on a number of these objects, including Quantum and RGPC. He likes what the Power Company does, though not so well as the far costlier Accuphase Clean Power Supply, which he top-rates. Since he does not mention RGPC as a duo, trio or quartet, he may have used only one in his evaluation. I'm guessing. However, Sweeney is not in the least ambiguous in blowing off the Quantum Symphony as a class of device operating "on either undisclosed principles or ... highly speculative physical theories, such as fifth-force physics," whatever that is.

Which brings us to these voodoo pods in partnership with my RGPCs, which is the only way I'd consider using them, now that Toto and I have left Kansas. I've also had my difficulties with the pages accompanying Bill Stierhout's Quantum. But there the similarity to Dan Sweeney's misgivings diverge. Before my pair of Power Companies arrived, the Quantum Symphonies made a difference to my system that I and several guests had little difficulty in detecting. (I was the more skeptical, at least for a while.) In conjunction with the two Power Company boxes, the Quantums work a subtler magic, which brings us back to Clem Perry's opinion. I no longer hear the Quantums further extracting grunge. The RGPCs attend to that chore very nicely indeed. However, Quantums out -- and this is for me of enormous importance -- I'm less aware of the space surrounding instrumentalists and vocalists. Front-to-back perspective suffers similarly, though to a much reduced extent. (Nothing the audiophile detects as an amelioration, however slight, can be measured as less than an astonishment, socks flying everywhichwhere, butts kicked into the next postal zone, ears flapping like hummingbird wings.) I am suggesting in the strongest possible terms that these very dissimilar components interact in a most rewarding fashion. When last I inquired, Stierhout offered an unhappiness refund. I don't see that there's much to lose. (Stierhout now has a Pro model in his line which I'll probably be reporting on soon.)

Meanwhile, $1400 worth of Power Companionship (suggested list $700 each) sounds a sound, if pricey, investment. If someday I spring for a third, I'll let you know whether I hear a difference.

Footnote: I ought to have mentioned that the Quantum Symphony costs $300. The new Quantum Symphony Pro is $600. My two Mark Levinson No. 33H mono amps have their own rather elaborate internal regeneration circuitry. At Perry's suggestion, my front end only (a solitary Mark Levinson No. 39 CD player) hooks into the Power Company duo. I'm sorely tempted to check out a third.

For information about Richard Gray's Power Company: AUDIO LINE SOURCE, 1727 PRYTANIA STREET, NEW ORLEANS, LA, 70130 / PHONE 504 897 6688 / FAX 504 891 0102 / TOLL FREE 800 880 3474 / WWW.AUDIOLINES.COM

For information about Quantum: www.quantumqrt.com / Quantum Products, Inc., 93 Euclid Street, Suite A, Santa Monica, CA 90403 / 800 809 5480