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Positive Feedback ISSUE 8
as reviewed by Dave Clark and Robert H. Levi
The Power Wing is another entry into the growing field of AC filtration devices that audiophile nutcases can pick from to cleanse the nasties that populate the AC feeding our equipment. To quote Alan Kafton, the man behind the Power Wing, "The Power Wing is a ground-up, true form-following-function design, utilizing an 18-gauge, non-magnetic stainless steel chassis with a curved bottom, a 14-gauge non-magnetic stainless top plate to which the outlets are affixed, and CNC-fabricated Corian end caps. The chassis shape was determined after the internal circuitry was optimized, creating distance from (and reduced interaction with) the nominal electrical field created around the circuitry. The radii and sloped sides were chosen to minimize and disperse mechanical vibration. There are no abrupt ends, corners, or walls to reflect vibration. Inherent with the concept of vibration control and dissipation is the use of dissimilar materials, which have differing resonant frequencies. Application-specific vibration dampening materials line the walls and flanges of the stainless steel chassisagain, dissimilar materials. The non-magnetic stainless steel chassis acts as a Faraday shield, very effective in reducing RFI/EMI."
He continues, "The duplexes are laid out end-to-end, to facilitate better separation of equipment power cables. As there is a 6-or-8-inch halo,' or electrical field, surrounding a power cable, the design offers the benefit of distancing the power cables from each other, thereby reducing field effect. Additionally, the IEC inlet was placed away from the duplexes, so that the cable powering the unit is diverted in a wholly different direction, away from the cables that originate from the audio/video equipment." Also, "The circuitrya very low impedance, non-current-limiting designis completely hand fabricated, taking advantage of traditional transmission line theory and field effect theory. This design reduces and controls the EMF (and interaction) of the buss bars and solid-core conductors, as they are spaced in a very particular way. Further, the circuit design and parts choices were optimized by PSpice computer modeling. For instance, certain components in the filtering circuits were located in specific places to further reduce frequency-specific electrical resonance. Each duplex receptacle (three of them, for a total of six outlets) is electrically isolated and filtered from the other. The noise-canceling design covers an extremely wide bandwidth of more than 1 gigahertz."
The Power Wing is hand-built in two primary versions: 1) the standard unit, with a choice of either Hubbell HBL5362 receptacles [heavy-duty, spec-grade, with high-copper content brass contacts], or HBL8300 receptacles [hospital grade/bright nickel-plated, high-copper content brass contacts]... and 2) an extended performance version, or 'XP', offering the added feature of electrical isolation and filtering for *each* individual outlet. The XP version is offered at $2500. Customers can choose either receptacle type in both versions at no additional cost.
I currently use one Audio Magic Stealth line conditioner for all of my analog equipment except my Blue Circle BC 3000 preamp (which features its own AC filtration in a separate power supply, and thus sounds fine going directly into a 15-amp dedicated circuit). I use another Stealth with extra filtration for my digital sources. The Stealths are fed AC from a dedicated 15-amp circuit using Jena Labs cryo'ed Hubbell sockets via JPS Kaptovator AC cables. The Stealths have also been double cryo'ed as part of their construction. My Clayton M100 amplifiers enjoy their own 20-amp dedicated circuit (also using Jena Labs sockets), as well as a BC86 Noise Hound to filter any noise in the line. I should also add that I am using ERS paper here and there (around IECs and at the circuit breaker box) along with a smattering of Quite Lines (see side bar for more).
I had two of the standard Power Wing units, one with nickel outlets and one with brass. In both cases, the only component I initially plugged into the Wing was my Cary 306/200 CD player. At first I fed the Wing with my Kaptovator AC cord (i.e., I substituted the Wing for the Stealth, with no other changes), but I also tried the supplied Sahauro AC cord. Kafton does not automatically supply a power cord, as he presumes that the user will want to audition various cords, but he does supply either of two Sahuaro cords as an option: the one normally used as a tail for the Sahauro AC modules, or the new Prethrilla cord. I did the vast majority of my listening to the Wing with the Prethrilla cable, as it was by far the best sounding. Compared to the Prethrilla, the Kaptivator sounded warmer and fuller, while the generic Sahuaro tail had much less warmth and fullness as well as less resolution.
Both Power Wings delivered a highly delineated musical sound field that was lusciously enveloping and involving, but the brass unit had a laid-back perspective while the nickel unit brought the music out into the room, making it considerably more exciting and visceral. The performance of the nickel unit was more consistent with that of my Stealth conditioner. Nevertheless there were differences. The Stealth tends to hold the music closer to the speaker, but with more image clarity and detail. With the Stealth, you might say, "Gee, listen to that guitarit sounds so real and lifelike." The Power Wing gives up a bit of resolution and image specificity, but brings more air and ambience. It also provides greater delineation between and among the instruments. I know that it sounds like a contradiction to say that the unit diminishes image specificity but increases delineation between images, but that's what it does.
Imagine looking at a chess set from the side and just slightly above the plane of the board. While you can see all of the chess pieces, some are hidden to various degrees by other pieces, obscuring a clear image of the whole board. However, if you change your perspective a bit by turning the board and/or looking down from a slightly higher angle, more players emerge from behind the others. You do have not any additional information about the individual piecesyou know that that is the King and can see enough of the Queen behind him to identify herbut the Queen is now more clearly seen. Each chess piece now has more space around it, and the position of each relative to the others is clearer. You have gained more information about their appearance, but not greater resolution.
The Stealth tends to obscure the musical "image" by hiding performers or instruments in the sound field from each other. I can clearly hear them all, but lack the perspective on the sound field that locates the performers within the bigger picture. The Power Wing allows them to stand out more from each other, but at the same time has less image resolution. Different people react to this in different ways. I find that the Power Wing provides a naturalness and liquidity that allows the music to flow and swell in very enjoyable fashion, without a hint of hardness or glare. Nevertheless, it goes a bit overboard, losing a degree of excitement and presence. While the Stealth locks the images into a smaller sound field, it does so with more excitement and clarity. The clarity can come across as a touch harder or etched, but only when compared to the warmer and smoother Wing. Only you can decide which is best for you. I find both to be clear winners in terms of musical enjoyment.
I should add that plugging all of my components into the Power Wing (amps, preamp, etc.) resulted in considerably more image clarity and presence, with WAY fewer tradeoffs.
Let me go into more detail regarding the sonic traits these two units bring to the table. The Stealth is a touch more dynamic, while the Power Wing is more relaxed. The Wing is more tonally even. This is not to imply that the Stealth is all over the tonal map, but it can be a bit more upfront. The nickel version of the Wing narrows this gap quite a bitthe brass unit is considerably more yang to the Stealth's yingbut I like the added incisiveness that the Stealth brings to the table. Bass was pretty much of a tossup. Each conditioner allowed my amps and speakers to go as deep as the music called for, with lots of slam and texture and no overhang or smear. With its greater incisiveness and visceral presence, the Stealth can improve the dynamics and bass of more discs, but this may be more an issue of system compatibility and taste than anything else.
The Power Wing sounds warmer, richer, and more musical, and allows the music to flow better. Is it rounding or smoothing things off a bit? I don't think so. I feel that the Wing is simply cleaning things up in a different way than the Stealth. The Wing addresses AC noise and artifacts, resulting in a less "analytical" sound. Noise can easily be perceived as added detail or presence. I may have grown accustomed to the Stealth's more detailed presentationits treble brightness and clarity, and its midrange texturesand I like what I hear, but is it better or just different? The Power Wing is just as extended in the treble, but has a greater sense of ease, and draws one's attention to the music just the same. Which is right? Only you can decide. You can hardly go wrong with any of these units.
I especially liked the fact that the two Power Wings offer a way to adjust your system's "voice," either warmer and more laid back (brass) or more upfront and visceral (nickel). It is nice to have the option. At $2000 sold directly, the hand made power Wing features the best in terms of design and assembly, and is a must audition. Do so with the Prethrilla AC cord, a real winner unto itself! Dave Clark
All dedicated audiophiles know about corrupted wall current. We have been lectured by the bestthe George Tices, the Ray Kimbers, gurus at magazines and audio salonsabout the AC problems we must live with, listen to, and fix. We have been told:
If we do all, and I mean all, of the above, we MAY get perfect transparency and maximum detail. Our speakers will disappear from the soundstage, depth will be endless, the air will be airier, transistors will sound more tube-like, tube amps will control drivers as well as solid state amps, and the drivers in our speakers will blend to perfection. We will be poorer, but content that we are maximizing our investments in our systems.
Listen up! If you want to accomplish numbers 1 - 4, avoid 5, and get phenomenally close to ALL of the above results at no risk, call Audio Excellence AZ and audition a Power Wing before you play your next CD. No kiddingit may be audio's magic bullet.
I unplugged all of my gear from my Tice Power Blocks and plugged it all into the Wing. Have you ever heard Avalon Eidolons at their best? They become truly realistic. Listener fatigue from my digital sources was drastically lower. Glare vanished. I used to think the glare was a room interface problem guess not. I the tried the Wing in my second system: Paradigm Studio 20 V2s, Dyna Stereo 70 (modified with KT88s by Sam Papadas), Kimber Hero cables, Adcom 155 passive controller, Marantz 600 tuner, and JVC CD player. The results were the samemajor improvements in musical quality and quantity, with all frequencies enhanced. The tuner sounded as if I'd bought a new Magnum Dynalab.
I also tried the Power Wing in Dr. Mark Katz's system. We pulled his Power Wedge 116 Mark II out of his system and went direct to the Wing with his Kora tube monoblocks, which had been plugged into dedicated 20-amp circuits. All gear was plugged into the Power Wing. Voila! His Mezzo Utopia speakers disappeared, imaging and detail firmed and bloomed, and the drivers of the Utopias blended like Maggies. Depth and quietude were enhanced, as was sonic layering. If I didn't know better, I'd have said we replaced his amps. The changes were that big.
Let's talk technical. The Power Wing is the brainchild of Alan Kafton at audioexcellence az in Phoenix. He is also the author of the Cable Cooker. The Wing has taken about two years to develop. Its chassis is stainless steel with Corian corners, and is quite handsome. It has a power switch and six AC inputs in three isolated pairs. It has an AC receptacle for the power cord of your choice. I used the $650 Sahuaro Prethrilla. (Alan is a dealer for Sahuaro, and recommends using their AC cords with the Wing.) The Wing contains the fastest circuit breaker on the planet, from Carlingswitch, backed by a three-stage MOV circuit and a resistor circuit for triple redundancy to protect your gear. It uses all passive capacitors of the highest quality, utilized in a unique circuit not seen in any other design. Parts are placed in an internal "cage" in such a way as to eliminate resonance and EMF, and to create three isolated banks of inputs. It does not limit power in any way whatsoever, as my Pass 600 watt monoblocks can attest. No transformers are used. The circuit and receptacles are cryogenically treated TWICE, built by hand, pre-tested, broken in on the Cable Cooker, and guaranteed for life. Audio Excellence will provide additional information on request, but the proof's in the listening.
The Power Wing comes in two models, which I will refer to as "N" and "B," costing $2000. The "N" has nickel-plated Hubbell hospital-grade outlets, while the "B" has Hubbell heavy-duty, "100% Brass" outlets. Both have three pairs of isolated AC receptacles, and both are available in an XP version, in which all six AC inputs are isolated, and which costs $2500. I tried both the standard "N" and "B" models. Alan allows you to audition both if you like. They don't sound the same, however, so heads up!
The "N" gives front-row sound, with the sound field at the front edge of the loudspeakers. If you own laidback speakers with rolled-off tweeters, or have a system in a small or well-damped room, try the "N" version. Also try it if you use a passive preampit made my Paradigm/Dyna 70/passive preamp system come to life in a small listening room. I didn't prefer it on the Eidolons, however.
The "B" version will probably be the stuff of legend. It will most likely be the version that makes your big-rig system come to life. It imparts a mid-hall sound that is just right! The soundstage began at the back edge of my Eidolon speakers, which disappeared before my ears. This vanishing act isn't easy for a pair of speakers with ceramic tweeters and midrange drivers coupled to eleven-inch woofers. If you have speakers with titanium, aluminum, diamond, horn, ceramic, or any of the other new, exotic tweeters now on the market, this is your version. If you have multiple tweeters, rows of tweeters, etc., this is also your version. My system is very complex, with SACD, CD, LP, tuner, DAT, and Alesis 24/96 sources, a mix of exotic AC cables and three types of Kimber interconnects and speaker cables, both silver and copper, yet it all seemed to come together when plugged into the "B" Wing.
In order to power my system with only six AC outlets, I added extenders from ACE hardware, careful to get power strips without any conditioning and short cords. I heard minimal degradation compared to plugging components directly into the Wing. The signal-to-noise ratio improved over plugging components into the wall, into the Tice, or into the Power Wedge 116. The nine Quiet Lines in my system seemed unnecessary, or were working better than ever. Music emerged from the blackest background I have ever enjoyed. To get the total benefit, every component in the audio path, except other power conditioners, MUST be plugged into the Power Wing. Buy two if you cannot logistically do this. Mixing the "B" and "N" versions in one system just made the components plugged into the "N" version sound bright. If the "B" version maximizes the sound, stick with it if you must own two. I used two "B" units, and it was heavenly.
The biggest refinement came when I plugged my amps the final components connected during testinginto the Power Wing. This created a synergy between my front-end gear and my speakers, letting me clearly hear through the system to the music. I think this is an achievement of real note. As an afterthought, I powered up my recently acquired Stax Lambda Signature Pro Headphones (with 006t tube energizer, $2600). These headphones are ultra-revealing, and the change was NOT subtle. Definition increased on the Lauridsen Lux Aeterna CD (RCM 19705). The sound sweetened, purified if you will, and moved in perspective to just in front of me. It was a bit grainy and distinctly behind my head when plugged into the wall or the Tice. The ping-pong effect I had heard previously was reduced to almost zero, as the image connected in a more realistic manner.
I listened to a ton of CDs, SACDs, DVDs, and LPs (on my new E.A.R. 324 phono stage), as well as my tuner, with the same lovely, musical results. Jazz, classical, and vocal music all improved. Vocals were particularly textured, and amazingly more real in their recorded environ. The Power Wing appears compatible with all components, cables, and source material, at least that I know of after forty years in this hobby. I even inadvertently connected AC cables that were not grounded, and the Wing worked perfectly, though I do not recommend this.
Let me tell you what this device won't do. It won't take a poor-sounding, ten-year-old CD player and push it to state of the art. However, I discovered that good sounding equipment, regardless of vintage, will be maximized, perhaps for the first time. Most older gear had little refinement in their power supplies, and the Wing gives them a chance to shine.
Before you buy any new audio component, you owe it to yourself to audition a Power Wing. This old audiophile dog has been taught a new trick, and I'm buying the review sample. Dave Clark, Editor of Positive Feedback, and Carol, his beautiful audiophile wife, visited to hear the system improvements wrought by the "B" Wing. Dave has heard my system in its various states of setup, and was impressed enough to exclaim that this was the most musical sound I've yet achieved! The Power Wing is a five-star, Class A+, top shelf solution to transforming your years of effort in acquiring quality audio components and speakers into untold satisfaction, at last. Robert H. Levi