The Noisy Audiophile
Doug Blackburn

August 1997

Power Conditioners - Cords - Tuning
"clean line" Power Line Conditioners by VansEvers

This month I just may be unloading something on you that you have never read anywhere else. Apparently the information has been bouncing around in a few peoples’ heads for a year or more, but I do not recall ever seeing mention of it in a printed high-end magazine or in a web-zine. So stay with me in case I run into too much detail on something. I assure you, the benefit to the sound of your system will be worth the work/effort on your part! Even though this is a review of a specific power line conditioner (PLC), there will be information here to make you even happier with your existing PLC. If you’re into Home Theater, hang in there till the end for some important info about improving your Home Theater experience.

PLCs to the Right of Me, PLCs to the Left of Me… at Hi-Fi ’97

I met Mike VansEvers at Hi-Fi ’97 in San Francisco. We had a long hallway conversation about power line conditioning and some of the problems it fixes that you never see mentioned by people who don’t really understand how loads interact with the AC power supplied to the wall outlet. Mike made some well thought out points about line conditioning and showed me some of his PLCs. Nothing revolutionary in appearance going on with these. The low rectangular boxes have power switches and power lamp on the front and multiple duplex AC outlets on the back.

Standard Series PLCs, (center in photo) $549-$1399, includes Standard Series power cord, ($99.95 retail when purchased separately), 10 year warranty.

Reference Series PLCs, (bottom in photo) $775-$1699, includes Standard Series power cord, 15 year warranty, cryogenically treated AC outlets for improved contact gripping power over time, improved filtering and tuning appropriate to higher-end systems.

"clean line jr." Model 11 Series - (top in photo) $229 analog, $299 digital, $369 video, single electrical outlet, non-detachable Standard Series power cord, 10 year warranty

"clean line jr." Model 12 series - $249 analog, $349 digital, IEC AC socket, cryogenically treated AC outlet, 10 year warranty, improved filtering, no power cord is included

Standard and Reference series PLCs have multiple pairs of outlets marked "analog", "digital" and "amplifier". Home theater models have "digital/video" outlets and fewer "analog" outlets. Two of the digital/video outlets in the Home Theater models are unswitched so you can plug in a VCR and keep the clock/memory powered even if the PLC is turned off. One suggestion in the "clean line" brochure shows a single outlet "clean line jr. Analog" plugged in to the wall outlet with "other power conditioner" plugged in to the "clean line jr.". This indicates that multiple levels of power conditioning could offer benefits unavailable from single manufacturer/model PLCs. I hope to investigate this in the future.

Mike VansEvers (MVE) came to the audiophile world as a party line "pro-audio guy" who was stunned by a listening experience in a high-end shop in the mid-70s. He immediately realized that audiophile brands were delivering performance that was unavailable from pro-audio brands of that time. MVE’s next revelation was at the end of the ‘70s and beginning of the ‘80s when wire manufacturers like Monster and Vampire emerged. Changing things like wires and setup DID make a difference contrary to the pro-audio view that these things were irrelevant. This revelation plunged MVE deep into what was then the mystery world of system tuning. In the early ‘90s, MVE became more interested in how the material feet were made out of affected the sound of components. He did a lot of listening to different kinds of wood as component feet and found each wood had a sonic signature. Concurrently he began investigating power and PLC devices. As a result of years of trying to get a handle on the subject of system tuning looking for "the best thing", MVE has come to the realization that there is no "best" equipment foot , no "best" power cord, and no "best" PLC. So he does not even bother to promote his PLCs and power cords as "best". He says "Here, listen to these. They sound a certain way because I like they way they sound. You might prefer something else." Rather a different approach from the usual grabbing for the top spot on the heap.

Getting a handle on what PLCs are doing that makes them so audible in audio systems has consumed a lot of MVE’s time in recent years. He found that one of the under-appreciated and under-reported factors is current. Amplifiers need power to operate. Power is volts x amps (current). We hear a lot about voltage and equipment performance but not much about current and equipment performance. Components do not make steady demands on current. Equipment uses current in pulses that are measurable. This happens because current is drawn by components only when the voltage of the AC power is higher than the voltage in the component’s power supply filter capacitors. {This is an intentionally simplified statement, tube amps can have 200+ volt power supplies and they still draw current even though line voltage peaks are under 180V. But most power supplies are 75 volts or less.} Source components with relatively low voltage power supplies (usually 25 volts or less) will tend to have broader current pulses with lower peaks. Larger components with higher voltage power supplies, like amplifiers, will have current pulses that are shorter in duration, and higher in magnitude (amps). This is because amplifiers have to get all their power during the small portion of the AC waveform that is higher in voltage than the power supply in the amplifier. The current pulses vary in frequency and peak depending on the frequencies and volume level of the music being played. These current demands may well be the reason that it is not too unusual for mid-priced PLCs ($300 - $600) to sound like they are limiting amplifier performance instead of making them sound better. Mike VansEvers is designing his PLCs to cope with those short duration, high current demands from audio components.

In designing his PLCs, MVE has 2 primary goals: 1) clean the power – here he believes he is doing at least as good or better job than competitively priced PLCs; 2) change the tonality of the system – MVE is heavily into how much a system can be changed by tuning the power. The cords and the PLC respond to tuning to an extraordinary degree and he uses this to achieve uniform resonances. MVE takes a lot of time tuning each PLC and power cord to get a uniform ‘spread’ of resonances since uniform resonance distribution sounds better than uneven and peaky resonances or the absence of all resonances. MVE believes this is true because power (voltage times current) moves through conductors more easily at resonant frequencies than at non-resonant frequencies. Therefore, spreading out resonances so that their are no peaks gives the PLC a sound that is better balanced. If you think this is a crackpot idea, think again. Some wire manufacturers and component manufacturers are working very hard at measuring and equalizing signal propagation through wires and through audio circuits to insure that all audio frequencies travel at the same speed. They find significant propagation speed differences at different frequencies which can be tuned out by changing values of electronic components and through changes to circuit board traces, wire length, wire type, etc.

The system's sound quality does change in response to mechanical resonances in power cords and PLCs. This is possibly the explanation we have been looking for when disbelievers want an explanation for why the last 6 feet of wire before a component could possibly change the sound of the component after the electricity traveled 10s or hundreds of miles from the generating plant, through substations, etc. The last 6 feet of wire can change the sound because it has different resonant properties which either improve or further mess up the sound of a system by affecting how the current pulses arrive at the component.

If you are still skeptical it may be because of this emerging ‘audio truth’: AC power is so important because it becomes the audio signal. AC is not just used to run a component. The audio signal that exits from every component used to be AC from your wall. Anything that gets into the audio circuit from the AC power will be audible in the audio signal that is output from the circuit. The audio signal coming out of a CD player used to be AC in your house wiring. That signal goes to a preamp. The preamp uses that CD player signal to create a brand new signal using the input from the CD player as a scale model for the new larger signal leaving the preamp. The original signal from the CD player disappears inside the preamp. What exits the preamp is a brand new signal that used to be AC in the wiring of your house. Same goes for amplifiers. None of them actually make the input signal larger. They all use AC power from the wall, turn it into DC then modulate the DC with the relatively tiny input signal. So the preamp’s output more or less disappears inside the amp. What comes out of the amp is a brand new signal with a lot more power in it. The signal from the preamp was used as the model for the new bigger signal. Is it becoming clear why AC power quality and quantity is one of the most important factors in achieving good high-end system performance?

Putting the VansEvers PLCs to Work

"The Unlimiter" is built specifically for power amplifiers, which is a good thing. Amps really stress PLCs’ abilities to keep up with current demands. By focusing a specific PLC on power amplifiers, VansEvers can concentrate on the performance characteristics that are necessary to prevent amps from losing dynamics and becoming boring when plugged into a PLC. The strategy includes very large conductors with soldered connections throughout "The Unlimiter". The back of "The Unlimiter" contains 4 AC outlets for amplifiers. "The Unlimiter" can deliver a full 15 amps of current, enough to supply an amp or amps that draw a maximum of 1650 watts at 110v AC or up to 1800 watts of 120v AC. The 70 watt Clayton monoblock amps draw 200 watts each because of their class A operation – a total of 400 watts for the pair. Nowhere near stressing "The Unlimiter". In fact, you could power typical right, left, center and a pair of subwoofer amplifiers from a single "Unlimiter". Not if they were 300+ watt super amps driving low efficiency speakers like Sound Labs, however. For that you might need multiple "Unlimiters" because even "Unlimiters" have their limits.

The "Model 85" has pairs of outlets dedicated to specific devices. Four outlets are indicated for digital/video. Two of these are unswitched high power outlets and 2 are switched lower power outlets. There are 2 outlets for analog and 2 for amplifiers. This layout goes a long way towards meeting the needs of many audiophiles, especially those combining their stereo with home theater. If you don’t need so many digital/video outlets, VansEvers obliges with the "Model 83" with 4 analog, 2 digital/video and 2 amplifier outlets. My equipment placement has so far not permitted me to test the "amplifier" outlets of the "Model 85" and compare their performance to the performance of "The Unlimiter".

All VansEvers "jr.", Standard and Reference PLCs except the "jr. Video" have 1 (jr. and Standard) or 2 (Reference) "Transient Impedance Switch(es)". These grew out of VansEvers' research into current transients. The switches are labeled "1-2" or "3-4". When you move the switch to the higher number "a subtle but significant increase in the ‘speed’ of musical transients will occur." I heard it myself. The switches indeed do what is claimed for them. The switches are there because different systems may or may not sound good with the boost in transient speed. With the VansEvers PLCs, you have this tuning choice which I do not recall seeing on any other PLC. The effect is most noticeable on mids and highs. I find the "lo" positions to be a little energy deficient in my system. The "hi" positions provide a better balance between the mids/highs and the rest of the sound. This preference was the same for "The Unlimiter", "Model 85" and the analog "jr." in my system.

The "clean line jr." PLC series of single-outlet conditioners should not be thought of as lesser performers. These lower cost PLCs have similar or better filtering and performance characteristics than the larger multi-outlet models. In addition, the "jr." Series can deliver the entire 15 amps to the single outlet. So they are effective PLCs for a variety of equipment. They can also be a step-by-step way to PLC an entire system.

Those seeking the ultimate in power conditioning might just find a selection of Analog and Digital Model 12s to sound better than one of the multi-outlet PLCs. You will have the additional tweak opportunity to try different brands/models of power cord with each component to further fine tune the sound of your system. Single component PLCs could actually be the ‘luxury liner’ as far as PLCs go.

VansEvers sells what they call "The Companion" which looks like your average $10 multi-outlet power strip. "The Companion" lists for $29.95 and has the VansEvers seal of approval for "this is one that actually does not screw up the sound of your components." Besides the pain involved in the selection process – I couldn’t bear listening to power strips trying to find a good one! – MVE opens the power strip and does some discrete internal mechanical damping to even out resonances, adds an RFI removal capacitor and does an internal wire change. The goal of these mods is to achieve decent performance from an inexpensive multi-outlet strip. If you are using a typical power strip in your system, my advice is GET RID OF IT NOW! They degrade system sound to a very significant degree, very possibly because they are so bad at delivering current pulses of sufficiently high amperage to your components. In the near future I’ll report on "The Companion" in more detail. For now I’ll tell you what MVE says about "The Companion": "The Companion is very smooth sounding. Some people won’t like it if they are searching for the ultimate in AC performance. We really made The Companion for the guy who just hasn’t got the budget for a ‘real’ PLC but he needs SOMETHING to get more outlets. The Companion will sound better than anything else he can touch for anything remotely close to this price."

I am just beginning to experiment with other manufacturers’ power cords with VansEvers PLCs. I can report that changing the PLC power cord is as big a change as changing the cord to a component. Right now I prefer the API Power Link (the API Power Link power cords start at $159 for a 6 foot length - full review of the API Power Link 313 appears in The Archives) with "The Unlimiter" and "Model 85" over the supplied VansEvers Standard Series power cord. In my system, the API Power Link gives a more complete harmonic structure, the decay of sounds goes on and on, and the space/air in the recording is more real. I know, I know… it is hard to believe a power cord does this. I’m still in denial, but I have to face the facts of what I’m hearing.

Now how should I say this… just because I said I like the API Power Link used with the VansEvers PLCs does not mean that this will be the right power cord for you. Power cords are completely system dependent. You really must try a variety and settle on the one that works best in your system. The VansEvers Standard Series power cords worked fine though. Sound quality was nothing anyone would complain about. One interesting experiment was possible with a special version of the VansEvers Standard power cord... this one has only a 2-prong AC plug with a separate ground wire that you attached to the electrical outlet ground using the screw in the center of the outlet. This permits retaining a ground for your component while letting you reverse the plug in the wall to reverse AC polarity. When I did this with the Clayton monoblock amps, the difference was quite obvious... one polarity sounded far superior to the other. This isn't something you can duplicate with cheater plugs which sound bad anyway. These reversible power cords are quite interesting to own and experiment with. The "standard" Standard Series power cords come with normal 3 prong AC plugs, so if you want the reversible version, be sure to ask for it specifically.

Listening Up… the Game is Afoot

After my initial (mixed) impression of the VansEvers PLCs, I let them break-in by leaving them "on" with components plugged in which were also "on". After a week, I had another listen. As Jerry Lewis would say "Hellllloooooo laaaayyyyyydeeee." Do not ever let anyone tell you that PLCs do not need a break-in! The most confounding thing about this break-in deal is that if you borrow a PLC from a dealer, when you insert it in your system, it needs to be broken in again! Your power will not be the same at the power at the dealer’s location! After break-in, sound quality goes up across the board. I heard NO problems at all with the "Model 85" powering the source components. In fact, the "Model 85" was doing some excellent things for the sound of the system. "The Unlimiter" on the amps still had a loss of "chest" on baritone vocals and an emphasis of the frequency range just below that. This made for a "yeah – but" problem with "The Unlimiter". The mids and highs were definitely better, but the bottom was not boogying.

A couple of nights later MVE called to see how things were going. I told him about the amp-related problem with "The Unlimiter" and my difficulty in being completely happy with "The Unlimiter". After a couple of questions, Mike learned that I had set "The Unlimiter" on its faceplate so that the outlets were on the top and easy to access. "The Unlimiter" was sitting on the carpet. The literature that came with the PLCs indicated that any surface of the PLC could be used as the ‘bottom’ if it was more convenient. Mike pointed out that his PLCs are intentionally tuned to sound a certain way and placing the faceplate on the carpet would degrade the sound quality of the PLC significantly. He requested that I get the PLC off the carpet and use some kind of feet between the PLC and the shelf or board I was going to set it on. And so I did. Which led to some of the most interesting tweaking I have ever done on my system. This PLC/power tuning is one of the keys to getting the best sound out of your system. Whether you use a VansEvers PLC or someone else’s, tuning the PLC is at least as important as having a PLC. If you are already happy with the addition of a PLC to your system, wait till you hear how much more the sound improves when you tune the PLC correctly. Tuning will not overcome design oversights like inability to deliver large current peaks, so some other PLCs may continue to have less than ideal sonic characteristics, but even with limitations, tuning the PLC should be a most interesting process for you.

Credit Where Due #1

I recently re-cabled with Nordost SPM Reference, a rather expensive cable and Nordost’s current top of the line. I am the last person to tell anyone that they need to spend $5,000 to $10,000 to re-cable their system. But I have to tell you, these SPM cables can be freaking good. I have already encountered one amplifier-speaker combination that was less than ideal sounding with SPM Reference. Apparently this combination did not appreciate the 90 ohms of impedance in the Nordost SPM Reference speaker cable or perhaps did not appreciate the 110 ohms of impedance of the interconnect. I’ll have a full review on-line as soon as I can get it written. When these cables are used with the right associated equipment, the improvement over other cables, even other expensive cables is enough to make you wonder just how much farther cable performance could possibly go. I believe that I need to mention the Nordost SPM cable now because it made the job of sorting out the best sounding PLC tweaks a piece of cake. Everything I did to the PLC was quite clearly audible and unambiguous.

Credit Where Due #2 & #3

The excellent Clayton M-70 class A monoblock amplifiers (see full SoundStage! review by Marc Mickelson and my Follow-Up Review in the Archives) have a suave sound, revealing resolution and musical mood that proved invaluable in making all the small differences audible during the tuning of the PLCs. Good as these amps are, they are better with the VansEvers PLCs.

The Belles 150A (full review in the Archives), an amplifier bargain if ever there was one, pointed out just how important PLCs, PLC tuning, and cable selection is to getting the most out of every component, even $1,195 amplifiers. The 150A’s sound was improved to a significant extent with PLCs. Even though a good PLC is a much higher percent of the 150A’s retail price, a PLC should be used with the 150A whenever possible – you will never want to listen to it without a PLC once you hear it with a PLC.

Within 20 minutes of listening to the broken-in and tweaked VansEvers PLCs I was a quivering mass of audiophile goo. "The Unlimiter" plugged into a 30 amp dedicated AC outlet and the "Model 85" plugged into a 20 amp dedicated AC outlet sounded far better than no PLCs and all the equipment plugged directly into all six dedicated AC power lines in the equipment closet. The contest was not even close. The equipment on the VansEvers "clean line" just sounded cleaner, clearer, airier, and less veiled. And as Mike VansEvers predicted, there was an improvement in tonality. The harmonics of various instruments were easier to hear. The sounds had more musical content in them, something like great tube equipment does but cleaner and clearer than tubes. None of these things were obviously sub-par prior to adding the PLCs. The system sounded really good. I wasn’t expecting anything to improve. After all... the listening room has 6 dedicated high current AC lines. I was Way Wrong. Using PLCs on just 1 or 2 AC power lines instantly obsoletes four custom installed dedicated lines.

But what do they sound like?

Listening to music with the tweaked PLCs produced another of those "can’t get enough" experiences. Tuning "The Unlimiter" removed the objectionable lost chest/boomy bass and actually improved other areas of performance very significantly. The changes brought about by tuning the PLCs were at least as large as changing preamps or changing amps. Getting more specific, with the properly tuned "clean line" PLCs in the system there is a quieter background. The overall sound quality is best described as "more pristine". There is an ease to the sound, as if an unpleasant gray background noise has been removed. The performance is immediately recognizable as less like a reproduction and more like a real performance. The entire soundstage acquires more precision. The system wasn’t bad before. I never caught myself thinking "I wish I could have more pristine sound and a quieter background." It is yet another case of not knowing what you were missing till you heard the improved version.

PLCs are just as sensitive to setup as any other component. This is the information you should get excited about. If you have a PLC in your system, there is much better sound quality waiting to be unlocked. If your PLC is just sitting there on the carpet or just sitting on a shelf, you can do a lot better. MVE had explained in advance what I was going to hear as I experimented. He was not too far off. System to system variations cannot be perfectly predicted. Hearing him predict results like that only reinforced my feeling that MVE knows plenty about his PLCs and that they are indeed the way they are not by accident, but by having spent lots of time experimenting 10s or hundreds of tuning variables.

A Challenge to SoundStage! Readers…

If you have a PLC, experiment with different ways of supporting it and send me email if you hear big changes in your system too. Interesting feedback from readers will get into a future installment of The Noisy Audiophile. Some of the things you guys try in your systems could help other people make their systems sound better too. Even before this review has appeared on SoundStage! I have gotten an EMAIL from SoundStage! reader Hansen in the Philippines. Hansen just happened to be sitting in front of his system listening happily to music when he thought "Gee, all the other components sounded better when I started experimenting with isolation and damping, I wonder what would happen if I do it to the Chang Lightspeed PLC?" So Hansen experimented with sand bags and spikes and weights finding all of them substantially changed the sound of his system, just by applying them to the Chang Lightspeed PLC. He says the spikes that shipped with the Chang PLC are working best so far. He had never bothered to use them before last week, mentally blowing off the need for spikes on a PLC. He's also using a sand bag. But he's not done experimenting yet. He's going to try inner tubes and other combinations to find the best combination. So there's a completely unsolicited input from a SoundStage! reader who stumbled onto the same realization without having to read this article first! The rest of you get busy and let us know what you find out. To give you an idea about some things you might want to try, here is what I did during the tuning process on "The Unlimiter" and "Model 85".

I Been Searchin’

Before all these tests started, the "The Unlimiter" was sitting on the carpet. The first step was to place "The Unlimiter" on an mdf board that was placed on the carpet. There was a huge difference, really... no exaggeration. I can’t say I liked the sound any better, it was big, blowzy and uncontrolled sounding. But the sound was so different from the same PLC sitting on the carpet that it's hard to believe the 2 different sounds could come from the same PLC. Next I tried a series of feet under the PLC and on top of the mdf board:

AudioPoints - brass cones from Michael Green Designs, 3 used under the PLC, the sound was dynamic but a bit too energetic in the upper mids, maybe a little bass-shy too, but this was only round 1

Whatchamacallits - made and sold by Andy Bartha, made from small lead shot and silicone glass sealer, 3 used under the PLC, very different sounding compared to AudioPoints, big bass, recessed mids, highs not energetic enough

A sand bag – used under the PLC, on top of the mdf board; clear, clean, but a little too much missing on the top end

Navcom feet - unused for a long time because they were far surpassed by other devices when used under CD players, preamps and the like. I used 3 under the PLC. Here, the Navcom feet were pretty darn good sounding, balanced, open, nice top end which could use a bit more energy but not too much more

Then other ‘items’ were added to the tuning repertoire:

Inner tube under the mdf board (size 4.00/4.80x8, about $7) – with this setup I repeated the tests with all the above feet. Overall sound improved significantly for each different foot. But from foot to foot, my preferences stayed about the same. AudioPoints improved a bit more than the others drawing up to tie the Navcom feet for best sounding feet in round 2.

Sand bag on top of the PLC with each of the different feet and the inner tube still under the mdf board – I tried all the feet above one more time. The only change was to add the sand bag. Sometimes this works, but not with this PLC apparently. Clean clear sound, but deadened overall.

Mdf board under the inner tube on top of the carpet, leaving the inner tube sandwiched between 2 mdf boards – made a significant improvement, caused me to have to re-listen to every foot and damping device again - which was round 4. Nobody said this would be easy!

Small Whatchamacallit feet under the bottom mdf board to keep it up off the carpet – a worthwhile improvement over having the board sitting on the carpet. Of course this led to round 5 of listening to different kinds of feet. At this point the AudioPoints and Navcom feet were duking it out and the others were falling way behind.

Small inner tube (12.5 inches x 2.25 inches) replacing the larger inner tube (smaller inner tubes seem to sound better than larger inner tubes when the load is not too heavy) - had to try all the feet combinations again when I changed the inner tube! This turned out to be the best sounding configuration. Differences between the Navcom feet and AudioPoints were getting increasingly subtle - which was very strange considering how different they are.

The grand prize wiener (hot dog!) in this 6-round tune-off:

The Unlimiter on top
AudioPoints under the PLC, but they had to be under the 4 factory installed rubber feet to sound best. Whenever they touch the chassis of the PLC there was an immediate coloration to the music that was not natural.
mdf board on top of the inner tube
inner tube, size 12.5" x 2.25", smaller inner tube worked better here than the larger 4.00/4.80x8, but the larger inner tubes work better with heavy loads on them
mdf board under the inner tube to let the inner tube work better than it can when damped by the carpet
small Whatchamacallits on the carpet to raise the bottom mdf board off the carpet helping to isolate the inner tube


All Boards Are Not Created Equal

Hint on selecting mdf boards... see if you can find pre-finished white or black laminate shelves for a nicer look than unfinished mdf. Often these finished shelves sound better too. The more musical the mdf board is when you rap you knuckle on it, the better it will sound. There can be a big difference in sound quality between mdf that thunks when rapped versus mdf that has a somewhat musical tone to the rap. Rap across the mdf board from corner to center and evaluate the tone at a number of places along that line to determine how 'nice' that particular board/shelf sounds. You'll know what I mean when you hear 2 different boards/shelves one after the other. If you have 1 good sounding board and 1 bad sounding one, put the better sounding one on top of the inner tube and the worse sounding one under the inner tube.

I'm guessing that some of the good commercial products can/will improve on this low cost isolation & support system for "The Unlimiter" but you have to start somewhere to see what direction you should be going in.

I’m now officially making PLCs required components for every high-end system. Yes, I am the person who gets to make this official! I used to think PLCs were for people who lived in Manhattan or Jersey or Long Island where the power really sucks. I figured the power in my distant-suburb location far removed from any 'metroplex' and having a low population density would be little improved, even by the best PLCs. If you were thinking the same thing… forget about it. You need PLCs. If you have a PLC(s) already, get to the important work of tuning it (them) for best sound. "My preamp sounds a bit veiled and not pretty enough. Which tube preamp should I buy to replace it?" None! Buy a PLC and marvel at just how good the preamp really sounds. Then tune the PLC to really blow your mind.

Everything about tuning PLCs applies equally to power cords. Mike VansEvers has made some devices that clip on to power cords. Depending on where you clip the device on to the power cord, you get a different sound quality from the system. Depending on the material these clip-on devices are made from and how many there are, you get a different sound from the system. I haven’t tried these yet, perhaps in the not too distant future. What this means is that you can tune your power cord to tune the sound of your system. Skeptical? So was I till I realized MVE’s detailed attention to tuning his PLCs and power cords is a result of one of ‘mainstream high-end’s’ least recognized Basic Truths of Good Sound.

MVE is not the only person with this power cord idea, but he just may be the only one with the right explanation. Mechanical tuning of the power cord changes what you hear. Just about every other product I can think of that is supposed to have some positive effect on the power cord has what we now realize is probably an incorrect explanation for the improvement. Whether the explanations are intentionally misleading or innocent attempts to explain why something that shouldn’t change the sound of your system does… who can say? There are ‘silk purses’ to wrap around the power cord which are supposedly filled with magic dust that is responsible for the improvement in sound. There are clamp-on magic blocks for power cords. There are any number of ferrite and ferrite-like devices to clamp on your power cord. There are spirals of ‘special’ wire you wrap around the outside of the power cord. Interestingly all of them sound different when you move them up and down the power cord. Now we just may know why these things all change the sound of the system. These things are just mechanically tuning the power cords, not working any kind of alchemical or electromagnetic or RFI magic.

You can do some no/low cost experimenting on your own power cords with spring loaded clothespins. Wood and plastic clothespins should sound different because of the different resonant properties of wood and plastic – plastic will probably not sound as good, it rarely sounds as good as woods and metals. Some cheap spring-loaded glue-up clamps or some threaded metal or wooden clamps used for wood working could also be interesting. You can clamp-on different materials (woods, maybe brass, maybe ferrite, be creative) against the power cord to find out how much the system sound can be changed by tuning the power cords. Don’t forget to move the clamps or clamped materials up and down the power cord to hear how the sound changes. Try partly filled sand bags too, fold the bag over the power cord so it is wrapped around the cord. I'm not saying these will be your ultimate power cord tuning devices, they might even suck, but they are cheap. They will show you just how much non-magical devices can change the sound by mechanically tuning the power cord. Once you have a handle on just how big this is you can decide where to go with it.

If you choose not to do this tuning stuff the rest of us who do get into it are going to leave you in our dust. <attempt to infuse insecurity about falling behind the performance curve!> Mechanical tuning, damping and isolation are the ‘next big thing’ in high-end audio. Sure we have had some of these products around for 10 years or more, but people haven’t been taking them seriously enough. Guys like Michael Green and Mike VansEvers who are really studying materials, resonance and mechanical tuning are going to have a major advantage over others who are ignoring the inevitable. You too need to understand just how significant a factor tuning is to the overall system sound.

From One Extreme…

Tuning can change almost anything about the sound quality of your system. You can produce so much bass that the midrange and highs get badly clouded and fuzzy sounding. You can stifle the top end so that cymbals sound dead with little decay. You can make the midrange recessed or forward. You can restrain dynamics or make them nice and naturally punchy. You can have a lush romantic sound or a leaner tighter presentation. You can have the right amount of bass but have it anywhere from loose like an old tube amp to tight and punchy like a good solid state amp. You can emphasize or de-emphasize the pluck or strum of strings. You can experience very long decay times with very rich harmonics or reduce the harmonics and decay. All this from changing the isolation, damping and tuning applied to the PLC. It is very disorienting to experience this for the first time.

Think of the fun you can have with this. When an audiophile buddy comes over and says "Your solid state rig just doesn’t have the liquidity and ease that my cool tube system has." Change the feet, take off the sandbags, retune the power cords and SHAZAAM, you have a tubey sounding solid state rig! <not exactly tube-sounding, but pretty darn similar> This is too much to take.

I have to give credit to Mike VansEvers for knowing about how big a difference tuning the PLC (and power cords) was going to make. He has paid a lot of attention to tuning details and sweats over every detail to get his PLCs to sound the way they do. In looking over the PLCs, I now notice little details of construction and assembly that are obviously not accidental. What appears to be a simple black box with a power switch and some outlets on it is actually built with the same kind of attention to detail that a violin maker applies to his instruments. And that is not a far-fetched analogy. The components in your system are far more like musical instruments than you, the manufacturer, and most people involved in high-end audio realize. Change the type of paint on the component or PLC and you change the sound of the component – just like instrument making. Change the tightness of panels or joints and change the sound of the component or instrument. Throw a sandbag on it and change the sound – these responses to tuning apply to the music producer and reproducer.

Home Theater and PLCs?

So you’re really a Home Theater guy and you just read SoundStage! to try to get ideas for improving your Home Theater setup? You think PLCs don’t apply to you so much, maybe? HA! Have YOU got a lot to learn! You want to freak yourself out? Get a VansEvers Model 85 and connect your laserdisc player, TV monitor and receiver/amps/decoder to the PLC and have a look and listen. The picture quality on the monitor improves quite noticeably. The picture gets more vivid with clearer colors and more distinct separation between adjacent colors. Text is better. You see colors you never saw before on your monitor. You see more shades of colors than you ever saw before. Whites are cleaner and blacks don’t lose detail quite as quickly. This is a definite step up in home theater experience. Furthermore, the improvements are there for cable TV, satellite dish TV, VCRs and any other source you want to use. Sound quality picks up several notches when you connect the laserdisc player, surround decoder and amps to the PLC. You get more transparency with much better clarity of subtle details. Space and echo in soundtracks become more eerily real. So, yes, it is most definitely worth your time and effort to get your Theater on PLCs. VansEvers even sells a special Model 11 Video for projectors and large monitors. Use digital/video outlets in other VansEvers PLCs for surround decoders, laser disc players, and VCRs. Use "amplifier" outlets for your amps. Tune the PLCs then get ready to experience a system-wide upgrade in image and sound quality.

More On Home Theater

There’s another Home Theater tweak you can do that is unrelated to PLCs, but it doesn’t really demand a complete article on its own. The cable you use between the monitor and laserdisc player (or any high quality video source, digital dish, DVD, S-VHS, etc) affects the image on the monitor to a very significant degree. $50 video interconnects from XLO blow away quad-shield coax with RCAs. $75 digital cable from DH Labs is better yet and best so far is the $269 Cardas Lightening. The Lightening digital/video cable provides a stunning improvement in image quality – on par with adding a PLC. Having a PLC and a great video cable doubles the improvement.


Don’t forget your PLC tuning homework assignment! I'll be waiting for the results to come in.

...Doug Blackburn

The VansEvers Co., Inc.

Model: The Unlimiter (for amps, 4 outlets)
Price: $549 USD

Model: 85 (analog, digital/video and amplifier outlets)
Price: $639 USD

Model: 11 Analog (single outlet for analog components)
Price: $229 USD

Model: 11 Video (single outlet for video projector, rear
projection TVor large direct view monitor)
Price: $369 USD

Model:Standard Series Power Cord
Price: $99.95 USD / 6 feet

The VansEvers Co., Inc.
1250 East Hillsboro Ave.
Tampa, FL 33604
Phone: 813-239-0700
Fax: 813-239-0850