July 2004Audiophile APS PurePower 1050 Power Conditioner
by David Millman
Audiophile APS was started in 2002 by three Canadian audiophiles, all of whom have worked in the global power industry for years. Banding together, they thought they could make a significant contribution to the audio world by identifying and cleaning up problems in the delivery of AC from the wall to thirsty audio components. In this regard, their PurePower 1050 uses double-conversion technology, meaning that it converts AC from the wall to DC, and then back to clean, stable 60Hz, 120V AC for your audio components. This isn't a new idea -- several companies have been producing similar products for quite some time -- but there's always room for another good audio product.
The meat of the performance is provided by the double conversion, which is said to ensure that "no distortions can pass through the DC intermediate circuit. No EMI, no RFI, no spikes, no high voltage transients, no damaging surges." The PurePower 1050 also features a built-in battery-back-up system that allows a continual and consistent power feed even in brownouts or blackouts. Users can purchase PowerPacks for the unit as well, which give even more time to shut down components and may allow you to power certain low-consumption components with battery power. Audiophile APS says, "We like to think the continued operation during brownouts and outages lets people continue their listening, viewing or recording until power returns, rather than just allowing for shutdown. Most outages are short enough for PurePower 1050 owners to not even notice the outage happened." I live in Los Angeles, and radical power problems are uncommon now that California doesn't buy power from Enron (sorry, couldn't resist), and we almost never have lightning or other dangerous and obviously disruptive electrical events. Still, it's nice to know that when listening to my system powered by a PurePower 1050, I will have time to shut down if such glitches occur -- and I may not even notice them.
The information in the PurePower 1050's manual is refreshingly free of hype and questionable claims. In fact, for a company with "Audiophile" in its name, there is specifically little bait for audiophiles. On the flip side, there isn't information about what makes the PurePower 1050's design unique or proprietary either.
At $2495 USD, the PurePower 1050 isn't cheap, but it is hardly unheard of for a top-quality power product to be priced in this neighborhood. In the company FAQ, one question asks how you can tell if your power problems warrant the purchase of a PurePower 1050. The answer is intriguing. According to the company, one simply can't know without fairly sophisticated equipment that costs $10,000 and up. So buying and installing the PurePower 1050, which the company says guarantees perfect power to your components, is substantially cheaper than trying to find out if you need to buy one. I don't know if this is true or not, but what a fantastic sales pitch!
The PurePower 1050 is the highest-rated unit from Audiophile APS in terms of the ability to handle watts drawn from the wall. There are two other units, the PurePower 500 ($1795) and PurePower 700 ($2195). All are named after the respective wattages they can provide.
The Audiophile APS PurePower 1050 arrived to the sounds of my friendly UPS man grunting while hoisting it up the stairs to my office. It's a very solid 50 pounds, plus the box, and it's not especially compact. You have the option of using it horizontally or vertically -- rack-mounted, on a shelf or standing alone. Bright Star Audio IsoNode feet are provided for setting the PurePower 1050 on a shelf.
I did indeed use the '1050 in vertical position, which gives it the appearance of a tall, thin column. The unit is approximately 17"H x 3"W x 19"D and comes in either black or silver finish. The product is rated to "support a sustained 150% draw for 30 seconds and a 110% draw for two minutes." There are also provisions to maintain power in the unlikely event of maintenance. On the back panel there are three dual high-grade outlets (six sockets in all) that are designed to accept any audio product, be it a DAC, preamp, amp or whatever. An IEC receptacle and 14-gauge shielded power cord are included.
The PurePower 1050 passed the very first test I gave it, the "Is the fan annoying enough to ruin my experience?" test. The answer is "No." There is an audible whir, but you have to be within four feet of the unit to hear it, and it never once interfered with the music. If you'll remember, a few months ago, I reviewed the Staco UniStar SX SB1001, which had many positive attributes, but it sported a fan that was clearly audible from 20 feet away with music playing. Mercifully, the PurePower 1050 did not have this same problem.
The big picture
There are many theories about which types of products benefit most from power conditioning and which might be adversely affected. The only way to find out, of course, is to plug them all in, one by one, and see what you get. My system consists of a Pioneer DVD-434 DVD player (with ModWright Level II mods) feeding a Perpetual Technologies P-3A DAC (with ModWright Level II mods), connected to a ModWright tubed preamp and a PS Audio HCA-2 amplifier (again with ModWright mods). All cabling is by Jena Labs, except Mapleshade Clearview speaker cables. I have a PS Audio Extreme Plus power cord on the PS Audio amp, and Acoustic Zen El Niño power cords on the preamp and transport. The DAC is connected to a special Bolder Cable Company power supply that has Bolder cables on both ends. Speakers are Vandersteen Model 1Cs or Dynaudio Contour S1.4s.
I started first with the Perpetual Technologies P-3A DAC. With Michel Camilo's exceptional Triangulo [Telarc CD63549], a phenomenal combination of Latin, jazz and classical music, I could hear a very distinct organization of the soundstage, better definition of Anthony Jackson's subterranean bass, and on "Afterthought," a window into drummer Horacio Hernandez's brushwork. I would call the benefits incremental rather than monumental -- clear but not mind-blowing.
Over the next few weeks, I experimented by pulling components out of the PurePower 1050 one at a time (amp, preamp, whatever) and then plugging said component into the wall. Invariably, every piece of gear suffered in relatively the same way: a loss of bass definition, a loss of overall detail, a loss of clarity and energy. These problems were immediately solved by plugging the given piece back into the PurePower 1050.
At this point, I thought I had a pretty good fix on where this review was going, and if you've read this far, you probably think you've got a handle on it, too. But an interesting thing happened when I unplugged all of my gear from the PurePower 1050: the whole system became less involving, less vibrant, less interesting. The message was obvious. In my attempt to be thorough, I'd missed the big picture: power conditioning impacts the individual components, but it takes the cumulative effect to reach the proverbial "tipping point." All of the little benefits added up to one big improvement.
I plugged everything back in, and all of sudden, my music was back. "Fly Trap," from the truly offbeat Soul Ecstasy soundtrack [Emperor Norton 7014], is a funky sonic mess, glorious in a sloppy, nasty way. The thick, fat bass that gets things going has a certain Bill Laswell feel to it, which would be impossible if this were an authentic early-'70s work. But alas, for all the heavy-duty Superfly vibe, it turns out that this soundtrack is a fraud, a play on our nostalgic wish that there could more music from that era that's as good. Soul Ecstasy is a part of a new sub-genre called fake soundtracks, which allows for all the creativity without any of the constraints of classic film scoring. Enjoy the extensive liner notes, but don't believe a word of 'em.
With the PurePower 1050 back in the mix, "Fly Trap" literally jumped out of the speakers in that wonderful "this is what high-end audio is all about" sort of way. Guitars, drums, flute sounds, sound effects -- all of it achieved a vividness that was missing seconds before. I felt like I was in a rehearsal hall circa 1971, and that an early rendition of Kool and the Gang was working out some grooves (if you want to hear what that sounds like, check out Kool Funk Essentials on SpinArt Records [SPART 101]).
Next up was Ralph Towner's gorgeous Anthem [ECM 1743]. I admit that I'm a recent convert to Mr. Towner's greatness. A friend took me to see Oregon perform about six months ago, and I was knocked backwards by what I heard, particularly Towner's guitar playing (I'm less fond of his synthesizer excursions, but that's for a different discussion). Going home that night, I had a vague notion that I might actually own a Towner CD, which was the case, and Anthem is that CD. What luck! The title track alone is worth the CD's price (as is most everything else on the album). While so much solo guitar drifts into new-age pandering or grotesque self-indulgence, Anthem's pieces are models of taste and thoughtfulness. The ideas are beautifully developed, the melodies are memorable and engaging, and the playing is flawless. Without the PurePower 1050 in use, Towner sounded fine -- Anthem is an ECM recording, after all. Even on a stock car stereo, it won't sound bad. But played through my system with everything plugged into the PurePower 1050, it all comes alive. The whole playing-and-recording process becomes clearer, from the acoustic space in which Towner records to the decisions he makes about how and what to play. In the end, audiophilia is about finding insight into and deriving enjoyment from recorded music that's simply unavailable without gear of sufficient quality. Audiophile APS can take pride in knowing they're providing such access.
A few weeks ago, I was given a copy of Jamie Cullum's US debut, twentysomething [Verve 2273-2]. The British-born Cullum is being hailed in the same breath as other jazz-inflected young pop sensations such as Norah Jones and Nellie McKay. A singer, songwriter and pianist, Cullum's appeal is multifaceted. He has youthful, punky charm, genuine talent, and great taste in material. Of course, his music is not jazz, despite the fact that he has the fastest-selling "jazz" record in UK history, and he's off to a fast start on the jazz charts here in the US, so don't get hung up on categories and other inventions of the music business.
Listening to twentysomething without the PurePower 1050, I enjoyed the album. Listening to twentysomething with everything plugged into the PurePower 1050, I was clearly reminded of seeing Jamie Cullum perform in a teeny Los Angeles club earlier this year. The album is mostly covers, from hipper fare such as Radiohead's "High And Dry" and Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over" to standards like "I Get A Kick Out of You" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." All of the intimacy and the immediacy of Cullum live, including the way he hugs the microphone and the position of the band, are conveyed through the playback chain powered by the PurePower 1050.
My experience with power-conditioning products is that a solid, competent design will make a noticeable improvement. Demonstrations at audio shows bear this out, as did the passive John Risch-designed DIY power-line filter I built a couple years ago. Even the Staco UniStar SX SB1001, with all its fan noise, had a very noticeable effect on soundstaging, bass control, presence and dynamics. In fact, I would say that the Staco unit actually had a greater impact on these audio factors; if the company ever figures out how to eliminate the horrendous fan, they'll have a real contender on their hands, especially if they keep near their current $799 price tag.
So it's no surprise that the PurePower 1050 was a noticeable improvement over using no power conditioner and a competitor for the Staco unit if the company addresses the UniStar SX SB1001's shortcomings. There are other models to try as well, including the ExactPower EP15A ($2495) that Doug Schneider swears by and the Shunyata Research Hydra Model-8 ($1995) that Marc Mickelson uses. The ExactPower unit regenerates power like the PurePower 1050, while the Hydra Model-8 is a passive unit that includes surge protection. Given the similar prices of these units and the PurePower 1050, you would be wise to consider them all when shopping for a power-line product.
So what I really mean to say is
In my system, drawing on Los Angeles's finest electricity, the improvements wrought by the Audiophile APS PurePower 1050 on individual components are evident, but not in the "Oh man, how am I going to live without this thing?" category. However, now knowing what an improvement the '1050 makes to my system in total, I'm starting to dread having to send the unit back. Audiophile APS set out to design a power conditioner that would help audiophiles get the most from their systems while providing industrial-strength protection against all manner of electrical problems. Functionally, the company has achieved this goal -- and to my ears it has succeeded as well. If you get to audition a PurePower 1050, be sure to use it to power your entire system. You'll be glad you did.
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