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883-15 Energy Center
as reviewed by Lester J. Mertz
You may remember Copernicus from high school science class—he was the guy who said that our home planet was round, not flat. His idea that our planet revolved around the sun and not the other way around caused a lot of agita (indigestion, if you're not Italian) to those in power. The Church believed that the earth was the center of the universe, and as the source of all authority and power, convinced everyone who didn't want to be burned at the stake that Church dogma was the only option. The Copernican Revolution may now appear trite, but it was a breakthrough in thinking for its time.
Some of you already know that the quality of the AC power coming into your system makes a huge difference in the way it sounds, but for those who don't, here's another revolution! Do everything you can to make sure that each electron is doing its part in giving you that ultimate sound. If you have purchased all of the state-of-the-art gear that you can afford, and you're still not getting the magic you long for, you're probably wondering what to do next. A lot of press is given to high-performance interconnects and speaker cables, as these are usually the novice's first upgrade. They do make a difference, but in my opinion, not nearly as much as solid power connections for your amplifier and front end components. Excellent power outlets, power cords, and power distribution centers will take you further down the road toward audio perfection, and I strongly recommend that you start there.
There are dozens of power products on the market—regenerator boxes, transformers, isolation devices, and some gee-whiz items that border on science fiction. I haven't tried all of them, and I don't know anyone who has, but I have owned some, and they have all been auctioned off to the highest bidder. I also have listened to many more such devices in my friends' systems. The most noticeable problem I encountered was a lack of dynamics, as if the amplifier was being starved for power. Many boxes shrank the soundstage, and seemed to make the system more polite, although in some cases this was a good thing. Then there were the obvious changes in the character of the sound. The most irritating to me was the sibilance that often gets passed off as increased detail. I felt that the sound of my system with these devices lacked life when compared to live instruments.
Many of my audiophile friends are also disenchanted (to say the least) with these expensive boxes. Some have replaced them with even more expensive boxes, but really, how much are you willing to pay for Hubbell outlets? Why not step back a moment? Like many system changes, these boxes can be impressive at first, but upon long-term listening you notice that things are not quite right. The music is no longer flowing, engaging, or natural. You don't listen as long as you used to, and those late-night sessions with brand-new discs have ceased to be a common occurrence. There's a malaise that tells you that it's time for a change.
Although it has been said many times in other publications, here it is again: For the most coherent sound, plug every piece of gear into the same AC line, and make sure all are in phase electrically, meaning that all of the hot and neutral leads match up. (Hopefully all of the equipment is also correctly wired.) To get everything coherent, you will need a distribution box to plug everything into. This allows all the equipment grounds to be very close to the same potential and (hopefully) produce minimum hum. The distribution box needs to be plugged into the best AC outlet you can find, on a dedicated line to the house's incoming power at the main breakers, if this is possible. Many audiophiles plug their equipment into any outlet that is nearby, and some of these may not even be on the same circuit. This is a not a good idea, and usually causes harmful phase issues and grounding problems.
Another issue that many fail to appreciate—or even contemplate—is using different brands of power conversion devices in one system. Did you consider that they may not be compatible with each other? Certain types of electrical devices can affect the entire circuit, and may degrade the performance of other power devices in the system. Some of the newer digital gear uses switching power supplies, and these may (or may not) be compatible with regenerator boxes. Some manufacturers flatly state that they do not recommend regenerators, and will not honor warranties if you use one with their equipment. Find a dealer who is willing to let you try these things in your system, and don't fall for the line "It will take six to eight weeks to break in" unless the dealer will take it back with a full refund.
I always visit the First Impression Music booth at CES and pick up of a few of their fabulous-sounding discs. FIM discs are always a sonic treat. The last time I stopped by, FIM was doing demos with some beautiful 24-karat-gold-plated IEC connectors and wall plugs. The guy doing the demo plugged one of the connectors into an IEC socket, then asked people to try to pull it out. I tried, and it really made a gripping impression on me, so I bought a Model 302 plug, along with the Model 303 receptacle end, to upgrade one of my power cords. When I got home, I replaced each end of my trusted 15-year-old Kimber Kord with the FIM pieces and inserted it into my Arcam 33 T CD player. Holy cow, what an amazing change! The whole frequency spectrum opened up. According to the FIM catalog, "…using the best possible power connectors is essential to insure clean and full AC power for the components of your system. It is the fundamental and primary step for good sound." My experience has led me to the same conclusion—they just said it more succinctly than I could.
FIM power outlets are available at several price points, beginning with the Model 880, which is made of copper-coated metal, not silver or gold. (I am told that this product may no longer be available by the time this article is published.) The top of the outlet line is the 883, a 24-karat-gold-plated outlet made in Japan, while the others are made in the U.S. The 883 can be ordered with a special chrome wall cover, and comes with gold lugs to crimp onto the Romex wire in the wall. Comparisons between the entry-level and the top-of-the-line outlet revealed more air and more detail. These outlets are excellent!
While I was on the phone discussing power outlets with the proprietor of FIM, Winston Ma, he recommended the Model 883-15 Energy Center. It is not cheap (though I am), but after several minutes of deliberation I ordered the unit. It must have been a flash of inspiration. The 883-15 distribution box contains six Model 880 outlets, two of them modified for a lower noise floor for your front-end gear. The box is custom-made in the U.S. out of a solid maple block, with copper plates covering the top and the inlet end. The internal wire is ultra-pure cast copper, which is noted for excellent sound because of its low crystal count. Low crystal count means fewer lattice junctions and smoother, unimpeded current flow. The Energy Center made a profound difference in the sound of my system, much more than I would have believed from looking at it or reading about it. The first thing I heard was a wonderful openness, and after that a coherence I never thought my simple system could produce. With the FIM Energy Center in my system, each power cord had its own signature, more pronounced than I had heard before, and the same was true for interconnects and speaker cables.
Will the FIM outlets, wall plates, and distribution boxes make a difference in your system? Of course! You will have deeper, more defined, and more powerful bass, quieter backgrounds, and a midrange that is, in a word, voluptuous. Cellos sing with a wonderful, wooden sound, and pull you into each musical performance. A singer's voice will be tightly focused, right in front of you, and it will not wander around the soundstage. These products are the real deal. Using them is like having a top-rated piece of gear added to your system, and they are much less expensive than a new amplifier. The FIM duplex outlets are simply a must have, and at the price, they're a steal! Don't forget to get the shielded faceplates to go with them—they're well worth the modest investment.
Winston Ma makes excellent recordings. To do that, he must be able to hear everything that is occurring during and after the recording and mastering sessions. He has used his listening skills to create excellent power products for his own system, and now for yours. You must read the FIM catalog to get his full design philosophy, but the first sentence gives you the point: "To bring life to recorded music." I don't know of other recording engineers who produce their own gear (with the exception of Pierre Sprey of Maple Shade), but I hope more of them give it a try. Electrical engineers may know circuit theory, but a real revolution usually comes from someone outside of the church (i.e., university)! The FIM products are valued additions to my modest audio system. They are worth every penny. Lester Mertz
883-15 Energy Center
web address: www.fimpression.com