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Positive Feedback ISSUE 66
PC-3 EVO AC Power Conditioner
as reviewed by Paul Candy
(A most happy welcome to Paul Candy for joining us here at PF!)
Power Line Conditioners (PLC) along with resonance control devices, acoustic treatments, and cables are generally seen as mere accessories to complement a system. However, a growing school of thought proposes that such items should be seen as the foundation on which a system is built upon, the premise being that a system cannot perform optimally or be effectively assessed unless one first addresses AC delivery, resonance control, room acoustics, and cabling. I agree; however, it is all too easy to rob a system of music's light and life or throw a system's balance out of whack with the wrong mix of accessories. For example over-treating a room's acoustics can be akin to sucking all the oxygen out of a room. My advice is to keep it simple at first, especially if you are on a tight budget. Get all of your cabling from the same manufacturer rather than mixing and matching brands. You will likely achieve greater coherency with an entry level cable loom from company A than with more expensive interconnects from company B and speaker cables from company C. For room acoustics play around with speaker positioning, experiment with wall hangings and bookcases. Just moving your listening seat back and forward a few inches can have a profound impact. Before breaking the bank on a SOTA rack, try placing your components on hardwood cutting boards or plywood. Sometimes a nice piece of wood furniture can come across more musically coherent than some multi-kilo buck audio racks. Have an electrician install a dedicated line to your listening room and maybe try an aftermarket outlet. If you delve into PLCs, stick with one unit rather than daisy chaining two or more different types. When assessing such things I try to think in terms of musical aspects such as pitch, timbre, texture, drama, flow and pace rather than in aspects of sound such as bass, treble, soundstaging, imaging and the like. For me, a good system is one that offers greater insight and closer connection to recorded music rather than having it sliced apart and laid bare in clinical, excruciating detail like a body on a vivisectionist's table. A recording engineer might want that for obvious reasons but in my home, I want thrills, chills and excitement but not a lifeless corpse.
While I have had good success with cabling, resonance control and acoustic treatments, my experience with power line conditioning has generally been hit and miss, mostly the latter. While pretty much every conditioner I have tried reduced low-level line noise and digital hash thus clarifying and better focusing the musical picture, they tended to possess other less savory traits. Often the reduction in line noise and digital haze resulted in a bleaching of tone color or texture. Instruments and voices lost body and harmonic richness or perhaps the tonal balance was shifted, usually upwards thus giving the illusion of heightened dynamics or greater upper band resolution. Or it's as if a wet blanket was thrown over dynamics, drive and momentum thus robbing music of energy and life. At present, the only consistent conditioning in my system comes via the two Bybee Quantum Purifiers in my BPT power strip that feeds my subs, analog and digital front ends and the parallel filters in my MIT Magnum AC1 power cables which I use on my PC and external hard drive front end. So it was with this in mind I set about to review a rather promising looking PLC from a manufacturer not well known in North America. At least not yet.
According to CEO and Chief Engineer, Adam Schubert, Poland based firm GigaWatt has built, in its 15 years of operation, a solid reputation as the national leader in power protection equipment as well as garnered several positive reviews and awards throughout Europe. More recently GigaWatt has expanded into the Asian and North American markets. My sample came from GigaWatt's Canadian distributor, Charisma Audio.
The PC-3 EVO sits more or less in the center of GigaWatt's power conditioner lineup. It's a 6-outlet power line conditioner designed to protect an audio-video system from surges and spikes as well as enhance performance by filtering line noise from the mains and connected AV gear. The outer case is rigid steel-aluminum supported on anti-vibration footers. The PC-3 weighs in at 16kg and measures 440mm wide, 115mm high and 400mm deep. The front panel, available in silver or black, is a solid slab of milled, brushed and anodized aviation aluminum.
The front panel sports a red (or optional blue or green) LED display that indicates true RMS input voltage via an isolated digital voltmeter. The rear panel features an IEC socket, power on/off switch, a small LED indicating open ground and/or inverted polarity and three duplex outlets labeled high current, analog and digital. Each duplex use a different RLC filtration network optimized for each type of component. Internal construction uses silver solder on two-layer PCBs and wide 280 micrometer thick silver-plated copper conductive traces. The three filter networks use low-inductance metalized polyester capacitors and Sendust (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sendust) core filters. For spike and surge protection the PC-3 EVO uses plasma spark gaps, next-generation Thermally Protected Metal Oxide Varistors (TMOV) and a special filter circuit rather than conventional components such as fuses, which can impede current flow or adversely color sonic performance.
Two-stage power distribution is based first on three large (30mm˛) polished high-purity cathode copper (Cu-ETP) bars which are enameled and annealed for greater metal density and increased conductivity, plasticity and resistance to corrosion. Any mechanical processing of the copper bars that would potentially impede conductivity is avoided.
The second stage supplies power directly to each outlet via compression-terminated FEP Teflon insulated 4mm˛ silver-plated OFC copper wiring. Each outlet features cryo-treated and demagnetized pure silver-plated brass contacts.
The combination of the star-wiring topology and the large copper buss bars is said to offer equal and stable power delivery to all outlets regardless of load.
The PC-3 EVO also has a special twin buffer circuit to improve impulse response with non-linear loads such as power amplifiers.
GigaWatt offers a worldwide insurance policy that covers damage to connected equipment up to 250,000 Euros. According to Adam, no claim has ever been filed in over 15 years of operation.
The interior is gorgeous. Check out those sexy polished copper buss bars. The buffer circuits as well as the surge protection components and the Sendust cores on the three filtration circuits are housed within their own metal enclosures. As they were attached from the bottom of the circuit boards I decided to let caution overrule curiosity. I also noted bitumen/polymer damping mats on the inside of the PC-3's case. I have looked under the hood of many PLCs and I can't say I have seen one as nicely put together as this.
The PC-3 EVO ships with a 1.5m length of GigaWatt's LC-1 Mk2 power cable. However, the more upscale LC-2 Mk2 is recommended for optimum performance of the PC-3. My review loaner came with the latter. The LC-2 features 6x16awg solid-core high-purity conductors encased in a polyethylene dielectric. Shielding consists of a 100% coverage laminated aluminum foil with a drain wire running the entire length of the cable. The outer cable layer is PVC covered in a plastic abrasion resistant braid.
The proprietary connectors feature cryogenically treated and demagnetized gold-plated brass and terminations are pressure fitted rather than soldered.
I connected the PC-3 EVO to the wall with the LC-2 power cable and used each component's stock cable. I refrained from using any other aftermarket power cords for this review.
My initial impression upon firing everything up was lower overall noise levels however music was dynamically constricted and bass shy. Since my loaner only had a hundred or so hours on it, I resisted the urge to start removing components and instead left everything alone for a couple of weeks of casual listening. The distributor did mention that the GigaWatt units required some time to perform optimally.
Once I returned to my system for more attentive listening I noted all the sorts of things one associates with a good power line conditioner and it didn't matter whether I played WAV files vinyl or the silver stuff. The goodness was more or less the same regardless of source. Most obvious was an overall reduction in low-level line noise that allowed for greater insight into recordings. Music playback became bigger, more immediate and also clearer, more intelligible and focused without any negative effect on drive and momentum. Textures were more realistic. Dynamics improved too. There seemed greater range between soft and loud. Drums and percussive instruments had more bite and snap and greater sense of liveliness. The PC-3 EVO also removed a mild electronic edge that was particularly noticeable on voices and strings. It's one of those seemingly minor things you either don't notice or learn to tune out until it's reduced or removed all together.
However, the real surprise was in areas that I don't normally associate with PLCs. Bass weight and articulation was superb and might be the best I have heard yet in my system, particularly from my REL subs. It's not so much that bass was deeper but rather it was more visceral with greater pitch definition a more realistic sense of flow. Vocal and instrumental images were denser more robust and tactile. Timbre or tone color was more intense too. Going through my rough notes, "flesh and blood" was an oft repeated phrase. Overall the musical message was clearer, more life-like and more revealing of textures and nuance.
And none of this sonic goodness resulted in any tonal bleaching, blurring or smoothing over of textures and sharp transients, nor was there excessive bloom or warmth. The only caveat was that the above noted observations were only fully realized with my Audiomat Opera Reference amp plugged directly to the wall. I noted a slight reduction in liveliness and excitement with the amp connected to the PC-3. Having said that, it was relatively minor and nowhere near as debilitating as with other RLC based conditioners I have tried. The Audiomat, which has a robust power supply, seems immune to most line gremlins and generally has not reacted well to having any additional circuitry between it and the wall. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. On the other hand, my old Rotel RX-940AX receiver, with its laughably puny power supply, sounded far better in every way through the PC-3 than straight to the wall.
Removing the PC-3 EVO completely from my system, music playback, while certainly not unlistenable (thank God), became a little more distant, flatter and the high contrast on tone color receded and blurred into a somewhat paler spectrum. It was enough of a step back that caused me a decent level of disconcertment when it came time to return the PC-3.
In conclusion, the GigaWatt PC-3 EVO is an expensive yet superbly appointed power line conditioner that definitely enhanced my enjoyment of music by removing the more deleterious aspects of the AC feeding my system without sounding unnatural or colored. Throw in surge and spike protection and 250,000 Euro insurance coverage for your connected equipment, the PC-3 EVO is definitely worthy of further investigation. I hope to explore more GigaWatt's products especially their power cables and some of their lower priced offerings in the coming months. As Paul Westerberg once sang, color me impressed. Paul Candy
What a pity that you didn't have LC-3 MK2 or top line LS-1 MK2 power cable, because the cable between the wall and power conditioner is the most important in fact! And to such an extent that it can limit performance of further components: power conditioner and finally power amp etc. As have observed our distributors in France, Poland and Russia, PC-3 EVO is very "transparent" machine and doesn't limit current even for very hungry Hi-End class power amps (like Vitus Audio, Soulution etc.). Any limitation can only be caused by connecting power cable. Thus the limitation that you observed after connecting Audiomat Opera Reference amp to the PC-3 was due to LC-2 MK2 power cable from the wall to the power conditioner. Big amps require very well power cables supplying power conditioner or power amp ;-)
All the best!