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Positive Feedback ISSUE 68
Power Broker AC Distributor
as reviewed by Michael Wechsberg
My first review for PFO nearly six years ago was for a power conditioner, the PS Audio Power Plant Premier, which I purchased and still use today. That device made a transformational change to the sound of my system at the time and I tried to convey that in the review. Since then I have steered clear of writing subjective reviews of other power conditioners (and also power cords and other tweaks affecting power) because I feel that describing the sonic effect of a power conditioning device on my system may not apply to it's effect on the sound of the reader's system. More than interconnects, speaker cables, vibration control and many other gadgets, the sonic impact of a power conditioning device depends inordinately on the environment it is used in. This includes the quality of the power coming into the sound room (for example, the voltage stability, distortion, presence of spurious signals, etc.), the electromagnetic field environment and other field effects, the amount and nature of local power conditioning performed within the systems components themselves, and how sensitive the design is to power perturbations, among other conditions. I experienced this myself for the PS Audio Power Plant Premier as several colleagues and acquaintances also purchased one for their systems on my recommendation. It had a notable positive effect on most of these systems, but did little for a couple of them. Hence I've not felt comfortable writing sibjective reviews about power conditioners.
I was attracted to the PS Audio Power Plant because it is in the class of power conditioners known as "regenerators." That is, it takes the incoming AC power and uses it only to drive an internal low-distortion signal generator that produces a clean 60 Hz signal at 120 volts. Other devices take the incoming AC and filter it in order to clean it up before passing it onto the outlets that power the audio system (I'm oversimplifying a bit here). In my home at the time I knew I had very poor power that varied in voltage during the day and carried quite a bit of noise with it. Thus the Power Plant seemed the best solution for me and it certainly added to the enjoyment I did get out of my system over the years.
Recently, I moved to a new home and did some remodeling. One of the things I added was a set of dedicated AC outlets to service my audio system. That audio system has also changed quite a bit since I reviewed the PS Audio gadget. All of these changes got me to thinking that I should take a new look at power conditioning in my new abode. I've been talking to audiophile friends here in Southern California and one of the devices that kept on coming up in these discussions was the Power Broker from WyWires. The design philosophy of the Power Broker is a polar opposite to the Power Plant Premier. Instead of regenerating the AC, the Power Broker does all it can not to impede or add anything to AC signal. It is a completely passive device that merely distributes power to eight outlets and contains no electrical components such as diodes, capacitors or inductors to alter the power. This may sound to you that it is merely a fancy multi-outlet extension cord, but in fact there is a substantial amount of sophisticated thinking that went into the design of the Power Broker. In addition, it looks great and is built largely by hand to a very high quality standard. It oozes high quality and style suitable for just about anybody's high end system. The Power Broker is designed to provide the minimum restriction to the flow of AC current to your audio system. It tries as much as possible to get out of the way, hence it includes no filtering or surge suppression or an active components. The notion is that this approach will provide increased dynamic range, better image focus and greater tonal accuracy compared to the more ubiquitous types of power conditioners. Alex Sventitsky, President of WyWires, sent me the following description of the major features of the design:
A couple of these features really stand out. First is the very handsome wooden case. I'm only aware of one or two other power conditioners encased in wood. This is a really sensible choice that others should adopt. The Power Broker case is hand-crafted by Daedelus Audio, manufacturer of some very fine loudspeakers known for their wonderful enclosures. WyWires selects high-density woods known for low resonance properties, and the solid construction techniques used for the case carry this performance uniformly throughout the device. The separate pressure laminated base with brass spikes provides additional isolation whose effect is in fact audible. Don't use the Power Broker without the base.
I also liked the hard-wired, high quality power cord. Many other power conditioners either come without a power cord or are supplied with a mediocre one. My stock PS Audio Power Plant benefitted significantly from an aftermarket power cord, but it took me weeks of experimentation to find the right one. WyWires includes a 6-ft cord that lists for $599 if purchased separately. Longer lengths can be ordered for a small additional charge. As stated in the bullet list above, it is hardwired to the outlets to eliminate any excess contact resistance, but there is likely also a benefit that the wiring in the cord is identical to that used elsewhere in the device. This eliminates another potential way for resonances, reflections and phase anomalies due to material mismatches to distort the sound of the stereo system. The Juice HC cord itself is relatively light weight and flexible, making it much easier to handle than many other fire-hose type cords out there. All together the Power Broker with its finely made wood enclosure and gray-sheathed cord looks as good as it performs. Too bad most of us hide these things in back of the rack.
I was extremely happy with the way the Power Broker allowed my system to sound. I expected to hear more dynamic range as the PS Audio device can only handle 10 amps continuous (more on transients) and the Power Broker would theoretically allow me to take advantage of the full 20 amps available through the circuit breaker. I can't say that I was able to play things louder. Instead, it seemed that the music was coming at me with more intensity. It was as if before the Power Broker I was listening to music coming through a water faucet turned up about ¾ of the way. With the Power Broker in the system the faucet was full on. Music just seemed to flow out of the speakers with greater ease. This was most evident while listening to classical orchestral music, but I also noted the same thing when playing popular music and jazz; especially live concerts. The cumulative effect of this increased intensity was a more emotional connection with the music. To me this is the ultimate goal of building a fine audio system and the Power Broker helped make it happen.
Another area where the Power Broker is successful is enhancing imaging and the soundstage. On certain recordings I've never heard a wider and deeper soundstage than I was able to achieve with the Power Broker. At the same time the position of players in the soundstage remained rock solid up and down the frequency spectrum and in all corners of the stage. This is a place where many fine systems can fall short in a subtle way. I believe the ingenious construction of the cabling in the Power Broker, combined with the attention to resonance control, helps to keep everything in perfect phase.
I also heard improvements in detail and definition. The high end was particularly clean and clear. This is definitely an area where power conditioning can be helpful compared to getting the AC directly out of the wall. Yet the passive design of the Power Broker seemed to give me everything and more in this area that I got from an active conditioner. Problems with AC power can certainly cause deterioration in detail and also add noise into the system that can add harshness and brightness. Other designers attack this by using filtering and various other techniques. WyWires shows they can accomplish the same thing with a totally passive approach provided everything is executed in an integrated and smart way. I used the Power Broker for part of the time I was reviewing the excellent Inex Innovation gear (see Issue 68). One of the strong points I noted in that review was the excellent high end detail in that equipment. I'm sure the Power Broker made it easier for me to hear that.
A couple of cautions. The Power Broker deliberately does not include any surge suppression; a common part of most $10 power strips. Some homes are equipped with whole-house surge suppression. Most audio equipment can handle surges but some very sensitive designs may omit the necessary devices. If you have very quirky power or are concerned that voltage spikes from things like thunderstorms might be able to find their way into your gear you might want to consider a different approach (consider giving Alex Sventitsky at WyWires a call to get his opinion on this). The Power Broker is equivalent to going "commando" (check Wikipedia if you don't know what this means). Also, my impressions of the Power Broker are based on using it with a dedicated AC line. This line carries all the garbage power coming from the power company but is not further affected by perturbations from other appliances in my home. Your results may not be as good without such a line, or they could be better.
Given those two caveats I have absolutely no other reservations about recommending the Power Broker to you except perhaps for the price. The parts quality is high and it is hand made in the USA so the price is not too surprising. The ability of the Power Broker to make a stronger connection to the music justifies the price to me. I encourage you to give it a try. Michael Wechsberg
WyWires Power Broker AC Distributor