PW8R15AUD AC Filter and Surge Protector
as reviewed by Art Shapiro Mark Katz, Larry Cox, and Sherman Hong
Good AC power is something I dont dismiss lightly. I live, for better or for worse, in an aluminum-wired home in an aluminum-wired subdivision. Aluminum wiring is an invention of the devil. It is, of course, a potential fire hazard, for reasons we need not discuss here. What may not be familiar to readers are the problems it has in doing its job. Everyone has seen their lights flicker upon turning on a big current draw like a vacuum cleaner. With aluminum wire, the situation is somewhat differentthey stay dim! Even with every outlet in the house pigtailed to copper, and the circuit breaker screws in the breaker box tightened every year, aluminum wiring is Not A Good Thing. All so some greedy developer could save fifty bucks constructing my house.
Several years ago, I bit the bullet and had two dedicated copper 10-gauge lines installed to my audio room, each connected to a single Hubbell hospital grade outlet. I use one for the connections to my amps, half of one for my preamp, and the other half for my API Power Wedge 116. I didnt know what to expect, but knew it couldnt be bad. What came out of this $500 improvement surprised me. The systems behavior became considerably more consistent, meaning the variance between good days and bad days was greatly reduced, and stabilized at the better end of that performance range. In retrospect, it was an intelligent expenditure, and something I recommend to the readership.
My existing Power Wedge is a respected product, which comes from a established company in the realm of power conditioning, for such applications as computer rooms. Power Wedge guru Les Edelberg has a solid engineering background, and is also into the high end audio scene. He can talk at length about the design decisions that optimize his products for the needs of audiophiles, and his logic makes sense to me. The Power Wedge has been an asset as my system has evolved over the years, and was a fine purchase. Could the considerably less expensive BrickWall hope to compete?
It was a somewhat unusual experience for me to actually receive an owners manual for an item being reviewed, so I dived into the modest documentation. While the Power Wedge is defined as a "power conditioner," I was surprised to read that the Brickwall is intended as a "surge suppressor," a device for protecting electronic equipment, be it an audio system, a television, a computer, or a microwave oven. But would it provide any sonic benefits? I owe it to the reader to confess that a really cynical thought crossed my mind as I read the Brickwall literature. I figured that here was this product, intended for, say, personal computers, and that Brickwall was marketing the same product to a different set of people. So perhaps you can understand my expectation that the audio-optimized Power Wedge would kick the Brickwalls butt. I presumed that both products adequately protected equipment against surges and other power anomalies, so the proof of the pudding would have to be in the listening.
I retained this unit far longer than I was supposed to, kept begging the audioMUSINGS gods for more time as press deadline approached, and had an utterly gruesome time with this review. The stress quite literally kept me up nights, and as I enter these words into my computer theres a stack of unfiled CDs a couple feet high sitting in front of the system, just from the last weeks struggle in formulating my thoughts. I should bill the cost of a bottle of Tums to audioMUSINGS. Why all the grief?
Very simply, I cannot differentiate the Brickwall from the Power Wedge. You have no idea how many times Ive gone back and forth between the two units, sometimes playing the same track a dozen or more times while trying to ascertain a difference. I cant do it. Ive played orchestral music, vocals, organ, saxaphone, guitar, piano, harp, chamber music, opera, string orchestra, pop, etc., etc. The two conditioners sound the same. I even changed amplifiers midstream, finding that a tubed Music Reference RM9 II was a better match for my big ESP Concert Grands than my beloved Clayton M70 monoblocks. As far as the two power conditioners were concerned, it didnt make a whit of difference. They sounded the same. There were times when I thought that the Power Wedge sounded slightly, and I do mean slightly, fuller and rounder than the Brickwall, which was more direct or assertive, but these results were not consistent.
Out of desperation, I asked Mark Katz to come over, several hours before these words were composed. I hadnt seen his assessment of the Brickwall, but was aware that he could discern differences between it and his own Power Wedge 116. He told me that the differences were most apparent on upper string passages, so I selected an excellent-sounding CD of various Vivaldi works on the Point label. We chose the Danza pastorale movement of "Spring" from The Four Seasons, and the system happened to be plugged into the Brickwall. We sat enjoying this lush music, then I rapidly switched to the Power Wedge. Within a few seconds, Mark said, "I can hear an obvious difference; Ill tell you when the movement is over." I still heard no difference.
Afterwards, he said, "Listen to the upper string passages. The violins are simply more textured and realistic when the Power Wedge is being used. Once you know what to listen for, youll hear it." I replied that they sounded the same to me. So we went back to the Brickwall, and repeated the track. It again sounded exactly the same to me, and Marks face obviously fell as he admitted that I was right. He had simply gotten more used to the piece by the second playing, and confused familiarity with sonic superiority. The two units sounded the same. We then plugged everything into the wall, using neither Brickwall nor Power Wedge. It was not night and day, but the systems performance distinctly went down a notch. The violins were steelier and more strident. The beautiful harmonic richness of the string orchestra was substantially diminished. The validity of a power conditioner in The System was reaffirmed.
I now knew what Id be saying in this review. Just as a last confirmation, we chose a track from the wonderful Propius CD entitled Antiphone Blues, which consists of a saxophone/organ duet. Still leaving everything plugged into the wall, we played the Duke Ellington classic "Come Sunday." I found the sax to be quite, indeed unpleasantly, aggressive compared to what I normally hear. Mark was not familiar enough with the piece to have an immediate opinion. We moved to the Brickwall, and repeated the track. It sounded wonderful, with a rich harmonic bloom around the sax, a beautifully textured and melodic organ, and an overall rightness of sound. Over to the Power Wedge, and Mark started laughing. "What can I tell you? They sound the same." And they did, indeed.
Ive just spent a fair number of column inches to tell you that I cannot reliably
discern the Brickwall surge suppressor from the much pricier Power Wedge 116. Ive
tried my best, and thrown everything I could think of at the two units in an attempt to
find something that would dictate one or the other as being the product of choice. I
cant do it. In view of the modest price, the superb sonic benefits, the generous
number of outlets, the relatively modest physical size, and a ten year warranty, I can
heartily recommend the Brickwall to the audioMUSINGS readership. What more need I
My dad designs amplifiers, but not the kind you or I would buy unless you were powering a few city blocks. The devices hes helped design are used to amplify magnet fields, which in turn control fusion reactors. My dad, with his forty years of experience, doesnt like Metal Oxide Varisistorscircuit protection devices that, unlike fuses, do not shut down the devices they protect. MOVs can fail without warning, and there really isnt any way to tell save by testing. I didnt understand my dads opinion of MOVs until I received the Brickwall Surge Suppressor, but now I get it.
To explain, I must back up about a year, to the time when I installed an ACPEAM 961D-151 power line conditioner in my system. During part of this time, I was housesitting a very nice house that had some horrific electrical problems. If I turned the microwave oven on, it dimmed the lights and shut off my Classe amplifier if my system was on. Same thing with the trash compactor. None of my components were destroyed, although I did blow three fuses in my CD player, which was plugged into the ACPEAM. Happily, the electrical problems are now gone, but the MOVs in the ACPEAM have failed, and it no longer does its job, at least in the 15-amp socket that I use for my amp.
What has any of this got to do with the Brickwall? By comparison, the Brickwall not only provides failure-proof operation, but the sound seems lighter, quicker, and less veiled. The only significant differences in the sound of my system after installing the APCEAM were an increase in bass extension and imaging capabilities. Now, after plugging my gear into the Brickwall, I hear that the ACPEAM makes everything from the mid-bass down seem a little thicker and slower. With the Brickwall, I cant say that imaging is any better, or that the bass is more extended, as with the APCEAM, just that the overall sound is "faster."
I suppose I
should be happy that the ACPEAM failed instead of my CD player or amplifier, but fail it
did. At $300, it seems like a bad investment for something that is designed to fail
without letting you know. The simple Brickwall Surge Suppressor is a nice way of keeping
your system alive without doing any damage to the sound.
Armed with the original Audio Power Wedge 116 for the past few years, I looked forward to getting the Brickwall Power Suppressor for a comparison. I used my CD player as the main source of evaluation. My perception of the Brickwall was quite favorable. The music flowed more effortlessly, with images firmly secured. The background seemed to further dissolve, causing the music to expand and ripen. There were also improvements in rhythm and pace. Music was more vigorous and striking. Improvements were noted with all components in my assemblage, from sources to preamplifier to amplifier. The improvements extended from top to bottom. The treble and midrange were smoothly extended and vividly resonant, and bass was actively taut. The differences were minute but positively discernible.
Brickwall Power Suppressor surpassed the PowerWedge 116. Its only limiting factor is the
two outlets, but I believe Brickwall has other models with more outlets. If so, I can
unequivocally recommend the Brickwall Power Suppressor. If not, I hope the two outlets
Ive tried the Brickwall line conditioner in three very different systems, and on the whole Ive been pleased. The unit is an attractive, small, black rectangular box with six outlets controlled by a switch, and two on another side that are always on. The power cord is attached. I compared the unit, a new design for the audiophile market, to a simple Pengo power strip and the API Powerwedge 116 II.
To my surprise, the differences were fairly consistent in the three systems: my single-ended system with Tannoy speakers, my Soundlab A-1 electrostatics with 400-watt Melos amps and Kora Triode preamp, and Art Shapiros systema CAT SL1 Signature preamp, Clayton M70 monoblock amps, and ESP Concert Grand speakers. In the latter two systems, the amplifiers were plugged directly into the wall. In the first, all components in the audio chain, including the amplifier, were plugged into the Brickwall or the alternative filters.
Electrically and mechanically, the Brickwall was simple to hook up. What about the sound? Compared to the power strip, it was clearer and better defined. I used the Pope CD of Chopin with Naum Starkman as a reference, since the recording is very dynamic, capturing the pianos energy as well as its potential for "clatteriness." On the Tannoy system, runs became better defined, individual notes were more distinct, and chords blended better. There was no sacrifice in dynamics. On vocals, e.g., the Fairfield Four, on their CD Standing in the Safety Zone, there was a subtle improvement in clarity, with the music just a little quieter and more natural sounding.
On the Soundlab system, the story was different. The treble output of the A-1s was set with the Powerwedge filtering the preamp (through the amp filter), the digital components, and the tuner. When the Brickwall was substituted for the Powerwedge, there were several changes in the character of the sound. A slight improvement of dynamics and liveliness on the Chopin was the first thing that became apparent. At the same time, however, the piano sound became less subtle, losing some of its richness. With greater emphasis on the leading transients, the Polonaise became more aggressive and less enjoyable. On the Fairfield Four CD, "Roll Jordan Roll" took on a lighter quality, more propulsive but again somewhat less rich and sonorous, and with sibilants more prominent.
On Art Shapiros system, the Brickwall again was easily superior to the inexpensive power strip, with better clarity. Compared to his Powerwedge 116 II (same model as mine), the improved dynamics seemed a better tradeoff, though again the Powerwedge seemed to help with the subtle underpinnings of the music on piano and voice. One of the things Ive always liked about the Powerwedge is its ability to reduce the noise floor of the system, enhance my ability to hear through the "electronic grunge," and electrically isolate the digital components. However, the original Powerwedge had the weakness of reducing dynamics when components with large power supplies were plugged into it. This problem was reduced in the Mark II version and is supposedly better yet in the "Ultra." The Brickwall does not seem to compress dynamically. Also, the "audiophile" version will have the option of isolated outlets for digital components.
think the best solution would be for manufacturers to make robust power supplies that are
completely insensitive to the noise created by fluorescent lights, digital components,
dimmers, other electronics, etc., and dont add noise back into the line. However,
even then, we would need to isolate and thereby protect components from the vagaries of
the electric companys voltage spikes. The Brickwall power line filter seems an
excellent device to do just that. While I felt the more expensive Powerwedge to be the
better choice for my system at present, the Brickwall has much promise and would be an
excellent choice for some systems, especially with the option of isolating digital
PW8R15AUD AC Filter and