Equipment Review No. 1 MAY 2001
Richard Gray Power Company (RGPC)
1200S AC Enhancement Device
Description and Specifications: Power line enhancement device with power distribution and surge protection. Includes 12 Hubbell outlets (2 paralleled sets of 6), 20 amp IEC connector and 12 gauge AC power cord. Device utilizes two large inductors in parallel to the AC line and claimed improvements are: eliminates line fluctuations, stores energy, and does not limit current, and use of multiple devices further improves performance. 5.28" H x 17.25" W x 9.5" D. 43.6 lbs. On/off orange illumination. 5-year warranty. SRP: $2000.
Richard Gray's Power Company
2727 Prytania St., Suite 6
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 891-0102 fax
Equipment Used: Martin Logan SL3's, Krell KST-100 amp, Mark Levinson No. 29 amp, Meridian 568 Preamp, Philips transport, Jisco Jitter attenuator, Revel F30's, Barco 808 projector fed by Pentium III computer (GeForce video card w/ DVD), MIT, Audioquest, Discovery cabling.
Setup: I began my auditioning sessions with the Richard Gray 1200S after using it in my system for a manner of weeks. I didn't really believe that I needed to break it in, but I was busy working on other reviews so there was no reason not to. The manufacturer recommends the use of multiple RGPC's for even more improvement in performance. On the web site there is additional information on the best way to hook up 400's (not reviewed) and the 1200 in multiple configurations. If you have the time and are serious (and of course don't mind the monetary setback!) then there is no reason not to play around and see how much improvement can be obtained with multiple units. The RGPC 1200S is really like a suped-up pair of 400's so I felt that this would be a good place to start. The 400's have only four outlets per unit and if you plug them into each other then the outlet count is reduced to seven. For most people this would be enough AC outlets, but in a video system you may fall short. I liked the fact that I had 12 outlets, that the unit already took advantage of the parallel connection, and that everything was contained in a nice attractive box.
I was informed that the dealer normally assists the customers in determining the best configuration for his/her system, and inquiries to the web site for optimal setups are often referred directly to the dealer. I was given the name of a local dealer who was very helpful. He suggested a few possible ways to test the device, gave me other helpful hints, and told me what might provide the most noticeable improvements.
Testing was mainly done by plugging and unplugging components and then listening to differences. I also spent long periods of extended listening time with and without the device. I always separated digital and analog components from each other on separate sides of the RGPC 1200S. Due to problems with one of the Martin Logan speakers in the review, I had to switch to the Revel F30's. At this point I also changed amplifiers and went from the Mark Levinson No. 29 to the Krell KST-100. Everything else stayed the same. I tried the audio setup with and without video, and occasionally I would unplug the audio components while watching the video, or vice versa. The computer was not connected while doing audio tests, and audio tests were done with no additional components plugged in. As with other devices of this nature, the amount of improvement will vary from system to system. No other conditioning devices were used in conjunction with the RGPC.
Listening Tests- Intro: When I started the actual testing I was using the Martin Logan SL3 electrostatic speakers. A little background on the electrical setup I have is in order. In my living room there are two dedicated AC lines and one house line. The house line (#1) includes three outlets: one on the left side of the room, one on the right side of the room, and one on the right side under the equipment rack. The second (#2) is on the ceiling for the projector, and the third (#3) is a four-plex on the right side behind the equipment rack. The front three use older wiring and somewhat inferior outlets (soon to be changed!) The ceiling outlet was not used during these tests. The four-plex was the main outlet in operation unless otherwise noted below.
Listening Tests- Speaker Power Connections: The SL3's were connected directly to the wall outlets on dedicated line #1. I left everything connected as usual, but added an extension cord so I could connect both speakers to the 1200S. With track 8 from Michael Jackson's HIStory album I noticed better delineation of instruments and an increased sense of space and air. The electrostatics wouldn't lose the output in the high frequencies immediately and the change was somewhat more noticeable after listening to an entire track and then taking the connection out of the RGPC, and moving it back into the wall. I had a friend help me do the quick switching, and occasionally did it for him as well. We tried multiple tracks on different discs with similar results in performance.
On track 1 off Echo by Tom Petty, we noticed a decrease in background noise level or hash. It was as if a slight bit of grunge was stripped away from the sound field. Instrument placement appeared more solid and focused. Another important difference was a quite noticeable improvement in quality as the volume was increased. It was as if the system had more power and dynamic range.
Next up was track 1 from Basia's Time And Tide. There was a consistent feeling of more depth to the soundstage and some of the above-mentioned differences held true as well. The last track I tried during this comparison was track 11 from Dire Straits' On Every Street. After switching back and forth the biggest difference was a blacker background that gave an added sense of inner detail and clarity.
With the speakers connected directly to the RGPC there was a consistent improvement in the quality of sound from the system. The differences from the direct wall connection could be best compared to an upgrade from a good CD player or a change from junk cables to better interconnect and speaker wire. I never thought there would be much difference from plugging the speakers into a device of this nature, but there was.
Listening Tests- CD transport in/out: My experience from testing power conditioners, power regenerators, and this device leads me to believe that the audible differences heard between components vary a great deal. Some are very susceptible to noise on the AC line, and others are less so. The differences between various power devices probably play a part in this as well. For the next set of tests I plugged and unplugged the CD transport from the RGPC.
On track 6 from The The's Soul Mining album I heard a more expansive sound field. Without the CD plugged into the 1200S the size of the soundstage shrank from left to right, and the depth decreased, making the overall image flatter from front to back. The reverb trail on this track was not nearly as discernible with the CD unplugged from the RGPC. This would be probably the most demonstrable difference heard so far, the second being the decreased level of background hash heard earlier. This track also has two sets of vocals. The double set of vocals was very difficult to hear with the CD directly plugged into the wall.
I put on track 4 from The Cowboy Junkies Trinity Session, and started to listen to the vocal and how fleshed out it sounded. Then for some reason the high frequencies and 'air' seemed to only be on the right side and the soundstage shifted. I spent a good deal of time trying to trace the problem, and it seemed to be a problem with my left speaker. I didn't feel confident about continuing the audio testing at this point until I had another set of speakers connected. This is when I began to use the Revel F30's.
After changing speakers and the amplifier, I went back to comparisons with the CD transport. On track 2 from disc 2 from the soundtrack to Boogie Nights, I noted that cymbals came through with more clarity, and that sense of space, air, and depth improved. It was much easier to follow the sound of the instruments in the acoustic space with the CD in the 1200S, than when it was direct into the wall.
Last of the lone CD tests was track 14 from the soundtrack to Glengarry Glen Ross. With the transport connected to the RGPC, there was more shimmer to cymbals, more breath to the sound of instruments, and images occupied a larger, more life-like space on the soundstage. With the transport directly in the wall, there was more of an edge to the sound and it wasn't as liquid as with the RGPC. So far the differences heard had been anywhere from not much if any, to slight, to worthwhile, to a definite improvement. Similar to the other power device tested a few months ago, there were no drawbacks to using the device.
Listening Tests- Amplifier in/out: I intended to do testing with the amplifier in and out of the 1200S, but I was informed that the best sound was achieved with the amplifier(s) plugged into the same line that was shared by a RGPC. In my system, this meant hooking up the RGPC into one of the outlets (in #3), and then plugging the amp right next to it. For some reason I plugged the RGPC into (#1), and then hooked the amp into the adjacent outlet. I had all the other components plugged into the RGPC. I began my listening tests and something sounded very wrong. I thought to my self, "Okay, now what broke?!" (After the speaker situation, it seemed my luck had gone down the drain.) I went to check the equipment and all the connections and realized what I had done. I turned things off and switched connections to the other line (#3). Wow. What an amazing difference. Apparently, there is no substitute for a dedicated line. I would have to make this recommendation first to anyone considering a power device. Frankly, it made a much greater sound quality difference than any other unit I have used. Period. Of course my electrical (#1) is from the 1930's and uses cloth insulation, so anything new would offer an improvement.
I tried the amp directly into the 1200S but results were mixed. I thought that there was an improvement, but then when I switched back and back again, there was not much difference. I decided to cancel this testing, and follow the advice of the dealer who told me that the best sound was achieved with the amp connected on the shared line, and not directly into the RGPC. This is easy to check for yourself. Also, I would think that the current draw and other factors having to do with the amplifier design would alter the results for different brands and models. As an aside, I told a friend about the testing and the suggestion on amp connection. He has a cheaper model Monster conditioner (an HTS3000), and I suggested that he might be limiting his dynamic range with his amplifier plugged into the device. The next day he told me that it sounded significantly worse when it was unplugged. He does not have dedicated lines, and does not have a unit like the RGPC 1200S to help in the other areas of AC line enhancement. My guess is that the trade-off was not in the favor of a completely unfiltered AC line vs. the restriction in dynamics, etc. As always-your mileage may vary.
Listening Tests- Transport & Preamplifier in/out: For the last of the serious listening tests, I chose to move both the preamplifier and transport in and out of the RGPC simulating what I felt would make the most difference. Track 7 from Gus Gus Polydistortion proved to be a very telling cut. The background was quieter and had more blackness to the sound, and the sound was fuller and had more body. Vocals were more present and focused and sibilance was not as prominent and instead of sounding spitty and harsh they became more lifelike. Everything was more real, more powerful, and more dimensional! The more components that I moved in and out of the RGPC, the more noticeable the effects were. For anyone serious about auditioning this piece I would recommend this approach.
Visual Tests- video (RGPC in/out): From this point on I disconnected the audio completely and began video testing. The computer and projector were the only devices connected. I had the computer directly into the wall along with the projector and let it warm up with video for about an hour. I decided to test Richard Gray's claim that the difference would be noticeable just by unplugging the device from the adjacent wall outlet. I would let the unit "charge" up for a minute or so, then observe the picture carefully, and then unplug it, and look again. I had the projector plugged into the RGPC during many movie reviews over the course of the hardware review period and everything was fine. I had someone help with the video tests while I stayed about 6' from the projected 110" diagonal 1.78:1 image-actual image aspect ratio was different depending on the material. I tried both still and moving images for the test.
I should note that all images were displayed from the computer and it was not hooked into the RGPC. If it had been hooked into the RGPC, this might have improved the image but would not have allowed me to plug and unplug the RGPC. Also, the image might have changed more noticeably when connected to a conventional DVD player vs. my computer. I was able to obtain a Silicon Image Iscan doubler, but I didn't have a reference DVD player for evaluation.
I tried several different still patterns and moving patterns from the AVIA test disc. With the resolution pattern at 100 TVL I could swear I saw a difference, but when I switched back it seemed to go away. I spent half and hour going back and forth with different test screens, but eventually gave up-maybe because even when I was looking away I was seeing circles!
I decided that perhaps there were minimally detectable differences with the patterns, but no one is going to watch patterns anyway, so I might as well go to some video material and check for differences there. I put on Pleasantville and paused the DVD on the stills at the beginning of the movie. I used three different frames, plugged and unplugged, and each time I thought I might have seen a difference I went back and convinced myself that I have an active imagination. Later as I watched more material, I determined what to concentrate on, and what the differences were.
When I was watching chapter 6 from Michael Jordan To The Max, the image had better color saturation and the visuals were (very) slightly sharper and more focused. It helped to just sit back and take in the whole image rather that focus on one particular thing. Anyone who has eyeglasses or contacts has taken an eye exam and had the feeling that one lens is sharper than the other, but focusing on the letter itself really doesn't give you any help. You just have to sort of feel what looks better. If this isn't too clear, then the best I can say is that all the differences were EXTREMELY subtle on this display. I should also mention that the distance of 6' has barely noticeable scan lines with this projector set to 768 lines of resolution. The set is not perfectly focused or converged which may have had some impact on the test results. Also, if I had the projector connected directly to the RGPC I might have noticed more long-term differences. Hooking the projector up in that fashion would have meant that I had no way to quickly and easily test the differences, so I didn't do that during the tests.
For the last bit of video in the testing, I used scenes from the DTS Sampler #4 including the clip from Antz and Saving Private Ryan. With Antz, it was difficult to tell the difference, but in the battle sequence from Saving Private Ryan, which I played over and over countless times, I felt there was better depth of image, with a sharper and more colorful image present with the RGPC in the wall. I have to admit that these differences were very subtle on my system, and if the RGPC's primary purpose were for video equipment, I would strongly suggest testing before purchase. Of course, if you are using it for audio as well, then the video is just icing on the cake.
The Richard Gray Power Company has stated that there are big differences when using their power devices with plasma screens. I did not have one handy to try, so I can't verify the results. I have read that people with other projectors have noticed more differences while using AC line enhancement. Like everything, the differences will vary depending on the display device. Plasma screens, other front projectors, and possibly rear-projection televisions and direct views may have more obvious improvements with the RGPC 1200S.
Summary: I've read and heard others mention situations where the sound was worse with the RGPC in the system. This is completely contrary to my experience with the 1200S. Never did I find my system sound worse with the 1200S. I can't say that I always heard huge differences, but the more components I had plugged into the RGPC the better the sound of my review system. The differences ranged anywhere from slight to obvious. The improvements were in lowered background noise, hash, grunge, and edginess, improved clarity, focus, presence, realism, dimensionality, etc. Music and video just sounded and looked better. Although my video experience wasn't extreme in the differences observed, in other systems the improvement wrought by the 1200S may be more noticeable. Unlike other devices, the Richard Gray does not limit current, and some of its effects are noticeable even when the components are not plugged directly into the device! It is compact, solidly built, runs cool, has two pair of six isolated outlets, and offers AC line enhancement, surge suppression and protection. If you are in the market for an AC line enhancement device this is one to check out.
- Brian Bloom
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