The Wall Street Journal ran an article last August about Japanese audiophiles who have it all—and (gulp) still want more. Sound familiar? The reporter focused on audiophiles who are buying their own power poles and mounting their personal transformers on them. “Electricity is like blood,” one fellow explained to the newspaper. “If it is tainted the whole body will get sick. No matter how expensive the audio equipment is, it will be no good if the blood is bad.”
The image may be graphic, but he has a point. At bottom, your audio equipment is modulating electricity that’s sent to you from the power company. But what are you receiving? If you live in a city and are sharing a transformer with your immediate neighbors, then you’re more than likely the recipient of all the junk their computers, refrigerators, and so on are dumping back into the power line. There are different ways to address these problems—a few years ago, I had an electrician install a 375-pound Equitech 10 WQ balanced transformer that isolates my dedicated stereo lines from the rest of my house.
If by mistake I happen to plug one of my components into a regular house line, I immediately start to get hum emanating from the loudspeakers. Not everyone, however, wants to—or can—go to the length of messing around with heavy-duty transformers. Enter AudioQuest.
The company, which was founded in 1980 by Bill Low, has long been famous for its spiffy line of cables, and has recently begun to expand its reach. One move was to acquire distribution of the Lyra line of cartridges. Another has been to move into the power products, ranging from simple power strips all the way up to the $7995 Niagara 7000 Low-Z Power Noise-Dissipation System. The 81-pound Niagara 7000 is the brainchild of Garth Powell, the company’s director of power products. Powell has an extensive background in electronics and is also a professional jazz percussionist. About two years ago, AudioQuest hired him and essentially told him to design a new power device from scratch. With its deep pockets, AudioQuest could afford to bankroll Powell for a full year as he set about trying to devise a new approach. The truth is that Powell, who visited me to listen to the Niagara 7000 in my system, was like a kid in a candy shop. He can barely stop talking about the different challenges that electricity poses for stereo systems. He asserts, among other things, that up to a third of the audio signal can be masked by the crud riding on power lines. Given carte blanche by AudioQuest to design a new unit, Powell clearly went nuts on the design of the Niagara 7000, whose technology has trickled down into a variety of other, less expensive power products produced by the company.
One of the things that Powell likes to emphasize is that the Niagara 7000 is not a power conditioner. Instead, it relies on dielectric-biased AC isolation transformers to reduce distortion without reducing current to any component, including amplifiers—the Transient Power Correction feature is said to deliver up to a 90-amp current reservoir for power amplifiers. Essentially, the Niagara seeks to create a power bank for your amps so that it doesn’t have to strain to grab voltage from the wall. (The Niagara is complex enough that I don’t want to go overboard here on the technical aspects, but felt that the accompanying interview with Powell might be illuminating for readers who want to explore further.)
Alas, many of the conditioners that I’ve heard in the past may provide a more velvety background or tighter bass control, but a certain dynamic constriction seems, more often than not, to accompany these beneficial effects. The Niagara 7000 seeks to deliver it all. To that end, it features a bank of twelve outlets in the rear, with a set of four especially reserved for high-power devices. The plugs themselves are called NRG Edison AC outlets and, as AudioQuest warns, feature an extremely firm grip on the plug that mandates careful wiggling when inserting it into the unit. Flip on the engage switch in back, as well as a switch in front, and you’re off and running.
From the outset it was clear to me that the Niagara is an extraordinary piece of equipment that delivers numerous sonic improvements. Far from sagging in performance, the more components that I plugged into it, the better the Niagara sounded. Given the sheer number of components I use—Wilson Audio’s Hammer of Thor subwoofers dictates a second set of amps as well as two separate active crossovers—AudioQuest ultimately sent me a second Niagara for my power amplifiers. Once again, the sonic ante was upped. Throughout, the Niagara increases fine detail, expands the soundstage and improves the sense of black space. In some ways, listening to the Niagara really is like plunging over a waterfall—it carries you into a new sonic world.