by Adam LaBarge
PS Audio’s AC3 and AC5, entry level power cables worth a listen
Why, Who, What
I believe that the ‘garbage in = garbage out’ rule of audio extends beyond just the source->amp->speakers. Garbage can start at the electrical panel of the house, penetrate, grow and amass as it travels through out the home and it radiates itself all over our equipment in unpleasant ways. The RFs spewed from a power cable degrades an audio system like cataracts blurs eyesight. It can suck out mids, make highs sound tinny, and slur bass and dynamics. That is why a good power cable must protect your equipment from this electrical interference. This is fundamentally important to good hi-fi audio and Paul McGovern and team at PS Audio know this.
I became interested in PS Audio’s product line when I went to a demonstration presented by Paul himself of the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport and DAC. Which is well worth a listen if you get an opportunity. Paul was friendly, engaging and endeared me to asking to review their entry level power cables. Communication with the PS Audio team has been just as pleasant as Paul in person.
But why power cables, and why entry level of all price points? Well, to put it in a drawn out convoluted fashion… I’ve heard a few diamond in the rough entry level system ($2000-$10,000), that after adding an after market upgraded power cable or two, three, four,… how many plugs do you have… have metamorphosed into whole new, more listenable, pleasing and balanced systems. Taking away the tin in the highs, giving the mids and lows more clarity, and basically taking the system from pretty good to enjoyable. Sometimes even to very enjoyable. And for a lot of folks in the entry level market, an extra $100-$300 on a power cable is unthinkable. I’d like to change this thinking. One of my goals is to help the entry level guy (gals too) who are out there, wanting to get more from their system without further leveraging themselves out over that endless pit of hi-fi equipment prices. Sometimes a simple power cable upgrade can satisfy the upgrade yearning, and sometimes, it is all one needs to find out how truly amazing the system they already have is.
Construction/Why After Market Power Cables are Different
So here is where I talk about the construction of the AC3 and AC5 power cables and why they work the way they do… … did a say enough already? No, err, well, OK. Here is goes. I’m not an electrical engineer nor did I major in science at college, so alas I will not be plunging into the shadowy molecular depths of electrical physics to explain how a power cable effects the sound in your system. But, I did talk to a few of smart people and requested the every-man’s version of how this stuff works. I’ll do my best to explain why power cords, and the different constructions of the AC5 and AC3, can make a difference in your audio reproduction quality. But, there is a comment section below, and I encourage anyone with knowledge greater than I to add detail too, expand on, or further clarify, in a simple haiku form only please, how his stuff works.
Electrical energy and how it is delivered to our equipment is the giver and taker of great hi-fi audio. A system needs it to live, yet the electrical noise of the power cable and the components; CDP, Amplifier, TV, Bluray Player, computers, lights, power conditioners and so on, can mutate and drain a system of dynamic snap, distort frequency balance, and obscure the perpetually elusive ‘mojo’ of a great hi-fi system.
PSAudio freely admits there is not scientific data to show why aftermarket power cables, or theirs in particular, will improve the sound in your system. But there are a few theories as to why they will help. They have though spent hundreds of man hours tinkering with hundreds of cable designs and have come to an over arching theory of cable design they refer to as ‘frequency balance’. They want to make sure that the electricity coming from the wall ends up giving your equipment the best possible over all frequency balance to inject into your audio stream. Treble isn’t inflated in volume, lows aren’t sucked out, mids aren’t distorted in some fashion either. Balance.
Over the years of trial and error, PSAudio found that bass performance wasn’t too much of an issue to be addressed. Getting the clarity and warmth of the midrange correct, and the volume of the treble, are the most poignant issues that have to be resolved. And based off how the power cord sounds, I’d agree everything seems very much in balance.
For the midrange the PerfectWave AC line uses a rectangular conductor design to achieve a desired core to surface area ratio that produces an open and warm midrange. For the treble they used a similar rectangle design but then twists the rectangle into a hollow tube and coats it with PE foam to insulate the electrical fields of the conductor. In other words, keep the interference of the varying electrical fields to a minimum.
One wonders though, seeing as how electricity from the wall comes in one wave form, and into you components goes in as one wave form, how designing an electrical cable made up of various shapes, thicknesses and quality, with no filtering device, would help. But it sounds to me, from my auditioning experience, like it does.
Another large component to good cable design is the shielding. This helps protect the electrodes and capacitors that process your audio signal from being interfered with from the RF from the power cable. The power acts like an antenna. As the electricity flows through it from the wall, RF signals are being radiated out from it like a broadcast antenna. Shielding your cable is cheaper than building all components in air tight 4inch thick aluminum cases, so stopping the RF interference at the source is another of a good power cables qualities.
So to answer the question on why an after market cable is better/different than the standard power cable that came in the box, it is because more technology and money has been spent to design a product that will give your equipment the absolute best change of performing to its fullest possibilities. You might as than, as I have in the past, why would component manufacturers not just ship their gear with a better after market cable? As one can see from visiting an audio show, component manufacturers do use after market cables in their show rooms, so why not just ship to the customer when they purchase a price of your gear? Well the argument I’ve heard against this is that, and I do slightly buy this argument only because systems and the environment they are in, vary so greatly from consumer to consumer, that one should demo several different after market cables to find out what they like best in their system. The cable someone may ship to you when you by an amplifier might not really be the best selection for you, and now you’ve paid the extra cost for a cable you might not use.
The AC5 uses a 10 gauge wire and double shielding while the AC3 uses 12 gauge (smaller diameter of wire) with multiple shielding technologies. What you would noticed between the two if they were in your hands is that the AC5 is a slightly thicker power cable than the AC3, but both are easy to bend and manipulate and the plugs are very sturdy and stay connected into the outlet and equipment.
Really, it just gets your palms all sweaty in anticipation at all the fun you can have trying this cable or that cable. Being able to tweak the sound in your system, to satisfy your OCD graving for the best sound possible.
I’ve been lucky enough that PSAudio has loaned me the AC3 & AC5 and Quintet (review pending) power cables for an extended review time. I’ve been able to try them out on several amplifiers and system combination that have passed through my house in the past seven month (sorry guys), including headphone amps, against a couple other power cables of equal to much greater prices, amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, DAC and several different speakers.
Currently I’ve been running the AC5 &AC3 with the Electrocompaniet Prelude PI-2 amplifier, PC-1 CDP, and PSB1 bookshelf speakers. (Review pending for Dagogo.com) I’ve also used them to power a Jeff Rowland Design Group 102S amplifier, Onkyo M282 amplifier, Audio By Van Alstine OmegaStar 250EX amplifier, Omega III pre-amplifier and AudioNote DAC One. Speakers have ranged from the Electrocompaniet PSB1 passive bookshelf gems to the PMC TB2S+passive bookshelf monitors which have a fantastic midrange, to the classic entry level floorstanders the Monitor Audio RS6. I’ve also used the AC3 & AC5 with a KingRex headphone amplifier and Trends Audio PW-10 PSU and PA-10 tube headphone amplifier. (Review pending for AudioReview). Sources include both a verity of CDPs and transports and a Rega P3/24 with Sumiko Blue Point Special Evo III cartridge with a Moon LP3 phono stage with Granite Audio #460 interconnects.
The PerfectWave AC5 ($249) is a 10 gauge, double shielded power cable, made with multiple gauge and shaped conductors and solid machined connectors. It is very well constructed. Thick yet easy to bend and fairly hefty in weight. Both sides stay well plugged into equipment and outlet.
Across the multiple amplifiers and systems I’ve listened to it on, I’ve found the AC5 does a great job of slightly accentuating male vocals and similar frequency ranged sounds, bringing them just a bit more forward than the accompaniment instruments. Actually my wife first pointed this out one night when we were A/B testing about five different power cables ranging from $10-$1000. The AC5 also increased the detail in the treble and midrange. It controlled/eliminated the tin in some of the systems it was used with. I found the JRDG 102S to be fairly sensitive to interference and can sound rather lifeless and thin with a slight tin in the highs when using the supplied power cable. The AC5 cured these ills.
Comparing the AC5 to a standard supplied power cable, or even the AC3 from PS Audio, the difference is night and day. It brings a clarity and solidness to the music, increasing the energy of large dynamic shifts in music and it does a very good job is clearing up the midrange to make smaller, mirco dynamics shifts more audible. Think of the guitar pluck that gets slightly more emphasis. The AC5 is able to take my current set up and turn it from good to captivating.
Remember though, the AC5 is about balance and as such it doesn’t extent the bass frequencies lower than sound natural. I have in some other cables that do, and when I’m playing electronica, techno, hiphop, that unnatural bass level and extension is ok, but for everything else the naturalness in the balance of frequencies the AC5 brings to my system is perfect.
The AC3 power cable ($129) is a different cable than the AC5. It is a 12 gauge wire, using OFC pure copper, multiple shields, and the same multiple gauge geometry as the AC5 with machined connectors.
I was less impressed with the AC3 power cable. When comparing the two on amplifiers/pre-amplifiers I found that between the two, using the AC3 offered only a slight improvement in clarity and dynamics over the out of the box power cable. It is much more worth it in my opinion to shell out the extra money for the AC5 to power an amplifier/pre-amplifier than the AC3. But that doesn’t mean the AC3 had no use. I used it to power CDPlayers, DACs, other source type equipment. Those don’t draw as much power and a smaller diameter cable isn’t as impeding. And the quality shielding at a lower price than the AC5 makes it very worth while investment to reducing RF interference for your equipment.
I really liked the AC5 power cable to power amplifiers and pre-amplifiers. Its ability to increase detail, dynamics, and present most male vocals a just a slight bit more forward than the accompanying music has won my ear and recommendation. IT is a very balanced cable at for $249 well worth the difference I heard in my systems. If you have an entry level system and no after market power cables, you will probably do yourself a huge favor using an AC5 to at least power your amplifier.
And even though I didn’t find the AC3 as improving a cable as the AC5 when using it to power an amplifier/pre-amplifer, it certainly has a place in a system. It paired just fine with my source components and produced less interference than a standard out of the box power cable does when in the system.
If you have an opportunity, do yourself a favor, at least demo an AC5 on your amplifier, you might find your system greatly improved.
If you have any comments or questions please write’m up below.