June 2000Richard Gray's Power Company 400S
by Doug Schneider
Perhaps its a millennial trend or something, but Ive recently encountered companies with names that leave me, well, a tad confused. For example, I just reviewed a product that I first knew as the Ortho Spectrum. Its a nifty unit from Japan that you tack onto the output of a CD player or DAC. It imparts an analog-like ease to the sometimes-clinical sound of digital. I learned after some time that the products real name is the AR-2000 Analogue Reconstructor -- a little more indicative of its nature, I guess. I still call it the Ortho Spectrum, however.
As for the product under consideration here, the story goes something like this: I first met Richard McCarthy at CEDIA Expo 99. He was carrying this particular product around and was encouraging people to come experience a demo of it in use in one of the rooms there. I didnt have time to go see a demo right away, but I did want to quiz him about it.
"Whats the name of the product?" I asked.
"Its Richard Grays Power Company," he quickly replied.
"Are you Richard Gray?" I sheepishly asked, thinking that perhaps even the hyper-efficient CEDIA organizers could have made a typo on his name badge.
"No, no, he lives near me and designed this," McCarthy politely replied.
"OK, so hes the designer. But whats the name of this product?" I then asked, pulling out my pen to scribble down notes for our coverage.
"No, actually I co-own the company, and this is Richard Grays Power Company."
To make a long story short, a "whos on first" scenario ensued, and after a few minutes I had it all close to figured out.
Here goes. Richard McCarthy co-owns the company, Audio Line Source, that produces this product. The product, you see, is the Power Company -- Richard Grays Power Company to be exact. And, as mentioned, Richard Gray designed the product for Audio Line Source. Richard McCarthy decided to give the product the unique moniker that highlights Grays contribution. There is no Richard Grays Power Company in the corporate sense; it exists only as a product. I guess that to be perfectly clear, this product is called Richard Grays Power Company by Audio Line Source. Oh yes, one more thing! It does have a model number -- 400S (presumably other models will follow). Confused? Dont worry. These days I call it "the Richard Gray" or just "the Power Company." "RGPC" works too.
Describing this product is somewhat easier than describing its name. Richard Grays Power Company 400S is basically a well-finished metal chassis that houses a very large inductor wired in parallel with the power line. Thats the crux of it, and Audio Line Source has a patent pending on the way theyve implemented this technology. There is also an MOV for spike and surge protection, and the unit has four Hubbell power receptacles into which you plug your components. Its rated for 15-amp use, and it has a detachable power cord. Simple? You betcha! But its one of those things, I guess, that will make some audiophiles scratch their heads and ask, "Why didnt I think of that?" The Richard Grays Power Company 400S is designed to be used with audio and video systems and is priced at $700.
In its simplest form, the easiest thing to do is plug a Richard Grays Power Company unit into the wall and then plug all your components into it (providing you dont have more than four components). If you have more than four (or even if you dont), a configuration that the company recommends is what they call "star clustering." This entails using multiple units to accommodate more components, and it also allows you to strategically place certain components on one Power Company (digital source, for example), and other components on another (preamp, amp, etc.). The way you star cluster is by plugging one unit into the wall and then plugging a second unit into that first one. If you want to add yet another unit, the company shows that the third unit should be plugged into the first one as well (Im not sure how you star cluster more than four, though). Besides the convenience of having more outlets with the ability to divide components up onto different "units," the company also extols the benefits of having multiple inductors on the line for further performance improvements. The most units I tried in any one system was two.
What does it do?
What does having a very large inductor (or two or three) on the line do? That depends, really, on the person you ask. According to most engineers Ive talked to, an inductor could provide benefit to a component because of the energy-storage properties of the inductor. Most didnt elaborate further, though (most likely because they hadnt tried it themselves -- yet). However, there was one audio-electronics designer who went on to surmise that the benefit could definitely be in the way the inductor stores and then releases energy. He went into great detail theorizing on what results you might get. He got excited enough that I was sure he was going to stand up, go to his lab and test the theory.
Ill save you the long version of this story, though, because the key points the designer brought up were very close to what the Audio Line Source says in their literature, something they call "The Gray Paper": "When current flows through the inductor, a magnetic field builds up in the core and around the coil. When this current ceases, the magnetic field collapses and returns the stored energy to the circuit." They liken this to a flywheel on the power line that seems to help components obtain the power they want when they need it. "Help" in their terminology means "work better," and in audio and video systems, this should translate into components that sound and look better.
What must be made clear here is that the Richard Grays Power Company is not a power conditioner in the traditional sense, nor is it a power regenerator like products from PS Audio and Accuphase. Audio Line Source actually calls it an "un-conditioner" -- a name that describes its function as unique from what other products do. Whats interesting, though, is that although I tried the Power Company alone in my system as the company recommends, I did use it in combination with other power conditioners and surge suppressors. I found benefit in doing this and, although it will vary from system to system, the unit does seem to have the flexibility to allow you to use it with other power devices should the need arise. (I do caution users to ask prospective manufacturers before you do this to ensure there are no incompatibilities that could cause problems or damage.)
The benefits that the Richard Grays Power Company brings in an audio-only system range from exceedingly subtle to downright startling. It is, as I expected, somewhat system dependent, making experimentation mandatory, but the results can be quite rewarding. Furthermore, despite being somewhat uneven in terms of the magnitude of the improvements, I did find some consistencies in its performance from system to system.
Before I get to describing exactly what it does, I want to emphasize one thing it doesnt do (and its definitely not something that cant be said about all power conditioners and related products). Richard Grays Power Company 400S didnt in any way limit the components, not even my power amplifiers! I have yet to find a traditional conditioner that I can plug my power-hungry, singled-ended pure class-A Blue Circle BC2 amplifiers in to, but I can use them with the Richard Gray's Power Company, which is all about providing power.
Getting to the skinny on what the RGPC does, one of the very first places I tried it was as part of an exceedingly simple but shockingly good audio-only system. This system consisted of just the Audio Aero Capitole CD player plugged directly into the BC2 amplifiers, which in turn drove the Cliffhanger Audio CHS-2/WS-2 loudspeakers. Speaker wires and interconnect was Nirvana S-L series. The result? Without the Power Company, the system is fabulous-sounding; it has an abundance of detail, a you-are-there type of presence, and a smooth and rich sound that is simply glorious to hear. Id never felt quite so close to the music.
But with all components plugged into the Power Company, this already excellent system took a significant step forward in overall performance. There seemed to be a drop in the noise floor and a reduction of grain and hash, which resulted in a blacker sonic background, improved image focus, better perception of soundstage depth, and even a tad more detail. What was the best I had heard just got a notch better! Whats more, in the context of a system like this, the cost of the RGPC makes it almost a bargain. The system without the Power Company retails for about $13,000 USD. The $700 add-in for the Power Company seems almost insignificant for the level of improvement it brings. Suffice it to say that the Richard Grays Power Company became a mandatory component in this system.
Next, I used the Power Company in the opposite type of system -- some may even refer to it as a mass-market system -- consisting of the Nakamichi AV-10 receiver, a pair of Paradigm Atom loudspeakers, and a Kenwood DVD player used as a CD source. Again, there was subtle improvement in terms of refinement and system smoothness, but not nearly to the magnitude I experienced with my other system. However, I dont fault the Richard Gray unit for providing only a subtle difference here. The electronics in this system are good, but not outstanding. Paradigms Atom speakers are outstanding for the price, but all together this is not what I would consider a high-resolution system. As a result, any improvements in imaging, depth, or detail are not going to be as easy to discern as with the higher-quality system. It's also important to keep the price in perspective here. This second set of components adds up to about $2000, so $700 all of a sudden seems like a lot more money, particularly when you could do something like buy different speakers.
However, I havent told you all yet. The products in this little stereo system also form part of a bigger home-theater rig (using Paradigm ADP-70 surround speakers, CC-70 center-channel and the PDR-10 subwoofer) and it was here that the benefits were more startling, but in ways I hadnt expected. While the increase in sound quality was still subtle, the improvement in picture quality on my television was more than impressive when I plugged it into the Richard Grays Power Company. Colors were more deeply saturated, blacks seemed blacker, and overall there was a definite improvement in dimensionality and vibrancy. With a low-cost audio-only system, I found the improvements of the RGPC too subtle to warrant the $700 expenditure. However, factor in what it did for the video image, and the story is different because I can plug all components into it. Now I dont watch my television without it being plugged into the Power Company. Like I mentioned, experimentation is mandatory because in the context of this system (with improvements in both audio and video quality), the $700 investment is much easier to justify.
What do two do?
The most obvious benefit of having two (or more) of the units is the provision for having more receptacles. If you find benefit from using the Power Company and you need more space, then you have little choice. I fall into this category, and I now use two RGPCs in my main system because when I review products, I dont have such a simple system. Many times I use a transport and DAC, a preamplifier, and perhaps some other things like the nifty little Assemblage D2D-1 sample-rate converter. Thats a lot more equipment than four outlets can accommodate, and it is why I use two in my reference audio system.
But what about performance? Without a doubt, I found that the most bang for the buck comes with the first unit. The addition of the second unit, at least in my system, wrought subtle improvements again, but I didnt find them to be nearly of the same magnitude as the first's. If I just needed the four outlets, I could live with a single unit, at least to start out. Buying a second unit for performance would be more of a luxury to try and obtain the very best performance. For those who do want to achieve all-out performance, I definitely recommend trying two, if not more, just to see what happens. Once again, I did notice still greater improvement.
Before I wrap to a conclusion about this product, I just want to add another thing. In the context of this review I used the Richard Grays Power Company alone or star clustered with another RGPC unit. However, further experimentation revealed that the RGPC was compatible with both an API Power Wedge as well as the excellent Brick Wall surge suppressors. Indeed, Doug Blackburn has tinkered with some similar products in different music-only and home-theater setups. Experiments like this are long and tedious and really warrant their own review, so dB has a full-length follow-up planned.
What to do?
Theres a group of audiophiles for which $700 will seem like a drop in the bucket. If you belong to this group, by all means try the Richard Gray's Power Company -- or two. I found nothing but benefits in using them. For me, and with my various systems, expenditures in excess of a few hundred dollars require some thought! That said, Im glad that Audio Line Source has taken a strategic direction with this product that I think is both necessary and admirable and will definitely benefit consumers. My understanding is that this product is only available through dealers, and the company encourages people to find a good dealer and try the RGPC at home. The company encouraged me to see it work at CEDIA, and thats what they want you to do too. While Im sure that they could have shaved some amount off the price of each unit by going the factory-direct route, the way theyve chosen is correct one for widespread use and acceptance. As with essentially any audio purchase, try before you buy is the best advice.
In summary, I found definite benefit to using the Richard Grays Power Company 400S in my system. In my reference system, I found that it improved image focus and the perception of soundstage depth, reduced a slight tinge of hash and grit, and in an overall sense, rendered a better sense of clarity with an improvement in low-level detail and dynamic contrasts -- all good things. While some may admittedly find these improvements subtle, in the context of a top-flight system where the achievement of all-out performance is the goal, the improvements the RGPC brings can be considered quite large. Moving into video applications, the improvement in picture quality on my TV on the sound quality of my home-theater system really surprised and impressed me. Audiophiles and videophiles looking to maximize a systems potential should seek out the Richard Gray's Power Company and try it at home.
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