Listening #11 Robert J. Reina & John Atkinson in March 2004
Art Dudley's review of the PS Audio Power Port AC outlets in the November 2003 Stereophile inspired me to share with you this tale of rewiring the listening room of my new house, including an upgrade of all AC outlets.
A few years ago, I bought a house on the outskirts of New York City that had a large den, added 10 years before. A 35' by 17' room with an 8' ceiling slanting up to 11' is unusual within the city limits. After a few minor room treatments (Echo Busters in the corners), the room was dead neutral, with just the right amount of reverberation. However, the electricity needed work.
I commissioned an electrician to run dedicated lines to my listening room from a new box installed in my garage. My original intent was to run three separate 20-amp circuits using 10-gauge, three-conductor wire: one circuit for the power amp, one for the digital gear, and one for everything else. I then decided to add a fourth circuit, in case I decide to switch to monoblock amps in the future. I chose Leviton (similar to Hubbell) 8300I hospital-grade outlets. As Art described, the "hospital-grade" nomenclature means that the connection is guaranteed spark-free; the "I" designates outlets in which every metal part has been treated with a special corrosion-resistant material. As the bottom wall of my listening room is underground and I'm a block from the water, I felt this was appropriate. I had the outlets installed in the vertical studs in the wall; the outlets grab the plugs so tightly that, if you're not careful when unplugging components, the entire assembly can be yanked right out of the drywall.
After 100 hours of break-in, the improvements were significant. With all recordings, the system reproduced far more midrange inner detail and delicacy. The improved dynamic range of the system was staggering. The system's noise floor seemed to have been lowered significantly—subtle dynamic inflections in high-quality recordings breathed as in a live performance—and the high-level dynamic slam seemed effortless, as if I'd doubled the amplifier power. The lower bass seemed extended by another half-octave.
I disagree with Artie on one aspect of this project. Do not attempt to install such outlets yourself. Artie is unusually handy—he knows how to adjust bearings on pivoted tonearms, for God's sake—but I'm klutzy enough to have once rested the hot tip of a soldering iron on its own live AC cord. Electricians are not that expensive.
A cautionary anecdote: About 15 years ago, when my wife and I first moved in together, I replaced all of the outlets in the house with modern ones. To save money, I employed my wife's handy but unlicensed nephew. It turned out that he'd left one of his connections loose. When I plugged in a high-current electric grill, a fire started inside the wall.
Better safe than sorry.—Robert J. Reina
The editor's two cents
I cannot agree more about the sonic improvement brought about by running your hi-fi system on its own circuit, with high-quality AC outlets. In my old Santa Fe home, the $300 I spent on running new 20-amp circuits back to the breaker box was the best investment I made in the system. In my new Brooklyn abode, I have each power amplifier plugged into its own 20-amp circuit, and the front-end components on a third circuit, with the outlets just 6' from the breakers, The apparent lowering of the electrical noise floor is addictive.
And as Bob cautions, if you are in any doubt at all about your abilities as an electrician, have the work done professionally. It's not expensive.—John Atkinson