AudioQuest Niagara 7000 Low-Z Power Noise-Dissipation System Page 2

Because of Garth Powell's background in pro audio, you can be sure there's a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) for the two groups of four outlets that use isolation transformers, because their outputs are symmetrical (balanced), which produces a voltage potential on Neutral relative to Ground. This is not a problem unless a connected component's power supply suffers a catastrophic failure, in which case there's a slight chance of the presence of AC voltage on the chassis. In that case, the GFCI would, within a fraction of a second, shut off the main power switch.

The Niagara 7000 measures 17.5" wide by 5.24" high by 17.2" deep, and inside it is a lot of stuff: 81 lbs' worth. It will set you back $7995, or $98.70/lb. Powell may come from pro audio, but he's brought to this product some serious audiophile sensibilities. (And Powell notes that, at his previous gig, those sensibilities often brought him into conflict with technicians who measured but didn't listen.)

At first, not impressed
We connected everything to the Niagara 7000: The big darTZeel NHB-458 monoblock amps were plugged into the High-Current outlets; the PureAudio Vinyl and Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamps were plugged into one of the two remaining groups of outlets, with the Simaudio Moon Evolution 650D transport-DAC, Lynx Hilo A/D–D/A converter, and Meridian Sooloos Digital Media System plugged into the other.

Then we began replaying some of the recordings we'd just listened to. The subhead "At first, not impressed" refers not only to my reaction, but to that of the three AudioQuesters—not that anyone said anything. But I could tell from their body language, including the creeping discomfort on Powell's face, that they weren't happy.

After a few minutes, I broke the silence. "I'm not liking what I'm hearing. Are you?"

All agreed. They didn't like it either. Powell: "Are you sure everything is connected to the Niagara?"

"Well, not the darTZeel NHB-18NS preamp, because that's battery powered. I plug its charging-circuit cord into whatever outlet. That can't possibly be affecting this."

Powell looked at me. "Is it a three-prong grounded cord?"

"Why, yes."

"And does it revert to AC power when the battery is exhausted?"


"Well, unplug it and plug it into the Niagara, and that should fix it."

And then . . .
Boy, did it ever! All of us were relieved. What had happened?

Powell surmised that, because none of the components connected to the darTZeel were referenced to ground and the darTZeel was, the result was a major-league ultrasonic oscillation that we heard as gauzy, transparency-destroying glare. The more high-frequency energy the music contained, the more of this unpleasantness we heard. And that's what we all heard.

That problem solved, now what did we hear?

A very different sound from the one I'd gotten used to, which already was damn good.

As I write, the Niagara 7000 has been in my system for a period of a few months, in the middle of which I installed Marten's Coltrane III loudspeakers (review in the works). I got a good handle on the speakers' sound. A few days ago, I removed the Niagara 7000 and associated power cords, reinstalled both Shunyata Hydra Triton v2s and both Hydra Typhons, gave them all a day or so to break in (with music continuously fed to them by my Meridian Sooloos server), then sat down to listen to a stack of LPs, high-resolution digital downloads, ripped DVD-Audio discs, and my own 24-bit/96kHz rips of vinyl.

Here's the interesting thing: Switching from the AudioQuest Niagara 7000 to the Shunyata Hydras produced the same difference I'd heard at the 2015 CES, where AQ had set up a stack of well-known power conditioners and was offering to directly compare any and all of them with the Niagara 7000. The first choice of comparison for everyone in the room was Shunyata, which for many has long been the standard by which all power conditioners should be judged. I know the impression that I'd formed, but until this comparison in my own system, I'd taken what I'd heard at CES with a pound of salt.

That's because, in these kinds of comparisons, it's important not to make the speaker-shopping mistake of being attracted to the brighter-sounding test subject. This can be prevented by giving your brain a rest between trials by listening to something "as is" instead of "in comparison to." That wasn't possible in AudioQuest's CES room.

So, keeping that in mind; and depending on your perspective; and depending on the system in which you install any of these conditioners; and remembering that different recordings will produce different results, in turn dependent on their inherent tonal character, some benefiting more from one presentation than from the other; and painting in broad strokes: The Shunyatas' sound is either exceptionally velvet-pure and free of artifacts, with jet-"black" backgrounds—or the price paid for those undeniably silent backgrounds are somewhat blunted transients, and high frequencies that are somewhat veiled and not fully extended. Or the Niagara 7000 sounded more transparent overall and more wide open on top, with fast, well-defined transients—or somewhat "zippy" on top, with over-sharp transients.

One thing I can tell you for sure: plugging my system into the wall instead of into either the AQ or Shunyata conditioners produced a major degradation of the sound, especially in terms of background silence, overall transparency, and resolution of microdynamics. The Niagara 7000 better resolved fine detail and threw a deeper, more expansive soundstage—but the Shunyata had more bottom-end drive, and bass overall was more forceful and impactful, even if transients weren't quite as well defined as with the Niagara.

For instance, I played a file I'd made of "Up on Cripple Creek" from an RL (Bob Ludwig) pressing of The Band (LP, Capitol STAO-132), and while the sound of the small recording studio—Sammy Davis Jr.'s cabana—was more fully revealed through the Niagara, the weight and slam of Levon Helm's loosely tuned pawnshop drum kit had more wallop through the Shunyatas.

Last time the Shunyatas were in my system, for some reason I played a Japanese reissue of the Beatles' Something New (LP, Capitol EAS-80564) that I hadn't played in many years—I remembered that, on this LP, "I'll Cry Instead" has the most amazingly clear tambourine sound. (Don't ask how my brain works.) And yes, it still does—it's amazingly clear. But now, with my system having been upgraded so often and so effectively in the meantime—especially by the addition of the SAT tonearm—the tambourine wasn't just amazing, it was amazing! I could hear each and every zil shimmer and shake as they produced that unmistakable sound.

When the Niagara 7000 had been up and running a while, I played it again and, yes, the soundstage was more expansive, each of the many vocal overdubs on most of the songs were presented in greater relief, and the tambourine zils sounded more metallic and sparkling and somewhat less muted, with no added negatives.

The last records I played through both the AQ and the Shunyata conditioners were two vinyl reissues: D'ombre et de lumière . . . , Magda Tagliaferro's recital of Spanish piano music (LP, EMI/Electric Recording Company ERC 0120); and Mahler's Symphony 3, with Zubin Mehta conducting the LA Philharmonic (LP, Decca/Analogue Productions APC 117). I felt that both sounded better through the Niagara 7000. In the Tagliaferro—one of my two "Records to Die For" for 2016—the piano was recorded in a pleasingly reverberant space (or I'm fooled by studio reverb). Transients of the struck notes sounded faster, less thick, more naturally expressed through the Niagara, as did the length of the notes' decays. Tagliaferro's pedal work was definitely better defined, especially when she tapped the damper pedal. Also more distinct was the sense of separation of the sound of the recording space from the image of the piano. The Mahler is a somewhat dark, rich, mid-hall recording; with the Niagara, the horns—which sounded velvety through the Shunyatas—had more brass bite, and more convincingly solid images that were better separated from the hall reverb.

The AudioQuest Niagara 7000 and Shunyata Research's Hydra Triton v2 and Hydra Typhon are all outstanding power conditioners, well designed by people who know what they're doing. Both brands substantially improved the sound of my system without limiting its dynamic range—something not all power conditioners of my experience have managed.

But I have to hand it to Bill Low. He's scored big in diversifying his successful cable company first by hiring Gordon Rankin to design the reasonably priced, high-performance DragonFly USB DAC. Then, seeing an opportunity in the burgeoning headphones market, he brought aboard Skylar Gray to design the innovative NightHawks. And he gave Garth Powell free rein to come up with the Niagara 7000—a power conditioner that joins a few others at the head of the class. (And as for that damn AudioQuest JitterBug, WTF?!)

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dalethorn's picture

I can relate to most of this, having owned NightHawks, DragonFlys, and JitterBugs. When I read about "giving the brain (or ears) a rest" between certain evaluations, I recognized that as something I do. Learning different techniques and when to employ them helps a person stay focused in critial evaluations. Just don't give up on the JitterBug yet - the effects aren't predictable unless you know exactly what's wrong in a simple system that justifies JitterBug use. On a laptop computer I got slightly more air and realism, but on an iPhone using the Oppo HA-2 DAC, it cleaned up some mud on the lower end of the scale.

kursten's picture

Audioquest and The Enthusiast Network seem to have a rather cozy relationship. I've never read a negative review of Audioquest products in any TEN publication. The fact that AQ has hired a Stereophile employee who continues to write for Stereophile reflects a revolving door that would not be permitted in honest journalism. I recently met with a man who owns a prominent acoustics company who informed me that he recently placed ads in Stereophile - right around the same time I read a glowing review of his products. I appreciate the detailed reviews, but expect more transparency and independence from the press.

John Atkinson's picture
kursten wrote:
The fact that AQ has hired a Stereophile employee who continues to write for Stereophile reflects a revolving door that would not be permitted in honest journalism.

Yes, Stephen Mejias was hired by AudioQuest 2 years ago, but no, he hasn't written for Stereophile since that time. So please put your conspiracy theories and your hearsay back in your pocket.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

skippyfree111's picture

So I've playing around with the 7000 for a few months and I would agree with Michael's evaluation of the product, but I don't believe he got the best out of it. Having owned excellent PLC's from Audience, Acoustic Revive, and Running Springs, I would say the 7000 may be the best of the bunch. However, you have to experiment with different power cords to make it truly sing. I have a dozen really good PC's here and keep switching them and trust me, they all sound different. To make the 7000 truly sing, try an Acrolink 7N-PC9500 plugged in to a dedicated outlet with the Furutech NCF wall outlet with the carbon fiber back plate and wall frame. Then you will hear bass slam and articulation that rivals anything out there, and makes my E-3 MK II's sound like Magico's and I'm not kidding.The soundstage expands and there is a musical resolution that is quite addicting. I only posted this to let you know that I got another 20-30% out of the 7000 by experimenting and it really paid of.

wineandwires's picture

Thanks for the review, and especially a comparison of the Shunyata vs. AudioQuest products.

Does the Niagara 7000 have a hum or any noise of its own from its active circuitry?

Am I correct that even with the reactive load of the Transient Power Correction Circuit switched off, the Niagara 7000 consumes 30 watts (on 120V service)?