Gramophone Dreams #15: AudioQuest Niagara 1000, HiFiMan HE1000 V2

Some of our readers seem to believe that the essence of high-quality audio is disclosed primarily by science, and not by dreamy, bodice-ripping adventures that take place on plush carpets behind closed doors. Perhaps they're right. Unfortunately, I have had no personal experiences that confirm that hypothesis.

It also appears that some hard-core audiophiles think that recordings of music are simply tools for playing their gear. I believe that the gear and the recordings are both tools that reveal how I—and people in China, Africa, Alabama, and Detroit—feel about being stuck here together on planet Earth. For me, the better the recording and the gear, the more easily and directly I can connect with the worlds outside my bunker.

AudioQuest Niagara 1000
With these beliefs in mind, I began my examination of AudioQuest's Niagara 1000 Low-Z Power/Noise-Dissipation System ($995), which uses the same Ground-Noise Dissipation System and Ultra-Linear Noise-Dissipation Technology that the company touts for their $7995 Niagara 7000—but not its isolation transformers or transient power correction system. Though the Niagara was born of science and measurements, I now know, after six months of using it, that it can help me dream of Indian dancers and better understand musicians from Texas and Louisiana.

Okay—show me: The first time I heard the Niagara 1000, Garth Powell, AudioQuest's director of power products, had just plunked it into my system. I'd unplugged all my gear from my Home Depot outlet strip, and Powell had then plugged it all into the 20"-long dark-chromed tube of the Niagara: my First Watt F2 power amplifier into the single outlet labeled High Current, and everything else into the Niagara's five remaining outlets. Sitting on the couch were my boss and my lifestyle consultant.

"So?" asked Powell. "What do you think?"

The difference was not heart stopping. Neither was it subtle. Everyone in the room heard it.

I hate this point in my story because now, in order to describe what I heard, I have to reach for that old-mule audio-reviewer cliche: veils were lifted! I'm sorry, but isn't that what a $1000 power strip is supposed to do? That's exactly what clean power sounds like, and that's exactly what the Niagara 1000 did in my system.

Here's what I didn't yet know: Had the Niagara 1000 killed all the music's boogie grooves?

Before many of you were born, I built tube preamplifiers for customers. I would always include an OEM power purifier at the mains input, but I never told anyone. Back then, people were extremely skeptical about power conditioning. I installed this device because I knew that audio amplifiers modulate reservoirs of stored energy, and that the availability, quantity, and quality of that stored energy will be audible in the texture, viscosity, and flow of their reproduction of recorded music. I knew that clean power made recorded music sound more like recorded music (as it should), and less like a radio not precisely tuned to the desired station. When you listen to an amp driving dynamic speakers, the main thing you're actually hearing (besides recorded music) is the fluctuating corpus of the power supply as the music signal forces it to interact with the impedance of the speakers.

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I always believed that the secret to a lively, quiet power supply was low-impedance access to an infinite source of free "conduction" electrons. Before cell phones, WiFi, and abundant RFI and wireless transmitters, all that audio gear needed to access these free electrons was pounds of pure copper stuck deep in the good earth and a thick cable connected to the bus bar in a breaker box (a low-impedance path to all free electrons). Those days are over. Today, most audio components in most audiophile systems in most home environments receive extremely stifled, noise-contaminated AC current of unstable voltage and little to no low-impedance grounding. Which is why I have never needed to be convinced of the necessity of purifying my power.

That hasn't stopped me from fearing that purifying my power will do more harm than good.

Often, when I've plugged a component into a line conditioner, the musical fun factor has immediately been shut down, and the sound relocates: from hard, bright Noiseville to joyless Slowsville. This has happened so often that I've grown gun-shy of conditioners and power-line filters in general.

Then Garth Powell came to Bed-Stuy, and showed my friends and me that a power purifier can do more than purify.

When Powell and everyone else had gone, I removed the Niagara 1000 from my system and tried to open it up. None of my hex wrenches fit the screws. When I wrote Powell to ask him what was inside the thing, his reply read like ad copy. A few highlights: "AC inlets and outlets are entirely proprietary-designed, minimum-impedance, low-noise parts utilizing Beryllium copper base metal . . . thick direct plate hanging silver for maximum radio frequency noise dissipation . . . main circuit card includes non-sacrificial surge suppression . . . impedance-compensated linearized differential noise suppression . . . two stages of our patented Ground-Noise Dissipation technology. RF filtering . . ."

So I asked him how it works.

"The Niagara 1000 is primarily a noise-dissipation system. It linearly reduces nearly 20 octaves of radio and AC line noise from the AC line, as well as that which is airborne induced. It drains it away from the power supply and chassis of the power amplifier and source components. Ultimately, directing as much of the noise as possible towards the electrical panel and Earth ground, with the rest converted to heat through loss."

But all that matters to me is this: Does it or does it not harm the boogie groove? And will it clear my aural view of the musics of Africa and Alabama?

I tend to be suspicious of voltage regulators and voltage regenerators. I've found that variacs, isolation transformers, and AC-in, AC-out power supplies can reduce an amplifier's "throttle-responsiveness," or revving ability. Any choking-down of the delivery of current will always kill a musical buzz.

Powell seems to be saying that the Niagara 1000 is not a voltage regulator or regenerator, but a powerline cleaner-upper. The voltage coming out of the Niagara was 100% the same as the voltage going in. That's a good start, but the best test is always to connect only the amplifier to the cleaner-upper. If the amp is driving current-hungry speakers, such as my own Magnepan 0.7s, so much the better.

For this test I used Bel Canto Design's e.One Ref500S power amplifier (500Wpc) driving my Maggies, and played that combo for two days before plugging the REF500S into the Niagara 1000. Without the AudioQuest, the system played the inventions for percussion duo on Garth Powell and Vladimir Tarasov's Etudes (CD, SoLyd SLR 0414) with demonstration-quality sound. It played with punchy Çlan all that crazy and wildly enjoyable Dylan stuff on the soundtrack album of Masked and Anonymous (2 CDs, Sony G2K 90618). This is an extraordinary good pairing of amp and speakers, and it was doing everything so well that I had zero urge to even try AQ's fancy chrome power strip.

But, eventually, I did. I expected, at best, only a slight improvement: I thought that maybe, with a class-D amp such as the Bel Canto, I would hear no difference at all.

The difference was huge. AudioQuest's Niagara 1000 not only cleaned up the power, it did everything that is the opposite of killing the boogie. It took me two seconds to recognize this, two songs to confirm it, and two hours before I could stop listening and try to describe these effects.



Footnote 1: AudioQuest, 2621 White Road, Irvine, CA 92614. Tel: (949) 585-0111. Fax: (949) 585-0333. Web: www.audioquest.com.
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

I can easily see why your Boss ( & lifestyle consultant? ) brought a Factory Rep. to your place, who else could parse such convincing Prose over a simple power-bar??

But:
you get a consistent bump in sound quality, over a 6-month stretch, phew, it must be the "real thing", something you'd rather not "live without". So, I guess you get a long term loaner, a darling device, lucky you. Be sure to include it in your system descriptions.

In fact, it might be a nice idea for you to up-date your previous reviews to include their Sound Quality improvements from this recent upgrade!

Since you didn't bother mentioning it, I'll ask: How much Chinesium this thing is made out-of?, dare you ask, dare they tell you?

Another darn good bit of journalism,

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

If you have a low-power system - headphones, or low-power speakers where the amp runs off of an AC-DC wall-wart, you can rig up a battery with enough voltage and current to run the thing, and thus test the difference yourself between AC line power and clean power. The difference isn't always dramatic if you're listening when the demand in your neighborhood for power is at a low point, but oftentimes the difference IS dramatic.

tonykaz's picture

I assume/presume that gear I'm auditioning has a properly designed power supply. If an electronic device doesn't perform against my known standard it gets a pass. I'm accustomed to working with gear that performs well in horrendous environments i.e. Tektronix, HP and such. My Schiit gear works quite well from it's well designed linear power supply.

However, Li- Battery power is now available for home use and Class D Amplification is superb lately, I'd convert over to a Genelec type system if I felt the need.

Power supply design for smallish companies is a problem, it's a specialization that requires a talented and persistent designer, I doubt that many of our smallish Audiophile outfits have the resources to hire out a good implementation. Jason Stoddard writes about the lengths he goes thru to get a good functioning piece of gear with an on-board power supply.

I feel a piece of electronics needs to perform properly in real world environments, the customer/buyer shouldn't need to "fix" the manufacturer's problems. If Audioquest can "fix" a noise problem than so can the Manufacturer.

The obvious point here is that Audioquest notices the poorly designed power supplies prevalent in our Audiophile gear and Stereophile seems willing to point it out.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

On the one hand, you're saying what manufacturers *should* do, but OTOH suggesting that they don't often have the resources to design their own high-tech power supplies, etc. A big part of the reason we've had high-quality component audio for all these years is not so much because an amp manufacturer can't make or buy a "good enough" power supply, it's because entrepreneurs can come out of nowhere with breakthrough ideas that push the state of the art further along than you'd expect.

Herb Reichert's picture

Please note,
My boss is not my lifestyle consultant. Steve Guttenberg (Sphere) and bb share those duties.

Meanwhile,
The main premise behind all of my reportage to share my personal experiences with a product in the hope that I may be able to describe how that component might seem to YOU in your system.

Therefore I never use a line conditioner on review products and rarely with more than one other component in my system.

herb in Brooklyn

tonykaz's picture

I met him at RMAF 2011, he and Tyll pointed me in the direction of Schiit. I accepted his recommendation and still benefit from it, I have his CNET comments on my Bookmark Bar. Who or what is bb?

I value your premise and applaud your work & reporting as well as JA for bringing you to the Public.

"Never use a line conditioner" I'll keep that "in-mind" as I read your reports, I would've asked about it if you hadn't just mentioned it.

Thanks for the Clarifications

Tony in Michigan

Herb Reichert's picture

I did not mention where the Niagara 1000 was made because "my boss" only allows me so many words and I try to use them wisely.

As for made in China issues: I am not presently aware of a higher value or better made amp or preamp (at any price) than the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium and Line Magnetics LM518 amplifier I am using in my reference system -- total cost under $7K (And dare I say it? Both are hard wired, choke-filtered, and feature potted shielded transformers, expensive caps and tube rectifiers.)

tonykaz's picture

You kinda look like Imelda Marcos, hmm.

China has the "Parts" in abundance and they have a Skilled Workforce plus the "willingness" to build for the world market. China is "Hitting em outa da Park". iFi, PrimaLuna, Parasound and an ever increasing number of others are having their stuff built in Taiwan & Mainland China.

SCHIIT is the dogmatic holdout! god bless em

I'm having a close look-see at PrimaLuna because of your discovery!, I'd like to hear what you have to say about their Headphone Integrated Amp ( which does not have a Pre-Out capability ).

Those pesky Print Editors, darn em. So much needs say'n with so few words. Guys like you and Paul Krugman seem to pack multiple complete thoughts into such short phrases and sentences. I do have to say that your writing doesn't read like it's compressed or abridged. I'll submit that you're reporting range seems ideal for the everyday aspiring Audiophile ( much like Steve G. ) and that JA should name your Column: Audiophile Adventures. Pied Piper us down those alleyways of Brooklyn's Audiophile World, take us with you, let us tag along, I'll buy lunch ( at Taco Bell ), we'll have fun times whilst forgetting about that Bafoon in DC.

Feliks in Poland builds like PrimaLuna but JA will tell ya that ( like Schiit ) they don't have 5 USA dealers.

Tony in Michigan

ps. yes you can: "dare to say it"! I'm counting on you to "say-it"!!!

dalethorn's picture

I bought a Schiit Fulla - $79 USD. It didn't work out, so I tried to return it within 5 days. I will spare you the gory details, but getting that little amp returned and refunded was like getting declassified missile details from the CIA. Maybe Schiit is the CIA, I dunno, but what I do know is I don't have the time to deal with such a nightmare like that ever again.

ChrisS's picture

...they were "Fulla Schiit"?

dalethorn's picture

Heh heh...

tonykaz's picture

That might be an Omen.

I've been following the Company since 2011 and I've purchased a few of their Amps which I'm quite taken with butttttttttttt they've banned me from reading their HeadFi writings, it's almost like I'm an undesirable customer, imagine that. In fairness to them, I've reviewed their Yggy Dac and found it and their many other DACs to be "nothing special" and I've responded to their bullschiit whenever I've noticed it. They are using my T-Shirt idea about printing a little power switch on the back of the shirt. ( I own a Textile Printing outfit and have tons of clever stuff we print on Cloth, we haven't printed any money -- yet )

The remarkable thing is that they design and produce their products "in-house" so I use Schiit as an example of we USA manufacturers being able to compete with the Asians. My Lady CEO tells funny stories about Schiit from info I've supplied her.

I'd like to see Schiit survive and excel, like PS Audio has ( or seems to have ).

Getting bad PR is not a good sign but, then again, these guys seem fond of their Scotch tastings, maybe its getting to be too-fond. Burning their loyal customer base is ....

That microZOTL looks interesting.

Tony in Michigan

rom661's picture

Many years ago I was a dealer for a line that someone involved with Schiit was involved in. When they pulled the plus it left a lot of consumers high and dry and some very bad feelings. I hope your experience is an unusual one.

Bruceov's picture

I just bought this thing. It does everything the writer says

Kal Rubinson's picture

Shipping carton says "Designed and Engineered in USA, Manufactured in Taiwan."

leec's picture

As much as I respect the nuances different systems bring, I'm inclined to think that something as fundamental as pure power should benefit everything? Yet, in my modest system of Devialet Expert and Focal Utopia Diablo's the Niagra 1000 was a significant step backwards in every respect - veiled, compressed and shrouded best described what I heard. My benchmark was nothing more extravagant than 1.5m Wireworld Silver Electra 7 - and that plugged into 12" of Home Depot 6GA extension as it is too short - hardly high-end let alone optimal!
I caa only imagine that a full 2m length of Wireworld would be light years better, let alone something truly esoteric?
Does Portland, OR really have that much better mains that Port Townsend, WA?

rom661's picture

I can't comment about your experience since I haven't heard the piece but I would disagree that your system is modest. Sounds quite nice to me. Keep in mind that high end pricing seems to be logarithmic these days...

757Stereo's picture

Herb Reichert's review of the Audioquest Niagara 1000 was very interesting, as power conditioners are a very complex topic. I looked up the product on the Audioquest website and it states that the Niagara 1000 does not come with a power cord. I can't find a reference to what cord(s) Herb used in his evaluation of the Audioquest Niagara 1000. I think this would be helpful in putting the review in context.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thank you for the excellent question. AudioQuest provided an NRG-10 AC cable for the evaluation. Like all AudioQuest cables, our AC cables use solid conductors that are carefully controlled for low-noise directionality. We see this as a benefit for all applications -- one that becomes especially important when discussing our Niagara units. Because our AC cables use conductors that have been properly controlled for low-noise directionality, they complement the Niagara System’s patented Ground-Noise Dissipation Technology. Other AC cables would work, but may or may not allow the Niagara to reach its full potential. If you'd like more information on our use of directionality to minimize the harmful effects of high-frequency noise, please visit http://www.audioquest.com/directionality-its-all-about-noise/ or the Niagara 1000's owner's manual (available on our website).

Thanks again.

Stephen Mejias
AudioQuest

Solarophile's picture

LOL.

Are we supposed to believe that on the web page!?

"Alternative facts" around physics seems to be alive and well with AudioQuest. All words, all marketing, all the time.

markotto's picture

I guess Stephan needs that job. Tow the "line" .

757Stereo's picture

Stephen,

Thank you for the information about the cable provided for the Niagara 1000. That helps a lot.

I still have fond memories of The Entry Level you used to write for Stereophile. It looks like you are doing well at AudioQuest and I wish you continued success.

David

Staxguy's picture

Beautiful looking power bar, especially the first photo. So chrome like. Almost, car! :)

Beautiful review(s) also!

Only thing missing, for me, was a comparison between the LCD-3, pre-fazor (I prefer to the X) and the V2.

And with respect to the imaging of headphones, I would respecfully disagree that the 009 and the Utopia Headphone image well at all.

Only the Sennheiser HD 800, and it's varient, I believe images really well, for a headphone.

I haven't heard the new Orpheus however.

Ok, and the AKG K1000 did rather well, also, if I may remember back 20 years.

Some headphones like the AKG Q701 do image reasonably well, or the Stax SR Sigmas back in the day.

But I can always remember being so dissapointed getting so many CD's recorded in Binaural, and even going so far as to getting the same Stax headphones as they were mastered on, and yet never getting any front-of-head (true front of head) imaging.

Rear imaging, yes. Sides, yes. Even up/down. But what should of been proper distance cues from the front of house (20, 30+ feet out) were mostly in-head affairs.

Only the Sennheiser HD 800, IMO, get's it right as far as imaging is concerned.

The 009 is yes amazing!

Allen Fant's picture

Pretty good article-
I will second, the Jazz references and the Wireworld Electra7.

jporter's picture

I believe he called the Audioquest Niagra 1000 the "model xqj-37 nuclear powered pan-sexual roto plucker"...I hope Herb learned from Joe and didn't short it out. $8k is way more than a cheap handy...

avanti1960's picture

like reviews for power conditioners that do not specify the power cord used and especially reviews for DACs that do not specify that they cannot be used with a traditional integrated amplifier because their integral preamp cannot be bypassed. we should not have to dig for this information after reading an otherwise detailed review. it's basically passive deception and has no place in a reputable publication.

PS- a 3-ft version of the power cord used is retail $538.75. if you need 10-ft that will run you an additional $1098.75 over the cost of the $999.99 unit itself.

AllanMarcus's picture

"AudioQuest's Niagara 1000 delivered conspicuously—as in 100% double-blind recognizable..."

This is very interesting. When will you publish the results of the DBT?

pw's picture

My electrician (works for Rock Stars and Livermore Labs) begs to differ.. And he will install a private Circuit Breaker box at 20 Amps and 4 Oyaide R1 plugs for $1500..

rom661's picture

It's refreshing to find someone who shares my reservations about power conditioning. For me it has always been a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes, I hear the improvements provided by the better ones, and I'm talking multi thousand dollar pieces. However the music always seems to lose a bit of... urgency. Something more important to my enjoyment of music than a touch more purity, not that it wouldn't be welcome. You conveyed your feelings about that well, Herb. I haven't heard any of the AQ conditioners except for the big guy at a couple of shows. I have heard Garth's work with another company and his best stuff came close. Thanks for a description I can relate to.

Herb Reichert's picture

"However the music always seems to lose a bit of... urgency. Something more important to my enjoyment of music than a touch more purity, not that it wouldn't be welcome."

donlin's picture

I recently bought a Niagra 1000 and agree with the review completely. One of the most satisfying audio purchases I've made in a long time.

BillK's picture

The issue is the Niagara 1000 only has one high current outlet, so you will need one unit per monoblock amp.

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