Music in the Round #12 Page 2

The PS Audio Power Director 3.5 ($995) contains three of PS Audio's high-current Ultimate Outlets: two connected to four receptacles each, and the third connected to two, for a total of 10. The UO technology is based on a large balun (transformer) to block line noise. However, useful bells and whistles have been added: 1) Each of the three UOs can be programmed for on/off delay or to remain always powered; 2) additional filtering and isolation are added between the UOs; and 3) coax connections on the rear panel serve to block voltage surges that might otherwise enter through a cable or satellite input.

Protection? Well, the Power Director 3.5 is decidedly not a series device. It uses Tranzorbers and MOVs for parallel-mode surge protection even though these devices are vulnerable to destructive deterioration and have been criticized by the serial-mode camp. However, Paul McGowan says that the PD 3.5 solves that problem: "What we've done . . . is to fuse the Tranzorber—not in the AC line, but in series with the Tranzorber. Now, for most surges the Tranzorber clamps and fixes and saves. If the surge is too big, then the fuse blows and saves the Tranzorber and disengages the relay in series with the line. The relay opens and disconnects the AC so everything is safe until the fuse is replaced. . . . During this time, we have a big gaggle of MOVs that clamp long enough to allow the relay to open. Pretty bulletproof method, and the good news is it's nonintrusive sonically." No mention is made of undervoltage protection.

The good news, as McGowan should be happy to hear, is that the Power Director 3.5 is the first AC device that actually made my system sound livelier and more open. With the whole system running through the PD 3.5, the ambient space in Ray Kimber's IsoMike Tests 2005A SACD (footnote 2) seemed larger but more specific, as if I could hear more distant information. Dynamic kicks, such as in the disc's snippet of Tchaikovsky orchestral music, had just a bit more impact and size. The ability of the PD 3.5's innards to handle all the 20A juice (despite its 15A circuit breaker) might distinguish its performance from the BrickWall and the Empower, but why should that distinguish it from having no restriction in the AC line? Subjective noise from the quiescent system was the same as with the BrickWall or with nothing, so I doubt if low-level details were somehow unmasked. I do recall getting the same dynamic impressions from the PS Audio HCA-2 power amp, which I thought somewhat larger than life, but the PS Audio Power Director 3.5's subtler invigoration of the sound is greatly appreciated.

Finally, I tried the Panamax MAX 5510 ACRegenerator ($1299). At 32 lbs, the MAX5510 outweighs the other devices due to its large isolation transformer, which can also be configured to provide balanced (±60V) output. Many devices operate more quietly and smoothly on a balanced AC supply, and the 5510 provides that option for source components of up to 4 amps; the two high-current outlets bypass this option and all inductors. The MAX 5510 has 11 AC outlets in five banks, along with three coax loop-throughs, an RJ-45 loop-through, and four loop-throughs for component video and analog audio. The latter are provided so that voltage surges (or a ground loop) cannot enter the main system from a remote video projector or subwoofer connected to a different AC line. Power up/down sequencing, over/undervoltage cutouts, and external DC triggering are also provided. The analog ammeter and voltmeter gracing the front panel were less useful than decorative. To top it all off, Panamax sent along a MAX 4400-20Amp ($299) to take advantage of my 20A power line for the power amps.

The Panamax units stayed in the system longest because of Panamax's reassuringly comprehensive approach to all things AC. With the Bryston connected to the MAX 4400-20Amp and everything else off, I couldn't distinguish between the powered and unpowered states in terms of residual noise. Via the MAX 5510, the remotely located (and powered) subwoofer/EQ was dead silent and so was the rest of the system, especially with balanced AC supplied to the digital source components. Multichannel ambience was extremely clear, and the dead-silent backgrounds were very satisfying. While the Panamaxes didn't give me the impression of newly unleashed dynamics that I got with the PS Audio PD 3.5, there was no sense of restriction.

So, with a whole-house TVSS doing the heavy lifting for surge and spike protection, one could be happy with any of these surge protectors. Ideally, I'd keep the Panamax MAX 4400-20Amp for the power amp and plasma display, freeing up the main device for everything else. Before you buy, it will be important to know whether you need serial-mode or traditional configurations, and low-voltage as well as signal-line protection. Of the units tested, the Empower EM2100 offered the best user interface along with the greatest flexibility and surge security. The Panamax MAX 5510 was the most comprehensive in providing AC isolation with optional balanced power along with signal-line protection. Of course, none matched the sheer clout of the PS Audio Power Director 3.5 or the reassurance, compactness, and value of the BrickWall PW8R15AUD. Pick 'em.

Footnote 2: This hybrid SACD/CD has two-channel "Red Book" and DSD and four-channel DSD tracks of short musical excerpts and demo test selections of notable clarity and directness. $20.00 from Kimber Kable; fee goes to Weber State University music program.