Richard Gray's Power Company 400S AC line conditioner Michael Fremer, November 2004

Michael Fremer wrote about Richard Gray's Power Company products in November 2004 (Vol.27 No.11):

Cables, power-line conditioners, and the like can have a profound effect on a system's sound, but they're the spices of a sound system, not the main course—as was proved during the months I spent with the Richard Gray's Power Products in and out of my reviewing system.

Richard Gray's Power Company offers three basic product lines: power-line conditioners, isolation transformers, and AC power cords. The company claims that its system, based on beefy inductors operating in parallel with the equipment, provides a "high-current source of energy" claimed to be otherwise unavailable from the power line. RGPC also claims that, because these products operate in parallel, they don't limit current the way in-line power-line conditioners or signal regenerators do, such as those made by PS Audio. According to the company's website, the RGPC "in effect moves the power from the utility company transformer on the street and places it next to your equipment, eliminating power drains that detract from a system's ability to accurately reproduce audio and video to its fullest performance potential."

Naturally, the poorer your juice, the more such conditioning can help. I live in the suburbs and have pretty clean power—it comes directly from the transformer on the pole across the street, and ours is House No.1 on that line. The outlets on my two dedicated lines are only a few dozen feet from the breaker box.

At first I was given a single RGPC 400, which I plugged into the same dedicated AC line as my power amplifiers, and then into the line handling my low-level components. If I heard any differences at all, they weren't worth writing about. RGPC then offered me "the full treatment," consisting of an RGPC 1200S power-line conditioner and a large isolation transformer, the SubStation, for the amplifier side of my system. The dedicated line powering my low-level gear (turntables, preamps, SACD players, etc.) was treated with an RGPC 600S and a smaller isolation transformer, the Pole Pig. RGPC also provided a full complement of their High Tension Wire AC cords, which feature lots of copper and hand-soldered connections to the plug blades. "Not another Power Cord!" exclaims the website. Nonetheless, that's what I used them for. A 1m HTW cable costs $495 with a 15-amp IEC connector, $515 with a 20A connector.

The 600S ($1250) and larger 1200S ($2095), with their sculpted aluminum faceplates and backlit logo inserts, are attractive products meant to be displayed. Each has high-quality AC jacks (six on the 600S, 12 on the 1200S) and, along with the parallel inductor-based power-delivery system, a state-of-the-art dual-stage surge-protection system (which is functional only if you plug components directly into it). The 1200S is said to reduce line noise by up to 40dB, and "provide 12,000 watts of high current on demand." Current draw is conventionally referred to in terms of amperes, but RGPC feels that using "watts" will be more easily understood by non-technical user.

The SubStation ($2995) is most effective when wired for balanced 240V operation, wherein the transformer is fed 240V and steps it down to 120V (actually, 122V, to make up for internal power loss) while providing complete isolation, the elimination of ground loops, and protection from lightning. Of necessity, I used the 120V version. RGPC offered to rewire my listening room for 240V operation but that was not felt appropriate. The Pole Pig ($1495), a smaller isolation transformer for low-power equipment, includes surge suppression.

The cost of fully outfitting my system with RGPC isolation transformers and conditioners came to almost $8000—close to the cost of a Stereophile reader's complete audio system. The High Tension Wires added thousands more. I wouldn't begin adding anyone's AC conditioning to a system until I was happy with the system, and I wouldn't compromise the price of the components I was considering to make room for AC conditioning—just as I wouldn't compromise on a cut of meat to add better-quality spices to the rub.

For me, the standard bearer for AC conditioning has been Shunyata Research. While I didn't much go for this company's signal cables, their comparably priced Hydra 8 (low-power) and Hydra 2 (high-power) conditioners and Anaconda AC cords have been my references for the past few years.

I had the RGPC products here for well over eight months, and tried them in every review I conducted during that time. I decided against auditioning each RGPC product separately. Instead, I inserted the whole shebang—cables, transformers, and conditioners—into my system and listened for a considerable period of time, then went cold turkey and plugged everything directly into the wall, and then into the Shunyata gear.

I plugged power amplifiers directly into the SubStation and the SubStation into the wall. The 1200S ran in parallel, also plugged into the wall. I used the same arrangement for the low-level gear with the Pole Pig and the 600S.

Anyone who doesn't think AC cords and conditioners can make any sonic difference needs to do some listening. When I switched between conditioners or eliminated them altogether, I was amazed at how well what I heard correlated with what visitors—not all of them experienced listeners—told me they heard, without any prompting from me.

Inserting the RGPC products produced consistent results in all of the systems I reviewed. Not surprisingly, I heard the fewest differences with the Wavac Audio Lab SH-833 monoblock power amplifiers, which I reviewed in the July 2004 issue. Those amps have a humongous isolation transformer and an enormous choke-regulated power supply for each channel. So do the Musical Fidelity kW amplifiers, but those draw far more current; I could hear more of a difference with them.

While the RGPC AC-conditioning equipment and cables tended to strengthen the music's rhythmic thrust and solidity and produce a "tighter" sound, invariably the overall impression was of soundstage compression, with added grain and more forward mids and highs. At first, the negatives were outweighed by the perceived improvement in "pace'n'rhythm," but over time the negatives dominated. This was particularly obvious during my time with the mbl 101E Radialstrahlers—the RGPC gear seriously diminished the speakers' ability to magically float astoundingly delicate, detailed images in three dimensions in airy space.

One of the records I used through the months to gauge the effects of the RGPC products was a UK LP of Roxy Music's Avalon—a stunning recording. The title track is filled with delicate accents from shakers, gourds, and other percussion, all arrayed across a magically wide and deep three-dimensional soundstage. The reedy tone of the saxophone is brilliantly captured, as is the sensual female background singer. Inserting the RGPC gear into the system dependably diminished the power of this track by smearing and obscuring the percussive transients, flattening the three-dimensionality of the soundstage by placing it against the speakers, and brightening and coarsening the overall sound. The only gain was of a seemingly tighter, faster, "snappier"-paced musical event. Hardly worth the tradeoff.

When I would then plug my system directly into the wall, there was always an initial sense of a loss of immediacy and musical grip—and, shortly thereafter, improved spatiality, delicacy, and transient articulation shone through clearly and convincingly.

Moving to the Shunyata Hydras and Anaconda cables always provided much blacker backgrounds that were noticed by experienced listeners and novices alike. The Shunyata gear also managed to clear up grain and grizzle without harming transients or sounding rolled-off. The Shunyata conditioning and cables actually improved delicacy and detail. And the highly resolving mbl 101Es delivered all this news in spades.

RGPC's Dick McCarthy claims that if there are sonic "tradeoffs" from using their products, they're caused by something else in the system—such as filtered interconnects, speaker cables, or power cords—and that if you hear no differences, you have great AC. But when I used the RGPC products, I used no other conditioners or brands of power cords. Comparing the RGPCs to a variety of speaker and interconnect cables, I got essentially the same reliable results.

That said, I have no doubt that, in the down and "dirty" AC conditions often found in urban apartment buildings, RGPC's isolation transformers might work miracles. Perhaps in other situations, depending on your electricity and the quality of the power supplies in your gear, you might find some of RGPC's other products useful—especially the Power Station, and especially in its 240V version. Richard Gray's offers a money-back "no risk trial," so don't let me stop you. In fact, I invite you to prove me wrong. I'm sure Richard Gray's Power Company does as well.—Michael Fremer

Richard Gray's Power Company
Audio Line Source LLP
2727 Prytania Street #6
New Orleans, LA 70130
(800) 880-3474

ishis's picture

With apologies to all the poor slobs who bought the Richard Gray 400s. Scull was right - these things are worthless. In fact everybody I have spoken-to who owns these things don't even know how they work or what they do!!  Absolute stupidity!

No, they aren't filters - not even close!

Yes - they choke the crap out of amplifiers!

No - they don't make a TV look better. A cheap line filter does that better.

Yes, I have tried them....and rejected them.