PS Audio Reborn

We'd been playing phone tag for a couple of weeks, but Paul McGowan was finally tethered to a handset as he explained to me a product from his "new" company, the reincarnation of PS Audio. "Everything you've ever wanted in a power conditioner---times 10---with none of the drawbacks!" McGowan could hardly contain himself while pitching his latest brainstorm. He certainly had an intriguing idea, but the path from founder of PS Audio back in the late '70s to Genesis Technologies and back again was nearly as interesting.

Several years ago McGowan sold his interest in PS Audio, then known for high-value audiophile products such as preamps and power amps. Eventually PSA wound up in the company of high-end audio stalwarts Threshold and Forté, which were soon all moved to Southern California to be operated under one roof. According to sources familiar with the situation, after a few years of trying to operate Threshold, Forté, and PS Audio, the trio of brands appear to have run into cash-flow problems serious enough to cause their collapse earlier this year under what looks to have been a heavy debt load.

The company then fell back into the hands of the bank and several major credit holders, as is common in such cases. According to McGowan, he was offered the chance to purchase the name PS Audio by the bank and several of the largest creditors, while the Threshold name went to businessman Ed Woodard. Reportedly, many of the remaining assets, such as the building and the inventory inside, were liquidated by the bank and the creditors in an attempt to recover whatever funds they could.

McGowan was once again in control of the PS Audio brand name, and quickly arranged for the servicing of older products to be handled by either UltraAnalog, who had manufactured many of the company's digital processors, or Rick Cullen, who for 20 years had been the production manager and director of engineering at the original company. McGowan vowed once again to create products in PS Audio's original image: no-nonsense, value-oriented components such as preamps and power amps.

Work was begun on a new power amp when an inspiration struck that has so far derailed the revived company's initial plans and instead sent it off in an entirely new product direction. "I spoke to Mark Schifter about this new power-conditioner idea and he stated flat out that the amp will have to wait. So I've been working on this ever since." Some readers will likely remember Schifter as formerly of Audio Alchemy, and currently one of McGowan's partners at Genesis. Schifter is also starting up a new company, Perpetual Technologies, which is developing a DSP product for loudspeakers that he says will retail for under $1000 (but that's another story for later).

McGowan's new power-enhancing device, recently christened the Power Plant, will retail for $895. What's interesting is that McGowan claims that the manufacturing costs for each unit will run around $450---which traditionally would imply a retail price on the order of $1800 or so. How does he think he'll do this? "We're going to distribute the Power Plant with a combination of direct sales over the Internet and telephone, and limited dealer distribution with help from Mark Schifter's new company," says McGowan. Dealers will carry only demo units; when a customer buys a Power Plant, PS Audio plans to drop-ship the product straight to the customer's door, eliminating inventory and shipping costs for the dealer as well as fees to manufacturer reps. This being a relatively unique approach to audio equipment sales, it will certainly be anybody's guess as to how it will work.

McGowan is not really worried; he's sure he has a hot product. "This is not a traditional power conditioner," says McGowan. "The problem is that power conditioners do both good and bad---cleaning up some of the grunge in the AC, but also constricting the air and dynamics in the music. Back at the old days of PS Audio, we discovered that if we put a huge transformer on something that didn't need one, like a preamp, it still sounded better since we had lowered the impedance seen by the circuit. The Power Plant lowers the impedance coming out of the wall socket, as well as eliminating radiated fields in your equipment's power supply, which induce voltage effects in all surrounding components. But the real interesting thing is, any vibration or mechanical hum from your equipment's transformers will be eliminated. All of it."

How this is accomplished is still a bit of a secret, but McGowan says that the Power Plant will have a series of buttons on the front of the unit that control what he calls the "power factor." "By pressing the button, you can increase your transformer's capabilities and get it to appear to be 10 times larger than it really is to the rest of your component's circuits." There will also be an optional meter upgrade for between $200 and $300 that is described as "literally a distortion analyzer that will display either the AC signal coming off the wall with distortion products or the output of the Power Plant. The display is in reality an LCD oscilloscope and will also provide numerical measurements." McGowan says that typical distortion figures found at a wall socket in the city can range up to 10-11%, and that the Power Plant will reduce this to 0.01%---guaranteed.

McGowan is planning on introducing the Power Plant early next year. In the meantime, he's looking for 20 volunteers to beta-test the new product---audiophiles who will give him detailed information about what happened with the conditioner in their systems. Contact him through his website if interested. But will he be able to pull off all of this at once---new product, new distribution concept, reborn company? "This is something that has never been done before, but not only is PS Audio going to get back to its roots---after 25 years, we've learned a couple of tricks."