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  • Writer's pictureJim Cathey

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

My exposure to the importance of power came in Tokyo. 100V is the standard and it was clear the equipment suffered when compared to Taiwan performance. I experimented with some appliance grade step-up transformers and yes they improved the performance of the system but they had a 'hum' and introduced noise into the stem. I eventually had a custom CSE step-up transformer made that would take the 100V from the wall to 120V and around 35amps. It worked great and the system woke up with the power and detail I was used to. If you look through the gallery for Japan and you can spot the large grey box at the base of the rack; that was custom-made by my friends at CSE (the company is no longer operational) in Japan. This helped and I got the performance increase because power is the main commodity of the stereo; more and cleaner is better. The custom CSE step-up power transformer also had the ability to take 200V and convert to 120V.

Everything I had read about power always supported a higher feed and to step the power down so I had a custom power cable made with Furutech connectors that would allow me to use the 200v supply. In the kitchen, there was a 200v plug, I made the cable reach that source. It was not a pretty solution, and again in the japan set-up photos, you can see that large green power cable snaking its way out of the room to the right. As expected more improvement with the system performance. At this point I was fixated on power; I had plenty but now I wanted cleaner power and ultimately focused on power regeneration avoiding all the filter/conditioning products. If the power regeneration worked as advertised theoretically one would have a perfect sine wave and little to no harmonic distortion and one had to believe there was plenty of that in the Tokyo power grid or any grid for that matter. PS Audio quickly became the front runner especially when they offered to reprogram the Japan versions to the US standards, bring 3 units to my house and allow me to demonstrate the system for 2 weeks. The local distributor brought 2 P20s and 1 P12. We connected all 3 to the custom power supply with 1 P20 for 2 MC275 amps and the P15 to supply the front-stage components. As the power regenerators warmed up you could monitor the total harmonic distortion coming in and going out as well as the sine wave. As expected the incoming power had distortion and the sine wave was truncated and that was after the CSE power transformer. The P20s and the P12 repaired and send perfect power to all components. The result? Within 10 min of listening, we shook hands (of course this is good old days before the pandemic hit us) and said I will buy all 3 and we all continued listening for another 3 hours. The final P20s were delivered to me later that month and were signed by Paul McGowan.

P20 signed by Paul McGowan

P20 in action

The P20s and P12 are with me in San Diego connected to dedicated 20amp breakers/power supplies for each. Unfortunately, the custom CSE power transformer was left in Japan; its use is dedicated for 100V/200V to 120V hence that’s where it should live., I had no use for it in the USA. The local stereo shop sold it to another Audiophile who needed the same. I would have liked to see his expression when he plugged that in.

An interesting side note is the vintage MC275 amps and the C22 Pre Amp are old; 1960’s. I had several long discussions with the Japan shop that maintained my amps. I run the amps at 120V’s and the shop owner had pressure on me to reduce it to 115V; the voltage on the PS Audio Power Regenerators is user-adjustable within a range. This sparked a deep discussion regarding what had to be upgraded and would it impact the sonic performance and the amp would not be 100% original as a result. This went on for what seemed hours all through the interpreter. Finally, we made adjustments so the amps could weather that voltage, and today they are still running strong at the 120V and the sonic performance is at its peak. Ultimately the shop owner agreed after an audition and a full restoration of all 6 amps and the 3preamps. The extra 2 amps and 2 preamps are backups.

There is a lot to read online regarding power, equipment requirements, filters, conditions, regenerators, battery banks, capacitors, etc. There is what seems to be an endless discussion on this but in the end, I went the power regenerator route; it made sense and for me, it works and I shoot for a minimum of 2x supply to the equipment requirement. I might mention that PS Audio allows for demo units to come to your home and if you are not impressed you can send it back. Nothing to lose on that potential investment and it’s the main resource your stereo uses; POWER.

Leaving you with some useful links in case you want to know more about clean power

  • Writer's pictureJim Cathey

Particles, inclusions, films, and gunk (yup, those unpleasant sticky substances we all hate) are de trop between you, your vinyl, and the best playback the musicians and artists intended for your ears. Some record pressing facilities are pretty good at providing a clean record as are some used record stores but it’s not consistent enough to assume the vinyl is ready to the level your system requires. After all, the vinyl records are not pressed, packaged or cleaned in a semiconductor facility so inevitably the particles, inclusions, films and gunk hitch a ride on your record, which impacts the performance. Performance impact is more than just the annoying click or pop depending on what’s in the grooves. My experience on average is a 10% to 20% performance increase on cleaned vs. un-cleaned records assuming it's cleaned right. The stylist can only perform best when it has close contact to the groove walls as intended by the cut of the record. And if there is, let’s call it dirt at the start of the record, it often gathers on the needle adding to the reduction of the performance throughout that record and the next.

I clean every record I buy, regardless of how good it visually looks. The cleaning is a two-step process and takes 2 pieces of equipment; an Okki Nokki to start with and an Audio Desk (Touted as the world's highest-rated and highest-performing record cleaner) as the second. The former is a vacuum arm-based cleaner and the latter ultrasonic. One without the other doesn’t clean everything. I have noticed some films and gunk require the light scrubbing and vacuum provided by the Okki Nokki. Both use a surfactant supplied by the manufacture and I tend to stick with that suggestion along with the distilled water and that’s a must given the simple fact you are trying to remove particles not introduce them. I also use a microscope when I hear specific areas of a record with noise. The microscope, a 40x loop or higher resolution connected to your laptop, can help determine if the noise is the inclusion or something that can be removed. Films are the worst to remove and the Okki Nokki tends to excel at that because you can scrub with the surfactant. The only film I have not been able to remove is on the Patricia Barber Blue Café MFSL 3-45002. I have purchased 2 copies from different locations (Japan and USA) of this release and both have the same problem; a sticky film that has coated the record. I believe the source is the black thin foam used in the packaging that shows deterioration from perhaps exposure to heat and or humidity. Nevertheless, it dulls what is otherwise a great recording. This film also likes to jump on your stylist and requires the water to be changed in the Audio Desk ultrasonic cleaner.

After cleaning with the Audio Desk Ultrasonic I don’t need an anti-static gun, but I keep one around. Common knowledge I guess, static, especially in the winter, is a magnet for dust and the vinyl can gunk up with the stylist. I use new record sleeves from MoFi. The sleeves that come with the records have within them the stuff you removed from the records……don’t reintroduce that.

I also allow the records to sit in a record stand for a few minutes to ensure moisture has evaporated so it does not get trapped in the sleeve and promotes mold. My practice for critical listening sessions has always been cleaning the selected records prior to playing regardless if they have been played since the last cleaning or not.

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music" - Friedrich Nietzsche

  • Writer's pictureJim Cathey

Vibration isolation by its meaning prevents vibration transmission. It keeps vibration energy from getting into an object, like a structure or piece of apparatus. Vibration damping dissipates vibration energy. It absorbs or changes vibration energy, reducing the energy transmitted through the instrument or a structure. Vibration Isolation and Damping are very important when it comes to getting the most of your audio investments.

In my case, when I had my set up in Tokyo and Taiwan, I had concrete floors. Tokyo, for example, had a thick carpet that required heavy stone slabs to compress vibrations, which when combined with a 'Sorbothane' material and additional stone slabs helped reduce vibrations from the rack and speakers. My setup in San Diego on the other hand has been a challenge for the sole reason it's on the 2nd floor of the home with wood framing and a wooden floor. Footfall was a significant issue as was the wood floor's ability to transfer the vibration from the speakers. The solutions in Japan were no match for this new room hence I had to start from scratch.

The San Diego final solutions required IsoAcoustics GAIA, Oreo, and Puck isolators for the speakers, rack, Turn Table (TT), Pre-amp, DAC, CD, rack component power regeneration, and amps. Each of the IsoAccoustics products was selected and matched to the weight of the component they would be applied to. The only variations are the Amps, P20 power regenerators, and Turn Table. The amps have Sorbothane blocks directly on the floor with a granite slab on top that acts as the base to the IsoAcustic pucks under the amps; (Floor to Sorbothane to granite to puck to amp). The P20 power regenerators have just the Sorbothane blocks on the wood floor and granite slabs on top which acts as the base for the P20’s. The Turntable platform uses IsoAcustic pucks supporting a carbon composite plate atop the rack. The turntable has IsoAcustic Gaias which ultimately sits on a custom Minus K isolation table; Rack to Pucks to Carbon Composite plate to Minus K isolation table, to GAIA as turntable feet. As referenced the rack and speakers each have GAIA feet. That is finally what it took to get the TT isolated from ambient vibrations and footfalls and I was able to not only hear the difference but measure it.

There are a good number of solutions available today to fit different budgets and variables for vibration isolation and damping. To get started, I recommend finding a way to measure the vibration on your rack/components/speakers. Without a way to measure you don’t know where or how big the issue is or even if the solutions are working as it relates to footfall or ambient low frequency. There are plenty of options including smartphone apps with external sensors, or the phone itself, or standalone meters. Being able to measure the number of variations I have tried has proven to be very helpful. “Vibroscope” is an iOS example of a smartphone app I have used as is “Vibration Meter” for Android.

The impact of the right isolation and damping is a must for the turntable. After you have implemented/used the right solution/s you will hear a significant improvement in the digital source. I was surprised with the digital sources; CD, high res. files and streaming via the DAC had a noticeable improvement. Clean power and vibration isolation have a powerful effect on the digital path. And if you can get those speaker cables off the floor; that’s another surprise on the performance that you will notice on sensitive systems.

You can visit the gallery to view the setup pics and set-up details page for technical specifications.

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