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Product Review - Equi=Tech 1.5R Balanced Power AC Line Conditioner - August, 1999

Stacey Spears

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Equi=Tech 1.5R Balanced Power Conditioner

Line Voltage 120 VAC (+60 V, -60 V) 60 Hz  Rated to 15 Amps

EMI/RFI Filtration Noise reduced 30 dB from 100 kHz to 1 MHz

Size: 12.5" D x 16.25" W x 3.5" H

Weight: 42 Pounds

MSRP: $1,189 USA, $179 for optional EMI/RFI filter

Equi=Tech Corporation, P.O. Box 249, Selma, Oregon 97538, USA;
Phone: 541-597-4448; Fax: 541-597-4099; E-Mail  pr@equitech.com; Web http://www.equitech.com.

The Beginning

The Equi=Tech (ET) is an isolation transformer that converts standard AC into balanced power.  So what is balanced power?  That’s the same question I had when I first heard about it.  Of course the second was, "what does it do for me?"

To explain balanced power I must first make sure we are all on the same sheet of music as to how AC is delivered to our equipment. 

What comes out of the wall is unbalanced (a.k.a. single ended) AC (Alternating Current).  It has a hot conductor (120 V) and a neutral conductor (0 V), along with ground.  This is the way AC has been delivered since its inception.  With balanced power, you get +60 V on one conductor and –60 V on the other conductor, relative to the ground conductor, giving you 120 V total.  Why is this important?  Balanced power provides common mode noise rejection to eliminate noise.

The ET comes in various flavors.  First you must choose what size transformer you want, from 1, 1.5 (under review), 2, 3, 4, and 5 kVA versions.  Along with the different size, there is the option of adding the SI, E, EA, and F options. SI ($179) stands for Super Isolator.  It is a transformer that is wound with exceptionally low capacitance. I did not have the SI option for my review.

The E and EA ($189 each) are European models.  The EA will let you run US equipment in Europe by using a step-down transformer that converts 230 V to 120 V.

The F option ($179), which I did have installed, is an EMI/RFI filter.  At the time of order, you specify how many of the outlets on the back you want filtered.  They will then place an orange dot on all the filtered outlets.  I had four of the five receptacles running through the filter, which is designed primarily for digital components, like CD DACs, rather than analog components, like amplifiers.

This is the first time I have added a “Pro” component to my home theater system.  In the past it has all been standard consumer gear.  Dealing with Equi=Tech was much different than talking to a typical high-end audio manufacturer.  Currently, the Equi=Techs are sold factory direct.  This keeps the costs lower but makes it harder for anyone to evaluate.

Equi=Tech is located in Selma Oregon and offers a wide range of isolation transformers besides the ones mentioned above.  You can read about their other offerings as well as some valuable information on AC wiring systems and ways to improve them by using a "star grounding system".

When I spoke to Martin Glasband, the founder of Equi=Tech, he was really interested in what I was going to plug into the ET.  He wanted to know their power ratings to be sure I had the right size transformer.  Some companies can end up providing a transformer that is inadequate for the job, which can result in poorer sound quality and/or a buzzing (resonating) transformer in your living room.  Dealing with Martin was different. He knew the limitations and wanted to be absolutely sure I was not going to run into them. His biggest concern was my amplifier, the Sunfire Cinema Grand.  It can crank out a lot of power and should not be plugged into a transformer unless the transformer can provide enough juice.  I had no problems with the Sunfire connected to the ET. The Sunfire has a 10 Amp fuse on the back, and the ET 1.5 could easily handle it.  This included having the rest of my AV system, minus the TV, plugged into the ET.

Since the ET 1.5 is a 15 Amp unit, it should be connected to a dedicated 20 Amp outlet.  The problem that most people have is their entire room is all on one 20 Amp circuit.  I had the ET isolated on a dedicated 20 Amp circuit.  I was hoping to test the ET mated with an industrial 20 Amp UPS but as things go, I could not get around to it, and I did not want to delay letting our readers know about the ET.

What’s Inside?

The ET is really pretty simple. There is a huge center tapped toroidal transformer, an EMI/RFI filter (if you have the F option), some connecting wires, and that’s really about it.

The weight of the ET comes almost entirely from the transformer, which for my 1.5 kVA unit, was about 40 pounds?  Be sure to lift with the knees when placing this in your equipment rack!

A main power switch is on the front to provide the unbalanced AC to the transformer.  On the back is another power switch that provides the balanced AC to the outlets.  There are five two-socket receptacles giving you ten outlets, with orange dots indicating filtration.

Also on the front are two LEDs, a small one for the main power switch and a larger one for the rear power switch.  The big one really illuminated my room.  I would have preferred a smaller, dimmer LED.  I could easily have disconnected it or replaced with a different one if I wanted to, but the NFL preseason is about to start, and I would rather spend time checking out the schedule. Heck, just put a piece of masking tape over the LED.

The rack mount ears, which are mounted on the unit by default, are not in the photo because I had to remove them to get the top off.

On the back of the ET is stenciled a message telling you NOT to plug lighting into it. In particular, variable lighting controls produce a lot of electrical noise, and there is no sense tempting fate.

Jacked’ in

When you initially turn on the ET, there is a transformer buzz as the windings charge up, but this goes away after a few seconds.  I was never able to cause it to buzz with all outlets occupied and everything running at full blast.

Balanced Power's claim to fame is in lowering the overall noise floor, but  they also claim that they cut digital jitter in half.  Equi=Tech includes a work sheet titled, “How to Do an Audio System Noise Floor Test” providing the user with a simple method to see how much better off you are with balanced power.  The test that they have requires the use of a DAT player, which I do not own, so I was not able to judge their test. However, I did find a couple of other instances that sold me on balanced power.

First, let me give you a little background information.  [You can read more about this problem in the Meridian 861 review here.]  I switched from the Meridian 565 surround processor to the Meridian 861.  The 861 uses a FIFO RAM buffer to de-jitter the incoming signal.  I quickly learned that not all digital sources work well with this. If the source is EXTREMELY bad, you will end up with problems.  Meridian added an update to the 861, which allows you to bypass the FIFO and use a standard PLL. 

The problem I encountered was only when I used the Panasonic LD-10 Palm Theater portable DVD player.  I would get about 15 audio dropouts per movie.  I must have watched 20 movies, and each exhibited the exact same problem.  I did not have this problem with the Sony DVD player and the 861, nor did I have this problem with the 565 and the LD-10. 

After inserting the ET into the chain, the dropouts vanished!  I was not expecting this, as their literature claims that balanced power can lower digital jitter, but I thought it would not be noticeable with the Meridian FIFO.  Man was I wrong!  Just to verify I was not hallucinating, I watched another 15 or so films, some of the same movies I had experienced the dropouts with prior to the ET and nothing, not a single audio dropout occurred!  I removed the ET and the audio dropouts returned. So, right then and there, the ET became a keeper for me.

From what I can tell, the power supply in the Panasonic LD-10 is pretty bad, but after all, the LD-10 was designed for portability.  Unfortunately, using it as a portable means you won't be connecting it to the ET, but my experiences show that using balanced power does indeed improve the digital bitstream output from DVD players.

The second improvement I noticed was when playing back material at very loud volumes. (Actually, it occurs at any volume, but the louder I played, the more impressed I was.)  I found the background noise to be almost non-existent. I have been to trade shows, listening to $$$ equipment, and the hiss coming out of the speakers was depressing.  Removing the ET from the system resulted in a faint increase in background noise.  With the lower background noise level, I could hear more overall detail.  Things that were masked before were now clearer, at least to my ears.  Foley effects in films can sometimes be masked by background noise, and with the ET, I believe I heard every Foley effect recorded.  Apparently, I improved my system's overall signal-to-noise ratio.

I had read elsewhere that plugging everything into an ET would result in a big drop in background noise with no source playing.  I did not experience that.  Whether or not all of my equipment was connected to the ET, and with no source playing, the background level was the same when I pressed my ear up against the speaker.

It wasn’t until music started playing that I noticed the lower overall background noise.  And as I said above, I could play my system at very loud volumes, and the background noise was almost non-existent.  Of course, I could always add “true” balanced amplifiers to the system and have a complete absence of background noise.  This covers their other claim on lowering the noise floor.

What about improved soundstage and all that other good stuff?  The Meridian 861/Sunfire/Von Schweikert combo was already reproducing an extremely accurate sound field.  Other than the quieter background, which I loved, all other aspects appeared unchanged.

I am constantly pouring over all of the Internet news groups and bulletin boards as well as other AV magazines.  I keep reading about revelations people have had when they plugged product X into power conditioner Y.  I am sure you know what I am talking about. Well, they WORK!

I noticed only one significant picture improvement when using the ET. When I plugged my Toshiba TV and DVD player into the ET, the black level was slightly better.  Blacks were now really black, not gray, and I had the black level set correctly.  The effect is similar to using the black masking in a front projector to cover the black bars in a letterboxed film.  You think those bars are black until you use the projector's blacker mask.  This is the effect I witnessed with the ET.  What I did not witness was improved sharpness or more vivid colors that others have claimed to experience with power conditioners.

With the Dwin HDP-500/TranScanner and Sony S-7000 DVD player, the improved black was less noticeable.  Does this mean that nothing happened?  No, I believe some products have better designed power supplies than others, and thus, are better at dealing with lower quality AC.  The picture I was viewing from the Dwin combo was already pretty spectacular.

Conclusion

Balanced power is really cool. I was able to get the most out of my 861's advanced FIFO jitter reduction technology.  The ET allowed the FIFO to de-jitter the unusually poor digital signal coming from my LD-10 without resorting to the standard jitter reduction in the 861.

I was also able to obtain a silent audio background without upgrading to a more costly balanced amplifier.  If you read my last hi-fi reports, you will know how disappointed I have been lately with the amount of background noise coming from expensive equipment.  Here is an affordable solution that everyone can benefit from.

If your not convinced yet, the boys over at Skywallker Sound are upgrading everything to balanced power!  The ETs are currently being sold factory direct at: http://www.equitech.com/ordering/form.htm

Associated Equipment

Stacey Spears


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