Rating – see conclusion
Power conditioner drives audio nut to distraction and a big question mark over rating. Verdict? Taste and try before you buy
Reviewing any audio component is a bit of a hit and miss scenario, because you’re never hearing the component in isolation. You only hear its interactions with the rest of the gear in the system. Alter any single part of that system and there may well be a difference in the sonics; usually subtle, occasionally dramatic, many times it’s just different, not necessarily better.
It’s always worth trying more than one combination when reviewing hi-fi gear. After all, the only way to grasp the true mettle of any piece of equipment is to hear what it does when partnered with different components.
The worst components to review? Audio cables and power conditioners. The real stranger danger in audio is buying anything from these categories without hearing them in your system (actually, never buy anything without hearing it first). Power conditioners are particularly nasty, because they interact with the elemental building blocks of the music – hi-fi is nothing more than electricity shifted from the wall to the speaker cones. Mess with the power at your peril.
Rubbish in equals rubbish out
If the power sucks in the first place, your foundations won’t be all that good and the result is going to be substandard. Rubbish in equals rubbish out, after all. On the other hand, if the power gets out of control (surges, lightning strikes) then the consequences can be harsh in the extreme. Having quality surge protection between the outside world and your gear is better by far than dealing with an insurance company and hoping they don’t give you the run-around or the bum’s rush.
The PL-PLUS C E power conditioner from Furman is from its professional range; there’s a consumer range with more enticing cosmetics, but pro products are always interesting to review. They’re usually built to take abuse that domestic products will never see – the old ‘boot test’ comes to mind, if a pro product can’t survive a good shot with a steel capped boot, then it probably won’t go the distance in a studio or on the road. There’s a five- year local warranty on this bit of kit, so the agents are pretty confident that the product will cope with whatever comes its way.
The PL-PLUS C E is a slim rack-mountable unit standing only 44mm high, which means it will easily slot into most consumer audio racks, even sitting under another component if necessary. It features a LED voltmeter on the front panel that gives a visual indication of the voltage from the wall at any stage (within a four volt range). There are also two retractable lights and provision for a rear mounted gooseneck lamp (not supplied), which are admittedly more useful for pro-audio engineers rooting around a messy rack in the dark than impeccably neat audiophiles.
The sonics after conditioning
The PL-PLUS C E is designed to suppress surges and to filter noise on the power line, not to provide a constant source of regenerated voltage (that’s an entirely different kettle of fish). So all it basically needs to do to be a success is to stand guard against power borne nasties while leaving the system’s sonics unaffected (at worst) or improving them (at best).
Herein lies the rub. As mentioned earlier, power conditioners interface with audio components at the most fundamental level and every component has a different power supply setup, which means that a conditioner can react very differently with individual components.
Case in point – when I ran my Viganoni and Viganoni Sachem monoblock power amps off the Furman, it took only seconds for me to register that something wasn’t quite right. The change was subtle but the dynamics that I enjoy so much were compressed, not just the big shifts from quiet to loud (macro-dynamics) but also the micro dynamics found in the initial attack of a guitar string or the impact of a drumstick. These dynamics are what gives my system its life, so I simply couldn’t live with the Furman and these amps.
So, a bad review then? Not so fast. When I tried the PL-PLUS C E with my Yamaha A-S2000 integrated amplifier, there was zero change for better or worse and when I added my Marantz SA-8260 SACD player to the Furman’s sockets, there was a marginal cleaning up of the midrange and a lowered noise floor – tiny but appreciated nonetheless
A Perreaux SXH2 headphone amp showed no negative sonic effects either, even when paired with a revealing set of high-end headphones. However, I preferred the overall sound of the Perreaux with a Nordost Shiva power cable to the sound of it plugged into the Furman, which opens up a whole new can of worms – aftermarket power cords.
Some audiophiles (myself included) swear by the effectiveness of aftermarket power cords, while other audio people just swear at us. Many audiophiles will be using special (and expensive) power cords in their systems but the PL-PLUS C E only supports female IEC plugs (ten round back and one up front), so any fancy cords will have to be given the boot.
There is something to be said for the simplicity of running one power cord from the wall to the power conditioner and using female IEC to male IEC cables of the appropriate length to the audio components. This is especially applicable in home theatre installations, where cable chaos is often an issue.
The Furman PL-PLUS C E is a difficult piece of kit to review and even more difficult to rate. Its professional build will appeal to some; others may find it too stark and plain, but you can expect it to be a rugged and sturdy component.
While having a surge protector is a great idea, it’s critical that the sonics aren’t affected. The PL-PLUS C E ‘s performance is variable and entirely dependent on the individual components in the system. The only way to say for sure whether there will be any sonic reactions (good or bad) is to try it. If you can’t find a dealer who’ll loan you one of these for at least a weekend, then find another dealer. The same goes for any power- related product.
Don’t fall for the quick back and forth A vs. B test either – listen for a while to a number of tracks on one CD, then change over the plugs and listen again. Repeat this a few times before picking specific parts of a track that have a very distinctive sound or strong dynamic contrasts, something where you’ll notice a small variation in the sonics. Then change over quickly and see what (if anything) you hear.
Final rating? Hard to say. It deserves four stars on certain components in my system but anything that adversely affects the sonics would get a very poor rating from this audio nut, so on other components it gets no more than two stars. In any event, this is a quality bit of kit that needs to state its case in each system. Your mileage may vary – so try it first.
Note: A 16 Amp version of the PL-PLUS C E is available for higher current draw applications, complete with a digital voltmeter on the front panel. This model is the Pro DMC E and it’s priced at $1340.