Audioquest Niagara 7000 power conditioner

AC conditioners
AudioQuest Niagara 7000
Audioquest Niagara 7000 power conditioner

Walk the corridors of any recent hi-fi show and you’ll have noticed a creeping, almost insidious presence, the first visible evidence of a (not so quiet) rise in audio’s dark side: mains conditioners, and chief amongst them, AudioQuest’s Niagara models. It’s a tendency that must have old-school audiophiles scratching their heads. After all, doesn’t everybody know that the prophet Ivor banished such devices as the spawn of the devil? When it came to AC power, the mantra was, ‘first do no harm’, which roughly translated meant do little or nothing at all, beyond cleaning the contacts in your leads and sockets and tightening the terminals. Anything placed between the wall socket and your electronics served mainly to raise the source impedance and limit current flow, cramping dynamic range and response – at least so went the logic, backed up by experience…

But the times they are a changing and so is your AC power supply. The world has become infested with ‘smart’ devices: everything from fridges that tell you when to shop to home management systems that can tell you almost anything (and frequently do), while every person has become a mobile RF generator and the sheer range and complexity of electronic devices that litter our homes has exploded, with every one of them dumping ever-increasing levels of noise back onto the AC ground. Meanwhile, AC conditioning technology has advanced, as has our understanding of the damaging influence of noise sources and of treatment of noise within audio systems. As AC quality has collapsed, both in terms of consistent, stable voltage and the degree of RF pollution and other noise that infests it, the tools available to combat the decline have improved, to the point that we have graduated from ‘first, do no harm’ to ‘let’s ensure that the cure is better than the disease.’ Sure, a hi-fi show could be perceived as a worst case electrical scenario, but I wouldn’t go assuming that your domestic environment is that much cleaner or quieter, which helps explain the rash of AC conditioning products hitting the market.

As I’ve already suggested, amongst the most prominent is AudioQuest’s Niagara series, of which the 7000 reviewed here is the top of a four-model range. There are good reasons for the Niagaras’ prominence. Look closer at the 7000 and it soon becomes clear that as a product it’s as thoughtful as it is carefully executed, from the topology and facilities to the quality of the in-house socketry and other hardware. This is neither an IT-industry response that’s been re-boxed, nor a simple sledge-hammer solution. The size and weight (and at £7,995, the price) of a serious power amp, it’s a substantial beast that offers 11AC outlets (12 if you opt for Schuko or US socketry) arranged in three separate banks, one bank of three for high-current applications, two banks of four for low-noise (source) supplies. That’s capacity enough to feed all but the most complex systems. The three sockets (four in the Eu/US) designated for high-current applications, such as power amplifiers, features a combination of DC blocking and minimal filtering so as not to impede dynamic response. More importantly, they also offer AudioQuest’s Transient Power Correction circuit, a current reservoir with an 80A instantaneous response capability to shore up sagging AC lines and meet massive transient demands. The end result is the stiffest AC supply many power amps will ever see. How stiff? At RMAF, VTL were using a Niagara 5000 to feed the massive S-400 II power amp, without suffering any dynamic constriction, an experiment I repeated with the S-400 in my own system. Impressive in itself this also serves to illustrate the difference between the 7000 and its more affordable but outwardly identical sibling. The 5000 offers the same casework, the same current capacity, common-mode rejection, patented ground-noise dissipation system and extensive filtering for source components as its bigger brother; but the 7000 adds a pair of substantial, dielectrically biased isolation transformers between the banks of three or four outlet sockets. Using the proven standing current technology that AudioQuest apply to their signal and AC cables to reduce burn-in and settling effects, the dielectric bias system improves linearity and bandwidth in the transformers, helping them to further reduce noise while isolating source component supplies from the transient demands of the power-amp(s) as well as digital components from analogue. They also add over 40lbs to the weight of the unit, which now reaches a grunt-inducing 81lbs total. The nitty gritty detail on the ins and outs of all this is outside the scope of this review, (you can read AudioQuest’s take on their website), but that’s a lot of conditioning, whichever way you cut it. The question is, does the good that results from all this outweigh the harm?

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