On the one hand the answer to that question is simple: yes. On the other, it depends on the situation and how you set it up as to how much goodness the 7000 generates. Any AC conditioner will be environmentally dependent and the AudioQuest is no exception, so I started by running it on a standard domestic outlet, rather than a dedicated audio feed and plugged pretty much as many different devices as possible into it. I also used a variety of different stock and audiophile power cords. I won’t bore you with the seemingly endless procession of changes, combinations, and configurations, cutting instead straight to the results. Compared to an audiophile distribution strip and the same power cords (whether stock or expensive audiophile designs), the Niagara 7000 had a huge impact on the sound, with a marked reduction in edge and hash, quieter backgrounds, larger and more developed soundstages, much better pitch definition (especially at lower frequencies), and improved instrumental texture and colour. At the same time – and musically more significant – the sense of pace, presence, flow, and overall shape became far more apparent, singers more identifiable and intelligible, playing more articulate. Bands sounded more like themselves, whether that’s the Berliner Philharmoniker as opposed to the LPO, Blur as opposed to Oasis. More importantly, they all started to sound like a much better band, captured on a really good day. This was no small difference – but it reflects a carefully arrived at system topology. Fortunately for you, that topology was arrived at by AudioQuest so that all my convoluted changes and experimentation demonstrated was that they’ve got it right.
The results I have just described depend on two important things: making sure that you use the different banks of sockets as suggested, separating power amps, analogue source, and digital components and secondly, don’t skimp on the cable connecting the Niagara to the wall. Playing with power cords from IsoTech, Nordost, and AudioQuest, it soon became clear that (with a single exception), the contribution of the 7000 is more fundamental to the musical performance of your system than improving your power cords. That exception is, however, vital: make sure that you feed the Niagara with the best power cord you can. The input uses a 20A IEC socket, which will help you focus on the problem, but amongst all the other things the Niagara does, it really underlines that the most important cable in your system is the one coming out of the wall. Does that make the Niagara a substitute for high-quality power cords? No – it makes it the perfect foundation to maximize their benefits, whether those leads are from AudioQuest, Nordost, or anybody else. Use top power cables with the 7000 and you’ll hear more of their benefits and you’ll hear them more clearly, making the Niagara what the military refer to as a ‘force multiplier’.
When it comes to hooking up your system via the 7000, you need to pay considerable attention to what goes where. Start plugging digital components into the same set of outlets as your line-stage and you’ll rapidly erode performance. Plug the power amp(s) into the wrong sockets or a separate socket altogether and you’ll erode performance. In fact, plug a server or laptop into the same bank of outlets as your DAC and (you guessed it), you’ll erode performance. It’s largely a case of common sense, but beware the odd exceptions. For instance, two-box tube pre-amps with substantial external power supplies can draw a lot more than the 3A rating for a complete, filtered output bank on the 7000, so be prepared to experiment with connecting it to a high-current outlet, just to see what happens. Finally, if you opt for the European (Schuko) equipped version, checking the polarity of each component in the chain by simply reversing the plugs is a simple process that will reap further sonic and musical dividends.
All those topological variations bring me to the most intriguing aspect of the 7000’s potential. Although intended as and equipped to be a total system solution, the big Niagara lends itself to multiple applications, especially in high-end systems where its cost becomes if not trivial, then at least easily justifiable when compared to the price of high-end electronics. While its benefits were both clearly audible and expected when it came to running a full system in a standard domestic scenario, what I wasn’t ready for was the leap in performance it delivered in a dedicated listening room, with its own dedicated AC lines and clean grounds. Which just goes to show that, as much as you can control what happens in your own house, there’s no controlling what goes on beyond its walls. In fact, the combination of a bigger room, bigger system, greater bandwidth, and higher resolution, made even more use of the lower noise floor delivered by the AudioQuest power conditioner, making the benefits of separating digital and analogue electronics even more apparent and musically significant, suggesting that AudioQuest have got an awful long way towards nailing the AC conditioning issue. I used the 7000 with solid-state electronics from CH Precision and Connoisseur, and tubes from VTL and Engstrom. In every case the reduction of grain and the associated improvements in transparency, focus, natural tonality, and dynamic range were manifest. What’s more important, the differences and characteristics of the different electronics emerged that much more clearly. Far from compressing sonic and musical distinctions, the Niagara 7000 helps significantly in revealing them, clarifying the character of different components as well as the artistic differences between performances and performers, Berglund as opposed to Barbirolli, live recordings as compared to the studio.