and the noise
Situation in the
beginning: My setup was originally working pretty well, then I
acquired a new Universal player and a plasma television. You could
ask me, what harm a 42” plasma and universal player could do to
audio listening. Well, it can do some harm, because the problem
became obvious quite soon. Earlier in my setup the DVD-A player
had a proper well-shielded transformer, and there was no problem
either with the earlier TV-set, which had a built-in tuner. Now,
the new player’s transformer was not so good nor so carefully
shielded and there was a noisy power section in my new plasma TV’s
separate tuner box.
So I now had two
new digital components, a universal player with far better
Burr-Brown DAC´s than the earlier player had, and a very good
Plasma television. Unfortunately my equipment (power amp, preamp,
player, plasma with tuner) were all on same mains line, and the
noise coming from these dear “SOTA home theatre” components was
increased in great amount.
this evaluation, the first step for me was to get a clean
audio-only dedicated mains line for my amps and player. Getting
this kind of dedicated mains line was a very good move, and I
strongly recommend that kind of installation to everyone. The
soundstage will be more relaxed and stable after getting all of
the other household devices out of the same mains line where Your
High End equipment are. I also have a star-grounding scheme via my
preamp to the other components in the audio chain.
filtering solutions in the market
So how to get
I went thru all
possible solutions that came in to my mind:
A lot of distortion, noise and compression/lack of dynamics, Large
UPSes are big, ugly, expensive devices and after getting that kind
of device, You will realize that there is still distortion, and
You may discover that You then have some new interesting problems
with your setup.
noise suppressors: Some EMI/RFI
damping shown in their technical specs, in real life testing, no
positive effects neither to sound nor to the picture.
I tested one of
the APC surge arrest devices. After reviewing that unit, I soon
understood that this kind of device is no good for High End audio
suppressors: Not widely available in
the Finnish market. I tested one DIY-based suppressor in my setup;
this solution reminded a bit the PS Audio UO (without the Balun).
The soundstage was good and the instrument placement was pretty
good also, but the high frequencies were not as sweet as with the
UO, and the low frequencies were more restricted.
transformers: If You get an
isolation transformer, you can separate Your digital equipment
from the other devices with it, but to get an isolation
transformer large enough for Your power amp, without compressing
the sound, You will soon realize that these units can be very
expensive. Depending on Your power needs, the size of the
isolation transformer can vary from modest rack sized unit to the
size of a small fridge. Believe me; these devices can also be
very ugly. Besides, they mainly provide isolation from the
other components, but not noise suppression to any great extent.
Power solutions: mixed results, our
publisher Mikko Mattila had a Richard Gray power solution with his
Mark Levinson setup, and he was not very impressed. I have heard
that some users have achieved good results with Richard Gray power
Transparent is making some black boxes and like in many cases
regarding Transparent, You do not have much information on how
these units are working, because Transparent does not tell much
about the technology applied to their solutions. These units are
not the cheapest ones either in the market.
An other nice looking isolation transformer.
Hmm. I suddenly remembered that I had browsed through their site
several times, reading about their technology, and I have been
thinking about making a review and test their products. I quickly
browsed to their site to see the Ultimate Outlet specs again, and
lo and behold, they had published more technical specs and
pictures of their products. No voodoo stuff, no nonsense, and just
pure facts about their solutions. Beside this, the Ultimate Outlet
was not even very expensive.
Solution: PS Audio
I had asked
earlier PS Audio’s representative in Finland if I could get one
unit for review purposes, but this Finnish dealer informed me that
they have a policy of not lending products for any reviews. Ok. I
fully respect their policy.
I then quickly
contacted Angie at PS Audio, and she said that there is a
distributor for the Scandinavian markets, located in Sweden,
called the Golden Age Music (www.goldenagemusic.se
). Soon after contacting the Golden Age Music, things really
Golden Age Music immediately sent me two PS Audio High Current
Ultimate Outlets. I wanted to have at least two of the Ultimate
outlets, because my idea was to connect the first UO to my preamp,
and the second unit to my Universal player and the Plasma TV’s
separate tuner box.
I decided to go
with this kind of test setup because I am mainly listening to
music in 2-channel mode, so the Tuner box of the Plasma TV is
turned off during 2-channel listening. This way I could separate
the preamp from the mains line as well. Basically it is not a good
idea to connect many digital devices to one UO, because then you
cannot separate the digital components behind the UO from each
One of my
testing options was to try the results from separating my Mark
Levinson No.332 power amp with one dedicated Ultimate outlet. If
you are connecting a powerful power amp to Ultimate Outlet, please
do not connect any other devices to that same unit. Further on in
sound section about this test.
So I got two
UO´s rapidly delivered from the Golden Age Music, but unfortunately
the other unit was broken, and I sent it back to Sweden. Golden
Age Music promised to send me a new unit, but I decided to do the
review with only one unit, testing it with different components in
my audio chain. Btw, the service and response from the Golden Age
Music is very good, they are very customer oriented.
I was not looking for miracles; I just wanted to see if these
devices could make any real life improvement to the sound. And
yes, indeed, the sound was better with the UO.
These PS Audio
Ultimate Outlets are based on a type of transformer called a
balun. This balun-technology was invented already at 1930´s and PS
Audio started utilizing this technology to clean up the noise in
According to PS Audio, this balun-based Ultimate Outlet reduces
common mode noise by up to 40 dB, and it also handles differential
noise. PS Audio states that with this solution the cleaning should
happen at all frequencies, not only at the very high frequencies
attended to by typical power filters or conditioners.
Inside the newer version of the Ultimate Outlet there is a Ceramic
resistor. Because of this new ceramic resistor, newer devices are
a bit warm when running, compared to the older UO units (verified
by one friend of mine, who has an older model of the UO).
not believe in long burn-in times with passive components, but
then again, there are more components than just one balun inside
the unit. Therefore, I decided to give the unit some 60 hours to
burn-in before I started the serious listening tests. Just to be
sure. By now I have tested this unit for three months, and the
unit has been switched on the since then.
was a slight difference in sound after the burn-in period, but not
to any great extent. If you are that kind of person who believes
that burn-in is good for all kind of equipment, you could let the
UO run for several days before doing any serious listening tests.
important thing is that the UO´s fuse, located on the back of the
unit, is not in the signal path. Behind the unit there is also a
LED that lights only if the fuse is blown or if there is a
malfunction in the unit.
summary, the UO separates the audio components from the other
components in the mains line. It also reduces common noise and in
case of spikes etc. it also secures the equipment connected to it.
PS Audio says that the UO also works bi-directionally, thus
preventing the digital noise from falling back to the mains line
from the devices behind the UO, which in my review was a very
the spike protection PS Audio is using a SOTA “Transzorber”
instead of a traditional MOV (metal oxide varistor).
If there is a problem with the Tranzorber, or too much current
tries to get through, a relay will open up and the Ultimate Outlet
protects your equipment behind the UO.
According to PS Audio, when comparing UO´s to normal isolation
transformers, the UO can handle the isolation without the size and
power issues of isolation transformers.
can also connect power-hungry devices to the traditional isolation
transformers, but then you have to spend a lot of money to get an
isolation transformer that is large enough and you should prepare
yourself to the fact that in the worst case there is going to be a
20- 70 kg transformer in the corner of your listening room. So the
choice is once again yours, I quickly decided to give a chance to
this small unit.
benefits if it is connected to grounded mains. If You are living
in an old house that does not have a ground pin in the wall
outlets (there are still some old houses in Finland with that kind
of mains to the apartments), the UO still works, but not as
effectively as it would work if it is connected to a grounded
mains wall outlet.
Audio Ultimate Outlet just got the CE-certification in Europe, so
even that CE-certificate profiles and separates PS Audio products
from some voodoo-devices on the market. And it does not hurt to
know that these devices are CE-marked, even if you do not
appreciate that fact much.
Audio has a wide range of power products (and amps as well) and
these Ultimate outlets are at best with higher power hungry
equipment. For the front end equipment the Power Plants (e.g. P300
and P600) devices are reported to provide even better results. PS
Audio also has the Power Director in their portfolio, which is
basically several independent Ultimate Outlets built into one
chassis (with some added features). I think that if the money is
not an issue, the best solution would be a mix of Ultimate
outlet(s) and Power Plant(s). Remember, that in Europe the PS
Audio products are not as cheap as on the US-market.
you are considering whether you should buy an Ultimate Outlet or a
new better power cable at the same price, I would buy an Ultimate
Audio states that the UO will further benefit if it has a very
good power cable before the unit, and I can verify this. I tested
the UO (instead of my Supra Custom power cables) with the new
Siltech SPX-30 power cable. In this test, the effect was dramatic.
I did not believe it before the testing, so I hate to admit that
the UO really benefits to have very good quality power cable from
the mains to the UO. I got much more clarity and punch to the
midrange with SPX-30 cable.
you can hear differences in power cables, the cables are always
system dependent and it is up to the listener, what cables he or
she prefers. I liked the SPX-30 very much before the UO in my
is not what you hear, but what you do not hear
Let me explain.
you ever wondered why the sound is sometimes very good and why on
another day your setup just sounds miserable?
yourself. Of course, one reason could be that you have had a bad
day at work or you are tired etc. but in many cases, it is just
about what the mains connection is delivering to your components.
One thing that
you might not hear anymore to such a great extent with the UO
connected in Your setup, is that digital glare in old eighties
cd-recordings. I mean that when the UO is connected in, you can
listen to those old, dreadful-sounding CD-recordings for longer
periods without getting a headache instantly.
I am not going
to go to the mantra “the blacks are blacker now”, but the thing is
simply so that the UO is cleaning up the sound, and the cleaning
means that instead of adding something there, You are really
taking the garbage out.
I tested one PS
Audio Ultimate Outlet in my setup, using it with all possible
variations in my audio chain. I achieved the best results when
connecting the UO to my preamp only.
beginning there was more clarity in the sound, the soundstage was
a bit deeper and the instruments were placed tighter in the sound
field. Also, the shape and size of the instruments were more
effect in the sound could be described by saying that my setup now
sounded more like good pure analog set.
frequencies became clearer; the sound was not so edgy in some
recordings that used to sound a bit edgy earlier. I found the
whole soundstage more relaxed than earlier. With the UO connected,
I could also spot more details in the upper frequencies, but in a
way these details were just there without making a statement.
Therefore one could also call the sound more polite, showing upper
frequency details without underlining them every time.
I also noticed
immediately a difference in the bass region. The lower region
sounded deeper, but at the same time it sounded more controlled.
In some cases, if you are testing only different kinds of power
cables, you may get more deep bass, but at the same time you could
loose some bass control. Not in this case. I mentioned earlier in
this article that I tested one DIY filter, and in this test
against the UO, there just was deeper bass present with the UO.
DIY-filters are easy to build, but to get everything right
sound-wise, that is not an easy task.
The timing of
the bass region took some more time to understand. At first I
thought that the bass attack was not as fast as earlier, but then
I realized that it was better in line with the timing of the other
If You like to
use wine terms, the bass was more mature now. To put it other way,
the bass was earlier a street fighter and now with the UO, it
sounded more like a gentleman with broad shoulders.
different instruments and different recordings, I found that the
snare drum sounded better now, especially when there was a sharp
hard hit to it. With piano, the hard attacks of the high tones
were more natural and clear with the UO. The shape of the singer
was in many cases more defined and the singer was placed more in
the spot, without moving a bit in the sound field. The same effect
applied to the instrument placement as well.
effect was in the mid frequencies, so clearly this unit’s
strengths are in the bass and high frequencies as well as in the
When testing the
UO with other components, it really did not work with my universal
player. Using the UO with the preamp only had the best positive
effect in my setup. When the universal player was the only
component behind the UO, the sound was more “dirty” and when the
universal player and the preamp were connected to the same UO, I
also noticed that the sound was dirtier and some micro details
were missing. So please; when connecting digital components to the
UO, according to my experience, do not connect them to same UO or
you’ll have all of the digital units interfering with each other.
So separate units for digital components.
PS Audio says
that you can use UO´s with very power demanding power amps, but I
did not find any big improvement with my Mark Levinson 332.
Perhaps with smaller power amps you get better audible results,
but I still think the Ultimate Outlet works best with less power
hungry amps. It did not compress the sound, but to be honest, the
best audible effect was when the UO was connected only to my
Now you are
asking, is this unit worth of the money? The simple answer is yes.
If you have a good High End setup, and you really want to get all
of the potential out of the equipment, there is no other modestly
priced alternative solution to the Ultimate Outlet. I am buying my
review sample, the effect in neutrality, timing, easiness, as well
as in the bass and high frequencies are so evident in my setup
that really I have no other choices.
It is good to
review a product that I have nothing bad to say about.
447 € (28.3.2004),
Representative in Scandinavia: Golden Age Music, Sweden
Music contact information:
Golden Age Music AB
441 57 Alingsås
Tel +46 322 66 50 50
Fax +46 322 66 50 51
Player: Pioneer 868AVi, placed on Ceraballs, all unused
RCA´s covered with Cardas RFI Caps
Audionet MAP, placed on Ceraballs, all unused RCA´s and XLR´s
covered with Cardas RFI Caps
Mark Levinson No. 332, RCA´s covered with Cardas RFI caps.
Dunlavy SC-IVA standing on Superspikes and granite plates,
Analysis Plus Oval 12 Cables
Dunlavy SC-IAV, Analysis Plus Oval cables
All Analysis Plus Copper Oval, XLR and RCA
Custom made Supra LoRAD cables
Furutech/Furukawa PCS glass fibre
25 m2 room, 4 Plate resonators, 1 Helmholtz resonator,
tube traps, 1 Svana Acoustics tube trap, diffusor in front wall,
symmetrical room, large bookshelves on both sides of the
listening room, heavy rug behind the listening position, a
carpet, 2 sofas and some ceiling treatment. The whole listening
frequency range is within +-3 dB in the listening position
normal wide Dunlavy setup
CD, SA-CD and DVD-Audio reference recordings
used in evaluation
Steely Dan: Everything must go DVD-A
Alison Krauss + Union Station: Live SACD
Kari Bremnes Gåte ved Gåte
Jenifer Warnes: The Hunter
Sundance: Stunt records Vol. 6
Eva Cassidy: Songbird
High Fidelity reference: cd no. 43
Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd: Jazz Samba
Julee Cruise: Floating into the night
Loussier: plays Satie
Chet Baker: Baby Breeze
Joe Sample: the best of
George Duke: After Hours