As you progress down the audio upgrade path, of which some would describe as careening down the slippery slope of audiophile hell, you start to notice that upgrades usually get more and more expensive. If you have enough money, you may be able to build a system that rivals the best available. Nonetheless, even if you can afford it, you begin to chafe at the fact that even very expensive upgrades produce only incremental improvements in sound. You chafe because, as a true audiophile, the quest for perfection never ends. Yes, there are people who claim they’re satisfied with their systems, but eventually they break down and go for an upgrade, because a true audiophile is a person obsessed. This is a review of a product developed by an obsessed audiophile – a product which, though not cheap, clearly upgraded my system’s performance.
I’ve Got the Power
First, some important background about the power in my home. I have a dedicated 100-amp distribution box in the basement that only serves the three lines/three outlets I use for my main 2-channel system. All lights and all other outlets in the room, including the outlets that serve surround sound components, come in through a separate distribution box. The three lines are a 15-amp for my front-end and two 20-amp lines for my two monoblock amplifiers. I originally wanted a single 30-amp line for my monoblocks, but there were problems with fitting everything into the existing electrical conduit. My electrician was very careful to properly ground everything since three lines running one system can easily result in unwanted noise.
My electrician has monitored my lines during each of the four seasons, and I have been told that I am incredibly lucky – I get power that is significantly cleaner and more stable than the average in Chicago’s western suburbs. By far, my power is the dirtiest in summer during very hot days, when everyone is running their air conditioners, but even then the quality of the power coming into my dedicated listening room is pretty good. When the incoming power is very dirty, my system takes on a harsher sound with some loss of detail.
My experience with power conditioners is consistent with the fact that my power is relatively good. Most power conditioners that I’ve used have either had some negative effects, such as loss of pace and drive, or the improvements have been nominal. I’ve taken the conditioners to other homes and they have had a more pronounced effect than in my dedicated listening room.
A final piece of information you need to know is that my monoblocks sound the best when plugged into the separate 20-amp outlets. Though they sound pretty good when both are plugged into a single 20-amp outlet, when they are plugged into separate 20-amp outlets, the soundstage width increases by about 1 ½ feet on each side, and the dynamics ratchet up another notch. This creates a real dilemma. Even if I find a power conditioner for my amps that is not current limiting, I suffer a loss in soundstage width and dynamics if I don’t use two of them.
Conditioners I Have Known
I have owned a Monster unit whose model I can’t remember, an original and then upgraded PS Audio 300, the Walker Velocitor and a pair of Audience Adept Response RP-1’s. Because my amps plug into two separate 20-amp outlets, the Audience RP-1’s were perfect for me. They were a great value in my configuration, since they plug directly into the wall and don’t require the purchase of an additional power cord. By way of example, even the small Shunyata Hydra-2 required that I purchase two additional power cords with the Hydra-2’s. That can get expensive even though the Hydra-2 was reasonably priced. The RP-1’s eliminated the need for an additional PC.
I’ve also had the Nordost Thor in my system for a few weeks. Of these units, the Velocitor and the Thor provided the most pronounced improvement, and between the Velocitor and the Thor, the Velocitor provided better results in my system. The main improvement is an increase in speed, pace and timing, but at a slight loss of weight. I never attempted to use the Velocitor on my Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks because it was not capable of handling the huge power draws that two Nemos require. I considered 2 additional Velocitors (one for each monoblock), but the expense would be substantial. Moreover, I would need 2 additional power cords, which would add at least another $1,800 to my cost.
Enter the LessLoss DFPC
The RP-1’s worked very well with my Silent Source Signature PCs until I switched to the LessLoss Dynamic Filter Power Cords (DFPC). I found that the effect of the DFPCs eliminated the need for the RP-1’s. The RP-1’s did not provide any audible improvement when used with the DFPC’s. I eventually switched my entire system to DFPCs, including the power to and from the Velocitor, which has fed the front-end of my system for the past two years.
For me, the DFPCs were a godsend. I’m not saying they’re the best power cables out there – everything is system-sensitive. However, they worked better for me on my amps than the very excellent Silent Source power cables, even when the Silent Source was combined with the RP-1. They even worked better with the Velocitor, which was quite a surprise since the synergy between the Velocitor and the Silent Source was excellent. In addition, I bought early enough that the DFPCs were a no-brainer for under $400 a 2-meter length. The effect of the DFPCs was cumulative. They seemed to feed off of each other and increase their effect.
Enter the LessLoss Firewall Prototype
My initial success with the DFPCs caused me to buy more of them and get to know their proprietor, Liudas Motekaitis (Lithuanian original, Louis Motek for English speakers). He was over at my home one day and told me he had a prototype power conditioner that was based on the same design principle that resulted in the DFPC. He substituted it for my Velocitor, and I immediately noticed that the speed of the presentation matched the Velocitor, but that the body and weight of the presentation increased. He then told me that, unlike the Velocitor, there was no practical limit to the power the Firewall would pass. We plugged both of my Nemos into the Firewall and plugged the Firewall into a single 20-amp outlet. Two things happened.
First, the soundstage shrunk several feet when we used a single 20-amp outlet instead of two. This wasn’t much of a surprise, since plugging both Nemos into a single circuit always shrinks the soundstage. The second thing was an incredible increase in body and weight without any loss of pace. I was totally surprised. I immediately said I’d like to review the final version of the Firewall when it became available.
Enter the Firewall
I am happy to report that the production version of the Firewall is great. It has a tad less body than I heard from the prototype, but is even cleaner in its presentation. All tonal ranges now have natural weight and body, and have great PRAT and speed. Let me tell you how I tested the Firewall.
My first step was to take out my Velocitor and substituted the Firewall. Thus, my transport, DAC, preamp and room correction all were plugged into the Firewall, which was in turn plugged into a dedicated 15-amp outlet. My monoblocks were plugged directly into the wall into separate dedicated 20-amp outlets. All of the power cords were LessLoss DFPCs. As with my experience with the prototype, the instruments took on a more natural body but maintained their speed, PRAT and slam.
My second step was to reinsert the Velocitor at my front-end and plug both Nemo monoblocks into the Firewall and plug the Firewall into a single 20-amp outlet. As occurred when I first heard the prototype, the soundstage shrunk a bit, but nowhere near as much as usual when I use a single 20-amp circuit instead of two, and much less than what occurred when I heard the original prototype. The effect on the tonality was even greater than when I used the Firewall on my front-end. The Nemos are very powerful high-current amps, but they never hiccupped or even burped when used with the Firewall. Their speed and slam remained, but they became richer and, in my opinion, more tonally accurate. In this configuration, I had to use one of the LessLoss DFPCs from the wall to the Firewall, which meant that I had to use a Silent Source Signature to plug the Velocitor into my front-end’s 15-amp outlet. I do not believe this affected the comparison.
I began to wonder what my system would sound like with two, or even three Firewalls. It was impossible for me to try and plug everything into a single Firewall because I didn’t have power cords that were long enough. Of course, even a 20-amp outlet needs to work hard to provide enough power for my entire system, so two Firewalls would be better. I may need to ask Liudas if he’ll send one more with some additional DFPCs. (If I were totally insane I’d ask for three Firewalls so I could continue to plug each monoblock into its own 20-amp outlet!)
How to describe the sound of the Firewall? Several months ago, I wrote a review in which I indicated that I was very impressed with the Daedalus Audio Ulysses speakers. I was particularly struck with how natural their presentation sounded. Well, I wish I still had them at my home, because I would have loved to hear them with the Firewall filtering power to the other components. The Firewall seems to allow the components plugged into it to render very a natural-sounding presentation. This is totally consistent with the sound I heard at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest when LessLoss teamed with Kaiser speakers, Mastersound 845 Monoblock tube amps, CEC transport and the LessLoss DAC 2004 to produce what I thought was the best sound of the show. Those of you that have several LessLoss DFPCs can expect the Firewall to multiply their effect and provide a very extended top- and bottom-end with extremely smooth frequency response and absolutely no glare (unless it’s in the recording).
I’m not a real piano player, but we have a grand piano my wife plays. This enables me to compare the live piano sound with the sound of piano played through my main system. In addition, one of my daughters plays violin, and this gives me an opportunity to compare the sound of violin recordings with live playing. In both cases, use of the Firewall brought the reproduced sound closer to the natural live sound of both of these instruments. I have auditioned power conditioners that simply don’t accomplish this. They may help to eliminate grunge or glare, but I’ve never heard one that actually improves tonality. That is typically the province of other components.
There are obviously some highly-regarded conditioners I have not heard. Perhaps the most significant is the Isoclean 80A3 Audio Grade Filter, which can be part of an overall “super” power conditioning system that includes the Isoclean PT3030G III isolation transformer and the Isoclean Zero Ohm breaker panel. Of course, now you are talking about an entirely different level of power conditioning, as well as expense.
The Firewall gets my highest recommendation. I have quite good power, but the Firewall really helped my components to perform and to produce the most natural sound that I have ever coaxed from them. It’s not cheap, but it beats every conditioner I’ve tried, and the ones I haven’t cost substantially more. Congratulations to LessLoss for another outstanding product! Now to see if I can afford to buy two of these babies…
Dear Ed, Constantine, and all at Dagogo,
On behalf of LessLoss Audio Devices, I thank you sincerely for your review of the Firewall Power Distributor. It is always a great pleasure to learn about others’ appreciative experiences with my creations. That’s the only thing that makes the countless hours of trial and error in the laboratory pay off. As designer, these devices grow on you, and it is forever difficult to keep a clear mind and attitude while developing them. I am very glad that Ed found the final sound to be natural and balanced, not over-emphasizing any one trait of the musical depiction. To me as designer, that is the most difficult, and the most necessary achievement: to get out of the way of the music and in the way of anything else that manipulates its natural flow. Cheers to you all and much success to Dagogo! Thanks again!
LessLoss Audio Devices
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