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Salk Sound StreamPlayer Generation III, Part 3 – HD-PLEX

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Also read Part 1 – Prologue, Part 2 – Strength.


The HD-PLEX linear power supply

I am big on upgrading the little power supplies, but not so much the mongo power supplies that are used to feed the entire system. I have found most system wide power supplies to rob as much as deliver in terms of absolute performance. Not so with the smallish ones elevating the performance of the individual component. Time and again an upgrade in the dedicated power supply of a component or speaker has been efficacious. Case in point the Kingsound King III was aided by the addition of the VAC Royal Power Supply, a linear PSU that smooths out and refines the performance of the King III’s own power supply. The Exogal Comet has an upgrade power supply that I recommended all purchasers pursue. By the way, even the umbilical for the Comet’s power supply is efficacious! I have used both the WyWire and Clarity Cable umbilical now, and find the WyWire umbilical to be leaner and tighter, while the Clarity umbilical carries the Clarity house sound of warmer and more bass weighted. This one does well with the King III sans subwoofers.

I often encounter mild resistance from designers and manufacturers on this point, as they are emphatic that the component they have designed is robust enough to be insensitive to such changes. Based on experience of many direct comparisons I argue the opposite, that if a product is so insensitive to such changes I don’t want it. An extreme piece of electronic gear had better be sensitive to power cord and supply changes, or else it won’t be hanging around long in my system. I want gear that reveals all nuances of changes I make to the rig because I want the ability to tune the rig definitively.

The StreamPlayer III is piggybacking in this power supply upgrade with the Legacy Wavelet, as both will benefit from the upgrade. Some Legacy enthusiasts contacted me and raved about the HD-PLEX linear supply and said I must do it. When I looked at the models of power supplies available I couldn’t help but see that there is a dual supply – perfect to handle both the StreamPlayer III and Wavelet! It just arrived today, and I’m going now to first plug the StreamPlayer III into it, then after assessment restart with the Wavelet also plugged in. A case like this is perfect to explain my Law of Efficacy once again. If the HD-PLEX is to be worthy of consideration regardless of cost it must immediately, unequivocally provide a perceived large difference in sound quality. If it does not it fails and is not worth it regardless of cost. This is especially so if it fails on two components!

However, if the change is instant, which should be heard without question in the first moments, and no longer than the first minute or two (If I have to keep listening on and on without clear indication of an improvement, it fails.) then it is worthy of further investigation. Whether it is overall enhancing or detracting takes more time to investigate, but I will not spend my time on products that do little to the performance. So, let’s go (well, I  will go) see what transpires!

(Half a day later; drum roll, please.) I’m back with the results, and they are clear. The HD-PLEX Linear Power Supply is efficacious, no question about it. I recommend it as an upgrade to both the StreamPlayer III and Wavelet. What does it do? It enriches the tonal palate of the two components, deepens the sound field and in the process lets one hear more of the space around the performance, not just from the performance toward the listener. It’s not just a matter of setting the performance in the proper location, but the HD-PLEX gives the component more capacity to render the spatial clues both forward and backward which sets the performers in their unique location in the venue. I greatly enjoy this result, and for that it is worth recommending. I did not find it to diminish the sound quality, but rather improve it, including fine detail.

The addition of this power supply to the StreamPlayer III was a slam-dunk, a “no brainer” upgrade that immediately elevated the performance in every respect. However, a very important point must be made about using it in relation to an entire system. I’m glad I had the opportunity to test out two components with the HD-PLEX, because I did find limitations – in fact, even degradation – if the system configuration is not favorable to it. Note very carefully that I did not say that the HD-PLEX causes limitations or degradation, but rather a combination of gear can be unsuitable for it.

Allow me to explain; I have been running two configurations with the StreamPlayer III and Legacy Wavelet, the first is those two together, and the second alternative includes the addition of an outboard DAC, in this case either the LampizatOr Big 7 or the Exogal Comet. During my investigation of the performance of the Wavelet I concluded unequivocally that an outboard DAC is a potential enhancement to the operation of the Wavelet, as might be expected. However, while the HD-PLEX was absolutely beneficial to the StreamPlayer III, it was only beneficial to the more streamlined combination of the Salk server and the Wavelet together. When I added the Exogal Comet the presence of the HD-PLEX became problematic.

Working on recommendation of Bill Dudleston of Legacy Audio I set the Wavelet’s level in a “pass through” zone and used the Exogal Comet’s volume control to adjust listening level. I tried it both ways, reversing the component used to control listening level, but found anchoring the Comet and varying the Wavelet to be preferable. I obtained similar results with the LampizatOr Big 7, however due to its much hither output I had to adjust down the “fixed” level of the Wavelet to 55 on the digital display. Ideally one does not include two devices with preamp functionality (attenuation), but the outcome is rather unpredictable and in many cases the enhancement yielded by the additional component can be preferred overall.

According to Bill Dudleston, the ideal range to fix the Wavelet’s level is about 75-85, where there is a pass through window and some of the signal treatment is bypassed. However, at that level in this system there was too much electronic haze for my taste – remember, we are dealing with a speaker system that has 4-Ohm impedance in the upper range and 98dB sensitivity. So, any noise in the system which would ordinarily be tucked under the threshold of hearing is much more likely to be audible.

I have grown comfortable with a very slight amount of such haziness, the soft “hiss” emanating from the system when there is no signal, if and only if the attending performance when the signal is applied is dramatically more dynamic and full. My criterion is that it must be nearly inaudible from the listening chair, and if it grows more noticeable I take action to squelch it. But, there is a breaking point at which the noise can overrun the rest, and this becomes obvious when listening to quiet passages. The presence of the HD-PLEX drove up the noise level to unacceptable intrusion upon the music. Yet, when either the HD-PLEX was used on the StreamPlayer III only, or the external DAC was removed and the HD-PLEX powered both StreamPlayer and Legacy Wavelet, all was well.

The reason I am covering all this, which may at first seem irrelevant to the StreamPlayer III review, is for two reasons. The additional componentry used with the StreamPlayer III can capitalize on its performance. Second, and this is critical, that componentry must be a complementary combination, or else much of the StreamPlayer III’s advantages will be muted. When I attempted to arrange the levels of the Wavelet and Comet along with the HD-PLEX linear power supply I found that fixing the Wavelet’s volume anywhere above 50 was impossible for the overbearing amount of noise generated without a music signal. The usable listening level range was less than desired and all of the parameters of better sound were compromised. This linear power supply was best left out of the chain when the Comet was added to the mix. Or, should the comet have been left out? That is where personal preference enters, and the art of crafting audio often centers on decisions about preferences.

One Response to Salk Sound StreamPlayer Generation III, Part 3 – HD-PLEX

  1. Vlrdngr says:

    Interesting review! Thank you for your detailed article.

    What quite amazed me though is that you go into a lot of detail about power supplies, but completely skip the difference in sound quality ROON causes. Have you tried the Streamplayer without using ROON?

    I, and quite a few with me, found ROON flattening the sound. The transparancy is significantly less. ROON is a nice toy for people that are looking for ease of use, but for the purist in sound it’s just not up to par…

    Hoping for a ROON-less part 4 to this review!

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