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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.

6 Responses 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!

  2. Bill says:

    Did you ever find out what was causing background noise ? I would not want to blame it on the HD Plex, but it is possible.
    You might have to try a third 12 volt power supply.

  3. dkasimian says:

    Can you specify exactly which power supply you used to feed the Salk? It’s not listed in your catalog of equipment. Thanks.

  4. dkasimian,
    God’s Peace to you,

    I am using the 100 Watt Linear Power Supply from HD-Plex

    Douglas Schroeder

  5. peter jasz says:

    Hey Doug: Wonderful review -also offering up a pleasant walk down memory lane …

    Indeed, today’s (last few years) digital/streaming can lay claim to the finest ‘source’
    sound quality -and for waaaaay less coin than a analog -vinyl/open-reel, cassette!- front end.

    It’s also nice to see/read about a reasonably priced ‘Streamer’ as Stalk Audio’s Streamplayer III
    reviewed here.

    Your review also touched upon the great importance cabling and system context/synergy impact
    performance (SQ).

    I was also impressed to read what you had to say regarding highly-resolving hi-fi and it’s very positive impact on sound quality irrespective of the music’s (recording) age, genre or believed “sophistication”. In your words, worthy of repeating:

    ” …Don’t laugh, some oldies but well recorded goodies such as Burton Cummings’ “Stand Tall” and Michael Martin Murphey’s “Wildfire” are surprisingly vibrant and give a very good glimpse into the retrieval capabilities of the StreamPlayer III running Tidal. Even though these songs are decades old they sparkle, and in truth are far better sounding than ever! I do not subscribe to the belief that a highly resolving, very accurate system ruins older songs. Frankly, I think audiophiles must be lost in nostalgia if they want to dumb down the sound by mucking it up with too much warmth, softness and indistinctness. No, I will take the cleanness and hear the limitations of the recording equipment and master tapes. That is far better than to lose a goodly portion of the performance, which is precisely what will happen when it is occluded in an attempt to “age” it to memory’s satisfaction.”

    Wonderfully spoken.

    Yet, there were a couple further points you introduced/made that requires clarification -or even

    1) Somewhere in the review you spoke of the importance of noting an immediate change in
    SQ/performance upon making a system change.

    Well, considerable experience (similar in time to yours -an important qualifier, along with hearing acuity) reminds me that a solid 10-minutes (at least 5-minutes) of time is demanded before such immediate/reactionary responses are argued-used. A certain time of ‘re-settling’ would be the best way to put this observation -noted over decades of drawing comparisons -when this time was taken /respected.

    2) The other point (that requires further consideration/discussion) is that of the outboard power supply to referenced in the review. The points you made were excellent. The reasons offered for your observation -less so.

    It’s been my long-standing experience to note that ANY power supply’s (including AC Re-Gen’s and Balanced/Symmetrical AC power) ‘performance’ will be impacted (negatively) when/if more and more products/hi-fi is plugged into it; it appears the varying power needs of the various components introduce a feedback-modulation type distortion to the power supply itself, impairing performance -considerably.

    I look forward to more/further insightful reviews. Thanks for sharing.

    peter jasz

  6. Peter,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Thank you for your appreciative compliments! I do work at producing an informative review, so the feedback is well received.

    Audiophiles develop their own methodology of assessment of changes to systems; mine works for me. It is obvious that you have a well cultivated method that works for you.

    Regarding your assessment of power supplies, my difficulty with accepting your explanation is that you have no absolute reference to the changed sound of a component plugged into the multi-tap power supply. Ergo, a determination that the power supply itself is altering it’s performance seems to me to be nothing more than an impression. It is interesting, though, that we both have arrived at the same conclusion, that whole system power supplies have significant shortcomings.

    Were we to have a more extended discussion in person we might find nearly complete agreement. 🙂

    It’s nice to hear from such a thoughtful, considerate reader!
    Douglas Schroeder

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