|Ultralink Powergrid PGX-500 Power Isolator|
|Home Theater AC Power AC Power|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Wednesday, 01 October 2008|
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In our quest for the best loudspeaker or high-definition video image, one area we often neglect, which can have a substantial impact on both sonic and visual performance, is power. I’ve been guilty of it in the past, as I’m sure many of you have. While many AV components work just fine plugged directly into a standard wall outlet or a simple surge suppressor, one cannot discount the importance of feeding your gear good, clean power. After all, you don’t see finely-tuned athletes downing 40-ounce malt liquors or Big Macs between quarters or events, do you? However, power products, like many AV accessories, are plagued with the ever-present snake-oil argument by manufacturers, who make bold claims that are often hard to substantiate and/or discern. I’ve seen my share of power products that fall into this category and have even purchased a few, only to scratch my head later as I wondered which door to prop open with the otherwise useless hunk of metal sitting in my rack.
The Ultralink Powergrid PGX-500, reviewed here, doesn’t really fall into the above category, for it’s a simple design that sets about filtering your system’s power and protecting it without a whole lot of bells and whistles to distract you. Much like the Transparent PowerWave 8 I reviewed earlier this year, the Powergrid PGX-500 is straightforward, compact, nicely designed and surprisingly affordable at $499. In fact, the PGX-500 sits at the top of the food chain in the PGX line, with the smaller 400 costing $399 and the 300 retailing for $299. All of the PGX products do essentially the same thing. The differences come in the number of components you can connect, as well as total joule ratings. Regardless of which PGX product you choose, they are all vastly more affordable than nearly every other offering put forth by the competition and provide the same, if not better, levels of protection.
Getting back to the PGX-500, it’s an elegant-looking piece, measuring roughly the size of a reference DVD player or DVR, albeit not quite as deep. The smaller PGX products are more in line with today’s modern, slim-line DVD players in terms of size. One thing that I noted when installing the PGX-500 was its weight, which couldn’t have been more than 10 pounds, a stark contrast to the massive Monster Power AVS2000 Pro it was replacing, which weighs as much if not more than my McIntosh seven-channel power amp. The face of the PGX-500 is elegant and clean, with a simple LCD readout sunken into a semi-rounded aluminum plate flanked by black aluminum sides. The LCD display on the PGX-500 actively monitors and displays line voltage and amperage. There is a small power/standby switch on the left side of the unit itself.
The PGX-500 has 12 rear panel outlets: two that can be programmed for delay, four that are switched and six that remain constantly on. There are also a host of phone, Internet and cable connections on the rear. While the outside of the PGX-500 is rather understated, inside is where the magic happens and, in the case of the PGX-500, this power product has a few new tricks.
Designed from the ground up, the PGX-500 uses a dedicated microprocessor based Active Surge Processor (ASP) that monitors incoming line voltage, board level power status and outgoing power conditions to eliminate voltage fluctuations, which cause signal degradation in A/V components. The ASP does a diagnostic sweep of all power conditions before closing the circuit to allow power to flow to your components upon power-up. Even if left on, the APS constantly monitors and looks ahead and conditions your power to ensure that nothing but the proper signal reaches your components. In the event of a fluctuation, the PGX-500 will protect your components by disconnecting them from the AC. It will even sacrifice itself to protect your components in the event of a catastrophe by absorbing the hit and keeping it internally without passing it along to the rest of your system. When the PGX-500 does this, it is toast, which may sound like a bad thing until you consider that other products will do this also, but then become basically a multi-outlet extension cord providing you zero protection. Many of these products also don’t tell you when they’ve bought the farm, so your system goes from resting assured to a constant game of Russian roulette. So ask yourself, would you rather replace a $500 power product in the event of a serious electrical situation or your entire rack of toasted gear?
The PGX-500’s 12 outlets are divided into sections or “banks,” with each bank optimized and labeled for its intended usage. For example, high current is designed to be used with amplifiers, subwoofers, etc. Each bank is isolated from the next to prevent noise from transferring to other connected devices. The same applies to the PGX-500’s phone, Ethernet and coax connections. The PGX-500 features no type of battery or backup protection, but does have two outlets that can be configured with programmable delay to prevent turn-on transients, which can be annoying and sometimes damaging. All of the UltraPower PGX components come with a $250,000 protected equipment policy, which is good and says a lot about how strongly UltraLink feels about the quality of their product and the service it provides.
UltraLink was kind enough to ship me both a PGX-500 and 400 for this review, since my rack has become rather robust and I felt the need for the larger 500, as well as the 400. Keep in mind the two units are nearly identical in feature sets and differ only in total power ratings.
I installed the PGX-400 in the middle of my rack, plugging in my source components to the appropriate outlets. The sources included my Dish Network HD DVR, Sony Blu-ray player, Apple TV, Toshiba HD DVD player and secondary LCD TV from Vizio. The PGX-500 was installed on the bottom shelf of my rack, where I fed it my Outlaw Audio LFM-1 Plus subwoofer, Bel Canto Ref1000 monoblocks, which were later replaced with a massive McIntosh seven channel amp, my Neptune Audio EQ and my reference Integra DTC 9.8 A/V preamp. I made sure to connect all of my components first before plugging either of the PGX products into my wall outlets.
Once plugged in and ready to go, I power on both units and proceeded to turn on the rack. The whole process was painless (not counting the removal of two heavy Monster Power products) and without incident. I especially liked the fact that when I switched gear off and on, it wasn’t accompanied by a large thwack or clunk, which was usually the case with the Monster products, making sure I remembered they were there and were very, very Monstrous.