Equi=Tech 2Q Power Conditioner 
Home Theater AC Power AC Power
Written by Tim Hart   
Saturday, 01 January 2005

Power conditioning products have been getting a lot of attention over the last few years from audiophiles and video freaks alike. If you didn’t know better, you might think that AC power components were a bit more snake oil remedy than real-world solution to AV problems. Make no mistake, most places in the U.S. and Canada have lousy power that robs your high-performance gear of vast amounts of its potential.

Although power conditioning and surge protection products have been around in the professional audio industry and scientific communities for quite some time, these solutions are fairly new to the AV enthusiast who in the last five years has been hearing all about “conditioning,” “regulation,” “regeneration” and much more. This education came with the home theater juggernaut and information about how adulterated power can affect the video signal. This was a tangible result that the purchaser could not ignore, and now consumers are able to understand how power affects performance. Like the recording industry, audiophiles have long known the benefits of clean power and have gone to great lengths to improve this aspect of their systems, with methods from only listening late in the evening when the demand for power in their neighborhood is at its lowest and therefore has less noise on the grid (I’m guilty of this), to using battery-powered components or dedicated power isolated from the rest of the house, to their own isolation transformers direct from the utility pole feeding their home. You would be surprised at the amount of effort that goes into removing this stealthy electrical wart.

The Equi=Tech model 2Q ($2,689) attacks nasty power problems by addressing AC noise through the use of balanced power. The 2Q is 16 inches wide by 16 inches deep and three inches high, providing up to 20 amp maximum output current. The 2Q’s diminutive size is very deceiving. Weighing in at 85 pounds, the 2Q lifts more like a slab of lead than a traditional audio component of its size. The unit I received for review has a brushed clear anodized front panel with the company logo laser etched in the center and a red LED voltage display with a horizontally mounted three-position rocker switch below to change the display from incoming voltage to off to output voltage. Two vertically-mounted black rocker switches occupy either side of the faceplate with an accompanying blue LED above them. The right side switch is for the main power shutoff and the left side switch is for standby mode.

The rear panel of the 2Q has five pairs of outlets. Two pairs of outlets are standard outlets and are white. Another two pairs of outlets have special noise filters in the chassis for use with digital products like CD and DVD players and are gray in color. The fifth pair is an un-switched GFI outlet for components like VCRs, where you want to keep power for the clock. There is also a CATV ground isolator for your cable connection, as well as a grounding terminal on the rear panel for grounding to your rack or components. There is a replaceable dual-stage voltage spike protection module internal to the 2Q that has an indicator light that will tell you when the system has experienced too many voltage spikes. It is said to be easy to install and inexpensive to do so. The AC cable supplied with the 2Q is rated for 20 amps and comes with an adapter that will allow you to plug into a standard three-prong plug outlet. The 2Q also minimizes the problem of tripping breakers when powered up by having a low inrush current.

The biggest offender in power, one that is overlooked by most power conditioning products, is reactive ground current. With reactive ground current, the ground leg of the AC power is carrying current, which creates ground loop impedance between neutral and ground. This is manifested as an audible hum that strongly affects sensitive signal paths and greatly reduces dynamics. Reactive currents can increase as the load is increased, so the larger the current draw, the bigger the noise problem gets. Also, in today’s circuits, RF filter capacitors leak current back into ground and are a large source of noise as well.

Equi=Tech got its start in the entertainment industry, providing power solutions for TV and recording studios in Los Angeles since the early 1990s, using their proprietary custom-wound balanced power transformers. The center tap of the Equi=Tech transformers have a high precision 120-volt output, which divides the output voltage into two identical but inversely phased 60-volt output legs. This allows the reactive currents on both legs to cancel one another out, better known as Common Mode Rejection, and is similar to how XLR balanced signal connections work. The accuracy of the recombination and summing of these two phases is in direct proportion to the quality of the 2Q’s windings: the better the accuracy, the better the ability to cancel out even the smallest amounts of anomalies. Digital should benefit from the 2Q’s ability to remove line harmonics which affect jitter. With the exception of the digital output connections, the 2Q uses no filters to “condition” the AC waveform.

The getting started information supplied with the 2Q is very specific about how to properly ground the outlets of your home. They state that a dedicated circuit with an isolated ground will exhibit the best performance. My situation may be closer to the general population in that I don’t have a dedicated circuit for my AV gear (yet). Equi=Tech also tells you how to install a grounding system to optimize the Q series of products. One of the recommendations is to drive two eight-foot-long, five-eighths of an inch in diameter copper-clad grounding rods into the ground at least six feet apart, then run a #6 copper wire between the two rods and terminate that at the main ground of the home. Well, the best I could do at the time was to attach a ground to a copper drain pipe to a high-quality Hubbell outlet, using a #10 solid copper wire, and plug the 2Q into that. My installation may represent the lower quarter of how home installations would happen. People who are willing to pay almost $2,700 or more on power conditioners are more than likely to go the extra effort to insure the proper grounding.

The literature that came with the 2Q stated that to gain the maximum benefit offered by it, you should plug all of your gear into it. Well, the 2Q is rated for 20 amps maximum output and I was a little concerned that my total system might be too much for the stated rating. My biggest worries were my Bryston 7B-ST 500-watt mono blocks and my Sony seven-inch CRT projector. The Sunfire Theater Grand IV, the Denon DVD-2900 and the iScan DVDO video processor also needed to be added to the 2Q. Amazingly, the 2Q handled everything without a hiccup. I used Cardas Golden Reference power cords to make all of the AC connections and used the stock cord and adapter that came with the 2Q to power it.

If you have other power conditioners and are not sure if the 2Q will work with them, Equi=Tech says that you can use other power products with the Q series, as long as it is the last component in the chain for hooking up your gear. This way, you are guaranteed to benefit from the noise cancellation the 2Q provides.

Listening to Music
First impressions are hard to ignore, especially if the first impression is not a good one. If this is the case, then the mind is not an easy thing to change and is on the hunt to substantiate the claim. But the same thing could be said if the first impression is good. You want to see how good it really is, as in the case of the 2Q.

The first thing I noticed was improved dynamics. Velvet Revolver’s debut CD, Contraband (RCA Records), clearly pointed this aspect out immediately. As supergroups go, you won’t find a whole lot more current rock ‘n’ roll talent than this band has. With Slash from the defunct Guns N’ Roses wielding the lead guitar and ex-STP frontman Scott Weiland belting out the lyrics on “Do It For the Kids,” you get the feeling of hearing the track from the master tape, not a CD with the 2Q in the loop. The bass line in the opening of the tune sounds clearly more resolute and resonant than I heard without the 2Q in my system. “Crunchy” and “fatter” come to mind to describe what I heard. Leading edge transients on Slash’s guitar on “Fall To Pieces” stand up out of the mix with added resolution and better midrange timbre. The 2Q fleshed out areas of sound with detailed layering and an ability to pronounce the subtle audible characteristics that were buried in the noise floor.

The next positive impression that the 2Q gives is an increased sense of nuance. Trey Anastasio’s official solo debut (Electra) was especially mixed and recorded for 5.1 DVD-Audio. “Night Speaks to a Woman” depicts the 2Q’s ability to allow the intricacies of a performance to reach a more audible level and to bring into focus the instruments in the sound stage. Images and notes are highlighted by the silence between the sound and the sound itself, allowing the full measure of the music to be heard. This effect sounded natural and added immensely to the musical nature of the tune. The air around the instruments is distinct and finely detailed, not fatiguing or analytical in any way. Cymbals shimmered with more openness and the decay sounded more natural. The 2Q’s character leaned towards the warm side in the listening session I had, but not much. I didn’t feel that any high-frequency information was rolled off. With the 2Q in the loop, my system sounded comfortable yet totally in control.

With the 2Q in the loop, sonic image rendering is remarkable. I could hear my system portray a musical image with laser focus, while retaining the character of the vocals or instruments in a relaxed way, never at the sacrifice of speed or dexterity. Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions (DTS Entertainment) is a good example of vocal texture and sibilance. Crow’s voice on “Am I Getting Through (Parts I & II)” is pinpoint-accurate between the front two main speakers. The detail and clarity of each enunciation is outstanding. The breathy and slight gravelly quality of her voice takes on a different quality. I ended up listening to the whole disc after this tune. The 2Q compels you to listen.

I was looking forward to what the 2Q might do for my projection system. I used “Shrek 2” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) to start things off.

As Shrek and Donkey walk through the woods prior to their meeting with Puss in Boots, the contrast between shadow and light is the first noticeable difference. The separation of colors and shadow are better defined and more crisp-looking. Subtle shades are more apparent. There are some close-up shots of Shrek’s face that have more detail than I saw without the 2Q in my system. The same holds true for Donkey and other characters. Blemishes, moles and facial hair are seemingly more focused.

“The Chronicles Of Riddick” (Universal Studios Home Video) was up next. The sc-fi action thriller looks fantastic, with broad alien horizons and sweeping landscapes. On Helios Prime, the Necromongers are beginning their assault on the planet’s capital city as Riddick (Vin Diesel) is contemplating getting off the planet. As the assault starts, crowds of people run through the streets, trying to escape as explosions and bright lights wink on and off like a strobe effect. The 2Q did a remarkable job keeping color saturation and detail intact and balanced through this visual assault. The scene could easily wash out the clarity of the image or slightly bleach out its colors, as I’ve experienced without the 2Q in my system. Black level increased detail and added more definition to the shadowy portions of the scene, such as the dark alleyways filled with running people.

The Downside
One could argue that the 2Q is too heavy for many consumer AV applications. Then again, for the benefits the 2Q offers, the weight seems to match its importance in the scheme of the rest of your gear. You certainly get your money’s worth if the 2Q’s merits are based on cost-per-pound. Some home theater installers who don’t brace a unit like the 2Q report that the unit can literally bend your rack frame.

The 2Q doesn’t offer some of the power regeneration technologies found on the Audiophile APS “Pure Power,” PS Audio and Exact Power products that actively recreate your incoming power. As Equi=Tech says, as long as their Q product is the last in line, it is fine to use it with other AC products. In an ultimate system, you might look to one of the aforementioned regeneration devices, in addition to an Equi=Tech product, to provide power regeneration on top of the conditioning you get from the 2Q.

The Equi=Tech jumps to the elite level of AC power components with the Q series of balanced power products. Using the straightforward design approach of Common Mode Rejection, the 2Q produces a lower noise floor, which improves dynamic range and offers better resolution with improved midrange with very little bloom and without sacrifice to the music. If the 2Q lent any character to the music, it was a slightly warmer sound, but never at the expense of high-frequency information. The 2Q put a tighter hold on low-frequency information, too. Bass had a noticeably tighter snap to the leading edge transients on kick drum and more body in a bass guitar note. For video, black levels, contrast and color saturation took on new dimensions. Color separation and darker information gained more focus and clarity.

The 2Q never ran out of gas when I pushed my system hard, which is amazing to me. Typically, you would trip the breaker in my house if you were running as many power-hungry components as are in my system. The low inrush current prevented any tripped breakers during start-up. If that is not enough, you get 10 outlets with surge suppression, high quality parts and superior build quality. Despite the $2,689 price tag, the 2Q by Equi=Tech is a true bargain and a must-own product for the serious audio or video enthusiast looking to exact the most from his or her system.
Manufacturer Equi=Tech
Model 2Q Power Conditioner
Reviewer Tim Hart

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