PS Audio Ultimate Outlet 
Home Theater AC Power AC Power
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Saturday, 01 December 2001

One of my criticisms of -- and nearly every other AV publication for that matter -- is the fact that every time a new issue comes out, there are hardly ever any write-ups on affordable components. While we are raving about $16,000 AV preamps and $24,000 speakers as if they are the Second Coming, it can be easy to forget that not everyone goes to the stereo store every month to get a five-figure AV fix. But we all are junkies to some extent, aren’t we? This is why we are always looking for a great-sounding CD or a DVD that looks amazing because it was transferred from 70 millimeter film – right? That is the fun of owning a great AV system.

Well, I have found a good upgrade for those who are looking to mainline a little audio-video juice right in between their ears from PS Audio. The product is called the Ultimate Outlet and it is a simple AC power product that goes between your normal AC socket and your far-from-normal high-end audio or video component. Priced at $299 for either a 15 amp or a 20 amp (for bigger amps) unit, the Ultimate Outlet is a small, handsomely dressed accessory, built of aluminum, with a seemingly utilitarian yet removable AC plug dangling from its rear. It comes complete with two very heavy-duty AC outlets that enables you to plug in your gear. The front and rear plates are also designed to allow you to mount an Ultimate Outlet right in your wall as if it were your normal outlet. I am not sure how you would hardwire it if you were so inclined, but I guess you could. I’d check with PS Audio before I took on the challenge, however.

The design goal of the Ultimate Outlet is a very worthy one. While AV enthusiasts argue over all sorts of topics, such as analog versus digital, DVD-Audio versus SACD, zip chord versus Transparent Opus MM Cables – hardly anyone argues over the fact that noisy and unreliable AC power negatively affects our laboratory-grade AV gear. Let’s face facts: even a mid-fi $600 amp or a $1,000 Japanese AV Receiver have some pretty sophisticated processing and analog innards that were designed to work on clean power. Do you have truly clean power for your system? "Maybe?" you say. Don’t feel bad. I can tell you that, living in a high-rise condo complex built in 1964, I definitively don’t. I run dedicated AC lines for my video, for my components and for my amplifiers. To address AC maladies, I also use and enjoy the Richard Gray’s Power Company RGPC 1200, basically a power reserve device, in my rack for components and in the circuit with my power amp.

Inside the Ultimate Outlet is a very simple device called a balun, which is an iron doughnut that has a wire attached to both halves of the circle. When an AC signal comes into the two pieces of wire, they cancel out anything that the two wires are conducting in common. This is good news, because unlike series filters that only work on noise over a pre-specified frequency, a properly designed balun will cancel all noise at all frequencies yet, because of the small number of wire turns, does not restrict power. This is a big issue for me, because while I am a big fan of PS Audio’s flagship Power Plant power regeneration technology, I cannot use it with my power amp due to a limited output that is smaller than my what my Mark Levinson No. 336 needs to continuously operate at the paint-peeling-from-the-ceiling levels that I crave. With the Ultimate Outlet, you don’t need to worry about power limitations.

While the effect isn’t as dramatic as with the PS Audio Power Plant products, the Ultimate Outlet claims it can cut AC noise by as much as 40 dB, which is no small feat, especially if you have a noisy AC line. Another advantage of the Ultimate Outlet is that it is provides another level of protection for your gear, as it serves to limit spikes, surges and lightning strikes. While it doesn’t offer an actual insurance product on your gear of the type you’ll find with competing surge protection devices, logic tells you that it would take one hell of a jolt to melt an iron core like the one used in the Ultimate Outlet.

The Sound and The Picture
I wasn’t really sure quite what to expect when auditioning the PS Audio Ultimate Outlet in my system. I tested it on a number of audio components, but found my Levinson power amp to be the most telling, as it is the most demanding item I have in my system. Installation was absolutely simple, especially considering that I didn’t connect the Ultimate Outlet to the wall socket. It was nothing more than plug and play from there.

When I was ready to do my critical listening, I started out with the Stevie Wonder track "You Are The Sunshine of My Life" from the album Talking Book (Motown). Without the Ultimate Outlet, the bass is strong and the overall flavor is warm, displaying vintage characteristics of a good mid-1970’s recording. With the Ultimate Outlet in the loop, the normally stellar vocals sounded even livelier. The soundstage seemed taller. The effect gave the instruments more room to breathe and spread out, as you’d expect to hear on a 5.1 mix, thanks to having the center channel mixed in, but in this case, I was listening to stereo.

People I know who own Ultimate Outlets claim a big improvement in their bass. While I don’t doubt them, I wasn’t able to get a noticeable improvement in the lower registers with the Ultimate Outlet plugged into either my Mark Levinson No. 336 or my Revel B15 subwoofer. The lack of substantial difference could be because my system components, including my subwoofers, are EQed but I am not too sure about this, as I could hear definite improvements in the vocals and soundstage, both of which are also EQed.

Another immediate advantage of the Ultimate Outlet is a lowering of the noise floor. With review gear coming in and out of my system on a monthly basis, I rarely exorcise the electrical demons that cause the slight hums and buzzes I sometimes hear in my system. Hum in your system can be caused by any number of problems that can take tremendous effort to effectively hunt down and eliminate. Normally, removing a review component does the trick. In this instance, rather than subtracting anything, adding the Ultimate Outlet helped noticeably. The overall noise wasn’t gone, but it was lower, which is all I ask. My system isn’t installed in a recording studio with dedicated grounds and its own AC transformer. I live in a condo and accept that a slight bit of noise will be a part of my system. With the Ultimate Outlet, it is endearingly lower.

I was able to find the same audio advantages on tracks like Steely Dan’s "Black Cow" from Aja (MCA). The best improvement is heard in the background vocals. The detail is increased and there is more air around all of the vocals and instruments. On more rocking music, the effects of the Ultimate Outlet are not lost. The descending wha wha-ed pickslide by Slash on "Mr. Brownstone" from Guns 'N Roses Appetite For Destruction (Geffen) sounds more three dimensional and upfront. I expected the more complex instrumentation and balls-to-the-wall mix would have left the effects of the Ultimate Outlet hanging out in the breeze, but I was wrong. It made a difference.

I believe AC maladies affect video more than audio. Unfortunately, I have been struggling though a very difficult and trying move from CRT to fixed pixel digital projection over the last few months. The results are just about to really come together after months of installation and professional fine-tuning. As this process was going on throughout entire time I was auditioning the Ultimate Outlet, I have not had a video system suitable for evaluating how well the Ultimate Outlet affects home theatre, but my guess is that it could be dramatic in some cases. Video processor, projectors, plasmas and even TV sets draw AC shamelessly. Giving them better power is never a bad idea.

The Downside
The Ultimate Outlet is a very simple unit that does nothing more than improve the functionality of your wall socket. If it were ugly, I could have knocked it for that, but it looks pretty suave. As for sound, I liked it and couldn’t hear it do anything that took away from my musical enjoyment. If the Ultimate Outlet does its job, it provides better, cleaner power to your gear, which should make it sound like your gear simply performing better. At $299, I can’t even knock Ultimate Power for having a cheap removable power cord, although PS Audio does offer a hot-rod AC power cable at an additional cost.

AC power is one of the hottest topics in high performance audio/video. At $299, the PS Audio Ultimate Outlet gives you a way to upgrade the juice from your wall without all of the physical drawbacks of their more sophisticated and definitely more expensive Power Plant technology.

Giving cleaner power to your audio and/or video components is never a bad idea. Even if you have a modest home theater or a budding music playback system, the use of just one Ultimate Outlet can be a performance upgrade that leaves you thrilled with a $300 investment. You can justify the expense of the Ultimate Outlet by plugging, say, your power amp and your TV into the same unit (if logistically viable). At a mere $299, you can raise the money needed for an Ultimate Outlet by trading in all of the bad "audiophile" recordings that you were supposed to "die for" but you nearly died from when you heard how bad the performances actually were. With the Ultimate Outlet, you’ll hear the music and movies you want to sound and look better on your terms. For this reason, The PS Audio gets my thumbs-up seal of approval.
Manufacturer PS Audio
Model Ultimate Outlet

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