Richard Gray's Power Company SubStation & HighTensionWire 
Home Theater AC Power AC Power
Written by Ben Shyman   
Wednesday, 01 September 2004

While many consumers will spend tens upon tens of thousands of dollars on a home theater, power quality and reliability are frequently final thoughts in the budgeting and planning of a significant system. Most people never realize that voltage irregularities and “dirty” power robs their precision engineered gear of the lifeblood they need to perform at full potential. Worse yet, many consumers learn the hard way, when after months or years of feeding their system low-quality power, the ultimate results are expensive and unnecessary repairs. High-quality power is the foundation of any home theater system, much like the concrete foundation upon which your home is built. Ask yourself how often you might put 87-octane gasoline in your new Mercedes E55 AMG. Probably never. So why run your expensive entertainment system on low-quality power?

Power issues originate from both outside and inside the home. Recent blackouts in California and last August’s complete failure of the electrical grid, which cast much of the Midwest and Northeast into complete darkness, was a wakeup call that power is not always reliable. Nearly everyone already knows that electrical surges and spikes caused by lightning can wreak havoc on computers and other household consumer electronics. In the home, power is plagued by poor conductivity and voltage irregularities in faulty electrical panels and circuits, as well as aged and oxidized copper and aluminum wiring. These factors are all enemies of your home theater system.

By now you have probably heard of Richard Gray’s Power Company (RGPC), which revolutionized high-current AC power enhancement and delivery in home theater with their RGPC 1200S. One need look no further than the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas every January or the Home Theater Show in New York every spring to see the proliferation and widespread acceptance of the RGPC 1200S at most booths with mid-to-high-end home theater components, particularly those exhibiting plasma displays. The Richard Gray Power Delivery System is unique in that it utilizes parallel chokes or inductors which allow the AC signal to pass freely through the unit with no resistance. Large chokes like those in RGPC products aid in conditioning line current, storing energy every cycle to meet demands of power-thirsty components like power amplifiers, removing noise, suppressing voltage spikes and providing complete and reliable surge protection.

The RGPC SubStation, ($2,995) when wired for 240V operation, is a fully balanced power isolation transformer that is designed to be used in conjunction with a RGPC parallel inductor like the 400 MK II, 600S or 1200S. This combination is effectively known as the RGPC IsoGray System, which RGPC claims provides isolated power with no crosstalk or ground loops, supplying high-current-on-demand power to all components in the home theater without limitation. The idea behind the SubStation is simple: it eliminates ground loops that effect home theater power and provides twice the amount of power (240V version) over conventional "power conditioners" and "sine wave regenerators." Ground loops are the primary cause of bars that crawl through video and annoying hums in audio signals. They are caused by incompatibilities between grounding voltages of individual components in your system. The SubStation eliminates these ground loops by isolating the front-end components of a home theater (preamp, DVD, music server, video display and processor) while the parallel inductor like the RGPC 400 MK II, 600S or 1200S provides the rest of the system with instantaneous, high-current power. In addition, because the SubStation utilizes a balanced single phase line, it provides a high degree of protection available against surges and voltage irregularities. The SubStation is also available in a 120-volt model.

Unpacking the SubStation requires muscle. While about the size of a large Ducane toaster oven one would see at Williams Sonoma, it weights a surprising 70 pounds. The unit is built like a Sherman tank and contains four commercial-grade Hubble outlets and a power switch in the form of a small handle, which resembles a large switch that one can imagine seeing on the side of a generator at the local power company. The ego and cool factor associated with this miniature switch is large and when I flipped the handle to the “on” position and powered up the SubStation, I watched out the window expecting the lights to dim across Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Setting up RGPC’s products is easy, as there is literally nothing to configure. I plugged my subwoofer, power amplifier and RGPC 1200S into the SubStation, plugged the SubStation into the wall outlet and finally plugged all my front end components into the RGPC 1200S. I even plugged my Apple iBook and associated computer equipment, including a LaCie CD-ROM and Firewire hard drive, as well as Minolta transparency film scanner, into the remaining outlets on the 1200S for complete protection of all my home electronic gear. I completed the set-up by swapping eight-gauge, 15-amp, two-meter length RGPC HighTensionWire for the OEM power cables of my plasma, video scaler, power amplifier, preamp/processor and universal disc transport. I also swapped a 20-amp version of RGPC HighTensionWire for the OEM power cable of the RGPC 1200S. HighTensionWire retails beginning at $450 per half-meter length up to $895 per three-meter length; it is available in custom longer lengths as well. HighTensionWire is designed to allow more AC signal to reach your gear unrestricted, without adding interference or unwanted noise.

I allowed several days for the new RGPC equipment to break in my system. Yes, you read that right. After installing RGPC gear in your home theater, your equipment will receive cleaner, higher quality and more stable current than it probably ever has. As a result, it will likely take a day or so for your home theater gear to adjust to the refined level and quality of power that RGPC gear affords. Sounds tweaky when the RGPC guys say it – but I tested it and they are right. That is why RGPC reps send the system in advance of a dealer visit. A day of warm-up or powering up can make that much of a difference.

The Movies
I began my video evaluation with “Mystery, Alaska” (Hollywood Pictures Home Entertainment). Russell Crowe and Burt Reynolds lead an all-star cast in a spirited story about a small town in Alaska where the Saturday Game and the tradition of pond ice hockey attracts the attention of Sports Illustrated and leads to a game against the legendary New York Rangers. After watching Chapter 2: The Saturday Game and Chapter 25: Face-Off! (A Great Start), my first impression was that the picture had exceptional contrast, bold colors and uncompromised clarity compared to what I was used to just a day or two earlier. When I removed the SubStation and 1200S and ran my system directly from the wall outlet, I was unprepared for the noteworthy deterioration in picture quality. Contrast was noticeably less, blacks were less black and the picture lost some of its three-dimensionality. Returning to Chapter 2: The Saturday Game with the SubStation and 1200S powering my theater, clothing colors of the spectators were bright and the texture of the ice was incredibly detailed. The biggest improvement I could detect was in picture contrast. Images had greater punch and popped to life, particularly the fast-moving skaters, their hockey sticks and the puck against the white snow and ice. Having only begun my evaluation of the RGPC IsoGray System, I was now eager to watch another of my favorite movies.

Robert Zemeckis waited four years before directing “Contact” (Warner Home Video) following his box office blockbuster and Oscar-winning film “Forrest Gump.” Based on the famous Carl Sagan novel, “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey, is about the first human contact with extraterrestrial life. Admittedly, although “Contact” is a special edition widescreen DVD release, the quality of the transfer from film to digital could be better, in my view. Picture quality is particularly soft for a film as recent as 1997 and frequently pixilates around the finest details, especially on camera pans. I was eager to see then what impact the RGPC would have on the video presentation.

Chapter 1: Universal Eye View demonstrates Zemeckis’ brilliance as a director. The picture pulls back from Earth toward deep space while the sound, which begins with the chaos of earth, moves toward silence. The video has excellent color, depth and contrast set against the deep black background of space. As with “Mystery, Alaska,” the picture comparison I did with and without the RGPC SubStation and 1200S produced a predictably similar result. Contrast was notably improved, blacks were blacker and the picture had a more lifelike quality. The oranges, reds and yellows contained in Zemeckis’ vision of the galaxy were bold and well-saturated, increasing the impact of this incredibly powerful opening scene. In Chapter 33: Launch, colors were more saturated and the quick sequences of this fast-action scene had a greater visual impact with the SubStation and 1200S than without. The improved color saturation and deeper blacks put an exclamation point on the scene, the movie’s climax, pushing it to new levels of sheer enjoyment. The RGPC, of course, does not perform miracles and the picture was still quite soft, but this is more a fault of the original film transfer to DVD. The improvement in overall picture quality, particularly with respect to contrast, blacks and realism of presentation were a testament to the RGPC SubStation and the importance of high-quality power.

The Music
Turning my attention to music, I chose Steely Dan’s Gaucho (MCA). The multi-channel, high-resolution hybrid-SACD is one of the best-sounding in my collection and one that I always reach for when auditioning my home theater for guests. When the familiar background vocals of “Babylon Sisters” kicks powerfully into the rear channels, never does the experience disappoint. When listening to “Babylon Sisters” with the SubStation, the first thing I noticed was far greater clarity in the highs. The chimes that ring across the front channels were accurately placed and clear as a bell. Furthermore, the breadth and depth of the soundstage was markedly improved. The high-hat cymbal had a smoother and clearer tone and drums had greater punch and authority. I was impressed that the SubStation increased the presence of Donald Fagen’s lead vocals in the front and center channels as well.

Listening to “Gaucho,” the title track, the mix became more progressive with the lead saxophone originating from the rear channels. As on “Babylon Sisters,” drums punched with authority and highs, particularly cymbals and chimes, were clearer and somewhat more forward. The vocal harmony in the chorus was simply amazing, with all voices being accurately placed in the soundstage. The influence of the RGPC SubStation on “Gaucho” was clear. If I may criticize, however, it took some time to get used to the increased clarity in the higher frequencies. While there were moments when I thought my system sounded somewhat bright, after further evaluation, I determined the audio performance improvement granted by the SubStation was undoubtedly one that I would not trade away.

Frequently called his signature album, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (Impulse, A Universal Music Company) is a masterpiece in its own right. Like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Coltrane’s Giant Steps, A Love Supreme is one of those jazz albums that is simply so great that it eventually finds its way into any music collection, even of those who are not big jazz fans. A Love Supreme is a Stereo SACD, not a Hybrid, and as such will not play on traditional CD players.

Having only four tracks for slightly over 30 minutes of total music, A Love Supreme is a complete musical experience. In listening to “Part 1: Acknowledgement” with the SubStation, the highs were crisper than I can ever remember, but in now way shrill. Coltrane’s distinctive saxophone tone was simply beautiful and Elvin Jones’ magical drumming performance came through the mix with precise clarity. I was impressed by the consistent clean separation between instruments, even for a vintage recording from 1964.

Incidentally, the album was restored and remastered for SACD by Rudy Van Gelder at Van Gelder Recording Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, which is the same engineer and studio where A Love Supreme was originally recorded 40 years ago. As a big fan of hard bop, it is no wonder that “Part 3: Pursuance” is my favorite track on A Love Supreme. Jimmy Garrison’s energetic bass solo and McCoy Tyner’s soloing and accompaniment to Coltrane’s melodic saxophone runs are simply brilliant and came across with greater emotional appeal than ever before. After listening to A Love Supreme, there was no question that my musical experience with Coltrane was elevated to new levels by the RGPC SubStation.

The Downside
After evaluating the RGPC SubStation and HighTensionWire, I can think of a few negatives. Richard Gray’s Power Company repeatedly and confidentially claims that the IsoGray surge ression system will protect your equipment from lethal power spikes that can wipe out an entire system. I am certain anyone who purchases a RGPC 1200S and SubStation is drawn in by this claim, as well as the anticipated improvement in power quality and system performance the IsoGray System affords. Considering the sizable investment of a SubStation and RGPC 1200S, it would be nice if RGPC offered greater piece of mind through some form of meaningful monetary guarantee against surges and spikes, which can damage your system should the IsoGray fail to do its job.

Secondly, while the SubStation is not large, it would have had greater appeal to me as a rack mount component vs. the floor-standing version I reviewed. If the SubStation were available in a horizontal, rack-mountable unit, I think most people would prefer it. (Note: Richard Gray's Power Company will be offering a rack mount unit by the end of the year.) As for HighTensionWire, the downside there is more obvious. If you have ever used or seen eight-gauge wire, you know that it can be slightly unforgiving in terms of flexibility and weight and you will need more room behind your equipment rack or furniture to make room for the greater volume of wires and cables. Admittedly, this is a small negative, as HighTensionWire is far easier to accommodate then some of the video cables I use, but it is a downside worth considering.

Compared to their competition, RGPC’s products look somewhat dated. For audiophiles, this may be cool, but who ever said audiophiles are cool? In direct comparison to other considerable AC power products marketed to the AV consumer, such as PS Audio, Exact Power, Equi=Tech and even the new player Pure Power, the RGPC just doesn’t have the sex appeal to win the audio beauty contest, especially when displayed in the open or a well-crafted rack. If the only thing you care about is audio or picture quality, then this knock is a non-issue.

With the RGPC SubStation, 1200S and HighTensionWire, my system has reached a new level of performance. In my view and after months of testing in my system, the RGPC SubStation and HighTensionWire will perform beyond the highest expectations of the most discerning consumer. They are manufactured to the highest build quality anyone could expect and while you will pay big bucks for them, the benefits are clearly worth it. The investment you make in IsoGray components is one you will likely never need to upgrade or replace. As an insurance policy against voltage irregularities and power spikes to your entire home theater, an investment in RGPC gear can quickly pay for itself. Throw in the performance improvements you will clearly see and hear and it is fair to say a RGPC SubStation and HighTensionWire are easily worth factoring into your budget. Having enjoyed the virtues of RGPC’s power improvements, I can no longer live without it.
Manufacturer Richard Gray's Power Company
Model SubStation & HighTensionWire
Reviewer Ben Shyman

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