Transparent PowerWave 8 Surge Protector 
Home Theater AC Power AC Power
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Thursday, 01 May 2008

Transparent Audio’s cables are the making of an audiophile dream. While I have been a customer for many years now, there is one area of Transparent’s product line that I have not yet bought into: AC power. I believe in power and power cables, but I have never been able to bring myself to justify spending gobs of money on what I can only view as thicker shrink-wrapping. I get asked about power a lot, and many products come my way that promise the moon but never deliver even Earth orbit. So when Josh Clark, Transparent’s chief product designer, called me in regard to their power products, I was a bit apprehensive, but still willing to give it a shot. Unlike other power products and companies, Josh simply asked that I play around with it and see what I think. If I liked it, then great; if not, send them back. What follows is my impression of Transparent’s latest surge protector, the PowerWave 8, and why I think it’s just the goods. 

The Transparent PowerWave 8 is an eight-outlet, fail-safe super-fast surge protector that falls in the Transparent line in the middle of a good-better-best offering. The PowerWave 8 retails for $995, which is slightly pricey in comparison to the competition, but a bargain in relation to some of the other Transparent products I have in my system. The PowerWave 8 has an unassuming physical design, finished in a flat black with a curved front that displays the Transparent logo, flanked by two LED lights indicating the status of the PowerWave 8’s activity and power protection. The entire chassis has been designed, from its shape to its materials, to reduce resonances and electromagnetic distortions. I should point out that, while I primarily used the PowerWave 8 in my reference two-channel system, it can be rack-mounted to occupy two rack spaces.

Turning my attention to the rear of the unit, I found eight AC outlets, as well as one phone input and one coaxial source protection input. There are matching phone and coaxial outputs, as well as a single detachable power cord receptacle. The PowerWave 8 comes with a single Transparent Power Link Power cord, which is a nice touch and one hell of a beefy cable.

Behind the scenes, the PowerWave 8 is non-current-limiting in its reduction of AC line noise. As I said before, it is a super-fast surge protector with a fail-safe system that comes with a fully connected components warranty from Transparent.

I placed the PowerWave 8 on the bottom shelf of my VTI rack. From there, I connected my two Bel Canto Ref1000 mono blocks via a pair of Transparent Power Link Power cords. I plugged in my Denon 3910 universal player and iPod doc via the factory-supplied power cords. I went ahead and used another Power Link power cord to connect my Hovland HP100 tube line stage to the PowerWave 8. All interconnects and speaker cables consisted of Transparent’s MusicLink Ultra cables. My weapons of choice in terms of speakers were my trusty Paradigm Signature S8 v.2s. I went ahead and let all of the system components get to know one another for a day or so before sitting down for a listen.

At the last minute, I decided to place the PowerWave 8 in my home theater, using it to power only my video sources, which consist of my Sony Blu-ray player, Toshiba HD DVD player, Dish Network DVR and Apple TV. I used all of the stock power cords that came with the individual components, rather than utilizing Transparent’s power cords.

Music and Movies
I started my evaluation with Keane’s latest album Under the Iron Sea and the track “Hamburg Song” (Interscope Records). Before the first three seconds had passed, I could hear audible hissing from my speakers. That couldn’t be right. I immediately stopped the music and ran to my rack. Because of the thick nature of my new Transparent power cords, they had collapsed onto one another and even begun to pull out from the wall. I redid my initial set-up, kept the power cables separate from one another through the use of cardboard spacers and tried again. I should point out that the Bel Cantos are eerily silent, but are also prone to noise should something get in the way and interfere which is what happened here. The PowerWave 8 may reduce noise, but nothing could’ve done battle with what I encountered, which was purely my fault.

I hit play again. The noise floor had dropped completely out of sight and I began to notice subtle nuances I had never given much credence to before. Every note seemed to have a bit more to it than it had previously. I’m not saying the PowerWave 8 added anything to the music itself, but by subtracting noise, the more minute aspects of the instruments’ sound and the singer’s vocals became more apparent and clear. The crescendos and decrescendos seemed smoother, more natural and effortless. I likened it to the dotted lines on a street. At slow speeds, there is clearly space; however, as you speed up, it appears to be one consistent line. Without the PowerWave8 in my system, the music had enough garbage in the signal (although not a lot) to prevent the notes from flowing as smoothly from one to the next as they did after the PowerWave 8 was installed. Notes seemed to hang in space for that last second longer and dynamics had just a touch more snap. The biggest difference was that the surrounding space seemed to be a black hole of sound. I always thought my reference system was pretty quiet and featured some very black backgrounds, but with the PowerWave 8, the space between the music was even more silent, which took some getting used to. I’ve rarely sat in front of a system that didn’t indicate whether it was powered on or not by the presence or lack of noise. Yet here I was, sitting in front of my own system and, between tracks, I felt as if my system had shut down completely. I’m not going to say the PowerWave 8 was the missing link to my system and my enjoyment – far from it – but it surely didn’t hurt.

Switching gears, I opted for KT Tunstall’s Eye to the Telescope and her hit song “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” (Virgin Records). The driving acoustic guitar in the opening snapped and swung like the real thing and, with the PowerWave 8 in tow, the edges of every note seemed a bit more in focus, bringing a greater sense of coherence and clarity. There is quite a bit going on sonically in this song, from handclaps to stomping to random striking of metal against metal in the background. The metal on metal hits went from being a metallic “thwack” to possessing a harmonic, almost tuning fork-like resonance. Another thing I noticed was that the soundstage depth seemed a touch more defined and clear. Did the PowerWave 8 add depth or width? No, but it brought the soundstage into tighter focus.

I would have never pegged my system as being noisy, but I guess it was, for after I had the PowerWave 8 properly set up in my system for a couple of tracks, it was hard to listen without it. Was there still noise? Yes, but I had to damn near press my ear to the driver to hear it. Before adding the PowerWave 8, I hear noise within three or four inches of the speaker. If the volume was pegged, I could detect it from a little further away.

I ended my two-channel evaluation of the PowerWave 8 with Linkin Park’s “Bleed It Out” from their latest album Minutes to Midnight (Warner Brothers). The opening hustle and bustle of the crowd settling in for the performance was clear as day. Again, more subtlety was readily apparent. The handclaps had a more organic nature to them, which also helped to define the audible space. The guitars were sharply focused and the vocals carried with them a bit more weight and dimension. Across the board, the effects were subtle but noticeable.

As a test, I went ahead and popped in American Gangster on HD DVD (Universal Studios Home Video) to evaluate the visual prowess of the PowerWave 8. Through my reference home theater, sans the PowerWave 8, the look of the film is stunning. With the PowerWave 8 installed, the picture cleared up just a bit. The most noticeable improvements came in sharpness and edge fidelity. Noise levels dropped a touch and the colors gained in richness. While I had no method of technically proving it, to my eyes, the picture appeared sharper, more focused and rich, but the effect was not night and day. Again, could I live without it? Yes, but why would I after I had experienced it? The PowerWave 8 is a lot like getting something you’ve always wanted and then finding out when it comes time to pay for it that the salesperson is willing to knock a couple of bucks off because he likes you.

The Downside
The MusicWave 8 is a wonderful component and a good starting point (or end) to fine-tuning your system, but there are a few items that I took note of that you should know about. The included Transparent Power Cord is unruly straight out of the box and needs time to relax to allow for better cable management. Proper cable management is essential, especially when it comes to power. If the back of your rack looks like a rat’s nest, then you’re not going to get all that the PowerWave 8 has to offer. This doesn’t go just for the PowerWave 8, but also for all power products. The PowerWave 8 performs better when used with third-party or beefier cables. It does fine with stock, but every incremental improvement you’re willing to make gear-wise will result in improved audio/video performance. If you’re looking for a vast night and day difference in sound quality out of the PowerWave 8, you’re bound to be a little disappointed, but you’re also bound to have a system that isn’t ready for fine-tuning, either. The PowerWave 8 is a component that will enhance your system’s performance, as well as protect it, but it will not provide an outright fix.

Power and the need for costly power equipment, be it cords or conditioners, are somewhat of a mixed bag in the audio community. Some are good, while others are purely snake oil. You can’t argue with the fact that clean, quality power is crucial to getting the most from your system, be it audio or video. However, many manufacturers over-promise what their “black boxes” can do, often falling short of the goal. The PowerWave 8 from Transparent doesn’t really fall into this trap, in that it doesn’t actually promise anything other than to protect against surges, reduce noise levels and protect your investment in your gear. This said, at least in my systems, the PowerWave 8 overproduces. It takes a Zen-like approach to the problem without adding a ton of bells and whistles that coerce you into thinking it’s doing more than it actually is. For what it is, the PowerWave 8 does its job beautifully. While the buy-in might be a bit steep for some at $995 retail, its target market, consisting of enthusiasts who want that last ounce of performance out of their systems, are bound to love it as I do. The PowerWave 8 represents yet another great product from the folks at Transparent Cable.
Manufacturer Transparent Audio
Model PowerWave 8 Surge Protector
Reviewer Andrew Robinson

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