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Richard Gray's Power Company SubStation & HighTensionWire Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 September 2004
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Richard Gray's Power Company SubStation & HighTensionWire
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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.


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