Ah, power conditioners, perhaps the most reviled category of products (other than cables) in home theater. This isn’t to say power conditioning doesn’t have value, but thanks to decades of charlatans and gallons of snake oil, many people have come to consider power treatment a poor investment at best given the often ludicrous claims made by purveyors of power cords, plugs and conditioners. History aside, there are a small number of companies in this space that have managed to build and maintain excellent reputations for building quality products that work well and can improve system performance. Among these, PS Audio and Panamax/Furman are two of the most popular, followed slightly by more esoteric brands like Richard Gray’s Power Company.
Moving on to the subject of this review, let’s take a look at one of the best looking and feature complete offerings out there, PS Audio’s PerfectWave P3 Power Plant. The PerfectWave P3 Power Plant (P3 from here on out to save my poor fingers) is a power conditioner and regenerator that takes every day AC power from the wall and runs it through a process to remove noise, variations in voltage or current, and also functions as a power plant (capacitor of sorts) to better handle transient increases in current draw by amplifiers.
The majority of power conditioners do two fundamental things to clean up power output. First, they convert your mains alternating current to direct current (like you’d get from a battery), run that direct current into a large transformer to compensate for any voltage droops or current loss, and finally convert it once again to AC, this time with a perfect sinewave generator to ensure that the power is as normalized as possible. What’s different about the P3 is really in its name – it is a power plant. Unlike a typical power conditioner that just performs double-conversion from AC to DC and back to AC again, a power plant is able to store that cleaned up power in banks of capacitors and then run it through an amplifier to ensure that it can handle transient peaks up to 70 amps, even though the wall can only deliver 15 amps continuously.
How can you make 70 amps from 15? Well, it’s not really trickery, we’re just taking advantage of the law of averages. Assume your average home theater setup can run on a 15 amp circuit. This system will probably pull 5-12 amps of power on average while being used, meaning that most of the time excess current is there that isn’t being used. Systems like the P3 can take that excess current and utilize it to store additional energy for later. It only takes a short time to charge up at first, and recovers again quite quickly as well with only a minimal increase to power draw at the wall.
Fit, Finish and Packaging
PS Audio’s packaging never fails to impress me, as they seem to be pioneers in the field of using high strength plastics for innovative packaging methods as well as designing AV gear. The P3 actually sits on top of a large sheet of plastic stretched across cardboard, effectively cushioned from shocks and protected from outside damage in the same clever manner. Getting the P3 out of the double box is as simple as cutting some tape and lifting it out in its protective bag. The box includes the P3, its power cord, a remote and the manual.
Like all other PS Audio products I’ve seen the finish on the P3 is impeccable and the design of the unit is extremely handsome, boasting rounded corners, aluminum construction and an LCD display. Thanks to a large transformer, the P3 tips the scales at a substantial 48 lbs (22kg for the rest of the world), which is reassuring in both the psychological sense (it has to be doing SOMETHING if it’s that heavy!) and in terms of build quality.
In terms of physical layout, the P3 offers 8 power outlets spread across four zones of two outlets each, with one of the zones dedicated to high current devices like amplifiers. In addition to the power outlets, the P3 offers an Ethernet port for network connectivity, and two 3.5mm jacks that can be assigned as either IR or 12V trigger inputs or outputs.
How does one listen to the performance of a power conditioner or power plant exactly? I’m not entirely sure. My process consists of listening to the same material I usually do when evaluating components and seeing what has changed (if anything). In the case of the P3, I found that everything sounded more or less the same as usual, though similar to my past review of a similar Furman product, the noise floor was definitely lower.
My theater suffers from some rather noisy AC, which has led me to always find creative solutions to clean up faint ground loop noise and mains hum. This usually involves moving devices between circuits to minimize interactions, but does get a bit tiring. With the P3 in place that noise simply vanished for the most part, though I did find one or two exceptions which I’ll discuss later.
I began my evaluation by listening to some B-Tribe and Acoustic Alchemy, the majority of which features delicate acoustic elements and plenty of subtleties in the mix that noise quickly obscures. Both B-Tribe’s 5 and Acoustic Alchemy’s The Very Best Of sounded great on my system, though I didn’t notice any substantial improvements in soundstage, instrument separation or overall transient and attack quality. Perhaps the power filtering built into my D-Sonic amplifier is so good already that the P3 couldn’t do much to improve up on it, or perhaps not. I can confidently state that the negligible noise floor did yield some improvements, and I felt as though things sounded slightly cleaner as a result.
Cranking up the volume with some heavier hitting EDM and Metal, I stretched the legs of the P3 to see how well the power plant functionality could handle the power draw of my SubMersive HP+ and the D-Sonic together at high listening levels. The P3 didn’t seem to break a sweat even when playing well past reference level, never giving me any hints of decreased dynamic range or power starvation. Turning my sub level way up and my volume far past normal, I reproduced a scene from The Edge of Tomorrow (Live Die Repeat) that has managed to trip my breaker in the past. To my delight, no amount of misbehavior on my part could manage to get the circuit to trip – an impressive accomplishment given my rooms rather limited 15 amp service.
It’s a power conditioner, so what else could it possibly do? This is where PS Audio’s solution really trounces the competition. In addition to the features I’ve already described, the P3 also features web based management including some really cool scheduling and analytics functionality that you can access on PS Audio’s servers. Those so inclined can even set up alerts and automatic reboots if needed.
Through the web based management each of the 4 zones on the P3 can be named, you can schedule their on/off sequence and the system as a whole can be monitored including statistics on your main AC power supply like total harmonic distortion.
I have an older model Sandy Bridge Intel NUC that was my home theater PC for over 2 years. The DC power supply on this PC is a real piece of work, feeding some horrible coil whine and back-EMF into the system if it’s on the same circuit as the rest of my gear. My solution is to run it off a separate circuit using a short extension cord while plugged into an Ebtech Hum X. Crude but effective – and completely necessary, as the noise it generates ruins my entire system.
Though perhaps not a fair test, I decided to plug my NUC into the P3 (a combination of zones) to see how it handled spurious noise injected on the other end. The result? Not bad! While the P3 didn’t completely eliminate the coil whine, I would say it tamed about 80% of it – far superior to any other product I’ve tried. Ultimately, I left the noisy little brick on another circuit for my review, but I was impressed by how well the P3 handled an obviously misbehaving piece of gear.
While PS Audio’s marketing folks may wish I could tell you that a veil was lifted, angels sang and all my music came to life, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint. The P3 is a meticulously well-built and designed product that obviously does a fantastic job as a power conditioner and a power plant while offering more in the way of extra features than anyone else on the market. While it’s not a panacea for every power related issue you might ever experience (like my obviously possessed NUC), it’s a fantastic product and does exactly what it promises while simultaneously solving the problem of transient current draw in high powered systems.
Overall I was extremely pleased with the PerfectWave P3 Power Plant and would highly recommend it to anyone seeking top grade power treatment for their system, though for those who don’t need extra features like web based management the price is still slightly on the high side to gain mass adoption. Recommended.