AudioQuest Niagara 5000 Low-Z Power/Noise-Dissipation System: Part One – The Power Broker

*This is Part One of a Three-Part Series. Part Two will touch on AudioQuest Hurricane cables and cable technology in general, and Part Three will focus on how the Niagara 5000 and the Hurricane cables sounded in the context of my sound system.

Nothing can more quickly separate a spooky-good, digital-source fronted soundsystem from, well, lesser ones, than cavernous, soft velvet blacker-black backgrounds. The biggest difference? Almost always AC/EMI/RFI noise.

It’s far more noticeable on binary front ends because digital has no inherent noise floor like analog. There is no electro-mechanical interface taking place to cause surface noise like that from a stylus being dragged through a record groove or a tape head pulling a magnetic field off a reel.

So, with digital, anything other than the music that you can hear is usually EMI (electromagnetic interference) or RFI (radio frequency interference) artefacts being introduced from airborne waves or AC-line corruption being pulled off a polluted power grid. This causes a loss in resolution because of the signal being masked, or distorted from this line pollution.

Enter the $3,999 USD AudioQuest Niagara 5000 Low-Z Power Noise Dissipation System. Designed by AQ engineering legend Garth Powell, the 5000 sits in the middle of the Niagara Series. Above the 1200 at $999 USD and below the much heavier (81 pounds vs 38 pounds for the 5000) 7000 at $7,999 USD. I received the 5000 some time ago, but due to a confluence of events (not the least of which being my partner and I having a baby) it took longer for me to get the 5000 and the AQ cabling properly set-up and run-in on my system.

In a not insignificant way this was a good thing, because during the intervening months I went through a major system change and ended up upgrading my tried-and-true PS Audio P10 to their new P20 to handle more equipment needs for reviewing and to plug-in the 600-watt McIntosh monoblocs I ended up with for driving a pair of new-to-me Harbeth M40.1s. Good because it gave me enough time to burn in the new amps/preamps and become dialled-in to what my house sound was with the P20 and the PS Audio AC5 cables I’ve been using for ages, so when I put the 5000 and the Hurricane cables in (one by one, starting from the wall to the 5000 first) I was able to clearly ascertain the changes I was hearing across the frequency spectrum, and how those highs/mids/lows were interacting with my listening/living room (room acoustics will always play the biggest part in what you here from any upstream changes). Also, between the Mcintosh 601s, my tube preamp, the various DACs, music servers and headphone amps I’m running 24/7, I need a set-and-forget-it power conditioner that just plain works and doesn’t care how many sources/amps I hook up to it; just don’t choke is all I really ask.

Power to your source.

I’ve personally used a number of different brands over the years, depending on the system, and always found it to be a ‘flavor to taste’ proposition. I ran a Shindo Mr. T for an Kondo Audio Note integrated amp/phono preamp set-up I had for a few months – spooky good, an IsoTek EVO3 for awhile with an AVID/Air Tight tube system – PRaT!, three different PS Audio units –open, airy, fast, and now AudioQuest.

All conditioners do something to the sound depending on the technology being employed. Some tech sounds much better than others to my ears; the best don’t change timbre or tone, they simply allow more of it to be unmasked, reveal more music from a blacker background free of hash or RFI, and allow the amp/preamp/source to ‘breathe easier’ as it were. Quicker dynamic response, faster transients, an effortlessness to the sound that could have been lacking previously depending on your set-up, and what the power is like in your neighbourhood. I can tell you from monitoring incoming power levels on the PS Audio gear I’ve had that the AC coming in off the grid varied greatly from home-to-home over the past several years. Some places had relatively clean, rarely-fluctuating current, others, the total opposite.

One of the most critical requirements any system has in my opinion is the need for an clean AC provider that will not choke dynamics. Those millisecond/instantaneous/peak load/transient reaction capabilities are paramount above all other needs in my experience. If a system is allowing the free flow of current and not throttling back incoming AC in any way, I’ve found that everything else seems to just drop right into place. Every company has a different circuit architecture approach to deal with “conditioning” in some sense or another, what I might like you might not, but while hi-fi is always a YMMV proposition, I’ve yet to have someone hear a conditioner I thought was doing exactly what it was supposed to be doing and disagree. Take that for what it’s worth (insert your own ________ here).

Build and design

Highly polished. Highly coveted tech.

The 5000 is a looker with it’s polished/dark-chromed alloy faceplate (just a power switch and a blue power-on light) and sleek black-metal casework. The handsome chassis is no lightweight at 38 pounds, and call me old-fashioned, but I’m a fan of heavy as I usually associate it with high-quality componentry being used. The rear of the 5000 consists of one 20-Amp AC/Mains input, a rocker power-switch, and comes with a total of 12 AC outlets with one group of four dedicated to “High Current/Transient Power Correction” (amps and such), and the remaining eight dedicated to “Ultra-Linear Noise Dissipation System Power” for preamps or sources like CD players, DACs, etc. It’s a fairly straightforward piece of kit, and while I’d love to see a big LED screen on it with information, I didn’t miss it not having one – one less distraction.

Rear panel of Niagara 5000.

So, with that introduction in where I’m coming from with modern AC power, let’s look at the Niagara 5000 specifications and how AudioQuest is approaching power conditioning with their take on the science and also the art of implementing the science in a way that is going to make music sound more immediate, more present in the listening space around you, have more emotional depth, and do it all in way that makes you feel like you’ve invested in a technology that isn’t going to be obsolete or replaced in a year. Of note is this quote from the 5000 owner’s manual which I feel is part science, part art:

Our systems’ sensitive components need better alternating current – a fact that has resulted in a host of AC power conditioning, isolation transformers, regeneration amplifiers, and battery back-up system topologies. Through differential sample tests and spectrum analysis, it can be proven that up to a third of a high-resolution (low-level) audio signal can be lost, masked, or highly distorted by the vast levels of noise riding along the AC power lines that feed our components. This noise couples into the signal circuitry as current noise and through AC ground, permanently distorting and/or masking the source signal. All sincere attempts to solve this problem must be applauded since once the audio/video signal is gone, it’s gone forever…

Niagara 5000 Specifications:

  • Surge Suppression: Non-sacrificial (nothing to damage with repeated 6000V/3000A input surge tests, which is the maximum that can survive through a building’s AC electrical panel).
  • Extreme Voltage Shutdown: 140VAC (will activate the main high-current relay to open within less than 0.25 second; automatically resets once the incoming power is within a safe range).
  • Common-Mode Noise Dissipation: In excess of 30dB from 20kHz to 100MHz, linearized for dynamic (rising) line impedance with frequency (source) and 10 to 50 Ohm load, system current dependent.
  • Input Current Maximum Capacity: 20 amps RMS (total).
  • Ultra-Linear Noise-Dissipation System AC Power Outlet Banks: 4 Isolated groups – total (bank three through six).
  • Number of AC Outlets: 12 (4 High Current/Transient Power Correction; 8 Ultra-Linear Noise Dissipation System Power).
  • Power Consumption: Typically, less than 0.25 amps at 120VAC input, or with the power correction switched to Standby setting. (This is dependent on a reactive vector load. For more info, see “Operation and Continuous Use: Rear-Panel Power Correction Switch – Niagara 5000 current draw.”)
  • Dimensions: 17.5” W x 5.24” H x 17.2” D (3-RU rack-mounting ears, optional)
  • Weight: 38 lbs.

COMPANY INFO
AudioQuest
info@audioquest.com
1.800.747.2770
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Richard D. George's picture

A nice review. The Niagara units are impressive.
As much as I like Audioquest products (I have a ton of their digital and analog cables) I prefer Shunyata for power conditioning / distribution. They also have good reviews, are a bit better priced, and have very helpful cradles to hold power cord plugs in place.

Cleaning up power is important, as the review mentions. I have several systems across two locations. Where practical, I had 20 amp dedicated circuits installed. I always use Shunyata wall outlets, good (but flexible) power cables and good conditioners / distributors.

For subwoofers located away from main electronics, I use Shunyata Defenders plugged into the same wall outlets for filtration and protection.

X