Power supply discussions seem to generate a lot of strong opinions, and since I just carried out some concentrated listening of various power supplies, I thought I would jot down my impressions, a lot of it for my own record, thus as succinct as possible.
All power supplies mentioned are compared on Chord Qutest DAC and were all plugged into modified Liebert on-line, double-conversion power generator. To minimize variables and to maximize minute differences, all supplies were compared on the same rig comprising of Schiit Jotunheim R amplifier powering Raal SR1a ribbon headphones by the way of Norne Silvergarde S3 pure silver headphone cable.
ALLO SHANTI LINEAR POWER SUPPLY
The thing I like about Allo Shanti is that despite what is obviously of serious build quality, its price is in the computer/IT realm not in the audiophile uber price realm. It annoys me when certain audiophile companies pretend like they are selling solid bricks of gold, similar to how medical supply companies quadruple prices for “medical grade” power plugs, etc. The fact Shanti sports the latest audiophile perks like supercaps on output and provide two outputs (5V/3A, 5V/1A) is a bonus.
In direct comparison to Chord’s stock SMPS (which actually sounds quite good) and Bakoon BPS-02 Lithium battery PS, Shanti differs by offering more density of texture and information. At first glance, I can see some people actually preferring the stock SMPS, which sounds “prettier.” In photography/video terms, SMPS is akin to turning up brightness half click and turning down contrast half click. This creates smoother yet airier sound that can be more forgiving of poor recordings while still bringing life and sparkle to music.
Shanti actually seems to pull together the sonic pixels into more dense balls, so the performers are less diffusely large/forward. Those who prefer large, forward, diffuse images (like from Magnepan speakers) may like the SMPS presentation more, especially with certain recordings that need that treatment. This density carries into bass as well. I’ve seen others mention that certain heavy-duty LPS’s, including some mentions of Shanti, produce much more bass than “puny” SMPS’s, which may or may not be the case depending on system. On this system, what Shanti does is produce more dense, solid bass, which can give the impression of “more” bass due to noticing its presence more. This is not night-and-day difference at all, and I consider SMPS bass perfectly great.
The puny stock Chord SMPS plugged into Teslaplex AC outlets.
The main thing that may keep the Shanti around is its better retrieval of low-level details from mediocre recordings. With recent, high-quality recordings, the system sounds perfectly faultless with SMPS; it wants for nothing IMO. Mind you, this is only possible due to numerous refinements and optimizations over the years, i.e. just the right cabling, power treatment, adapters, server, software, etc, etc. If I listened to great recordings all day, I do not need to use the Shanti or Bakoon battery supply. However, with good-but-not-great recordings from say 1990’s (good luck with 80’s recordings), Shanti pulls in just that last few percent more detail resolution, so the decent recordings become more insightful and enjoyable. One can hear a bit deeper into singer’s smacking lips or quick inhalation before belting out, just a small bit more of venue wall reflections and sound trails as trumpet notes fade.
At this price point, the only negative that bugs me is the attached DC cable. It is very thin and extremely long. I already know DC cables sound different by comparing and DIY’ing them, so at some point, I suspect I will mess with these. If better DC cables weren’t possible due to target price, then Allo should have at least provided DC jacks instead of permanently attaching them IMHO.
WHAT ABOUT BATTERIES?
IME, garden-variety laptop 5V battery supplies do not sound great. Along with cheap, poorly-designed linear power supplies, these battery supplies tend to place a veil over the music while overly smoothing things out. I get best sound quality by using batteries at their native voltage, in which case, clarity and life is preserved. Unfortunately, one can’t find native 5V Lithium batteries, so the next best thing is the Bakoon bps-02 Li battery supply (same unit here OEM JCAT).
With a good Li battery supply like this, the entire presentation is different. Whether the difference is “better” or “preferable” is up to the individual’s tastes and system synergy. The background really does become more “inky black” like many reviewers out there report. Textures and details become sexily pure and liquid while instrumental and vocal tone become rich, deep, wide. I mean, who wouldn’t like THIS, one wonders. Many audiophiles can actually stop right here and not look back.
But since I am particularly particular, I have noted one tendency. Music is beautiful with noiseless background, but after long listening sessions, I do notice a sameness, a recognizable signature that slightly coats all genres. It’s slight and it’s a pleasant signature, but after a long session, I feel this signature lessens the excitement and anticipation of finding out what the next track would sound like, and a different artist next, etc.
Since I am not aware of native 5V batteries to compare to Bakoon, I cannot be sure if this tendency is due to the fact it still has internal voltage regulation or due to powering a device with both digital and analogue amplification circuitry. The times I can power a purely digital component with native battery, I do not hear this “sameness.” For example, I am powering SOtM USB soundcard and USB-spdif converter with 18650 batteries, and there is no downside here. In past, using 12V native batteries to power other pure digital components also did not result in any downside, either. Oh, well, I suppose this question is unanswerable at this time, other than to recommend that one should try native-voltage batteries on purely digital components if possible.
…to be continued.