PS Audio PerfectWave PowerBase
One of the early lessons you learn as an audiophile is to give some thought to placing your components for optimal performance. You might start with a handy shelf or table but it won’t be long before you are tempted to explore further in the pursuit of sonic rewards. From mega-buck racks to pucks and footers, the audio industry has developed numerous putative solutions to the problem of vibration control and component isolation. Do you want to drain vibrations away or prevent them entering your component in the first place? Does the material used to make a shelf carry a sonic signature? Should you spike or not? The choices can bewilder even the most enthusiastic of audiophiles and are the source of endless debate in audio forums. While there are countless approaches to platforms, shelves and footers, nobody has combined an isolation platform with a line conditioner, at least as far as I can tell. Nobody that is, until the clever folks at PS Audio developed the PowerBase.
The Powerbase is designed to isolate an audio component both electrically and physically, in one comparatively small and, to my eyes, attractive package. With a footprint of 17″ by 14″ and a height of 2.5″, the platform/conditioner comes in black or silver, and is small enough visually to not dominate the equipment rack the way many other platforms or isolation devices can. Despite the small and neat appearance, the base weighs a hefty 25 pounds (according to my weighing scale) and you need to think ahead when moving it. Adjustable feet allow for leveling and, once in place, the black model I tested blended cleanly into my racks. Indeed, it formed such a synergistic visual match with my SME 20/2 turntable that you might believe these two were made for each other.
The platform itself is plugged into your electrical supply and an internal conditioner delivers clean AC to your components through two rear outlets. These outlets share a single IsoZone filter, PS Audio’s trademarked technology, which has been used in several generations of their successful line conditioning and regeneration products. As far as I can determine, the physical isolation of the PowerBase is entirely passive—the electrical conditioning serves only to deliver clean power to the components supported on top or nearby and is not used to enable vibration control in the platform.
The physical isolation results from the use of a ¼” steel top that rests on two layers of sorbothane, one stiff, the other soft. The aim is apparently to couple the component to the airborne vibrations, which seems counterintuitive but according to the PS Audio documentation is actually a requirement for masking vibration induced noise and the resulting sonic ‘ghost’ images. In combination, the two sorbothane layers can hold up to 100 lbs, with a large sweet spot reported to be between 15 and 85 lbs. Short of my speakers, this range covers just about every component in my rig, so assuming it can be made to fit, the PowerBase has the potential to be used under any component.
The rather active owners’ forum on the PS Audio website offers a wealth of opinion and experience with the company’s products, and I learned there that the PowerBase was originally not designed for turntables or even sensitive front-end components. While these seem a very obvious application area, the genesis of the platform was to provide support and a clean electrical feed to the company’s own PerfectWave line regenerators. The operation of the PerfectWave series of conditioners can apparently push noise back down the line, which might get picked up by any part of your rig that is not itself drawing power directly from the regenerator. Once built however, the application to other components just suggested itself. When PS Audio chief Paul McGowan tried one on his own digital front-end, he was convinced the new platforms had wider application, so in I jumped, ready to try one under any component I could get it to fit.
Putting it to work
PS Audio’s packing is always a treat, they ship components in a floating plastic cradle within the box that looks like it cannot work but always does. I’ve never received a damaged item from them, and I’ve owned or reviewed more than a few of their products over the last decade. The mirror finish top is protected by a plastic sheet which you are asked to leave on while auditioning in case you wish to return it. Tempted as I was to get a look at the top, I left the sheet on at all times. Over three months the platform had spells under my digital front end, my turntable, my phono stage, and under the P5 regenerator I use to feed everything but my power amps. In each case it made a difference, but not always in ways that I was expecting.
First up, and placing it where I expected the most immediate impact, the PowerBase was used under my excellent PS Audio PWT/PWDMk2 combo. Now don’t be fooled by the use of ‘placing’ it in that last sentence. With its considerable weight requiring two hands to lift and maneuver at all times, coupled with the need to adjust the shelving in a rack to allow enough clearance for the extra 2.5 inches of height, the actual process took more than a few minutes to get right and was not without its own frustrations. Not only did I have to lower a couple of shelves on my rack to make everything fit, I needed to level each shelf before getting the Powerbase itself on and then leveling it, and all this before getting the digital combo back in place. Of course, all the while I had to carefully watch those wire connections at the back which I’ve managed to bend and damage on previous occasions when making such adjustments. In other words, unless you have acres of open shelf space in your listening room, testing a platform for yourself is a disruptive process!
I decided to let the digital combo run on the platform for a few days just to hear the effect of isolation alone before plugging in the Powerbase and then later connecting the transport and DAC to the extra IsoZone outlets. Assuredly, the sonics shifted, primarily due to the presence alone of the Powerbase under the combo. I noticed no change by just plugging in the Powerbase, other than the attractive blue light illuminating on the front. Adding in the extra conditioning on offer by plugging in the components to the PowerBase outlets did less to the sound than just using the platform alone to my ears. Some folks report large differences with power cord changes here but even across two different cords on my DAC, I still believe the major impact here is from the physical isolation the PowerBase offers.
The differences between the PWT/PWD combo on the platform or with the usual HAL Tenderfeet underneath were pronounced. Immediately, with the Powerbase, the sound seemed to shift in balance with a more detailed and far greater emphasis on the upper frequencies, almost as if one had turned an old tone control up. Bass seemed lighter, to my ears too. I was quite surprised by the obvious difference in sound and it took me several days of listening to really get a sense of what I was hearing.
The detail resolution was certainly impressive and immediately noticeable but without an easy way of going back and forth between the combo on the PowerBase and on the Tenderfeet, I had to take a lot of time listening to be confident in the differences I was hearing. I found Tord Gustavsen’s piano to come through with an almost crystal clarity on Being There, the whole sonic picture becoming airier and somewhat lighter sounding, with a sharper delineation between instruments. This probably sounds like a good thing to most of us but I could not shake the feeling that the timbre of the instrument had hardened, giving the music an almost over-resolved tone. I realize this might sound odd to some readers but that is how I heard it, ultra-resolution but with a price. On an old favorite, Ronnie Earl’s Grateful Heart, I missed some important bass presence and warmth. With the Powerbase, bass was what some might call ‘tighter’ but I felt the sound was ‘lighter’. While this seemed to give greater emphasis to the guitar transients, the instrument’s fullness, particularly where Ronnie hits the neck pick up, seemed missing. I can fully appreciate that some people would hear the shift as a move toward greater resolution, perhaps thinking I just like to hear a bit more bass bloat. As a guitarist, I am not convinced by that interpretation. On rock and jazz, with the PowerBase under the digital rig, music could sound a tad too light and, dare I say it, a bit too hot for my tastes.
Now I should point out that my reference racks are 1” thick maple on metal assembly, spiked to the solid (unused) fireplace hearth in my living room. All components sit on their own shelves coupled to the maple via aftermarket footers from Herbie’s Audio Labs. The sonics are well-balanced to my ears, and I am very familiar with this sound. There is no doubt, the PowerBase changes this sonic presentation and it can do so dramatically. After a week, I started adding footers back between the digital combo and the rack, which again changed the sound somewhat, but the Tenderfeet on the Powerbase sound different than when used alone on the shelf, and I preferred the Powerbase without them. What this says to me is that you can tailor the sonics somewhat with the PowerBase by using various footers, therefore what works best in your rig might prove to be a unique combination.
An important part of this type of listening is to allow enough time to become used to the sonics. Though I was initially somewhat disturbed by the sounds from the PowerBase supported digital rig, continual listening convinced me that it provided some insights into the recordings that I was otherwise missing. Once I had removed the base to place it elsewhere, I wanted some of its resolving power back, and the original familiar set up I’d loved came across as slightly thick-sounding. Consequently I embarked on a trial through the various footers I had on hand to see if I could re-capture some of the resolution increase of the Powerbase without giving up so much of the body and timbre I enjoy. Confused? I guess I was. Could different interconnects or cords help? Maybe, but time precluded all sorts of possible interactions from being evaluated. On balance, the PowerBase made a dramatic, clearly audible difference to my digital front-end, one that came with trade-offs that may or may not suit your rig and tastes. If you feel your rig is a little unresolving and warm, the PowerBase will certainly give it a wake-up call. If you are already highly resolving, you may not need or want what it does for your digital gear. My advice here is to give the combo time, consider some other add-on tweaks if you have them, and get used to the sound with the base both in and out of your rig.
Under the turntable
I run a beautiful analog front end assembled over many years from the used market, now consisting of an older SME 20/2 with SME V tonearm, sitting on a large Gingko Cloud which itself sits atop a 4” thick maple block. To use the PowerBase under the table seemed natural. The physical fit was almost perfect, with the resulting combo creating the impression that these two components were made for each other.
Of course, this sense of a perfect fit only lasted until I tried to put my cover over the table and realized the extra height of the Powerbase, coupled with its smaller footprint, meant the cover could not work without some cobbled-together blocks to the side to allow sufficient headroom. Minor quibbles aside, you might need to pay attention to this detail if you spring for a PowerBase under your vinyl front end.
Once I began listening, I realized that this match was more than just visually appealing. With the new base under the SME 20, the music really took on a new liveliness, with upper frequencies in particular opening up, the soundstage widening, and the sense of air around instruments growing. When this happens, you tend to feel the music is almost faster, there is less overhang of bass notes, instrumental line separation increases and tempo just seems snappier. Playing Aja by Steely Dan, the album always seemed to me a bit soft sounding, possessing a sort of pleasant warmish sound that is the epitome of ‘easy listening’, which might account for my (heretically) limited interest in this band’s music. With the PowerBase in the mix, I started to hear the music anew and began to appreciate more the intricate guitar and keyboard lines that run through most songs as well as the percussive snap of the mutliple drummers employed on the recording. The always-excellent sounding Tin Pan Alley on Steve Ray Vaughan’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather is done to death at audio shows but I still enjoy it, and on the SME/PowerBase combo, it never sounded finer. Shannon’s bass underscored the music and provided the foundation for SRV’s soaring bends, giving the LP a very live and captivating sound.
The real benefit of a proper platform for a turntable, even one as well designed as an SME, is in the isolation from vibration it provides. In so doing, this allows the stylus to trace the grove and shape the resulting signal more from oscillations of the grooves than from any extraneous forces operating on it. The Gingko platform is an ingeniously affordable design but to my ears, the PowerBase is a significantly superior turntable platform. Music from the SME seemed to emerge from a rock-solid background, with greater authority. Details came into sharper relief and soundstaging was improved noticeably. On Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue, music seemed to move outside the spread of the speakers at points, causing me to look up and play sections again to be sure of what I was hearing (and this from a record I’ve played countless times). The Cult’s Electric album had tremendous drive and punch, the bass taking on a tighter, leaner quality than I’d experienced before.
At the other end of the musical spectrum, my Melodiya/EMI 1967 box set of Shostakovich’s String Quartets by the Borodin Quartet seemed to take on an almost digital quality in terms of detail. The draw of a cello note under the violin’s voice could be followed and heard distinctly. Small bow movements come through without straining to hear them. I mean no criticism in the digital analogy. Rather, the change caused me to listen longer and harder to these recordings than I had done in years, and I worked my way through each of the six discs in the set on more than one occasion. In fact, I had considered seeking a new recording of these after several reviewers suggested the sonics on later recordings were superior to this set. I even justified such a purchase to myself by the inclusion of the composer’s last two quartets not yet written when this release was made. However, with the Powerbase under my SME, I find such new enjoyment in the earlier release that any further purchase is not pressing. This is music that demands close attention in order to get the most from it and with the PowerBase in place, that attention was naturally drawn into the recordings in a way I’d not experienced before.
In sum, the PowerBase is a triumph sonically as a turntable platform. Yes, it messes up my existing turntable cover, so it comes with a hidden extra cost if I need to replace that particular piece, but for a rig as good as my SME, and compared to the costs of any competing product I’ve seen, the price is easily justified . There is an added bonus here in that I found that powering the phono stage from the spare outlet on the PowerBase (and the base itself fed by the P5) refined the sonics a little further, particularly giving cymbals a little more clarity and resolving more detail in the upper registers throughout, particularly on acoustic guitar. Some might feel this added too much upper level emphasis and perhaps something of a digital texture to the analog sound. I have heard people complain of this with some conditioners but I don’t hear it that way. If anything, this extra filtering comes with a slight loss of bass weight, which I confirmed by running the phono stage straight from the wall in a final check but it’s a trade-off either way and I suspect the resolving power provided by the PowerBase will lead many to its use. I have no idea if the table motor ran better fed by the PowerBase but I settled on both the table and the phono stage plugged into the base and that is how I would probably run the rig long-term if I employed one here.
Feeding the P5
Though originally developed with a view to helping the P5 do its regeneration job better, I was skeptical that a PowerBase would offer much benefit here. Well, my skepticism proved unfounded once I had the Powerbase positioned and feeding the P5 (using Pangea 9AWG cords for both steps). I thought I heard a slight improvement just using the platform passively but this is not a difference I would stand by under oath. Plug in the PowerBase however, and then feed the P5 with “pre-cleaned” power, if I may call it this, and the differences were obvious to my ears. The resulting music, especially the digital front-end, sounded a little more organic, more timbrally-correct, and the silence between notes was a little more cleanly delineated.
Over the course of several months of listening to the PowerBase under various parts of my reference rig, I came to believe that using it in conjunction with the P5 made real sense. In fact, if you don’t have a turntable, I recommend the impact of a PowerBase under the P5 to be more beneficial than anywhere else in the rig. The sonic effects were more noticeable, for sure, on the digital front end but I did not care for those changes as much as I did those heard in use under the regenerator. Everything just sounded a little easier, smoother, flowing as from instruments not electronics. Now let me remind readers that I have been a fan of the P5 and in fact, PS Audio regenerators in general since I started in the last century with their origjnal P300, and I’ve traded up their products each generation until the current P5 was installed a couple of years ago. I am convinced of the P5’s superiority on my front end components (it’s a different story on my power amps) but even so, the PowerBase manages to wrest even finer performance from the P5. So much so, that I now consider the two to form a joint component that really requires both parts to deliver the best results. PS Audio should offer the pair in a package deal.
Where it did not matter so much
Trials across other parts of my rig were a mixed bag. Under my excellent Whest Phono Stage, it made little or no difference that I could reliably hear as an isolation platform. This may be due to the weight of the phono stage, which barely hits 10lbs and thus could be deemed outside the loading sweet spot of the PowerBase. That said, I did prefer the sound with the Whest drawing current from a post-P5 Powerbase Isozone.
Under the SMcAudio VRE-1, I again did not hear significant difference, either as a platform or when feeding the external power supply of the preamp. I’m not drawing any firm conclusions from this other than the VRE-1 is just an exceptional piece in its own right. Even though in the manual, Steve McCormack suggests trying out various isolation products and aftermarket cords as they can make a difference, this does seem heavily system dependent. I’ve not gained much from any aftermarket footer I’ve tried on this preamp either. As with everything, you have to try it out for yourself to hear what works.
After four months of trial and error, I’ve become very familiar with the PS Audio PowerBase. It’s a unique combination of physical and electrical isolation that can have a dramatic effect on the sonic presentation of components. It is particularly impactful on digital and analog front-ends, and by offering dual forms of isolation it is probably better value than many other platforms or line conditioners alone which are priced around $1000.
The biggest surprise to me was its synergistic coupling with PS Audio’s own P5 regenerator. In use here it looks elegant and improves everything in one’s rig that is placed downstream. If you’ve invested in a P5 or P10 regenerator, I think you need to try it sitting on and fed by a PowerBase. It might be too strong to say the base is essential for the regenerators but it offers a meaningful step up to an already excellent product.
Value is in the eye of the buyer, but to my ears (and my eyes) the PowerBase offers more than enough improvement in various parts of my rig to be competitive with other products at its price. You can spend close to this on specialized footers alone, and the choices for turntable platforms are slim at this price point. That it can also offer line conditioning can be considered a bonus. Clean looks, and a cleaner sound, the PowerBase is a unique product that warrants auditioning if you are trying to eke out the best performance from your components. Definitely recommended.
Specifications and Manufacturer
Weight: 25 lbs
Dimensions: 14 × 17 × 2.5 in
Colors: Silver, Black
Manufacturer: PS Audio, Boulder, Colorado, USA