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Audioquest Niagara 1200 Review (Power Conditioner/Surge Protector)

JimmyJet

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I thought I'd jump in here because this thread currently applies to me. For the record let me state up front that I consider myself a practical audiophile, i.e., I just believe in good quality cables, but certainly never audiophool types of cables - all my cables, speaker and interconnects, are by Blue Jeans Cables and I just use the stock power cables that come with my gear.

I have a Dan D'Agostino Progression Stereo amp that has a 3,000 VA power supply transformer coupled to 400,000 microfarads of power supply storage capacitance. It's a true triple down amp rated at 300 Watts into 8 Ohms, 600 Watts into 4 Ohms, and 1200 watts into 2 Ohms. It's powering a pair of Magnepan 3.7i's which are rated at 4 Ohms. I have the Dan plugged directly into the wall and never worried about it because if the power goes out or it gets unplugged, it trips the built-in circuit breaker switch in the back and can't be turned back on until the switch is manually flipped back up. With this switch engaged, the amp is in standby mode, and a soft start relay switch in front turns it on. But I had a pretty big scare a couple of weeks ago, where the system was at idle and I heard a loud pop and smelled electrical ozone in the air (but no burning smell). To be honest, I can't be 100% sure it was the Dan, as the preamp and plasma tv are in close proximation, but it sure sounded like a noise the Dan would make - sort of like a much louder version of the muffled pop it makes after the relay kicks in during turn-on.

Anyway, here's the strange part, nothing tripped and all components seemed fine. I played dozens of test tracks that are bass heavy and shoot the Dan's power meters into the 400 watt range and all was normal and sounded great. I slid off the top of the Dan to do a visual inspection, and it all looked fine - no black soot anywhere, no swollen caps, no burn smell, and the large MOV soldered to the input mains still appeared shiny and new. So, I figured some sort of transient surge passed through with a bang but didn't do any damage (if that's even possible). I called my LAD and he said if it's still working not to worry and I should get an Audioquest Niagara 5000, but when he told me the price, well, that ended the call pretty quickly. So I started researching power conditioner/surge protectors and read a lot of good things about the Niagara 1200 and was at the top end of what I was willing to spend, so ordered it from Upscale Audio. While it was still in transit, I came across this thread, and to be honest, if I had read this first, I wouldn't have ordered it.

But by now, with so much controversy, a 60 day return policy, and the sinking realization that I had just purchased my first audiophool product, I was up for testing it. I plugged the Dan into the 1200's high-current outlet, and my Mac preamp into one of the more filtered low-current outlets. I started with a female vocal test track and the first thing that hit me was the soundstage now had more depth and her voice was more isolated and distinct. Also, the bass was more detailed, and in general, more separation between the instruments. So far, I've done two pairs of with/without tests using the same tracks at the same volume level. So now, I'm in a quandary after reading Amir's test report. I really wanted to be able to say, yeah, this is all b.s. and this thing is just an overpriced surge protector and planned to send it back and just buy a ZeroSurge box. As a music major, I took a class in acoustical technology and one of the chapters in the course book was called, "Psycho Acoustics" - so I understand all that. I also understand that I should not hear what hearing based on Amir's test. Last night I read Garth Powell's white paper, Power Demystified to see his explanation, and to be honest, I couldn't really follow all of it, but what was interesting was his test results using a scope (I'm wondering if @amirm could do the same tests as Garth describes in his paper to see if he gets the same result.)

So you can laugh and flame me, but I really do "think" I'm hearing something, but the point is I really do not want to hear any difference - believe me, I'd much rather drop $1295 on more LPs, SACDs, or other gear, but sheesh, I'm very conflicted right now. I'm also not saying I'm going to keep it as I am still conducting tests with a break of a day or two in between. It sincerely bothers me when the science (Amir's scope tests) shows this overpriced surge protector is doing absolutely nothing conditioning wise, yet I'm hearing more dimension and dynamics with it, or, put another way, with it out of my rig, things sound flatter and a bit more compressed. But I've learned my lesson the expensive way: "Always come to this forum first before purchasing a new piece of gear..." -cheers!
 

BDWoody

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"Always come to this forum first before purchasing a new piece of gear..." -cheers!

Welcome!

My suggestion to try during this return window. Have a family member change it out at random...every few days...without you knowing or being able to see it, and see if it is clear when it is in or out.

Keep notes, and compare after a couple weeks.

Just as a reality check.

As a music major, I took a class in acoustical technology and one of the chapters in the course book was called, "Psycho Acoustics" - so I understand all that.

The brain is a tricky beast...
 

John78

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Hi, I'm just dropping by to share my experience. I also didn't want to believe that such thing can bring improvements to the system, but on the last weekend I spend a day at my neighbour audiophile and he proved me wrong. We did a long session without niagara, then he looked at me and smiled while connecting it to the system, because he knew what is going to happen and on the very first song a bigger stage struck me, also the bass sounded differently, not sure which I liked more - would need a lot of more time with it, but there definietly is a difference and you should try and listen by your own instead of just be looking on diagrams.
 

staticV3

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Hi, I'm just dropping by to share my experience. I also didn't want to believe that such thing can bring improvements to the system, but on the last weekend I spend a day at my neighbour audiophile and he proved me wrong. We did a long session without niagara, then he looked at me and smiled while connecting it to the system, because he knew what is going to happen and on the very first song a bigger stage struck me, also the bass sounded differently, not sure which I liked more - would need a lot of more time with it, but there definietly is a difference and you should try and listen by your own instead of just be looking on diagrams.
Please look up the terms "confirmation bias", "expectation bias", and "placebo". Thank you.
 

BDWoody

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then he looked at me and smiled while connecting it to the system, because he knew what is going to happen and on the very first song a bigger stage struck me,

I hope you're ok!

With all that prompting before the big switch, I'm not surprised.
 

Rottmannash

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I hope you're ok!

With all that prompting before the big switch, I'm not surprised.
Someone needs to try this scenario in reverse-tell the listener the Niagra is in the system when it's not and then put it in and tell them the system is running off the wall outlet. Be interesting wouldn't it?
 

BDWoody

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Someone needs to try this scenario in reverse-tell the listener the Niagra is in the system when it's not and then put it in and tell them the system is running off the wall outlet. Be interesting wouldn't it?

Guided listening sessions have sold a lot of gear, no doubt. So many ways to shape perception however you want.
 

Somafunk

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We did a long session without niagara, then he looked at me and smiled while connecting it to the system,

uh huh?, that would have been my cue to leave whilst maintaining eye contact and backing away slowly.
 

TrevC

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Hi, I'm just dropping by to share my experience. I also didn't want to believe that such thing can bring improvements to the system, but on the last weekend I spend a day at my neighbour audiophile and he proved me wrong. We did a long session without niagara, then he looked at me and smiled while connecting it to the system, because he knew what is going to happen and on the very first song a bigger stage struck me, also the bass sounded differently, not sure which I liked more - would need a lot of more time with it, but there definietly is a difference and you should try and listen by your own instead of just be looking on diagrams.
There's nothing worse than being struck by a big stage, but sadly, due to reality and the way stuff works, you are mistaken. The placebo effect based on belief will get people every time and that's what these charlatan companies rely on for their profits.
 

Steve Dallas

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Notice how the expensive thing always makes the system sound better, never worse or even neutral?
 

mhardy6647

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In a synchronicitous coincidence, there was just recently an interesting "issue" with not one but two individual examples of the titular AQ Niagara 1200 had by an unfortunate fellow over at the Polk audio forums.

 

Robbo99999

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In a synchronicitous coincidence, there was just recently an interesting "issue" with not one but two individual examples of the titular AQ Niagara 1200 had by an unfortunate fellow over at the Polk audio forums.

They got bigger problems if they're buying this kit! :D (Like we all know, don't buy it in the first place anyway!)
 

mhardy6647

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Well, I guess my point is that a gizmo like this is an accessory -- if it does no harm and it makes the end-purchaser happy, it's OK by me.
It's not so OK if it does harm... which leads me to wonder: how can (i.e., why would) someone (presumably deliberately; i.e., the design and performance of the conditioner is deliberate and as intended) make a power conditioner that degrades the performance of a decent-quality hifi system?
 

MacCali

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Lollllll man you guys can’t leave these dudes alone. They ain’t going away, your opinion isn’t going to change and that’s understandable. Definitely not going to change their opinion. Let them state what they want, even if he’s so wrong that his life is possibly in danger just ignore it lol

I’m not going to debate any of you on my comment. I’ve already done this on this thread, just look back and you can see my stance why this should just be neglected and I know it’s a difficult task to uptake.
 

BDWoody

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Let them state what they want, even if he’s so wrong that his life is possibly in danger just ignore it lol

This isn't really a 'smile and nod' kind of place...
 

avanti1960

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the audioquest Niagara 1200 Power Conditioner/Filter and Surge Protector together with their NRG-Z3 AC power cords. They are on kind loan from a member. The Niagara 1200 costs US $1,000 and the power cords costs US $200 in 1 meter length and $280 from Amazon including Prime shipping. So the total package tested costs US 1,480.

The Niagara 1200 comes in a very wide and sturdy package:

View attachment 144940

The main power control switch is on the side. It has a reassuring feeling when you throw it.

The outlets are all nicely spaced and tight in feel as you plug something in them:

View attachment 144941

You can see the shorter NRG-Z3 cable on top of it. It is as inflexible and unmanageable as you can imagine. The longer length is that, plus being quite heavy. This stuff better do something to justify their pain in the neck usability!

I am glad the member sent these cables as that is what they recommend for usage with this device.

Audioquest Niagara 1200 Measurements
Before we subject the device to AC, let's treat it as a black box and measure what it does to its input to produce its output. I set my Audio Precision to 1 Megahertz bandwidth and ran a sweep up to 200 kHz (won't go higher than this):

View attachment 144942

So some good news here. The filtering inside the box goes down to middle of audible band. Company brags about "linear filtering" which is their term for constant filtering regardless of frequency. We can see sign of this in the way the attenuation flattens above 100 kHz or so. To me, this design is poor in that you want maximum attenuation, not flat attenuation of noise. What good comes out of just reducing your cell phone RF radiation by 6 dB vs 30 dB??? This is not an amplifier where you listen to its output yet the company designer seems to be confused to think this the case and hence you want a flat response.

That last point is important: we don't listen to AC mains. We listen to the output of our audio device. And audio devices already have massive amount of filtering of AC to convert it to DC. That job is a lot cheaper and simpler because the voltages are very low so components are smaller and much, much cheaper. But maybe there is benefit to having both filtering. To assess this, I tested my Topping A90 pre-amplifier with a generic, thin power cord versus going through the Audioquest Niagara 1200 with its two NRG-Z3 power cords. First, the A90 used as a pre-amplifier with generic power cord:

View attachment 144943

Distortion is whopping -140 dB below our signal which is some 25 dB below threshold of hearing. Combined with noise we get a SINAD of 121 dB which is 6 dB better than our threshold of hearing (assuming playback level of 120 dB). Clearly the filtering inside this little box is doing its job. But let's hook up the 1200 using its low current outlet, first with our same generic cable going through Niagara 1200:
View attachment 144944

Other than some run to run tiny variations, the results are the same.

Now let's use Audioquest's cable going to Topping A90 from the 1200:

View attachment 144945

Clearly the cables make no difference either.

Let's pretend that we do listen to AC mains directly and see what impact there is on that signal. I use a special high-voltage differential probe for this that has a 100:1 divider. This way, its output is no longer lethal and differential nature resists picking up interference from other sources:

View attachment 144946

Looking at top right for our spectrum, we see the mains AC "tone" of 60 Hz followed by a series of harmonics. Add those together and you get about 2% THD+N which translates into a SINAD of 34 dB. I am using a bandwidth of 90 kHz to allow ample headroom above our hearing and give this device a much better chance to do something. Here is the same test but now sampling the output through the Niagara 1200:

View attachment 144947

There is some filtering at higher frequencies but because the distortion is dominated by early harmonics below 500 Hz, our THD+N essentially doesn't change. If anything other than 60 Hz is bad, then this device is doing nothing useful.

Listening Tests
I used my RME ADI-2 DAC as the source to feed the Topping A90 and then listened through Drop Ether CX headphone. Headphones are much more useful to listen for small impairments since they block external noise and you can turn them up as much as you need to hear low level detail. I first played the system using Niagara 1200 as the power source for Topping A90. I then switched to generic cord. Instantly I could tell the sound was improved with the generic cable! Not a typo. The generic cable sounded better. I then switched back to Audioquest chain and sound was worse. Perfect proof that the generic cable sounded better!

OK, not a proof of anything. :) When impairments are this small, you need to perform such tests blind and with random sequences a number of times. Otherwise you may fall victim to "second one is better" as you focus more to hear more differences and you "hear" them!

Conclusions
If you want a non-destructive surge protector, the Niagara 1200 provides that. Other than, all the other claims made by the company and its promotional videos are without foundation based on my measurements and listening test. As are such comments from reviewers posted by AQ:

View attachment 144950

Darko knows of no other thing you can do to get this level of upgrade? Seeing how there is no upgrade in sound, that is a remarkable statement! As to Herb's comment, please, let's not get our blood pressure up over fantasies.

Company claims in one of its interview videos that AC mains can "distort or mask up to 1/3 of your low level content." And that any differential probe can show it.


Well, I used a differential probe and can't find any such evidence. Even the AC distortion itself is not filtered let alone be 30%. Let's have the company show us this if it is so easy to measure and presumably, they have done so. Why keep such measurement hidden? Wouldn't sell more product?

If you want to spend $1000 on a sturdy box with surge protection, go ahead. But please don't assume it does something for your sound. It does not.

Needless to say, I can't recommend the Niagara 1000 or the RG-Z3 AC power cords.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Fantastic review.
 

JimmyJet

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Hi, I'm just dropping by to share my experience. I also didn't want to believe that such thing can bring improvements to the system, but on the last weekend I spend a day at my neighbour audiophile and he proved me wrong. We did a long session without niagara, then he looked at me and smiled while connecting it to the system, because he knew what is going to happen and on the very first song a bigger stage struck me, also the bass sounded differently, not sure which I liked more - would need a lot of more time with it, but there definietly is a difference and you should try and listen by your own instead of just be looking on diagrams.
Hi John - I definitely heard a difference, but after living with it for almost 30 days and conducting endless back & forth comparisons, I concluded that what I was hearing from this box, I did not like and sent it back for a refund.

I'd like to point out that I "accidentally" performed a blind listening test which sealed the deal for me; here's how it happened: one weekend I wore myself out comparing the power amp plugged into the wall vs plugged into the AQ1200. On my last listen of the weekend, I left it plugged into the wall (as so I thought), and turned the system off to prepare for the work week ahead. It was a busy week requiring overtime and I didn't play my stereo for four days. On Friday, I quit at a normal time and had about an hour to listen to some music before dinner. I put on an original pressing of Beatles "Hey Jude" and played the title track... it sounded awful; thin and anemic - the vocal was rather shrill and the bass was barely there. Erroneously thinking the power amp was plugged directly into the wall, I started looking around at settings on the preamp and turntable, etc. and getting really worried because I know how that song sounds on my system. After everything else appeared to be normal, I went over to the AQ, an lo and behold, my power amp was "not" plugged into the wall as I erroneously remembered, but was plugged into the AQ. I powered down everything, and plugged the power amp into the wall, and "Hey Jude" was restored to sounding like it always has on my system - basically, the opposite of what it sounded like through the AQ.

I did quite a few internet searches and found a couple of people who had the same experience I had: playing music on the more delicate side, e.g., singer/song writer with minimal accompaniment such as acoustic guitar, piano, the AQ seemed to separated out the vocal and gave a deeper sound stage, but when playing heavier, more dense music, the highs seem more stringent and the bass is anemic loosing a lot of it's foundation. Also, after doing a lot of research, I decided for a surge protector to order one from ZeroSurge - absolutely no MOVs are used and it seems they patented the technology that is leased out to others like SurgeX, etc.

Anyway, that's my journey with the AQ1200, YMMV...

--cheers!
 

Ingenieur

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I thought I'd jump in here because this thread currently applies to me. For the record let me state up front that I consider myself a practical audiophile, i.e., I just believe in good quality cables, but certainly never audiophool types of cables - all my cables, speaker and interconnects, are by Blue Jeans Cables and I just use the stock power cables that come with my gear.

I have a Dan D'Agostino Progression Stereo amp that has a 3,000 VA power supply transformer coupled to 400,000 microfarads of power supply storage capacitance. It's a true triple down amp rated at 300 Watts into 8 Ohms, 600 Watts into 4 Ohms, and 1200 watts into 2 Ohms. It's powering a pair of Magnepan 3.7i's which are rated at 4 Ohms. I have the Dan plugged directly into the wall and never worried about it because if the power goes out or it gets unplugged, it trips the built-in circuit breaker switch in the back and can't be turned back on until the switch is manually flipped back up. With this switch engaged, the amp is in standby mode, and a soft start relay switch in front turns it on. But I had a pretty big scare a couple of weeks ago, where the system was at idle and I heard a loud pop and smelled electrical ozone in the air (but no burning smell). To be honest, I can't be 100% sure it was the Dan, as the preamp and plasma tv are in close proximation, but it sure sounded like a noise the Dan would make - sort of like a much louder version of the muffled pop it makes after the relay kicks in during turn-on.

Anyway, here's the strange part, nothing tripped and all components seemed fine. I played dozens of test tracks that are bass heavy and shoot the Dan's power meters into the 400 watt range and all was normal and sounded great. I slid off the top of the Dan to do a visual inspection, and it all looked fine - no black soot anywhere, no swollen caps, no burn smell, and the large MOV soldered to the input mains still appeared shiny and new. So, I figured some sort of transient surge passed through with a bang but didn't do any damage (if that's even possible). I called my LAD and he said if it's still working not to worry and I should get an Audioquest Niagara 5000, but when he told me the price, well, that ended the call pretty quickly. So I started researching power conditioner/surge protectors and read a lot of good things about the Niagara 1200 and was at the top end of what I was willing to spend, so ordered it from Upscale Audio. While it was still in transit, I came across this thread, and to be honest, if I had read this first, I wouldn't have ordered it.

But by now, with so much controversy, a 60 day return policy, and the sinking realization that I had just purchased my first audiophool product, I was up for testing it. I plugged the Dan into the 1200's high-current outlet, and my Mac preamp into one of the more filtered low-current outlets. I started with a female vocal test track and the first thing that hit me was the soundstage now had more depth and her voice was more isolated and distinct. Also, the bass was more detailed, and in general, more separation between the instruments. So far, I've done two pairs of with/without tests using the same tracks at the same volume level. So now, I'm in a quandary after reading Amir's test report. I really wanted to be able to say, yeah, this is all b.s. and this thing is just an overpriced surge protector and planned to send it back and just buy a ZeroSurge box. As a music major, I took a class in acoustical technology and one of the chapters in the course book was called, "Psycho Acoustics" - so I understand all that. I also understand that I should not hear what hearing based on Amir's test. Last night I read Garth Powell's white paper, Power Demystified to see his explanation, and to be honest, I couldn't really follow all of it, but what was interesting was his test results using a scope (I'm wondering if @amirm could do the same tests as Garth describes in his paper to see if he gets the same result.)

So you can laugh and flame me, but I really do "think" I'm hearing something, but the point is I really do not want to hear any difference - believe me, I'd much rather drop $1295 on more LPs, SACDs, or other gear, but sheesh, I'm very conflicted right now. I'm also not saying I'm going to keep it as I am still conducting tests with a break of a day or two in between. It sincerely bothers me when the science (Amir's scope tests) shows this overpriced surge protector is doing absolutely nothing conditioning wise, yet I'm hearing more dimension and dynamics with it, or, put another way, with it out of my rig, things sound flatter and a bit more compressed. But I've learned my lesson the expensive way: "Always come to this forum first before purchasing a new piece of gear..." -cheers!
That paper is non-sense.
Look at the levels.
That will mask the music?

I feel this post is suspect. Your only 2 posts are defending the product with your subjective opinion (0 value) and AQ sales blurb (less than 0).

Lol
Here's their 'proof'
They play and record a music sample:
A is from the wall
Invert it so A + (-A) = 0 (really? lol)
What level is the noise?
Likely >-100 dB below signal
But they do not measure this, I'll explain why later.

Sample B is a 'reputable' power strip:
A as more noise than B (it has some)
A + (-B) = some noise, the difference
They are implying B has less noise and intruding or masking less. We need to see raw A noise.
It's -60 dB below A which was likely -100 to start with. So now -160 dB?

An example.
A is 80 dB, B is 79.9, less noise, lower noise floor. If noise in A was 1 dB in B it is now 'only' 0.9 dB, but the rel numbers are likely smaller and lower.

Sample C is the AQ power strip
Same as B but more noise or less lost signal.

They want to infer that the noise is sufficient in level to mask low level signal.
In a typical room dynamic range might be 70-80 dB. You will never hear the things they claim mask signal even if the claims are accurate.
 
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