Another unscrupulous company ripping off “audiophiles” along with over priced speaker cables and other snake oil!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:
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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:
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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):
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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.
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!
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:
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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.
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