Least Expensive Power Conditioner/Surge Protector That Won't Worsen Sound

I have an old Shunyata Hydra 6 that I'm sending off to Shunyata to repair. In the meantime, I'm curious - What's the least expensive power conditioner/surge protector that won't worsen the sound? 


I've already discovered that plugging my integrated directly into the wall sounds the best. But I have source components. I have liked the Shunyata, but just in case they're not able to get it back to like new shape, what are your thoughts? (I tried numerous PLCs at the time I bought it almost 20 years ago and I thought it, by far, sounded better than any other one I auditioned in my system, and that included the Hydra 8).


I see many users who have reported worsening sound when using the Audioquest PQ2 and PQ3.


Something like a Panamax PM 5300 or 5400?  Or the Furman Elite 15?


And what is the danger of under-voltage?


Probably more than you wish to spend, but I have had very good experiences (both audio and video) with this IsoTek power bar:

EVO3 Sirius

I bought it for around $500 used.

Panamax and Furman are owned by the same conglomerate now, so they share a lot of features.  I go with LiFT and SMP from either.

How dangerous undervoltage really depends on the connected equipment.  IMHO however it's more useful because an undervoltage is many times followed quickly by a power surge. Here in SC I've had undervoltage trip twice last year.  Once during a thunderstorm and another time during a wind storm. It's best to let your gear shutdown than to attempt to continue to function when these events happen.

Interesting. The Panamax models seem to have an internal device that shuts off the power when there is under- or over-voltage, distinct from the feature on higher level models that work to maintain voltage when those things occur. Of course, severe spikes will shut down the power completely. 


Unless I'm reading it incorrectly, it looks like Panamax uses sacrificial circuits whereas Furman uses non-sacrificial circuits.

"Here in SC I've had undervoltage trip twice last year.  Once during a thunderstorm and another time during a wind storm. "

You haven't seen a thunderstorm until you've seen a South Carolina thunderstorm!

No such thing for amps.  I like Tripp lite protectors and whole house for low current devices (basically everything else). 


You can buy a used Shunyata Hydra (first generation Hydra 2 or 4) for $500.00 or so.

I use a Panamax for my HT and they’re good and priced right. They even have one plug that is for high-current amps. I use an audiophile grade basic power strip for my music system.

Don't know what your price range is, but I use a SurgeX sa-1810 and hear no sound degradation.  Been through many lightning storms here in FL and no damage to any components.  It isn't as pretty as the others, but it's  A-1-1 Certified - the U.S. Government's highest classification for surge protection.  No sacrificial MOV circuitry.

Here, 'A' means the product suppressed 1000 worst-case surges (6kV at up to 3kA) without performance degradation, the first '1' corresponds to the 330V protection rating class, and the second '1' means no ground contamination – no surge current dumped to ground.

Put together, A-1-1 represents the best power line surge protection certifiable under ANSI/UL 1449-rev3.

The rating that counts with SurgeX surge protectors is the one thousand 6000v surges it withstands to be "A" rated. Unlike standard surge protectors SurgeX surge protectors don't wear out due to repeated surges. 

I've had good luck with Audioquest Niagara.  Tried many over the years (a few mentioned above . . . ) and my latest move further into a rural area has me contending with power issues 'big time'.  This unit has successfully handled them 'and' its one of very few units that doesn't affect the sound.  Had some pretty pricey products mentioned above not cut it in that sound department.

Ah yes, as erik mentions above . . . I still rigidly decouple the entire deal from energized during lightning storms.  But my power issues were interstingly enough not to do with electrical storms so much as reductions in power followed by surges.  That Audioquest seems to handle them in that no damage.  That didn't happen when I first moved into this place with no protection and I had a $$ Plinius repair bill to deal with.

Brick wall out of PA for $300, matched several-line conditioners in the $1500 

range andSterphile used to have it in class-B  which is respectable ,I bought 2 and find them pretty effective ,I upgraded mine by upgrading  several internal capacitors 

and installed a Furutech power cord to make it better still , most everything can be bettered if you look inside it ,whst most Audiophiles don’t realize is Thst on average 25% of the-cost goes into the build ,the rest R&D  overhead,and dealer mark up.

If they are doing it right, parts are marked up 5 times in manufacturing. The other costs you mentioned should be marked up 3 times, including labor. Then, that price is doubled twice before the point of purchase. The margins in audio are what makes it all go round. 

I avoid using the AQ Niagra high current outputs and now plug my amps directly into the wall socket- Proves to be sonically inferior through the AQ Niagra

To me this unit was a total waste of money .

Furman Elite 15PFIs - good units, and you can find these used at good prices at Audiogon, US Audiomart, and HiFi Shark.

+1 Brick Wall (same design as ZeroSurge). I own the 8 outlet unit for use with source components, noise-floor is greatly lowered. Circuit breaker, RFI/EMI filtering, series-mode, no MOVs 

However, this conditioner/surge protection will limit current to amps. 

Mr Carpathian,  I beg to differ.  Here in Iowa we have 140mph Derechos.  Took out 70,000 or more trees in Cedar Rapids alone.  South is getting lots of storms this spring.  Good luck and enjoy the music.

There were some good comments from atmosphere(Ralph) about what power conditioners need to do and not do recently.

AudioQuest Powerquest 2  at Audio Advisor  $200....Really sweet. Better than my $600 PS  Audio.

I suggest a Furman PST-8D. Been using one for a year without any issues in a headphone system. Didn't have a long/tumultuous break in like other power conditioners, while it also had a smaller effect on sound. I don't know how it compares to its AudioQuest competitors at its price.

The first sentence of you second paragraph is the reality of it, the rest had to deal with insecurity.

@buddyboy1, +1 on the AudioQuest PowerQuest 2. I used one for over a year before I got an AQ Niagara 1200 power conditioner, and I still have it. 

What's the least expensive power conditioner/surge protector that won't worsen the sound? 

It sounds like you're hoping to get the Shunyata back. I agree with your thinking, find something for the mean time, then go back to the Shunyata or replace it.

I haven't used audiophile conditioners. You can get medical grade used isolation transformers from ebay, or you can find a ups that takes in AC, converts it to DC, then inverts it back to AC. I think that this is increasingly common. They used to send the AC right to the output, and would tap off of it to charge the battery. If power dropped, a relay would drop and switch the output to the battery powered inverter. Electronics running at slower frequencies, older computers and such, would run fine during the transition, but today's gear will often shut down, so the ups' commonly run off the battery constantly, but check to be sure. They can be had for a few hundred dollars. It needs to be able to supply sufficient current to run for amp at full power though.

Yes, @lowrider57, that's my hope.

I think it's generally been in agreement that for power and integrated amps, the sound is best when plugged directly into the wall. Whether that's smart for the ultimate health of the piece of equipment may be another argument. Is it worth the gamble?


My question, though,  is more related to the use of a PLC with non-power amp equipment. Ostensibly, a PLC cleans the electricity of noise, and some units may help provide consistent voltage. My question is whether some units/designs might actually worsen the sound from source equipment. Theoretically, reducing noise in the electricity would improve blackness of background, exposing finer detail, as well as improve dynamics. Might it also color (or discolor) the sound in some way, i.e., brighten, gray, dull, or flatten the 3-dimensionality of the sound?


Again, I'm just asking about source equipment, including phono preamplifiers.


If not, is the spending money on the better PLCs mainly for the purpose of better protection and being able to use them with power amps?


I was looking at a Panamax provided chart of their PLCs, and saw that their models reduce noise anywhere from 50dB to 80 dB depending on model. Okay, I can potentially understand the benefits of greater noise reduction, but are there other factors which contribute to how well a PLC will affect the sound?


I've only had the Panamax m5400-pm for a couple of days. I imagine that it will need a break-in period, as most equipment seems to need. But compared to the obviously well-broken in Shunyata Research Hydra 6 (which is on its way back to the factory for refreshing), individual instruments and voices are not as well individually defined in space. They're a bit muddled together. The Pathos Classic Remax integrated, which is plugged into the wall,  that I have been auditioning, renders a terrific sense of air and space, and well as individual definition. I'm missing that having swapped the Hydra 6 out for the Panamax.


Hello!  For most of my life, I’ve been involved in the medical imaging (think x-ray, CT, MRI, etc.) world…first as a user/operator, now in sales.  One thing I learned from being in those environments is that Tripp-Lite makes a damn fine, no non-sense product; a lot of imaging systems came with their stuff to protect computer consoles, servers, etc.  

I’ve been using a Tripp-Lite LCR2400 for the past 7 years and have been very happy with it.  It provides voltage regulation, monitoring and line protection…nothing more, nothing less.  I haven’t noticed any sound difference between having it in my system versus direct into the outlets (a good thing!), but feel much better knowing it’s there protection-wise.  It gets great reviews, is pretty much bullet-proof and just plain does what it’s supposed to.  The other thing going for it is it’s very cost effective…I bought mine from Office Depot for under $400.  

Only negative for me is that this unit is known to have a very faint buzz to it…in a totally quiet room, you can barely hear it, but it is there.  Obviously, once the music plays, one doesn’t hear it.

If I ever get the itch, I may get a true-audiophile unit from Shunyata, PS Audio, AudioQuest, etc…but, really, the Tripp-Lite meets my needs perfectly.


Good luck…Happy listening!



My question is whether some units/designs might actually worsen the sound from source equipment. Theoretically, reducing noise in the electricity would improve blackness of background, exposing finer detail, as well as improve dynamics. Might it also color (or discolor) the sound in some way, i.e., brighten, gray, dull, or flatten the 3-dimensionality of the sound?

Again, I'm just asking about source equipment, including phono preamplifiers.

@analogj , your question has merit. I've tried a couple passive conditioners for my sources that coloured the sound: eg, added warmth instead of remaining neutral, restricted dynamics, removed that sense of "air" and sense of space. They lowered the noise-floor, but at too great a cost.

These were name-brand products, but used too much filtering which affected sonics. I found many more conditioners at the same price-point which used different technology to achieve better results. I now use balanced power for the majority of my sources and a Brick Wall for a couple digital devices.


@buddyboy1, oh god yes, I immediately noticed an improvement in sound quality when I got on board the Garth Powell from AudioQuest’s clean power train. Powell designs all of the power conditioners and higher end power cables at AudioQuest. I noticed a much crisper and more clear sound from my system, with a much blacker sonic floor and greater detail and instrument separation in the music that I listen to. I use an AudioQuest Thunder power cable to go from the Niagara to the wall socket. Honestly if I had more money I would’ve spent at least twice as much on the power cable and conditioner because I feel that they quantitatively improved the SQ in my setup by at least 20%. 

@adasdad How was the PQ2, and what was the SQ leap from that to the Niagara? Both are designed by Garth, right? I've read mixed things thus far about the PQ2 and PQ3 in terms of sound.  

@analogj, the PowerQuest2 to my understanding was not designed by Garth Powell. For me it acted as a really good surge protector with some adequate noise filtering that made it a much better choice for an audio or home entertainment system than your average hardware store power strips. There really is no comparing it to the AQ Niagara series of power conditioners because the Niagara’s are audiophile grade units for dedicated hifi systems. The price of the PQ2 makes it a good place to start as you build your system or if you just want to have piece of mind protecting your audio gear. 


I took erik_squires advice earlier this year and got a Furman unit with LiFT and SMP. No degradation of sound, in fact the sound improved.

Does anyone know the difference between the Audioquest Niagara 1200 @ $999 and the LOW-Z version @ $1299

@adasdad ...you probably know the answer to that question....I'm interested in upgrading from the   PQ2

U.K. produced Puritan PSM156, it works and is much better value than anything else.

For a few hundred dollars less than the Puritan PSM156 is the PSM136 - which also works wonderfully.  I doubt you'll go wrong with either model.

@adasdad But I'm wondering if you could elaborate as to what you heard regarding the difference between the two. I understand how they're marketed, but in terms of rubber meeting the road, what differences did you hear, if you articulate them.


By the way,  I thought I read that Garth did design the PQ2 and 3 as well. 


I can say this much that thus far, after a few days, that the images, running through the Panamax m5400-pm, are clearly less juicy. This may improve with break-in. I wouldn't be happy if it stayed at this sound quality.

@buddyboy1, to my understanding there is no difference structurally between the old Niagara 1200 and what is on the AudioQuest website now other than AudioQuest having raised its prices this year. 


@analogj, I appreciate the question. To give you a short answer there isn’t anything or difference that you’re going to be able to hear because a good power cord and conditioner doesn’t add anything. All it does is take away RFI and EMI that will hinder your ability to enjoy recorded music. Here’s a link to a short YouTube video where Garth Powell explains the necessity of having a good power cable. Just search Garth Powell AudioQuest and he’s got several very in-depth and detailed videos where he explains much better than I can the science behind how he designs power conditioners and cables for AudioQuest. 


@adasdad So what you/he are suggesting that only the power cord affects the sound quality? I can absolutely attest to that power cords can vastly improve the sound of a piece of equipment. But is the grayness of the tonal color I'm hearing using the Panamax only related to the power cord I'm using? I'm unable to use the Panamax with the Shunyata Python Alpha cord I use with the Hydra. The receptacle in the back of the PM is too small for the Python Alpha cord.

it probably makes sense to try (take for a couple of days) something from Furman products ... or find a studio isolation transformer

I'm learning.

I realize that the Python Alpha power cord I've been using with the Hydra 6 has a c19 female connector. Other than Shunyata, what other brands of power conditioners use that style of connector so I can use the Shunyata cord, if needed be?

I use a Furman power strip RF / voltage limiter with a Tripplight isolation transformer / voltage regulating power filter.  When compensating for low or high voltage gas never affected the sound. 

Another vote for the puritan 156 here.  Better than an Audioquest Niagara 3000 with Hurricane cable