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Now that we’ve waded through the somewhat academic preview of the concept let’s look at the actual products. There are two paths to Equi=Tech. First are free standing or rack-mounted units available in Model Q and Son of Q versions. The primary difference is that the Q series uses a far more expensive and higher-quality transformer with extra manufacturing steps designed to reduce output asymmetry. The core material in the Q uses what Martin describes as "the industry's finest quality grain-oriented silicon steel [and] more than twice as much of it as required for the power rating of the transformer." The Son of Q uses a more conventional nickel/steel alloy core with less magnetic flux capacity. Like its big brother the Son of Q transformer is overbuilt with approximately 1.7 times the required mass for its power rating.

Visually these free-standing units look externally similar to conventional power conditioners. With power capabilities from 1KVA to 10KVA you plug these into standard wall power and they deliver balanced power to a series of outlets in the rear. As an installation note the higher power units (3KVA and up) require a 240V input and requisite outlet. The other delivery option and the one under review is the Wall Cabinet Distribution System offered in five models delivering 50, 75, 100, 150 or 200 amperes. The unit in my system is the 10WQ fed from a 50A/240V input delivering 10 circuits of 120V balanced power. Externally it appears to be a large industrial breaker cabinet. Inside there are 10 double pole breakers and 10 GFCI ground-fault circuit interruptors, one for each circuit. The installation was handled as part of my new house construction by a certified electrical contractor. At 327 pounds the project required several strong men. For this and a variety of other reasons this is no DIY project.

So what's inside this monster?
The 10WQ system is built around the same Q transformer as the free-standing model scaled up to meet the power demands of a full distribution system. It’s big, really big, fifteen inches in diameter and about six inches thick. The transformer is the heart of the design and uses a patented bifilar winding. The Q transformer "is preferred because it is the most effective and precise means of providing the most accurately balanced output from a transformer. Not only is the voltage potential on the output perfectly balanced but the inductance, resistance and capacitance of the output are also precisely balanced."

The Q transformer is claimed to shed its magnetic properties faster than anything did previously. When you're dealing with AC you do not want anything that retains magnetism, impedance or resistance. You want instantaneous response. With its more efficient core material the Q was designed for critical high-end applications where cost is no object. While toroidal transformers are inherently efficient, their relatively lighter-weight cores tend to saturate quickly when first switched on due to inrush current. This potentially trips circuit breakers. My original Furman and other manufacturers handle this with soft-start circuits. While not denigrating his competitors, Martin believes this to be another band-aid solution. Equi=Tech’s overbuilt transformer, its increased mass, core design and windings allow the Q to handle startup current passively without any soft-start circuits and therefore with greater reliability.

Remember that the key to balanced power is symmetry. Under load the Equi=Tech bifilar wound transformers offer near perfect mirror image symmetry, providing extremely wide-bandwidth noise attenuation and a claimed 6dB greater noise reduction than competitors. Martin’s white papers provide a description of the bifilar winding that I present here unedited for those more technically inclined:

"When a transformer's output (secondary coil) is bifilar wound, a pair of wires are applied during the winding process that are in very close proximity and parallel to each other over the entire length of the secondary (output) coil. Though physically parallel the wires are connected together in series. One wire at one end of the coil is connected to the other wire at the other end of the coil. This termination point is the output center tap. The remaining wires at both ends of the coil are terminated separately. Across these two terminals is the line-to-line output voltage potential of the transformer. The voltage applied to a load originates exclusively from these two terminals."

There is a lot of copper in these transformers. I suspect that the transformer alone weighs 250lbs. The more copper the more control over the steel core. The more steel and the more copper you put in, the more tightly regulated and stable the transformer will be. You can also draw far more amps from a 50lb core than a 5lb core before draining. Martin’s goal was to obtain a linear magnetic current transfer hysteresis curve. "We want the current to be just as in phase to the primary at a high level as it is at a lower level [and] by doing that we are able to create a transfer that has virtually instantaneous or very fast current response. The end result is a transformer that delivers current on demand to the amplifier."

While there are many disagreements in our little audio world, the mixing of high-power amps with external power conditioners generally elicits a consensus. Let’s touch on some beliefs concerning high-current devices used with external transformers such as:

  • You can never plug high-power amplifiers into power filters or external transformers.
  • Transformers cannot handle high current spikes.
  • The instantaneous power requirements of large amps will saturate the core of transformers.
  • With large amps the current restrictions of external transformers will squash and compress the bass and kill the soundstage.
In conversation Martin spent considerable time exploding these myths with an unqualified assurance that his balanced power systems provide 'unrestricted current'. He is fanatical and talks in absolutes stating that with Equi=Tech power it is impossible to detect current sag and impossible to drive his transformers into saturation. Further at 100 amps the 10WQ was designed for essentially unlimited current with respect to any equipment we might throw at it.

When I asked Martin about competing technologies he chose his words carefully. Some like those using an "electronic flywheel" approach he clearly dismissed. While others offer varying degrees of noise reduction, none treat the problem at its core. While some inverters and generators might have inherent symmetry, when placed under load due to their higher line impedance to ground their noise attenuation will be significantly less than balanced power. The term 'under load' is specifically relevant to the real world performance. Equi=Tech’s contention is that the majority of harmful power noise comes from local equipment. Therefore a static lab test of a power system is non-representative. "We are dealing with the real world where components are typically turned on and put into operation. Even the cleanest power furnished to electronic components becomes degraded the instant component power switches are turned on since the components themselves are a primary cause of 'dirty power'." 

It all goes back to the transformer. With the wall distribution system all you see is inside – a massive transformer with breakers and CGIFs. There are no circuit boards, capacitors or inductors, just a single massive transformer located in a compartment below the circuit breakers. If you want semiconductors or soft-start relays look elsewhere. There are no active components to break or degrade. With 97% efficiency the unit generates very little heat. As for spikes, Equi=Tech uses both magnetic and Faraday shielding for protection from stray fields, noise and voltage spikes.

Mil spec 99.97 oxygen-free copper wire appears in the Model Q freestanding shelf units and is an option for the wall-mounted distribution centers. Claimed to reduce micro-current distortion to increase bandwidth noise attenuation it’s the same oxygen-free copper as used in the F-18 hornet cockpit. Martin claims if it's good enough for the Navy, it's good enough for him. Martin was somewhat ambivalent when pressed about his EMI/FRI filter options. Essentially they take over where the transformer leaves off and reduce line noise by -30dB from 100kHz up to 2GHz. Yet he does not fully endorse their use. The problem is that they require small blocking caps with the concern that they might fail or leak at some point. When you go to the almost fanatical lengths for perfect balance you don’t want anything to potentially compromise it. His recommendation is to only order that option if you have a known problem with EMI or RF. Otherwise the standard system is sufficient. All of these minimal guts are packaged in a sturdy NEMA 12-steel cabinet with an industrial-duty AC distribution panel board in your choice of black or gray.

Real world audio problems
Now we get to the nitty gritty and how balanced power interacts with our audio components. The very nature of analog hifi combines low-level signals and high-gain circuitry, producing the greatest potential for possible signal damage due to noise. Vinyl has some unique problems. When you begin with cartridge outputs of .5mV, even the smallest noise, hum or distortion compromises the signal and gets amplified right along with the music. Even with higher-level line equipment we suffer hum and ground loops. I don't know anybody in this hobby long term who has not encountered it. I sure have. A pair of 75i Tenor OTL amps had amazing sound but in combination with my other equipment were noisy enough to pull out my hair. I tried everything - shields, single-point grounding, placing all equipment on one line and ultimately settling on the evil and dangerous ground lift. Hum is insidious since once noise is introduced it becomes a physical part of the signal. You start off with pristine music but end up with something less. You’ve masked and destroyed fine detail.