Frank Acoustics PB-15000Ws Power Bank Storage
“Inductance is our friend”.
A motto, perhaps, that should be framed and nailed to the wall of every audiophile in the world.
Allow me to explain.
Every sound that emanates from our loudspeakers, we are really listening to our power supply. That power supply comes from the wall and into our equipment. So, the better/cleaner/purer the supply, the better/cleaner/purer our music sounds. Question: how do we get cleaner/purer/better supply? One way is by using filtering capacitors. The juice that comes direct from the wall is notorious for being unstable. Here where I live, 230V is the nominal voltage, but we often get upwards of 240V regularly, and sometimes this number spikes up to as high as 250V momentarily. My Purepower 2000 AC regenerator has a readout that shows just how unstable this supply is. The problem is that our equipment is static and doesn’t adjust to the fluctuating supply. So for example, a circuit designed with 230V in mind, will not always see 230V. Spikes and other supply fluctuations stress the components in the circuit thereby shortening their lifespan, as well as having deleterious effect on the final sound that is produced. That’s the reason why many power conditioners work, some to a greater extent than others. They all function on the same principle of cleaning up the wall supply to give your system a fighting chance of performing as well as its designer originally intended.
So how is inductance our friend?
Filtering capacitors that filter out the ripples in the current supplied, rely on the principle of inductance to carry out their job. Without inductance, modern hifi would not have developed into the hobby that we all now know and love. Without inductance, we would still be in the dark ages of sound reproduction, listening to wax cylinders on a wind-up gramophone. Without inductance, we audiophiles may be collecting stamps or feeding one-armed bandits instead. Without inductance…you get the point, and will no doubt agree that we have much to be thankful for. And while there are multifarious power products now out in the market, Frank Voon has carved a special niche for himself in the South East Asian market with his one-of-a-kind power products that are based less on voodoo than on a solid, insightful understanding of electronics and electricity, especially… you guessed it “inductance”.
When I met him a few months ago, Frank struck me as an easy-going, low-key type of guy whose humility belied his long history of manufacturing hifi components. Starting in 1998 with his own very well-received phono stage, the Pipit, his objective was to reproduce the output of the phono cartridge in as neutral and faithful a manner as possible. He had no shortage of customers who eagerly volunteered their services as beta-testers, and after a while he even began helping his customers improve and tune their systems onsite for maximum potential. It was then that he got his first idea to create a power conditioning product, christened the “M5HZ”. This was essentially a 50Hz frequency generator, but instead of feeding that output directly to equipment, the newly-generated 50Hz was superimposed onto the incoming raw AC to produce a different power source, sort of like a negative feedback loop in sonic circuits. This product was later discontinued. The Power Bank 15000Ws under review now (herein after PB), on the other hand, was conceived based on the industrial strength UPS devices used in national power generators. Perhaps it best to let Frank’s own explanation do the talking: “The Frank Power Bank Storage component is a proprietary design which utilizes an LED Passive Half Wave power generator for maintaining its charged cores in the two units of reactance-type low loss autotransformers. From cold, it takes between 5 to 6 hours to charge up. Once charged, the pair of custom-wound Reactance Autotransformer will behave very similarly to a power bank storage which can discharge or absorb excess voltages beyond 240V AC single phase or 440V on a dual AC phase in under a nanosecond. The autotransformer design stems from its original purpose in UPS conditioners utilized on national electrical grids. Frank Acoustic has modified this system using a proprietary system for domestic abodes. The FPBS component is essentially a scaled down version of this unique system for maintaining AC power to your system.”
An autotransformer, for those keen to know, is a transformer whose primary and secondary share a single winding. An advantage of using an autotransformer (or autoformer) as opposed to the usual two-core transformers is for size savings. For a transformation ratio of 20, space savings could be a staggering 95%, thus enabling more capacity to be housed in the same enclosure.
The PB is actually a black box the size of a power amplifier, complete with Audio Research-type carrying handles and serious-looking heat sinks on the sides. There are no switches on the PB barring a single on-off rocker switch at the back of the unit, and a green LED at the front panel to indicate operation. Frank suggests that you leave it permanently turned on because once fully discharged, the PB takes a full 5 to 6 hours to re-charge.
There are 2 ways to install a Frank Power Bank. One way is to have its umbilical terminated in a wall plug of your choice, and then plugging that into a spare power outlet in the same circuit as the equipment(s) you wish to condition. The other way, preferred by Frank, is to install the PB directly to the power distribution box which feeds the audio equipment. However, unless you are very handy with electrical installations, or a certified electrical technician, leave it to the professionals. After the PB was delivered to my place, Frank came over with his assistant and installed it within 2 hours. Even when fully charged, the PB runs cool to the touch and still does today, despite months of being constantly on.
While Frank does not like to brag about his products, preferring them to speak for themselves performance-wise, he did give me a layman’s explanation of how the PB works. In summary, the PB generates what he calls a “reservoir” of back-up current, which is stored in the autoformers through inductance (our old friend!). This reservoir is drawn upon when the demands peak momentarily, and the wall supply is unable to cope. Similarly, it is also called into action when the voltage dips due to a sudden surge in usage demand within the grid. So, rather than trying to regenerate a brand new supply, it helps out whenever it is needed, and its response time is lightning fast, under a nanosecond. Okay, for reference, a blink usually takes 300 to 400 milliseconds. A millisecond is a thousandth of a second. A nanosecond is a billionth of a second. So if my math is correct, the PB acts at least 300 million times faster than you can blink.
Some readers may recall a product called the Richard Gray Power Station back in the early nineties (and the brouhaha caused by its reviews). The difference between the RGPS and the PB, according to Frank, is that the RGPS acted mainly as a choke. A choke is also a device that makes use of inductance, to block out unwanted high frequency AC artifacts. Also, users of the RGPS would plug it into the wall, and their equipment would be connected to the RGPS to supply the juice. The PB design is less invasive and less of a brute force approach.
At first I entitled this section “Sound Quality” but it seemed slightly inappropriate to attribute a “sound” to a piece of equipment like the PB which is not even plugged into the system proper in any manner. Far from being just a matter of semantics, avoiding saying that a power conditioner has a sound helps to remind audiophiles that everyone’s mileage will vary. All this review purports to do is to record down my impressions of what this device does in my particular system, in my room and in my apartment.
With that caveat done away with, I want to say that the PB has a definite audible effect on my music. It's not one of those differences that you need to pick apart with a microscope. I hear it all the time, with every LP I play.
Prior to installing the PB, I was hearing a definite upper limit to the volume my system can go before things got grainy, thin and overly bright. Unfortunately, that limit came way too early for me to enjoy my LPs at the level which I consider “live”, and which helps me to recreate the illusion of live musicians playing in front of me. There is only a very narrow volume band in which this elusive illusion can be created, and I noticed that within this band, the music would often distort during the loud passages. I put that down either to tracking issues or my tubed monoblocks (240W per channel single-ended) being unable to cope with the extreme demands of the performance. While I learnt to accept this limitation, I was never perfectly happy with the status quo. My previous solid state system, with a muscular heart of at least 500W (at one time, no less than 1kW of Icepower at 8 Ohms courtesy of a Jeff Rowland Model 8) per channel never gave me the slightest hint that it was running out of steam, allowing the most breathtaking of crescendos and orchestral tuttis. That kind of headroom allowed even intimate singer-piano ballads to blossom, encouraging low level detail such as ambience and harmonics to develop fully. Lack of dynamic headroom can show up even in a single touch of a piano key: most people forget that the piano is actually a percussion instrument. Which means that when a real piano is being played, one hears the sound of a hammer hitting a vibrating material, in this case a steel string. That moment of impact, amplified by the wooden soundboard, followed by the vibration of the string at its loudest (with sympathetic resonances from other strings), then slowly fading away, is THE supreme test of a system’s fidelity. You really don’t need Kodo drums or Harry James’ big band playing at full tilt to test for dynamics. If it doesn’t pass the one-piano-key test, if it sounds plasticky and makes the sound board like cardboard, the system is not dynamic enough. Period.
So understandably, my cost-is-an-object system did not reproduce the piano well enough for me to think I’m listening to the real thing. After Frank installed the PB15000 though, things changed. Suddenly, I found myself digging out solo piano recordings one after another. Alkan, Sorabji, Messiaen, Debussy, Penderecki, you name it. I was reveling in the singing tones of Steinways, the thundering low registers of Baldwins, and the weighty midrange of Bosendorfers. The PB seemed to add another 100W of muscle to my amplifiers, but not at the expense of delicacy or finesse. Many powerful amplifiers sound impressive at first, but prolonged listening reveals that they are just powering through the music with very little refinement. What we really want is power with grace. If I were to use a car analogy, then the PB would be like driving a BMW twin turbo 8-cylinder; smooth and responsive at lower speeds, but you know you have more than adequate grunt in reserve when the situation demands. The PB makes for lots of genuine thrills and spills, but never making one feel beat-up or shortchanged at the end, like a badly-designed rollercoaster ride.
I don’t want to give the impression that the PB only benefits piano music. That would be a gross understatement. It serves all kinds of music, from rock to jazz to even Chinese classical. What really impresses about the PB is how the loudest, highest passages have now become pure and stable, particularly evident with difficult-to-reproduce sounds such as cymbal splashes and soprano vocals. A good example is Holst’s “A Dream-City” (Hyperion A66099) a cycle of 10 songs arranged by Christopher Hogwood with the City of London Sinfonia conducted by Richard Hickox. While the topmost range of Felicity Palmer’s voice still sounds emaciated and slightly rough as befits early digital recordings, I can now confidently identify it as a recording issue rather than a system issue. That’s because in other soprano recordings, such as Schoenberg’s Erwartung sung by Anja Silja (DECCA 591057), the entire range of her powerful soprano is now reproduced in full. Acoustic brass from Brian Ferneyhough’s “Transit” on the Headline label from Decca (HEAD 18), played by the London Sinfonietta (who else?) under the direction of Elgar Howarth, rasps confidently and with such natural body and bloom that you can close your eyes and easily imagine the instruments lined up before you. Particularly problematic discs such as the overlapping strains of L. Subramaniam’s amplified Barry Barcus violin over the heavy-handed echo in his “Electric Modes: Winter Sessions” (Water Lily Acoustics WLA-CS-04) are now much more easily disentangled instead of just being electric mud, and I’m not talking about Muddy Waters.
Last but definitely not least, I must note the way the PB affected the soundstage. Whereas pre-PB that stage was more like a triangle, with two corners at each speaker position and the third somewhere behind the drivers’ plane in front of the listener, what I am hearing post-PB is a more expanded stage in which the triangle has become a rectangle. The spaces behind the speakers have extended directly back. I can clearly hear instruments and sonic detail coming from that part of the stage now, and that’s particularly apparent with symphonic music. On the left would be massed strings with greater depth, ambience and detail, and on the right, more layered trumpets, brass and double basses. If you are a classical music aficionado, you owe it to yourself to hear your system with the PB.
I’ll be the first to admit that US $3,600 isn't chump change. Figure in the cost of having someone to install it for you, and shipping from Malaysia (there are no dealers in US or anywhere outside of Malaysia at the moment) you will be looking at something over $4k. Is the PB worth this amount of money? To me the answer is… definitely.
In the end, if you like the effects of Frank Voon’s unique creation, there is no other substitute for it. For there is simply no other product on the market, anywhere in the world, that does what it does in the way it does it. Suffice it to say that I really find the PB15000Ws an indispensable addition to my arsenal of system tuning tools, and I would not be surprised that the addition of a second, or even a third unit, would give further benefit, as other audiophiles in Frank’s hometown of Malaysia have attested to. I wish I had more time and more units with which to complete this review, but as it is, Frank’s single PB15000Ws has already more than earned a permanent place in my system.
Power Bank PB-15000Ws
100VAC - 440VAC 50/60Hz
AC Current Capacity:
Input/Output Loop true MCB 10kA 20-32 Amps RMS
Dual core low loss autotransformer
AC Voltage Regulation:
Transient Voltage Surge Suppression:
550 V peak clamping & 1000V (Option)
Cool running, noise free technology allows placement in critical listening environments
190mm H x 480mm W x 400mm D