Monster Power® Home Theatre Reference PowerCenter™ HTS 5000
|Monster Power® Home Theatre Reference PowerCenter™ HTS 5000|
22 October 2001
455 Valley Drive
Brisbane, CA 94005
Can a Power Conditioner Also Filter Out Audiophile Baggage?
Monster Cable occupies a strange position in the eyes of audiophiles. On one hand, Monster Cable’s Noel Lee is pretty much the grandfather of audiophile cables, having been one of the first to build a business on the one-time novel claim that cables and interconnects make a difference in a hifi system. But then there is Monster Cable’s ubiquity in mass-fi stores, as well as its penchant for using all of those trademarked product descriptions. These tendencies seem to contravene current audiophile political correctness and sensibilities. So how should the audiophile community treat a power conditioner from Monster Cable? I think you should pay close attention.
The Monster Cable’s Monster Power® Home Theatre Reference PowerCenter™ HTS 5000 was designed by Noel Lee, Richard Marsh and Damian Martin. Marsh is a contributor to The Absolute Sound, has been an audio industry innovator for more than 20 years and even has his own hot new line of highly regarded components—Marsh Electronics. Moreover, Martin is one of the founders of Spectral—which is mentioned among the best equipment at any price—and he is the designer of MIT’s highly respected (and highly priced) Z Series power conditioning gear. Could it be that Noel Lee has produced a product that can overcome audiophile preconceptions? Here’s the story…
"It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…"
"Veils were lifted…" …a blacker background." These terms have been so used and abused to describe what a power conditioner will do for a quality stereo system that they have become literary cliché in the audio press. They have lost meaning for me, and are probably the reason why I was never motivated to explore the gamut of power conditioners on the high-end market. I had heard top-notch systems produce top-notch sound, some part I am sure, due to their top-notch power conditioners. It goes without saying that I wanted to protect my equipment from power surges and spikes (hence my Dark and Stormy Night segue), but that wasn’t enough to prompt me to invest in much more than your run-of-the-mill power strip. My reasoning was simply that I would need to spend way more money to buy an effective conditioner than what I would be willing to divert from other component purchases. For kicks I eventually purchased a Vans Evers Companion for I think $29.95, but it didn’t have enough of an impact on my system to warrant any further investigation into the world of power conditioning—it just reinforced my belief that I could better spend my audiophile dollars elsewhere. However, I am a convert after getting a sample of Monster Cable’s new HTS5000.
Upon plugging in my system to the unit, the first difference I noticed was in the picture of my TV—I had the TV on before I was able to sit down and critically listen to my stereo system. I can’t claim to be a videophile, so I am not very attuned to critical differences in video quality. But I’ll be damned if the picture wasn’t noticeably sharper and more stable. "Hmmm. Maybe there is something here…" I thought.
When I finally sat down and gave the ‘5000-enhanced system a listen, I was shocked at what I heard—and didn’t hear. Phrases such as "lifting veils" and "blacker background" really don’t begin to describe it. I was previously consistently happy (i.e., complacent???) with the sound I was hearing from my system, but I just plain was never really hearing what it was capable of. When you have listened to electronic hash and haze all your life, you are conditioned to accept it. I am still not sure if I can readily point it out when it exists, but now I am damn sure I can hear when it is gone. And this is exactly what I heard with the ‘5000. The best way to summarize the HTS5000’s impact is that it was somewhere in realm of upgrading speakers. It’s pretty much accepted that a change in speakers results in the biggest change in sound you can get from your system—but if I could get this from a power conditioner, then this is some amazing praise! Literally, in almost every aspect it sounded as though I had upgraded to a couple of models up in a speaker lineup.
For example, never had my Magnepans possessed nearly the amount of detail they were putting out. I love the Magnepan sound, but I had conceded that my SMGc just did not have the airy detail that some of the bigger models do. Nor did they have the dynamics. To a greater extent, they do now. If memory serves me correctly, the SMGcs sounded much more like the highly regarded $1,500 1.6’s than the $700 SMGcs that they are. It was much easier to place musicians in their distinct acoustic space, and the textures of each sound became more dramatic. If you crave clarity as I do, you will be damn impressed with how much further you can see into a soundstage. Of course I cannot give all the glory to the Maggies. The Quad 99 preamp and 909 amplifier are two amazingly overachieving components. Their musicality can stand with almost any components on the planet, and yet they are especially adept at resolution and portrayal of detail. The ‘5000 simply allowed them to strut their stuff and impress me yet even further.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Haze?
My personal standard for clarity is Rutger Hauer’s monologue on the final track of the fabulous Blade Runner soundtrack. If you have seen the movie, you know that this is an especially moving scene, and listening to it brings back the same emotion. However, it is kind of like an Italian opera: you may not have any idea what is being sung, but it moves you nonetheless. I am still not quite sure of every word Rutger says, but much more if it is made comprehensible with the help of the ‘5000. Does this mean "veils were lifted" and the "background was blacker"? Admittedly, I guess so.
There was also much more dynamic energy flowing from the speakers. The effect was similar to the experience I had when I drove the Maggies with a powerhouse 330 watt per channel Chord SPM1200C (at roughly $8,000). Transients shot from the speaker, and it produced bass that I never thought it capable of. These are the kinds of rare situations that audiophiles live for; the change so profound…in-your-face…undeniable.
The ‘5000 is not some sort of cure-all panacea though. There are certain things it does, and others that it, well, ignores. For example, the Audio Harmony Six doesn’t add to a system’s clarity, but rather it gives the music more harmonic texture. Whereas, the ‘5000 instead allows you to more easily hear the natural harmonics recorded in the music—but only if they are there to be heard. In this sense, it is more akin to the Quad 989 ESLs (which I am now putting through their paces) and the Audio Harmony Six is more akin to the Magnepan SMGcs. The Quads call it as they see it, allowing the good, the bad and the ugly to come through clean as rain. The Maggies give everything coming through them a bit of a harmonic glow that makes everything sound a bit lusher. I guess in this sense, in a system that is already too analytical the ‘5000 wouldn’t be as much of a benefit as the Six would be. However, in my experience, rare is the system that couldn’t benefit from additional clarity. Even rarer is an audiophile who thinks his system couldn’t benefit from a little more clarity. Let alone more dynamics and bass…
There seems to be quite a bit of attention to detail and engineering behind the ‘5000. I am not an engineer, so I can only base my judgment on what I hear and what Monster’s marketing materials tell me. First of all, the ‘5000 offers 10 AC outlets, multiple coax cable and phone line filters. It also offers 2 front/convenience AC outlets, but it is unclear if they have the same filtration. In addition, there is a sophisticated system of switches in back to select which outlets you want to be switched, unswitched or timed. This feature didn’t do much for me, but I could see how people with a full A/V system would appreciate it. The ‘5000 uses "Stage 4 Clean Power" filter circuitry to filter the incoming power (incoming via a thick, but indescript Monster Cable power cord). An "IsoBarrier"™ transformer isolates digital components from analog components. There are 5 patented discrete filter sections to keep your components from interacting with one another—which is said to be an important feature. Like I said, I can only comment on the result. (But see what I mean about Monster and those hyped-up buzzwords?) As for other features, there are a few front-panel switches, a few colored status LEDs and a big analog power meter. This meter shows the voltage range above and below 120 volts. It’s a pretty cool looking round, white dial against the ‘5000’s black case. Very retro looking. It is also very McIntosh-esque; it glows Timex Indiglo blue-green and can be turned up to bright or off. (There will soon be a digital-display version hitting the market as well.) Finally, the ‘5000 carries a 2775-joule rating for its surge suppressing capabilities and $100,000 in protection for connected equipment. Its internal surge suppressors are also supposed to be longer lasting than what is typically found on the market.
So What do I get for my Audiophile Dollar?
Make no mistake; the Monster Power HTS5000 demands respect. If you are shopping for power conditioners—at almost any price point—it demands your attention. I’ve been saving the best part for last; it’s a proverbial no-brainer at is $600 list. If you have ever flirted with the idea of adding a power conditioner to your system, this could be the end of the line. The ‘5000 is built more solidly than many amplifiers I have run across—both in terms of fit-n-finish and overall heft. It is also chock full of clever engineering. I say if Monster can create an ingenious design and mass produce it at this price point due to its mass-fi economies of scale, then by all means take advantage of it!
By now I am sure you can tell that I am extremely impressed by the ‘5000’s contribution to my system. On one hand, I was thrilled, but on the other I was embarrassed that I overlooked such a simple, yet profound, improvement to my system. I tried to rationalize its price. Objectively $600 it isn’t cheap. But the impact the ‘5000 made in my system is much more than what spending $600 on other components would bring--let alone the ‘5000’s functionality and the peace of mind coming from its surge suppression capabilities. There are many power conditioners on the market, but many are much more expensive than the ‘5000. There are also a nearly infinite number of purchases you could make for $600, but I don’t think that there are many that will have the impact on your system that the ‘5000 will. If you still don’t believe me, there is the ‘5000’s less sophisticated little brother—the HTS1000. (I haven’t heard it, but the Absolute Sound seemed to think it was quite special for its under $200 list.)
The Monster Cable marquee may not have the "panache" in blueblooded audiophile circles as would the latest exotic flavor-of-the-month conditioner, but in my experience panache does not contribute a whole lot to sound quality. The ‘5000, on the other hand, does.
Very highly recommended.
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