August 18, 2009

Dynamic Duo - Richard Gray's RGPC SubStation + RGPC 400 Pro

These Richard Gray products confirmed in no uncertain term for me that clean electricity supply was paramount for getting good sound from our hifi.

Since I had to unplug every thing from my Shunyata Hydra 8 in order to re-route them to the Richard Gray, I decided to just do a comparison - whether my Pass Labs monoblocks sound better with a power line conditioner or plugged directly to the wall.

20 minutes later, I had to unplugged them from the wall socket. The sound quality was much better with them getting their juice from either the Shunyata Hydra 8 or the Richard Gray Substation. Plugging them to the wall gave a sound that was grainy, edgy and pinched. The sound also went slightly whitish. The sound was also not appreciably more dynamic, thus giving no evidence that their current was strangled before. I got much less enjoyment listening to music and lost interest quickly.

The IsoGray system - RGPC 400 Pro (left) and the RGPC SubStation (right)

Richard Gray called the combo evaluated here the "IsoGray" system. It consisted of a RGPC SubStation and a RGPC 400 Pro.

The idea behind the SubStation was similar to the Torus RM8A that impressed me so much recently and was now used by Big E in his system. Under the SubStation's skin was basically a massive isolation transformer that output balanced, clean power to your equipment. The SubStation was heavy (70lb/32kg), but possible to be moved around by 1 person. Moving the Torus for more than a few steps, on the other hand, was a 2-person job. You do get a bigger chunk of metal based on what you pay - the SubStation's list price was RM13k while the Torus was last known to list for RM18k. The SubStation's benefits included total isolation, surge suppression and ground loop removal. Interestingly, the SubStation came with its captive power cord for the wall, thus saving you some dosh from having to acquire an aftermarket power cord.

The RGPC SubStation - note the captive power cord and the main power switch at the left side below the top plate

The 400 Pro, on the other hand, used a choke that ran in parallel to the AC line. Richard Gray said that it could eliminate AC line noise, surges and spikes with no limiting of current. The 400 Pro weighed 30lbs and listed for slightly below RM5k.

RGPC 400 Pro

Richard Gray recommended that the 2 products be daisy chained together - the SubStation plugged into the wall socket, and the 400 Pro went into one of the SubStations' 4 outlets. This configuration was called the 'IsoGray' System. Components that have high current draw, such as amplifiers, were to be plugged directly into the SubStation, while the frontends and pre-amp should go into the 400 Pro.

And that was how I set it up - the monoblocks went into the SubStation and the CD player and pre-amp went into the 400 Pro.

The IsoGray system sounded pretty fine straight out of the box, I could really sense a 'cleanness' in the sound, especially compared to having the monoblocks plugged into the wall. However, the sound quality fluctuated over the next few days, showing a certain stridency. Then the quality picked up again and stabilized.

The SubStation got out of my system for a couple of weeks as CMY, the local distributor, needed it for the KLIAV show. When it came back, I did not hear appreciable quality shift anymore.

Thus installed, the IsoGray system was excellent in lowering the noise floor, each instrument and voice was portrayed on a starkly black background. Subtleties in the music were preserved, in fact I could discern more low level details from the music. Take for example the opening of the track "You don't have to say you love me" on Shelby Lynne's CD, "Just a little lovin' " (Lost Highway 0602517448254), I was certainly impressed by Lynne's voice - out of darkness, her voice emerged, surrounded by air and illumination, then you hear the echo, finally each phrase subsided with a smooth decay into darkness again. Cool, I never heard this so clearly conveyed before in my system.

Overall, the IsoGray system conveyed a robust, big-hearted and powerful sound. It did not veer towards the refinement of the Torus and, to a lesser extent, that of the Shunyata Hydra. But this is not a criticism, it was just a different take. I think real sound was not always smooth, and the texture that the IsoGray conveyed was probably more truthful and natural. One thing was sure, do not expect the Richard Gray duo to polish up your sound for you.

Highs with IsoGray were clear, clean and extended, it was definitely not dark, nor did it stand out at the expense of the other spectrums. One could hear lots of details in cymbal and high hats, for example. The mids was poised and mature, again its clarity and details seem to be the main strength. Out of all this, the IsoGray system did not attempt to seduce you with a honey coat or some pretty colour. I got a feeling that it just subtly stepped aside, allowing your equipment to come to the fore to do their stuff. In fact, I found attributing any character to the IsoGray was very difficult.

Bass through the IsoGray was tight, punchy and much better defined. In contrast, bass from my Hydra 8 was a bit more warmish, and a bit fatter. From the Shelby Lynne CD's title track "A little lovin' ", the drums was impactful, focused, had lots of details, and went down low, it was done excellently.

And amidst all these excellence, the IsoGray system did not impede the conveyance of the emotion and spirit in the music. It did not 'wear its heart on the sleeves' as such though. Instead I found the IsoGray system's emotional portrayal mixed with its technical prowess refreshing and honest. The music did connect with me, and the listening sessions were always satisfying, many a time my listening stretched into the wee hours of the night way past my normal bed time.

On the other hand, my Shunyata Hydra 8 did milk the emotional content of music more effectively, the visceral connection with music via the Hydra 8 was a tad more. However, it was also a slightly less tidy portrayal compared to the IsoGray system, I could detect a certain brightness and hash on occasions during bad electricity time. Again, you have to match these virtues and draw backs to your system according to your preference and the depth of your pocket. :-)

One thing was quite sure, the IsoGray system was more effective in cleaning up the nasties in the power supply compared to my Hydra 8. There was much less sound quality variance between the bad electricity time at my place (7pm-midnight) and the better time (1am onwards and the mornings).

The power cord used to connect in-between the 400 Pro and the SubStation could make a difference. I changed the stock 20A cord to my Shunyata Python Helix 20A, and the sound immediately gained in stature, music was conveyed with more power and the soundstage expanded, there was slightly more smoothness. The effect was beneficial, so that was another upgrade possibility.

The complaint I had was the fact that these Richard Gray products' design require the power cord to be connected via the top, thus placing them on my equipment rack was an impossibility.

Well, if you are already in the Richard Gray camp, using their RGPC400/600/1200, you have a natural upgrade step. Adding the SubStation to move to the IsoGray status is a no-brainer.

If you are just looking for an excellent power line conditioner, please add IsoGray to your investigation list.

This is a system that could speak your music's mind and soul.

Richard Gray is carried by CMY, contact John Yew 016-2861000


S8 said...

I am using RGPC Pole Pig + 400 Pro system. Since I have carpeted floor, I use 2 sets of Tenderfoot footers from Herbie Audio Lab with very prominent improvement. Music and vocal are more cohesive and organic, imagery more spot-on, background is blacker.
They are sensitive with type of footer, it sounds differently if I use BDR cones.

Ken said...


Maybe you can put the Substation on the side rather than upright. Place some sorbothane feet under the side when you do that. Hear the difference.

I have tried the Shunyata Hydra 6 that ML loan me and I find that Shunyata give a more tubey sound while RGPC a more solidstate sound. I feel the highs are more extended with my RGPC 600S though the bass was more prominent with the Shunyata.

So system matching is important!

OdioSleuth said...

S8, Ken,

Thanks for your suggestions, I believe many RGPC users will benefit from them. The duo has since gone over to Big E's place.

Placing them on their sides is plausible, but the aesthetic will be lousy. I prefer to have some 'eye-fi' benefit too lah... :-)

Eddie said...

Dear professional,
Need help.
i have intension to set up a system, what are the essential condition need to be pay attention?
1. equipment?
2. accessories? like....cone?
OR others.......pls advise?
Awaiting for your soonest reply..

PuchongWong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PuchongWong said...

I once asked a sifu about hifi priority, he said: the speaker choice must match the room size, room should be properly treated, the power output of the amp must match the need of the speakers,

Then look into source component,preamp, power conditioner, speaker cable, interconnect, power cord, and lastly tweaks and accessories,

What do you think?

The Wise One said...

Puchong Wong,

I believe many hifi followers have got the wrong concept that speakers must follow the room size. I have heard big floorstanders in small rooms and they sounded incredibly fabulous and controlled. It's the equipment and the accessories that will eventually give you the sound.


PuchongWong said...


Thanks for sharing your good experience,I have also heard big speakers sounding good in small room, such as joamonte's in singapore.