August 2, 2009

Z is for Zap - MIT's Z-Strip AC Power Conditioner

This is an old post of ours in the blog we previously contributed to.

Let me tell you a story of this little box from MIT.

Panzer collected the MIT Z-Strip AC Power Conditioner from Hi-Way Laser and it ended up in my system a week ago.

After the initial 2 day run-in period, the Z-Strip's characteristics came out to play. It painted a dark and quiet background for music to emerge from. The transparency it helped to create was rather amazing, coupled to its soundstaging capability, the images of vocalists and instruments were well defined and very clearly placed on the soundstage, so clearly placed that I'd swear I could almost 'see' them. The soundstage size was not exceptionally large, but it was well formed and adequately sized (or, rather, I'd say realistically sized). It felt intimate, the performers were placed in the space in front of the listener and gave quite a bit of that 'they are in the room' sensation. This was borne out pretty well, for example, on A-Tao's Hakka cd (阿陶的歌-離開台灣八百米) track 4 "What am I to do?" where the multiple back-and-fore-ground voices were spread on the front stage, nicely layered and each distinct in its acoustic space.

The Z-Strip's soundscape was seamless from top to bottom. The highs were clean, polished, and a little shinier that what I got in my system previously, a positive trait. There was no brightness and glare anywhere to be found. The highs also had a measure of (but did not equal to, of course) that silvery tone I heard from the Torus RM8A which so impressed me a while ago, and not the rose-tinted-but-can-be-oh-so-seductive view of my Shunyata Hydra 8. Both versions were attractive, but I dare say that the former is more neutral and accurate.

The mids showed good body. Slightly rounded, it stood just a mite proud of the rest of the spectrum but not forward in any sense. Its definition and articulation made every sung note, female or male, easy to follow. The articulation heard in the voices also attested to the transparency of the Z-Strip. I really could not stop listening to well recorded vocals. Instead of playing selected tracks, which was my normal audiophile habit, I found myself listening through the entire cd - Rickie Lee Jones' 'Pop Pop', 2v1g, Damien Rice's 'O' and, of course, the A-Tao cd I mentioned earlier.

Bass had speed and solidity, it was slightly leaner and more compact than what I was used to. This could be a good thing for my system, as there were fewer of those incidents of overblown bass throughout my listening sessions. It was also tuneful and quite bouncy - a good example comes from the drum beats at the end of track 1 'Spring Water' on A-Tao's cd again, they indeed came off galloping (good pace) and much better defined (good resolution). Though if I nit pick I'd ask for just a little more slam.

The Z-Strip must be pretty adapt at 'Z'apping away the nasties in the power supply given the results I got out of it.

I have an ergonomics complaint though. Due to the size of the box, all the power outlets are placed on top, which means that using American plugs and thicker powercords, you need to allow some clearance above. I found the bottom shelf of my finite elemente rack a bit tight vertical-wise, I believe MIT meant for the Z-Strip to be placed on the floor.

This little box is smaller than a loaf of bread. Take a look at the photo below which contrasts it to the size of a CD.

It employs multiple parallel filters and provides protection against voltage spike and surge. It also does power factor correction which MIT says reduces transmission loss and improves voltage regulation - if you are more technically inclined and want to know more about power factor correction, I suggest you google for it.

The Z-Strip is rated for 1800w, and comes with 8 outlets - 2 of them dedicated to digital equipment. MIT claims that the Z-Strip is not current-limiting, and during my listening session I did not hear anything that would prove otherwise. I used the Z-Strip to power my entire rig, including my Pass Labs monoblocks, the biggest power consumers in my system. It all added up to about 800w power consumption. But then again I may not require transient power draw from the MIT, as my amplifiers are class A which draw a constant current.

The Z-Strip responded to powercord changes. I used my Shunyata Python Helix 15Amp to hook it to the wall. I did a double take hearing the sound quality coming out of the Z-Strip, and this performance was repeated for 3 nights in a row - so it was no fluke. I did wonder whether it was the Python or the Z-Strip, so I swapped the Python out with a generic powercord. What I got was a more sibilant and slightly less focused sound, the background also gotten a little noisier, but amazingly, it did not veer far way from the qualities that I noted earlier, I was enjoying the music regardless. You'd probably be rewarded by using as best a powercord as you can find, MIT recommends its own Z-cord, Z-Cord II or Oracle Z-Cord III.

Contrasting the sound between the Z-Strip and my Shunyata Hydra 8 (I emphasize that this is a contrast, not a good-bad comparison), I found that the Z-Strip has a little less air and bloom, but on the other hand, it was also less diffused, with the imaging more tightly focused and more solidly placed. The Z-Strip sounded neutral, while the Hydra was slightly more colourful. You pick your own poison.
Let me tell you what the Z-Strip made me do with its wonderful performance - I was scratching my head, as my Hydra 8, at twice the price when it was available, did not eclipse the Z-Strip (nor was it the other way round). This prompted me to go borrow a Shunyata Anaconda 20A powercord to test out, just to see whether I can put more distance between it and the Z-Strip. Panzer was no help at all, he mentioned to me a few times that the Z-Strip has a bigger brother - the Z-Powerbar, now he wanted to get his hands on that one to try out too.

This little guy from MIT has given me audiophile nervosa! I am impressed.

The MIT Z Strip AC Powerline Conditioner is listed at RM5,545.
MIT is available from Hi-Way Laser 03-7873.8325; 019-281.3399 .

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