Frequently Asked Questions
Niagara Series FAQs
Note: The following frequently asked questions are to be a supplement to the Niagara Series quick-start guide and user manual. All supply a broad range of valuable information regarding operation recommendations, technology, and basic features. No amount of technical information can ever substitute the far more valuable experience of listening to these units in a system, or comparing them to other similar products.
Q: What power technologies are used (Active Power Regeneration, AC Filtering/Conditioning, Battery Backup)?
A: The Niagara Series is unique in that it has both passive and active circuits, but it does not rely on any of the conventional circuits or technologies that have been used for AC power for decades. Active regeneration or battery backup seems as if it might be ideal as it’s pure DC power (direct current), and that’s what our audio and video components use to power their circuits. It’s also described to be “off the grid.” Unfortunately, to generate the AC power that the components’ power supply requires, there is an oscillation circuit that follows the battery or DC circuit and that raises the impedance, as well as limits the majority of noise reduction to the bandwidth of the active circuit/amplifier.
Typical passive power conditioners could potentially reduce far more radio frequency and AC generated line noise, but frequently do not. They can also raise impedance in some designs, and, more often than not, both approaches tend to have non-linear (uneven) noise filtering response. The Niagara Series features linearized noise-dissipation and proprietary circuits that aid power amplifiers rather than limit them.
Q: What are the surge protection limits (Under- and Overvoltage)?
A: The Niagara Series has automatic voltage shutdown for North American units of 140V (275V for export 220V-240V 50Hz countries). Undervoltage shutdown is not utilized, as undervoltage is not in and of itself what creates a damaged circuit. It is the massive overvoltage that is typically measured after a utility undervoltage brown-out is corrected. The overvoltage is what causes the damage, and the Niagara overvoltage circuit will respond in one quarter of a second, resetting the output when the AC voltage is back into a safe range.
Q: Does the AQ Niagara Series feature a surge protection warranty?
A: Though the Niagara Series products feature a 5-year warranty, there is no connected equipment warranty. There are two reasons for this. One is that these surge-connected equipment warranties are largely sales features that offer little real protection unless the manufacture sees fit to do so. Careful analysis of these contracts reveals that it’s nearly impossible to pass the warranty requirements. Small refunds do occur, large ones rarely (if ever).
The second and more important reason we do not offer a connected-equipment warranty is because the Non-Sacrificial Surge Suppression and fast-acting overvoltage shutdown circuit assures you will never suffer damage from an AC surge in the first place! Though it is possible to destroy a unit via the signal lines in the event of an electrical storm, it is not possible to damage your equipment with AC surges and spikes from your utility line, unless the strike is severe enough to set the building on fire.
Q: Why does AC power matter?
A: More than a third of the low-level signal can be distorted, masked, or entirely lost due to the AC line noise and radio frequency induced noise coupling into the audio or video systems’ sensitive circuits. AC power is a technology that is over a century old and was never intended for the high-resolution components we rely on today.
Q: What are the forms of distortion caused by AC power (and how does that relate to what I hear and see in my system)?
A: For power amplifiers only, the primary distortion is current compression. For other components, the distortion is due to current noise that reaches sensitive circuits through the components’ power supplies and circuit ground. Though proponents of active regeneration will argue the need to make a uniform low-distortion sine wave, this is largely irrelevant because the AC waveform is converted to direct current in every component’s power supply. It’s not the shape of the sine wave—it’s the noise that gets past the component power supply.
Because it’s the noise that masks most of the audio/video system’s low-level signals, removing or vastly reducing that noise will yield far greater resolution (more signal)! An active regeneration of the AC waveform will help to eliminate some noise, and thus there is a benefit. However, active regeneration is far less efficient as a means of reducing the noise that gets past your components’ power supply, and that ultimately matters.
Q: Why can’t the power supplies of source components and power amplifiers sufficiently deal with AC problems?
A: The primary goal of these power supplies is to provide very clean and stable Direct Current (not Alternating Current) to the components’ many circuits. Most audio component designers largely ignore what happens in the AC domain, and it’s also not necessarily their field of expertise. Further, doing what’s necessary to achieve high performance is expensive and space consuming. Because so many AC power conditioning and regeneration products historically produced mixed results, it’s understandable that many talented audio component designers often dismiss them.
Q: What happens if lightning strikes or there is a major voltage drop or spike?
A: If the lightning strike produces enough voltage to damage electronic circuits, the Niagara will still survive and the outlets will shut off until the AC line is normal and safe for operation. A massive voltage sag (under 70 VAC North American versions), will shut the unit off. It will automatically reset when the voltage is in a safe range.
Q: Do these Niagara Series products come with a power cord in the box?
A: No. Although the 20-amp Niagara products require 20-amp capacity, and the 15-amp units require 15-amp capacity AC cords with the appropriate IEC connector (20A = IEC C-19 and 15A = IEC C-13), we do not wish to impose limitations on performance or installation lengths. Yes, it is very easy for any manufacturer to toss an inexpensive stranded-wire cord into the carton, but this would be akin to installing old-fashioned bias-ply tires on a Porsche! Outside of the correct current capacity and IEC connector, we endorse the very best AC cord possible.
Q: What are the key technologies that make the biggest impact on doing less harm?
A: There is no one technology. Instead, Niagara Series products represent comprehensive, holistic solutions. All included technologies are vital, and many more that we do not advertise are similarly critical. There are no shortcuts to superior performance. Everything counts. Each unit is meticulously built, tested and tested again. The Niagara 7000 is even put through a partial run-in process and listening test. Once approved, either Garth Powell (designer) or Joe Harley (SVP, Marketing & Product Development) will sign the unit. Their initials can be found on the bottom of each approved unit.
Q: Is cryogenic treatment useful and is it used for the Niagara Series?
A: This is an old technology that has proven itself for certain metals when utilized in certain conditions (it’s standard in high-performance race engines). Unfortunately, its efficacy for audio products is inconsistent. We have found that many have over-used this and many other popular modifications and treatments. The idea that, “if it works here, certainly it will work everywhere,” is simply not true. In fact, this treatment can seriously damage many materials such as the polymers used in many audio, video, digital, and filtering components. Cryogenic treatment is typically
-300° Fahrenheit, and, in a way, is the reciprocal of high heat (flame forging). Either technique could help a knife, but would you subject a piece of plastic or polymer to a flame? Cryo is no better.
Q: Where are the coax connections for Cable/Satellite video lines?
A: Off of the unit—where they belong. These products were designed primarily for high-performance audio and video systems. Although these signal-line protection devices have been standard features in even the least costly AC surge strips, they do very little. There are two reasons: The first is because today’s required bandwidth (frequency response) is so high that these protection devices can barely do anything without shorting out the signal they are supposed to protect! The second concern is for the custom install professional.
These devices are better than nothing in lightning plagued areas, but, in order to be effective, they need to be in the electrical room immediately after the cable enters the building, grounded to the breaker box’s ground with the lowest-resistance wire and lead length possible. With this technology in direct proximity to the A/V system, the circuit’s ability to help minimize damage is greatly reduced. Many manufacturers offer signal-line protection devices. If absolutely required, these should be wired at the point of entry; if not required, you will enjoy better performance without them!
Q: Does the Dielectric-Biased Symmetrical Isolation Transformer make a significant impact on sound quality?
A: Yes. Our Dielectric-Biased transformer has a considerable impact on the sound quality of our Niagara 7000. If it had not been substantial, we would not have gone through the expense or the complexity to build around them, nor would we have patented the dielectric-biasing circuit. This is not to say that the Niagara 1000, which omit the transformers, are not exemplary performers, but, when high performance is the goal, the last 5–10% is hard to achieve and can be costly.
Q: How many power amplifiers can you plug into the Niagara 7000 and still have enough current reserve or capacity?
A: Without knowing whether the end user has a 15- or 20-amp service, and without knowing the specific power amplifiers in question, this cannot be answered with complete certainty. There are four high-current (transient power correction technology) outlets in the Niagara 7000. In most cases, all four can be utilized with a noticeable improvement in performance versus energizing the power amplifiers from the wall outlets. (This is true even of 20-amp dedicated circuits).
Q: Can you plug one Niagara Series product into another?
A: Please do not. As all of the current Niagara Series products utilize a linearized filter, plugging one into another would place two filters in series, and, in this instance, more is not a better thing… Doing so would create non-linear (inconsistent) filtering via resonance ringing modes. In many instances, parallel operation can work, but series operation should be avoided.
Q: Other vendors have suggested that I plug my power amplifiers directly into the wall. Is that the case when using Niagara?
A: No. Our Transient Power Correction Technology will actually improve the performance of the power amplifier, and the Ground Noise-Dissipation Circuits will also aid in unmasking the noise that plagues these amplifiers. Most AC power devices can and will create some current compression, and power amplifier manufacturers have every reason to be skeptical. Simply try an A/B test versus 20-amp dedicated circuits, and make certain the Niagara unit is off when comparing to the wall. Niagara’s technology provides power amplifiers with the instant, low-impedance current they need to properly handle power transients; this will be obvious to all who hear the comparison.
Q: Are there any length limitations or recommendations for the main attached power cable?
A: Short is always the preference. However, we need to be realistic about how much length is required for a smooth connection that doesn’t place undue stress on the cord or its connectors. Further, so long as the cord is properly rated for the unit’s intended current capacity, long runs are possible. Ideally, lengths would be kept to well less than 20 feet, but that’s not a hard requirement.
Q: Does the Niagara’s Noise Dissipation Technology benefit video quality?
A: Yes, just as it benefits audio quality. The issue, however, is one of signal compression. Most of what is heard in an audio demonstration is the unearthing of the signals that are at least 60 decibels or more below 0.775V (0 VU – line level). This requires source material with dynamic range. If the track is slam-limited for an MP3 dance file, with 3dB dynamic range, the Niagara product will make a positive contribution, but it will be subtle. The same is true for video. Even in this day of High-Definition and 4K video, many signals are in fact pretty compressed. Flat screens from a satellite or cable are a poor test! Use a great projector, properly aligned, and a very high-resolution loop that can be repeated frame for frame.
Q: Are the component Niagara power products rack-mountable? Are ears included or sold separately?
A: The component products (Niagara 7000) are both 3RU components, and both have the same optional rack ears available from AQ.
Q: How does our patented Ground Noise-Dissipation System compare to other brands?
A: It’s patented. By definition, nothing quite like it exists in the AC power market. There are simple variations on this technology utilized by some manufacturers in the broadcast field and even a small company in the UK. However, many key things about what we do and how it’s employed take it many steps beyond anything that’s been done previously, giving the Niagara Series a tremendous performance advantage.
Q: What is Common-Mode Noise and what is Transverse-Mode Noise?
A: When noise is generated or induced via radio waves onto the AC power line (leads), it can appear in two ways: symmetrically (evenly on all wire leads) or asymmetrically (unevenly on all wire leads). The former is Common-Mode Noise, while the latter (also known as differential) is Transverse-Mode Noise.
Q: Is it recommended to use the Niagara Series products only with the AQ NRG Edison wall outlets?
A: We would wholeheartedly endorse the use of the NRG-Edison 15 or 20 wall outlets, as they would yield the very best results. However, we certainly recognize this is not possible for many (including those who rent). Be assured the Niagara Series products will still work wonders connected to a stock AC wall outlet.
Q: Do the Niagara Series products meet NEC regulations? Are there any safety risks involved in using a balanced AC supply in a home?
A: The National Electrical Code (NEC) compliance rulings for symmetrical or “balanced” AC power refer to the power from a sub-panel device, and, thus, power distributed to a residential or commercial AC wall outlet. It was never meant to include isolation transformers (balanced, floating, or otherwise), in a component AC power product or A/V component product. This NEC ruling was created with the petitioning of Martin Glassband of Equitech. At that time, Equitech’s primary markets for balanced AC power isolation transformers were recording and broadcast facilities. As these buildings featured multiple production rooms, it was not considered practical to use dozens of individual AC power components for the wide-bandwidth common-mode noise reduction afforded by this balanced technology (there would have been difficulties maintaining proper single-point grounding, as well). Since a high current capacity balanced power unit for a large electrical room would take the place of a conventional AC sub-panel, and the output would be distributed to specified wall outlets, the NEC was keen to make certain labeling was clear and that it be limited to professional applications.
However, in the case of a component AC power product, there is no confusion for an electrician servicing the facility in question. As required by the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the AC outlets are properly marked, but in this application there is absolutely nothing unusual at all, when compared to about 50% of the pre-amplifiers, power amplifiers, and other source components with a linear power supply. This is because a “balanced power” transformer is simply a precisely manufactured transformer with a faraday screen (or faraday screens) and a center-tapped secondary. This transformer construction method goes back to the very beginning of electronics, and presents nothing at all unique or problematic from a perspective of safety.
However, there is one aspect of the design that concerned some engineers when this was introduced as a power conditioning technology over 20 years ago, and that was the presence of live voltage on the Neutral (60VAC relative to Ground, if Line to Neutral has a potential of 120VAC).
Because no one makes a practice of assuming that either the Line or the Neutral AC lead is something to “grab ahold of” (particularly with the quantity of reversed polarity AC outlets in far too many homes), there is no practical safety issue, and certainly no problem for electronics power supplies. The only potential concern is a (rare) catastrophic failure in a source component or power amplifier’s power supply. If this were to occur, there might be a small chance for live voltage to be present on the A/V component’s chassis prior to a fuse or circuit breaker tripping. We have included a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) for all of the symmetrical (balanced) power outlets, to ensure that if more than 5.5mA current is drawn from Line to Ground, or Neutral to Ground, the Niagara’s main power breaker will immediately shut off. This is the same technology used by most laboratories for electronic circuit development, as it’s far safer than the power that is supplied from the wall’s AC service tap. With a properly designed GFCI, electrocution or shock is essentially impossible.