Kronos Sparta Super Capacitor Power Supply (SSCPS)
Typically, I open my reviews with technical information and engineering background on the product under examination before I address its sonic attributes. However, my experience with the new Kronos Sparta Super Capacitor Power Supply (SSCPS) was so remarkable and brought such starkly positive change, to such an already overachieving turntable, that I had trouble believing it. After its installation, within the first ten seconds of my original needle drop, I was so floored by what I was hearing that I was almost speechless. If you knew me, you'd realize just how significant that is; I'm rarely at a loss for words!
What I heard, immediately, with no break-in or
warm-up, fresh from the box, was an enhanced sense of confidence and stability.
Now I was treated to more faithful pitch, more fleshed out texture, and
considerably more detailed, concise layering and instrumental placement and
While I was moved by what I was now hearing, I
was also considerably intrigued. I have a strong engineering background and a
degree in electronics. In the mid-1990's I owned and ran an electronics repair
and modification shop. During that time I designed and installed custom
automobile competition sound systems (remember IASCA?), repaired and designed
circuits for coin-operated, upright video game consoles for Video Arcades, as
well as repaired and modified consumer and professional electronics, like
Commodore computers, compact disc players, amplifiers, and turntables.
My fascination with external power supplies is no
secret. In fact, in the first issue of my first magazine, the
audio analyst©, founded way back in 1988, I published the
results of upgrading the output power supply filtering capacitors in my
Accuphase P300 power amplifier. I removed the internally mounted Sprague 40,000
µF electrolytics (measuring roughly three inches in diameter by four and
three-quarter inches tall), and connected a pair of outboard mounted 60,000 µF
Philips 3186 series, computer grade electrolytics (at about three inches in
diameter and eight and three-quarters inches tall, they wouldn't fit "under the
hood"). The results, while quite noticeable, were not as perplexingly effective
as what I was hearing after the installation of the SSCPS. The quiescent
engineer in me stirred... and honestly, even that part of me cannot explain how
this remarkable device accomplishes all it achieves. But we should take a closer
look to try to uncover at least a few of its secrets.
I don't think it can be considered even slightly
controversial any longer to suggest that a splendid audio device with the
ability to be powered by an outboard, high-current, linear power supply, can
achieve significantly elevated performance with that addition. The typical
improvements realized by your audio gear when employing such an outboard supply
include increased signal-to-noise ratios (yielding an overall lowered noise
floor), enhanced channel separation, elevated dynamic capability, purer, more
coherent tone color, and enhanced spatial properties, among others.
But, just what do we mean by a power supply? By
definition, a power supply is a device that delivers electric power to an
electrical load. Its primary function is to convert electric current from a
source (typically a wall AC socket) to the correct voltage, current, and
frequency necessary to power the intended load. Conventional linear power supply
designs used to replace an internal or "wall-wart" powered audio component
typically produce and deliver relatively high current. While that is
indispensable for many applications, these more conventional supplies have
several disadvantages descending into the very low power range, such as what
would be required to control a DC motor.
In typical high-current power supplies,
electrolytic capacitors are used to smooth the pulsating DC output after
rectification to a more nearly constant DC voltage that may be supplied to the
load; they essentially act as filters. The pulsating output of the rectifiers
has an average DC value as well as a residual AC portion. This lingering AC
component is referred to as ripple voltage. Filter capacitors reduce the amount
of ripple voltage to an acceptable level, and it should be noted that resistors
and inductors can also be combined with the capacitors to form more refined,
specific filtration networks to address these concerns. In addition,
conventional linear power supplies use transformers or switched circuits, which
require considerable space and can be costly. Also, losses from coursing through
the copper and iron of the transformers are disproportionately high, again,
especially in relation to providing more consistent lower level outputs. Even
though the simplest solution, that of using a line-side connection of an Ohmic
resistor, while relatively inexpensive, also suffers high losses, negating the
higher efficiency rates desired.
Enter the Super Capacitor Power Supply. A supercapacitor (also referred to as an ultracapacitor), typically offers much higher capacitive values than more standard electrolytics, but with lower voltage limits. While supercapacitor cells offer a positive and negative electrode separated by an electrolyte, much like a battery, unlike batteries, they store energy electrostatically (like a regular capacitor) rather than chemically. And while it is true that when compared to batteries, supercapacitors store less energy than a similarly sized battery, they can release it much more rapidly as the discharge is not dependent on a chemical reaction taking place.
Finally, they typically store hundreds of times
more energy per unit volume or mass than electrolytic capacitors and will
tolerate many more charge and discharge cycles than rechargeable batteries (it
is not uncommon for them to offer over 1 million charge/discharge cycles), all
with little or no degradation.
Because the Kronos tables use highly specialized
Swiss-made DC motors with precious metal brushes, a capacitive based supply
makes all the sense in the world. The lower power needs, the much higher
capacitive values (and commensurate filtering capabilities), their faster charge
and discharge rates, and their phenomenal lifespan, combine as ideal parameters
for a DC motor supply. While the new SSCPS for the Sparta is derivative of the
more complex and costly SCPS-1 that was created for the Kronos Pro table, it
introduces an intermediate stage between the AC and the supercapacitor banks and
offers none of the more complex processing of that predecessor.
As such, while it follows the general aesthetic
of the SCPS-1, it occupies something on the order of half that larger, more
complete device's form factor. At fifteen-and-one-half inches wide, by three and
three-quarter inches tall, the nickel-plated aluminum faceplate is symmetrically
laid out, with two roughly two-inch round windows, one each to the left and
right sides, about one-fourth of the way in from the outside edge, and four
toggle switches lined up and centered between those two windows.
The top is a thick, beveled black plate, with an
almost eight-inch square nickel-plated aluminum inlay centered left to right,
and flush with the back, with a vertical line of eight round holes (for
chimney-like air circulation) and an engraved Kronos logo. From left to right,
the back nickel-plated aluminum panel accommodates the three-pin motor
controller, the four-pin motor controller, a single RCA connection to drive the
strobe attachment when needed for speed calibration, the power cord IEC socket,
followed by a multi-wire grounding cable, as the Sparta offers grounding at both
the chassis and the arm board. The rest of the case is black anodized aluminum,
with short, vertical heat-sink fins adorning each side panel.
The left-most round display shows power status
when on, while the right-most shows the selected RPM speed, both in backlit red.
When starting up, that right display will flash either 33.3 or 45 until both
Sparta's platters have stabilized at the selected speed, at which point the
display no longer flashes; it stays solid. The switches, from left to
right, include Power (down = On / up = Off), the + (up) or – (down) speed step
adjustment calibration switch, the memory switch to save and store those speed
adjustments, for 33 (up) or 45 (down), and the RPM speed selection switch, 33
(up) or 45 (down).
With a total of twenty-five Farads (!) of capacitance, at eight Volts, the SSCPS offers what would appear to the Sparta motors as an inexhaustible and overwhelmingly powerful current supply. Such an immense power reserve, with its exceptionally low output impedance, completely overcomes and overpowers any instance of backward electromotive force (or EMF) from the motors, asserting utter control over what would otherwise be an ongoing electrical tug-of-war between the motor and this virtually unflappable, limitless supply.
Backward EMF is a reactive force, one that is
created, in this instance, by a counter voltage induced against the flow by the
motor's motion. This backward flow opposes any change in the current that induced it into motion. In essence, it is the motor "pushing back" on the
applied voltage that is causing it to spin, generated by the magnetic induction
created by that motors very spinning. They are inextricably tied together, and
when a power supply is not up to it, the aberrations it causes in the
consistency, stability, and accuracy of the revolution of the motor will affect
the overall sonic landscape recreated by the turntable as it reveals these micro
deviations as pitch instability, (wow or flutter), inaccurate timbre, and/or
One of the more obvious, well-known examples of defeating the known deleterious effects of backward EMF is that of bi-wiring your speakers, assuming they are built to allow it. This requires that your loudspeakers be fitted with multiple speaker inputs, typically with one set for powering the woofers, and a second for powering the midranges and tweeters. With a single set of speaker cables, the backward EMF energy induced by the larger, more powerful bass signals driving the woofer can greatly affect the integrity of the much lower energy components of both midrange and treble information. Running separate speaker wires from the amplifier speaker output terminals, one each to the woofer input and a second to the mid/tweeter input, can have a profound impact on relieving the midrange/tweeter circuit from the backflush of EMF generated by the woofer.
In this instance, with a loudspeaker, bi-wiring
works by greatly lessening, if not completely eliminating, the backward flow of
the energy induced by physical woofer travel. When the audio signal to the
woofer ceases, like when a powerful bass note has concluded, the woofer must
stop moving. In trying to stop, it goes through a process of settling; it is too
massive to stop instantly. As it settles, it cycles forward and backward
repeatedly until it can come to rest. During this movement, as its voice coil
is moving through the field of the magnet, it induces, or generates, its
own backward signal. With a single set of speaker wires, that generated signal
is sent backward into the crossover, where it will corrupt and overwhelm the
lower-level components of the music signal. With bi-wiring, it is much more
effectively isolated from the midrange/treble circuit.
Yet another possibility to consider as to the
SSCPS's effectiveness is that its considerable filtering effects may further
isolate and prevent voltage deviations and other types of household electrical
grunge (from blower or machine motors), electronic noise (from computers,
televisions, or lights), or other system-generated artifacts (from displays or
digital circuits) that could otherwise find their way into the system to combine
with and degrade the musical signal. What seems to be clear is that all the
individual attributes of the SSCPS, its gargantuan capacity, enormous voltage
reserve, and remarkably low impedance, combine to afford a degree of isolation
and control that is more than merely substantial, resulting in a composure,
equilibrium, and exactitude of musical regeneration that would be otherwise
unattainable. Combining its electrical attributes (capacity, stability, and low
impedance) and its massive, rigid, non-resonant chassis, and you are rewarded
with a conspicuous and substantially enhanced sonic performance of an already
overachieving LP deck.
Given my considerable experience with outboard
power supplies, and in light of the benefits I'd noted from the Kronos Pro with
the addition of the original SCPS-1, and with some other upgrade paths from
Louis like the Carbon Fiber arm board, I knew I would be in for a treat when I
installed the SSCPS in my rig. But the degree to which the Sparta's performance
was elevated with its addition proved to be beyond even my wildest expectation.
The advances were quite remarkable and were amazingly wide-ranging. With the SSCPS in place, I was witness to an even quieter noise floor... and it had been remarkably quiet before its installation. Its addition also brought the resolution of greater detail broadband, especially near the noise floor. I was hearing considerably enhanced inner-detail, heightened and more fluid expressiveness of microdynamic shadings, and a notable refinement of pitch definition. Overall, the presentation now revealed not only more fine detail, but more body and texture to instruments as wide-ranging as the human voice to cymbals and triangles. Everything was more harmonically complete, with a more authentic tone and much more realistic physical consistency.
Low-frequency performance, from the most
subterranean output like that found in the "Poco Adagio" from Camille Saint-Saëns Symphony
No. 3 [London Records CS 6680] or "2049," the opening theme from the superb
Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Blade
Runner 2049 [Epic 88985494341] not only to reveal greater extension at the
bottom octave but offers better-defined pitch and more substantive weight. The
benefit of this more authentically resolved pitch and impact didn't stop with
just the deep bass, it runs broadband, up through midbass, the power region, the
midrange, and into the topmost octaves of reproduction. This is an abundant and
significant improvement that well may leave you astonished – it did me.
Midrange vividness and accuracy, one of Sparta's
strongest attributes, enjoyed a noteworthy step forward as well. Listening to
the 2016 Analogue Productions [APP 027-45] reissue of Breaking Silence,
Janis Ian's 1992 masterpiece, was a nearly religious experience. The advancement
of nuanced textures and shades of inflection in her voice, the newfound ability
to reveal more expressively the subtleties and nuances of her lyrical style, afforded an
unprecedented exposure to the underlying meaning and emotion, tendering a
clearer understanding to the stories behind this unique songwriter's works. It
gave life to them by seemingly divulging more of the artist's intention and
meaning than I've ever experienced from that recording in all the years I've
been listening to it.
Treble was even more delicately detailed now,
clearly resolute, open, and full of sparkle and shimmer, almost sounding as if
notes in this bandwidth were generated by the air itself, rather than by
mechanical transducers. With the SSCPS in play, the sophistication, elegance,
and intricacy of the uppermost regions became even more intoxicatingly genuine.
The contributions of this remarkable power supply conspicuously elevated its
ability to establish that perception of graceful effortlessness, of unfettered
extension, fostering an amazingly honest perception of the "air" around instruments,
allowing them to regenerate the final measure of trailing ambiance and decay
more authentically than ever before.
Its addition affords an inexorable sense of space
to well-recorded performances, further enhancing image stability, offering a
more realistic, virtually tangible, dimensionality to the entire presentation.
In a nutshell, its addition expanded the overall semblance of realism. It
transports the listener, very convincingly so, closer to the performance,
substantially augmenting the illusion that what you are listening to is music,
not a recording.
I admit to being wholly unprepared for the level
of surreal authenticity the SSCPS brought to the already amazing Sparta
platform. Be warned: once you hear its significant and exceptionally musical
contributions, you'll be extremely hard-pressed to give them up with its
removal. At $9500, it clearly represents a significant investment. Yet viewed in
the perspective of what it brings to my system, it is, to my ears and mind,
easily justified; I am so extremely charmed by the remarkable authenticity it
brings to LP playback. Most enthusiastically recommended!