Throughout this 12 Home Studio Necessities series, we’ve looked at various pieces of equipment for your home studio. Almost all of them have one thing in common: they run off of electricity.

At this point in your home studio, you’ve most likely invested a fair amount of money. Now you need to protect your investment. It’s time to consider a power conditioner.

If you compare your gear to a car, then a power conditioner would be both an insurance policy and regular maintenance. It protects the gear and helps it run at optimal performance.

You mean a power strip?

The idea of power conditioning is a bit of a new concept for most people. There are plenty of cheap plastic power strips out there. You can spend a few bucks at Walmart and get a power strip with plenty of outlets on it. However, do you want to entrust all of your gear and your computer to a $20 power strip? It’s a question worth asking yourself.

A good power conditioner will give you two things:

  • Surge Protection
  • Noise Filtering

Surge Protection

You’ve heard the stories. Your neighbor down the street lost his home stereo to a lightning strike. Or a power surge took out your buddy’s TV.

I’m not saying anything new when I say that surges happen. But you may wonder why you should buy a $180 Furman versus a $20 surge protector. Those cheap ones do indeed offer surge protection, but if the surge is too large, these units can fail. If that happens, the surge can get passed on to your equipment. Also, these cheaper units can catch fire! Last I heard, that’s a bad thing.

If you want to see some cool videos on this. Head over to Furman’s website. I love their stuff.

A good power conditioner has the capacity to “clamp down” on surges, preventing them from passing on to the gear. Some of the less expensive models (~$60) are sacrificial systems. The surge protector is destroyed (internally), but your gear is protected. If this happens, you’ll simply need to buy another one or have it repaired.

Nicer ones, like the Furman PL8 that I own, actually have transformers and capacitors in place that can handle virtually any surge without sacrificing itself. (I’m no electrical engineer, so I can’t give you specifics on how exactly it does it, but the point stands: it works.)

Noise Filtering

Have you ever been watching TV, then someone in the next room turns on a vacuum cleaner? What happens? A lot of times you’ll end up with static on the TV.

The same thing happens with your audio equipment, although it’s not as obvious. What causes the TV static is noise transmitted through the electricity in your house.

This same noise can get into your audio equipment. While it may not be a noticeable hiss or buzz, it can effectively raise the noise floor of your entire system. (The noise floor is how much low-level noise your system generates by simply being powered on.) The higher the noise floor of your system is, the more likely you are to hear that noise in your recordings.

Each piece of equipment you add to your home studio contributes its own bit of noise to the system via its power cable. The solution? Noise filtering.

While surge protection is cool, noise filtration is really cool. Basically, higher-end power conditioners (like the ones from Furman and Monster) have intricate filters in place that filter the power before passing it along to the equipment.

In addition, they offer filtration between components plugged into the same power conditioner. That way your computer (which generates a certain type of noise) won’t affect your studio monitors (which generate a different type of noise). In fact, most of these power conditioners have separate outlets with separate filters for both digital and analog equipment.

The Verdict?

I don’t have any audio samples to show you a recording done with a $20 power strip versus a nice Furman power conditioner. And I know it can be a hard pill to swallow, especially since a power conditioner doesn’t really help you make music.

However, like I said at the beginning of this article, a good power conditioner is like an insurance policy plus regularly scheduled maintenance for your gear. Running off of dirty power can wear your gear out over time. Protect and prolong it with a good power conditioner.

One More Thing

I think it’s important to note that everything I’ve covered in this article relates to power conditioners, not voltage regulators. There are some cool voltage regulators out there that do everything I’ve already mentioned, and they regulate the voltage, sending a steady 120V (in the US) to the equipment. This is a best-case scenario, but they’re pretty expensive. I wouldn’t worry about getting one unless you have a huge amount of money invested in your studio already.

What I Use

As I mentioned before, I use a Furman PL8. It sells for around $180. I have also owned a Monster Power Pro5100 in the past. Both were great.

What do you use? Do you think this whole power conditioner concept is just marketing hype? Leave a comment! I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  • Michael F.

    I know this is a very old post, but I’m striking out finding info elsewhere online. Has anyone ever used a Panamax M4300-PM / “level 2 noise filter” for running signal processors and other studio gear? I was just offered one for $30 from my session bassist (he has no need for it), and though I currently use 2 Furman PL-8Cs through a Furman M-8X AR regulator, I’m in need of a 3rd conditioner. I looked up specs and the Panamax actually has more noise attenuation than the Furman (by 9db in “high current bank” and by 20dB in Filter Bank). I was curious if anyone knew what “level” a Furman PL-8C would be since only Panamax and Monster go by filtration levels to my knowledge.

    Thanks

  • Jack Nguyen

    Thanks great info. Though we pay attentions to a power strip and surge protection, but hardly on noise filtering. Thanks for informing the importance of it.

  • Thanks Joe this was really helpful

  • Simple Rob

    Seems many have just looked too far into a simple thing. I have a home studio with both fixed and temporary add on gear. Basically I look at it this way. My fixed rack unit, pc, monitors, and displays stay put. They all plug nice and tidy into my rack space conditioner, which has nice little lamps that pull out to be able to see, that silly text on my rack hardware variable parameters that ultimately make a massive Difference. If you cant see it, it’s hard work. Also my cables are tidy and organised. That big switch on the front lets me get everything going. And I have an excellent surge protector. Other crap that comes in my studio can suffer the losses. But it’s ok. My fixed stuff is sound! Haha. Get one if you can afford It.

  • SpoodyJ

    Our electricians have actually checked peoples surge protectors and found that it doesn’t matter price, brand, etc. sometimes they are no good at what they claim to do. I suggest either having someone check yours or learning to check it yourself. (so maybe the $20 one is as good as the $100 one)

    • Whoa!

    • Michael Sicowitz

      Not quite, but not real far off either. I had a TV go down during a storm, it was on a strip with lots of other things, expensive computers too on the same filter that had no problem with the surge. The bottom line is the insurance company dropped me after paying for the TV. The moral of the story may be that thinking you’re protected is fooling yourself. That was an expensive strip but the surge was ‘an act of God’a direct hit to my house. Nothing — no $200 Furman will save anything when you get direct hit. The insurance company and I also found it interesting that only the TV blew. I had $2000 in a desktop that was not affected. No one knows for sure – that’s why there’s insurance. A $20 strip may have provided the same protection. An BTW, once you’ve already blown the circuit on a fancy conditioner and reset it, I feel it’s not the same as new anymore. You figure it saved your stuff once and you should replace it. I suggest doing that. The question becomes which strip do you want to replace. I have nice stuff, one of the reasons I can afford it is by not buying too much hype – Yes- conditioners are a fundamental part of your system, but no need to get more than you need. Crap happens, and no power conditioner voltage regulator on Earth is going to give 100% protection. I know from experience.some are better than others, but don’t cancel your insuranve.

  • John Gabriel Arends

    This post is very helpful! When I record rock music, everything is loud and happy. But in the quieter parts of some songs, I’ve struggled with noise in my recordings that is coming from my equipment. I didn’t know a device like this existed! I just bought mine online and can’t wait for it to arrive.

    • I wouldn’t expect it to make a huge difference in the noise of your recordings. If the mics are picking up hard drive noise or something like that, nothing will fix that. But it might help keep the overall noise floor down a little bit.

  • Jerry

    i finally purchased my first power conditioner (Monster Power 900) after many years of putting together my little studio. it wasn’t something i was thrilled to buy but i realize it’s for the benefit of my other gear 🙂

    • Yeah, it’s not a fun purchase, but it’s definitely a “grown-up” purchase.

  • natrin

    As an electrical engineer, I always find it confusing that engineers refer to these rackmount surge protection/noise filters as “power conditioning,” because an actual conditioner (a voltage and frequency regulator), like you said, would cost a considerable amount more. Right now I use a Furman M-8DX ^_^

    • I guess in this sense “conditioning” means filtration, and “voltage regulation” means voltage regulation.

      In the EE world, does “conditioning” mean voltage regulation?

      • natrin

        Yep traditionally conditioning would refer to voltage and frequency regulation/noise filtering.

  • Jonathan Patterson

    I have experience with power strips nearly catching fire. I had a decent $40 power strip that I had my television and dvd player connected to. One day I smelled the very distinct smell of burning plastic. When I discovered that it was the power strip I noticed that the bottom of the strip had a nickle sized hole where the internals had gotten so hot that it melted completely through!

  • Ben Rico

    I just bought the Furman PL-Plus C Power Conditioner. I am moving my home studio from my apartment bedroom to an office space down the street for more space, and a dedicated recording/mixing area (where I won’t hear the fire department every other hour!).
    I have two reasons for the upgrade:
    1. – I’m expanding my piano teaching efforts, and working with professional clientele in Film/TV, and also in the mainstream music world.
    2. – I’m gonna be touring this summer, and playing with various artists, both indoors and outdoors.
    So after a week of reading customer reviews, and shopping at my local music shops, I finally decided on the PL-Plus C, and even though it costs a little more, It left me feeling completely worry free moving forward, being able to trust that my gear will be protected wherever I take my Mac, Studio and Keyboard Rig. Combined with my MOTU 828mk3, I’ve got a heavy duty skB rack case that keeps my gear protected and ready for any travel situation away from the studio.
    Thanks once again Joe for your guidance, and HSC!!!

  • taylor g

    I just bought a furman pl-8c power conditioner and found this site as I was looking for an answer to a question. Can I use the on/off switch of the furman to instantly power on/off all of my devices connected to it? As opposed to powering down everything individually. I have a lot of expensive gear going into the furman: active monitors on one bank, then pod hd pro, processor, interface, and computer in the other bank. I don’t want to damage anything.

    • Sure, you can power things off, but unless the PL8C does “sequencing” (where it turns on one bank at a time), you’ll probably still want to manually turn off your speakers. I would turn off the monitors, then turn off everything else at the PL8C. Then power on the PL8C, THEN power back on the monitors.
      That said, I’ve powered everything off with 1 switch plenty of times…no issues that I can see.

      • Ludwig Bouwer

        Also depends on the monitors! My Yamaha HS80s and Yamaha Sub are soft switching, and as long as I mute my desk, there is no spike to be heard when using the master power switch on my power conditioner.

  • Rob

    Hi

    I have recently moved from europe to the caribbean. My studio equipment is on the way, but how can i convert 220 to 110v safely. I have seen my missus’s electric toothbrush burn out, and i don’t want that to happen to my Profire 2626. Also the electricity goes off and on all day here. How can i protect my equipment? What do i need to buy? Is there one device that covers both problems?
    Many thanks for any help you guys can give me.

    • I’m not exactly sure about converting 220 to 110, but I do know Furman and Monster both make voltage regulators. They take the incoming electricity and spit out a balanced 110-120v signal. They’re expensive, but it’s possibly worth it.

      As far as power outages, some sort of simple battery backup thing would maybe be good. But I don’t think power outages are nearly as harmful as surges and brown-outs. A voltage regulator will prevent those from getting to and damaging your gear.

      Something like this would do both for you:

      http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/F1000UPS/

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  • chris rankin

    Do any of you know if this is any good http://www.imuso.co.uk/PA-Systems/PA-Accessories/Furman-Power-Supplies/13712-/Furman-M10x-E-Merit-Series-Power-Conditioner £129 its within my budget but not sure if it any good

    • Furman stuff is good. I recommend the PL line over the M line. Not sure the M line does much filtering. The PL line does. I own the P-8.

  • George

    I’m using ART Pro Audio – PB4x4 Pro – Power Distribution System and I’m happy.

  • Robert

    Hi, how do you guys do with powering on/off active studio monitors? Do you use two separate power conditioners, or are there models where you can set a delaytime before powering on the speakers? (And when shutting down making sure the monitors are turned off first). It would be a great “insurance” from the “human factor”…

    • There are some conditioners (more expensive) with sequencers on them. I just power everything off by hand if I don’t want to just turn it all on/off at once with the power conditioner.

  • APC http://www.apc.com/ surge protectors are very good , they also offers power storage.

  • Al

    I started unplugging my stuff when I hear or see a storm. I understand this is a risky way of dealing with the issue but my budget is so small I can’t afford to write it down. LOL. I will definitely add this to my list of things to get.

  • I never thought of it. I actually don;t even have my “studio” set up properly and I need a whole bunch of stuff to get. However, I DO share the same opinion as you know: why not protect you investment? I just checked on eBay and the model you are currently using is about $130. But, how do you connect everything to one single outlet? o_O

    • As long as your equipment isn’t pulling more than 15 amps of power, you can plug everything into the one power conditioner. If you run out of outlets, you can simply use a regular power strip off of one of the outlets on the back of the power conditioner to give you extra outlets. I actually use a cheaper Furman unit for this exact purpose, the SS-6B.

      • Thomas Hartkop

        Instead of using power conditioners I have 1 Toshiba 1500 plus and 2-900 watt UPS units. The Toshiba is a sign wave output and the others are modified sign wave. Living in the country we have intermittent power. If the power goes off I can turn on the generator. The UPS units keep things running until the generator is up and running. I have done complete sessions of 5 hrs on the back up 12KW Onan generator.

        I am insured that the power will not go out. In situations where there are storms in the area I will pull off line to edit.

        This ensures that I will have steady power and the computers will not crash.

        Most good UPS units will keep voltage around 120 volts and will go off line and onto its battery backup if it drops too low.

        Have you thought of an UPS?

        Food for thought!

        Thomas Hartkop

        • wineinthewater

          I think the thing that most people don’t realize is that most UPS’s don’t work like your Toshiba. Your Toshiba uses the line power to charge the batteries and then uses the batteries to power an inverter that provides pure AC power. Most UPS’s pass the line AC through to the connected devices and then have fast switching that switches the power over to the batteries when the line AC gets out of parameters. The result is that you only get clean power when the line AC gets really bad. The rest of the time you get the same surge suppression as any other surge suppressor.

          In-line UPS’s are generally much more expensive than switching UPS’s, usually more expensive than even an actual voltage regulator (a “true” power conditioner). They also have a couple of downsides. The first is that they are inherently inefficient. The lead-acid batteries in most UPS’s are only 80% efficient. That means that you lose 20% of the energy when you charge and another 20% when you use. That’s a system efficiency of 64% and you are just throwing away the other 36% of energy that passes through the thing. Since they are always charging and using the batteries, you are going to have to replace the batteries periodically. This is probably going to be every 1-3 years. For a long-term investment, you are committing to battery replacement, that is if you can even get batteries to your now-discontinued UPS. Your comment is 6 years old and replacement batteries for your Toshiba are probably now 100s of dollars if you can even find them.

          UPS’s have their advantages, especially if your power is unreliable, but I don’t think they are a good solution for power conditioning for most people.

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