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
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.)
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.
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
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.