So you finally have yourself a brand new home studio setup. You bought all the needed microphones, got yourself a solid tube amp, channel mixer, preamps, etc., perfectly positioned your monitors and even did a full-on acoustic treatment of your work area. Not only must it have been a huge task to get everything up and running properly, but it probably cost you a pretty penny too. The worst thing that you can probably imagine – but may not fully realize yet just how easily it can happen – is having a piece of your pricey equipment break down on you. Yes, it’s the nature of pretty much every device ever invented; one day, it’s just bound to break down due to the natural wear and tear of its components, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the easily avoidable causes of damage common with electrical equipment. I’m talking about the annoying phenomena sometimes known as dirty power.
What is Dirty Power and Why Should I Worry?
Good question, but it’s actually not that hard to comprehend, it’s just something that’s not discussed much outside of the electrical engineering, music and tech communities. Have you ever had a blackout in your house? Well, right before the power goes out as well as when it comes back on you have something known as power spikes – essentially huge surges of electricity. Also, there might even be a few of you out there who live in an area where brownouts occur. During brownouts – which are intentionally used during emergencies where power conservation is needed – the voltage dips and sags a bit back and forth, kind of like the opposite of a power spike during a blackout. Normally most electrical devices can handle themselves on the average pretty well during these fluctuations but over time – or even just during one particularly bad occurrence – they can sustain damage, even full-on short out and break. You wouldn’t want anything like that to happen to your $2000 channel strip would you? Didn’t think so. Why not get yourself some peace of mind with a little bit of electrical insurance?
The Importance of the Power Conditioner
First and foremost, there might be a very select group of manufacturers who do this kind of protection but as far as I know, warranties DO NOT cover damage from power surge related damage very similar to how phone warranties DO NOT cover water damage (as much as my last three phones wish they did). It’s just something that can’t be successfully negated from a manufacturer’s end and has nothing to do with the build quality of a unit, which is what warranties are there ensure in the first place. Anyways, if you want to protect your equipment against this potentially destructive electrical occurrence, you’d be wise to invest in a power conditioner. And if that wasn’t enough to bring you over the fence, plenty of power conditioner manufacturers DO offer coverage for your connected components, meaning that if their product fails to protect your equipment as advertised, you get cash for new equipment. As I mentioned above, pretty much like a full insurance policy against electrical damage but make sure you read the warranty on exactly how much of your equipment is covered, although for the most part, some cover you for as much as $500,000 worth of equipment so something like ten grand should be no problem, but it’s always a good idea to make sure and read the fine print.
Top: Power Surge; Bottom: Surge with Conditioner on
Alright, so now we know that a power conditioner is pretty much a safeguard against fluctuations in voltage, but there's still a bit more to it than that. By looking at the little makeshift graph to the left, you can get a rough idea on how a power conditioner evens out the rough hills and drops of the sample voltage into a nice smooth and consistent signal. The bottom signal looks much more controlled, right? Before I go on, there might be some of you out there who are probably thinking, “why not just get a surge protector, isn’t that the same thing?” Same ballpark, but different where it matters most; they can protect against surges, sure, but they do not level out the voltage – that is to say – they do not give you clean power. Also, they do NOTHING against brownouts… NOTHING! Not to mention that the quality of a surge protector can range from pretty good to very bad – and good luck trying to spot the difference in quality because I sure can’t. And in case that wasn’t enough to deter you from trying to make due with a surge protector, they CAN, DO and WILL wear out, ultimately offering no protection at all. And may God save your equipment if lightning hits a nearby transformer of a power line (side note: some power conditioner warranties cover lightning damage!).
Ride the Electric Waves - Noise Free!
But going back to dirty power, it doesn’t just damage electrical components; it can cause unwanted noise to leak into your recording as well. Conversely, by using clean power – that is to say, from a power conditioner – you not only avoid the negatives of the dirty, but benefit from the pluses of a smooth and consistent voltage such as longer equipment life, higher fidelity signals and reduced/removed static noise – something power surges just weren’t built for.
As you probably already know, we record music by way of signals; whether it’s a guitar’s pickups sending a signal to a preamp and then into a recorder or an acoustic guitar being recorded through a mic, it all consists of taking down signals. Ever have the TV on and have someone suddenly turn on a vacuum cleaner? A lot of static, right? The same thing happens with your audio signal, although it’s not as obvious so most people are simply unaware. What causes the static on the TV is transmitted through the electrical system in your home and it can just as easily get inside your audio equipment. You might be expecting this static as a hiss or a buzz but it’s really not as noticeable, although it does raise the noise floor considerably during recordings which is definitely not a good thing if a clean track is your aim. Also, each piece of equipment you add to your home studio contributes its own bit of noise to the system via its power cable, also raising the noise floor. By adding a power conditioner with built in noise filtration – something most higher-end conditioners offer – you can make sure that your recording’s noise floor is tamed down. Also, power conditioners also offer noise filtration between the components plugged into the same conditioner, meaning that computer monitor will not interfere with your monitors which can be a common problem.
In the end, it’s your equipment and it’s really up to you whether you want to have adequate protection from electric damage. Or you can always just risk it and may or may not have to replace your expensive equipment. Anyways, if you feel the need to add some protection to your home studio from both voltage irregularities AND noise, head on over to our power conditioner section and get yourself some peace of mind.