February 07, 2013, by Jon Tidey
A power conditioner is one of those items that might be pretty low on the “things to buy” list. But for a home studio, or especially a live recording set-up, definitely consider getting one sooner rather than later.
So what is power conditioning?
Power conditioning is a kind of vague term to that covers voltage regulation, surge protection, spike protection and noise reduction of the AC power that runs all your equipment.
A power conditioner is a rack unit that does all this as well as power distribution, a fancy word for multiple outlets.
My power conditioner is a fairly simple one, nothing fancy. It’s a Samson PowerStrip PS15 that cost about $75 when I got it a few years ago. This is one of the least expensive power conditioners you can get. They can get pretty expensive and have all sorts of features that likely won’t help you make music.
The PS15 has eight outlets on the back, one on the front, basic radio frequency (RF) filtering, surge and spike protection, and a circuit breaker to reset the system in case of overload. No lights or meters, just a rack with a big red button that no one is allowed to touch. That’s probably my favorite part of it.
Filtering & Noise Reduction
With regard to filtering and noise reduction. I haven’t heard a change in sound quality. Unless you have an obvious noise problem, don’t expect any change.
On the other hand, power conditioners don’t add noise to the system. The only time you might have noise is if you do something dumb like have one of your loudspeakers on a different outlet—this can generate some nasty ground-loop hum.
I have it set up is like this:
—All of my computer equipment, computer, two monitors, modem, router and mouse charger go into a power bar, and that takes up one outlet on the rack.
—My audio gear plugs directly into the rack—my two Yamaha monitors, M-Audio Profire 2626 interface, and Roland Space Echo.
—My hard drives and lighting for behind the desk go into another power bar and then into the rack.The charger for my Macbook Pro goes into the front.
Nine outlets is plenty; I still have two left. The circuit breaker will trip to tell me when I’ve used too much.
These are the main factors in my decision to purchase this power conditioner rack:
—My computer, monitors, loudspeakers, interface, external drives and network take up a lot of outlets, more than is probably safe.
—I hate cable clutter. I wanted to separate audio and power cables but they’d always seem to cross because everything was going in opposite directions. Now it’s much more organized. I added some hooks to the back of the rack to keep the cables separated as much as possible.
—I’m in an apartment and there’s a good chance my power is erratic and noisy.
—I sometimes do mobile recording and this provides great protection for my gear.
—It was inexpensive.
—I had extra space in the rack.
—Rack gear is cool no matter what it does.
Your reasons for getting one might be different. I think everyone can agree it’s essential for a live recording rig (who knows what’s going on out there). Better blowing up your power conditioner than your much more valuable recording gear.
Jon Tidey is a Producer/Engineer who runs his own studio, EPIC Sounds, and enjoys writing about audio on his blog AudioGeekZine.com. To comment or ask questions about this article go here.