In this article, you’ll learn how to identify and remove noise caused by electrical problems in your studio. By following a few simple guidelines, you can achieve clean, professional recordings free from the unwanted buzz and hum of dirty power.
Dirty Power vs. Clean Power
“Dirty power” is the term used to describe an electrical system with different or uneven electrical currents, often due to old or improperly wired circuits. It’s unfortunately pretty common in older houses, apartments and commercial spaces.
The most obvious sign that you have a dirty power problem is buzz or hum in your signal chain. Dirty power can also make your audio susceptible to random clicks, typically when a piece of gear begins to ramp up and draws power. With dirty power in your studio, any single piece of gear is capable of introducing buzz, hum, hiss or clicks into your signal chain.
By its simplest definition, clean power is power that introduces no radio-frequency interference or electromagnetic interference into your audio path. The quality of your power and the effectiveness of your grounding scheme will ultimately determine how clean your signal chain will be. Clean power not only makes for better audio, but it also protects your gear from dangerous surges and spikes that can cause power supplies to fail, or worse.
Let’s Talk About Grounding
So what exactly is ground loop hum? Ground loop hum can rear its ugly head when you have several pieces of equipment powered, usually by different AC outlets, and are then linked together in some way. This can be through analog audio cable, speaker cable or even optical cables.
If the audio in your studio has an audible hum, chances are that at least some of your gear is improperly grounded. Some people try to mitigate this by using a 3-prong to 2-prong outlet adapter that essentially removes the ground altogether. But beware, this is almost never a good solution, as you could be potentially electrocuted and get seriously injured.
Need help eliminating noise in your studio? Contact our team of studio professionals for expert advice and support.
Power conditioning can be used to describe different ways of achieving a stable, clean electrical environment. Let’s take a look at several ways to improve the quality of your power, and as a result, your audio.
Multitap Voltage Regulators
A multitap voltage regulator maintains a constant, steady voltage for any equipment you plug into it. Audio gear is particularly sensitive to power fluctuations, so this type of power conditioner will help you achieve a reliable, optimal sound.
Furman, an industry-leading power conditioner manufacturer, has a wide range of professional power conditioners that are great for many studio environments. Here are a couple of their most popular models.
Furman PL-Plus C Power Conditioner
The Furman PL-Plus C Power Conditioner features their unique implementation of surge protection, called SMP+, or Series Multi-Stage Protection Plus. SMP+ suppresses electrical surges, dissipates the damaging transient voltages, and protects your gear in the process. The PL-Plus C also features LiFT (Linear Filtering Technology), which is specifically designed to protect analog and digital audio and video equipment through linear filtering and preventing ground leakage.
Pictured: Furman PL-Plus C Power Conditioner
Furman PST-6 Power Station Series AC Power Conditioner
If you want superior surge protection compared to a standard power strip, the Furman PST-6 is an excellent choice. It features a compact, yet sturdy aluminum chassis with six outlets and provides advanced surge protection with zero ground contamination—perfect for computers and sensitive audio gear.
Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)
A UPS provides you with an emergency battery backup during a power outage. Not only does it protect your gear from unplanned shutdowns, it gives you the precious time you need to safely save your work, and properly eject external media like thumb drives or hard drives, which are particularly susceptible to power interruptions. APC, a leading provider of uninterruptible power supplies, features pure sine wave output technology in its products, which delivers backup battery power that’s similar in quality to what comes from your utility company. This technology enables you to safely operate your computer and most sensitive studio gear during a power failure.
Standby vs. Online UPS
The two most popular types of UPS, online and standby, offer similar functionality but with some important differences, especially for studio environments.
A standby UPS, which often looks like a larger version of a power strip, usually provides several outlets and operates under regular circumstances by powering any devices you plug in. A battery inside the UPS is literally on standby, so that when a power failure occurs, the UPS detects the outage, switches to battery backup power, and keeps your devices up and running. The one deficiency inherent in all standby uninterruptible power supplies is that it usually takes a few milliseconds for the UPS to switch to battery power. This is typically fine for most consumer-grade electronics, but has the potential to cause damage to sensitive gear like professional audio equipment. Luckily, there is an even better solution—the online UPS.
An online UPS is the best option if you want a safe and reliable battery backup for your most sensitive computer equipment and audio gear. In contrast to a standby UPS, an online UPS uses continuous electrical conversion to power your connected devices. In an online UPS, power is drawn from the AC wall outlet and converted to DC to charge the battery. The battery’s DC power is then converted back to AC in order to supply your connected devices with power. This ensures that no power interruption occurs during an electrical outage or brownout. Online UPS solutions provide a constant, stable uninterrupted stream of power so your gear is protected from sudden power loss, but it’s less susceptible to power fluctuations as well.
Recommended UPS Solutions
The Furman F1500-UPS is much more than an ordinary uninterruptible power supply. With a 2RU chassis, 1500VA of battery backup, and a host of features designed specifically for use with sensitive electronics, Furman has combined their renowned power conditioning technology with a UPS that’s great for protecting the audio and video gear in your studio.
APC offers an entire line of UPS solutions, with options for almost any budget. You’ll find that most of the APC UPS solutions are standby-only, so while they are suitable for most consumer electronics, they may not be the ideal solution for your most sensitive audio gear.
Most conventional residential housing and commercial buildings have power systems that aren't suitable for sensitive, expensive electronics like pro audio gear. To understand why that is, it helps to understand how most cities structure their electrical grids. In a typical city, power is generated at the primary station, transmitted to a substation, and then distributed to individual homes, offices and buildings. Without making major modifications to your electrical system, this type of power distribution leaves your sensitive gear exposed to unpredictable power spikes that can cause significant damage. Surge suppressors prevent power spikes from ever reaching and damaging your equipment. They are a true studio essential, but a surge suppressor is most effective if you have a good grounding scheme in place.
Contact your local Guitar Center Professional expert for a free consultation to learn more about how surge suppressors can protect your studio’s sensitive gear assets.
A dedicated noise filter for power acts as a high-pass filter to remove unwanted noise. Many power conditioners, including those from Furman, have integrated noise filtration systems to ensure that your audio is clean and unaffected by dirty power.
Before we discuss isolation transformers, it’s important to know that it can be very dangerous to make modifications to your electrical system. Isolation transformers, or any major modifications, should only be investigated and installed by a licensed electrician.
An isolation transformer is a balanced power transformer that electrically isolates noisy equipment and reduces chassis leakage so that the rest of the circuit is kept quiet and unaffected. It also enables you to lift the ground of any device that is connected to the isolation transformer without risking electric shock or injury.
A ferroresonant transformer is a specific type of isolation transformer that gets connected to a capacitor to create a 60Hz resonant element. This results in excellent voltage regulation over a wide range of input voltages, with none of the sudden changes that accompany tap-switching transformers.
Clean Power Recap
From power conditioners for enhanced stability to uninterruptible power supplies for the ultimate peace of mind, there are many ways to ensure that your audio gear is protected and functions at peak performance. With help from our dedicated team of experts at Guitar Center Professional, you can identify the causes of your dirty power issues and develop a cost-effective strategy to achieve clean, stable power for your entire studio.
Contact our team of studio professionals for more info, help and product suggestions.