April 20, 2021

A power conditioner is one of those pieces of equipment that’s not cool or sexy, but is an absolute must for any studio or live audio set up. But what is a power conditioner, anyway, and why is it so important? We’ll go over the basics of power conditioners and why they’re a fundamental tool for your rig.

What is a power conditioner?

Simply put, a power conditioner regulates power. Power coming into the mains of a house, office, bar, or concert venue is often noisy, out of spec, or not quite consistent when it comes to voltage.

There are two main reasons this matters. One is that electromagnetic (EM) noise can get picked up in audio equipment, introducing noise in the audio signal. Add this noise and interference up over several stages of gain and various pieces of equipment, and the noise floor in your setup can be significantly higher.

The second is that sensitive and/or expensive equipment can be damaged by the unpredictable nature of incoming power. Surges, brown outs, spikes, and other odd phenomenon can play havoc with equipment. Voltage fluctuations especially can increase the wear and tear on equipment, shortening its lifespan.

So, a power conditioner simply takes in a power signal from the outside world, cleans it up and distributes a clean, noise free, and reliable signal to your equipment.

Is it really necessary?

Some might claim a power conditioner is just a glorified, expensive surge protector. Others say that power conditioning isn’t usually necessary, because audio gear itself is usually equipped with power conditioning.

These statements have some truth to them. First of all, a power conditioner does indeed provide surge protection. But it also removes EM noise, “purifies” the alternating current wave form, and more. Second, it is true that some audio equipment includes a power conditioning component. Most, in fact. But space and cost limit the quality and utility that built in conditioning can provide.

If you’re lucky enough to have a decently clean power source, you may not notice an audible difference when you implement a power conditioner, but your gear will be better protected, and as you add equipment – especially vintage gear – a guarantee of clean power gets more essential.

In areas with particularly noisy power or that are prone to frequent brown outs, a power conditioner is absolutely necessary and can turn an otherwise untenable space into a quality, high functioning studio or venue.

What else can a power conditioner do?

Besides being the backbone of a well-built studio or venue, power conditioners like Carvin Audio’s AC120S can also provide a number of other features. Many conditioners are also light sources for handling rack equipment in dark settings, for example. Almost all power conditioners have multiple outputs, making it easy to centralize your gear’s power (a must for avoiding ground loops).

AC120S Power Conditioner / Sequencer

 

Perhaps most importantly, some power conditioners (like the AC120S), come with sequential power up/power down, allowing you to turn on gear in the proper order by flipping one switch. This is important, because audio equipment sends a spike when it’s powered up, which can damage gear down the chain. It’s important to power up gear in the direction of the signal chain and power down in the opposite direction to avoid this damage. Power conditioners with sequential power on/off do this for you, eliminating the trouble and the possibility for error. The AC120S also includes 10 outlets that can be switched on/off individually.

There you have it. Power conditioners 101. Not the most glamorous equipment in the studio, but perhaps the most important workhorse you can invest in.



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