February 11, 2022
It’s common knowledge among recording enthusiasts that clean power is a helpful thing in a studio. But as with any subject as complicated as electricity and power, it’s not always clear why. Here, we’ll go over what clean power actually means and why it’s important for any recording studio – big or small.
Power, like sound, occurs as a waveform. “Alternating current” reverses direction periodically and changes magnitude continuously. Ideally, this should occur in a very regular pattern as a perfect, even, sine wave.
Unfortunately, many factors can alter this wave pattern, such as voltage spikes and drops and electromagnetic (EM) interference. This can happen at the power source or because of equipment damage or poor build quality, and some power sources such as cheaper UPS (uninterruptable power supply) devices may even output a different kind of wave pattern such as a square wave (since it’s cheaper to manufacture devices that only approximate a perfect sine wave).
“Clean” power, then, is simply an AC signal that’s free of those kinds of abnormalities.
“Dirty” power can play havoc in a studio for two main reasons. Number one: a power signal with noise can introduce EM interference into the audio signal path, creating a variety of types of undesirable noise that you wouldn’t want to record. Amplified over several stages of gain, and this kind of noise can render recordings unusable. It can also introduce itself into speakers, making critical listening difficult or impossible. Secondly, large voltage spikes, brown outs, and random electrical phenomena can damage sensitive audio equipment.
For both these reasons, recording studios need a clean AC power source – more so than everyday run of the mill devices like toasters and microwaves.
Luckily, getting a clean power source into your studio may not be hard – depending on where you live. In some locales, brown outs and spikes are common. In others, incoming signal is generally clean – but still subject to some risk of spiking and noise.
The most common solution is to use a power conditioner, and while there are plenty of specific problems which might call for different solutions such as isolation transformers, multitap voltage regulators, noise filters, or ferroresonant transformers, those kind of solutions should be reserved for the specific problems they solve.
Here’s the rub on power conditioners, though. While almost all of them provide great surge protection, some do not output a pure sine wave. Carvin Audio’s AC120S is an example of a power conditioner which outputs a true pure sinewave, giving your studio gear the kind of clean power source and protection it needs.
In addition, the AC120S provides sequential power up, something only some conditioners provide. Sequential power up turns gear on in the right order, avoiding damage from spikes that often occur when powering up or down. Just remember to hook up power in the right order! For reference, gear should be powered up in the direction of signal flow. For example, mixer, amp, speakers. Power down in the opposite direction. Speakers, amp, mixer.
Power is a deep, complicated subject if you get into it (and it’s worth it), but suffice it to say that cleaning up your AC signal in the studio can make a big difference and keep you operating noise free for a long time.
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