Protecting Your Power - EMusician

Protecting Your Power

The fact is: We’re all operating on old and overtaxed power grids.This more often than not means that we have noise and irregularities on the lines — which in turn means equipment with unreliable performance, or worse, that is susceptible to component failure and complete breakdown.
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The most common form of protection used to combat today’s power issues, is the cheap, throw-down, plastic surge protector. These devices are fairly ubiquitous these days, but in reality they’re no more than a few extra outlets with unreliable protection components, designed to “sacrifice” themselves when exposed to over-voltage conditions, or transient voltage spikes. Though they can save the equipment downstream, the units themselves must then either be serviced or replaced. But until that is done, your system remains either non-operational or unprotected. Additionally, they do nothing to filter the incoming power and can, in fact, add even more noise to the line.

Common misconception #36b: Transient voltage spikes are rare or present only during lightning storms. In fact, a local power utility sends countless spikes through the AC wiring each week, because of the necessary switching of one transformer or supply to another throughout the day to adjust for peak demands. Although not as severe as a direct lightning hit, over time there is a cumulative effect that takes its toll on sensitive electronic equipment. Translation: everything in your studio.

Solving The Solution

So, what then? Professional power protection equipment like a transient voltage surge suppression system? Well, SMP+ (Series Multi-Stage Protection Plus) technology, for instance, offers proven protection in critical studio applications with protection circuitry that can typically handle multiple 6,000-volt and 3,000-amp pulses without sustaining any damage.

But standard surge suppressors are really just power clamping devices that have to absorb all of the energy themselves — which is why they tend to snap like an overstretched spring when faced with an over-voltage incident. To counter that, SMP+ circuitry has the ability to siphon off much of the offending transient voltage spike, which eases the burden of the power clamping devices. The key to SMP+ is that the severity of the offending voltage spike is critically damped, so that the overall energy level is reduced to a fraction of what the clamping devices can handle. Like a well-tuned shock absorber, the SMP+ circuit protects itself, as well as the connected equipment.

Extreme Voltage Shutdown

Statistically, though, even greater than the risk of damage from electrical surges is the damage from sustained connections to high voltage levels. This can occur because of an accidental connection to a 230-volt power supply, or a lost neutral line (this effectively doubles the level of incoming voltage). Though this situation would be lethal for most systems, a technology called Extreme Voltage Shutdown (EVS) can provide peace of mind. As the name would suggest, EVS solves this problem by monitoring incoming voltage, and when the voltage rises to approximately 15 percent above nominal, automatically powers down all equipment quickly and safely in order to prevent damage from occurring. An indicator LED on the front of the power conditioner then illuminates, alerting the user to the situation until the over-voltage condition is corrected.

AC Power Filtering? Maybe . . .

In the past, very basic AC filtering was sufficient, but today’s AC noise is far greater in both amplitude and bandwidth than ever before. This is due, in part, to the increased usage of switching power supplies and the contamination they back-feed into our AC power mains. The effect of this noise is to distort the meaningful low-level signals that are critical to peak audio and video performance.

Because the AC noise that is coupled into your components’ circuitry may be higher in strength than much of the low-level signals your equipment is attempting to reproduce, a masking effect will take place. The AC power filters of today must maintain a much higher efficiency and cover a much broader bandwidth than ever before. This is key, as high definition audio is defined by its ability to accurately reproduce complex, low-level signals.

Because of the way we hear and see, though, it’s important to filter AC in a linear fashion. Otherwise the result will sound and look discordant. You cannot lower noise in one octave, thereby unveiling more signal information, only to increase the noise an octave away, and further dramatically reduce noise half an octave from there. Traditional AC filters unfortunately employ this non-linear approach because they were designed for unrealistic laboratory conditions and not for the complex loads of the real world. As a result, these technologies can harm audio performance more than help, because of the resonant peaking of their antiquated designs. Clearly, an advanced AC noise filter must have linearized filtering, and cover the widest frequency (bandwidth) possible. By doing so, you will be assured peak performance from your studio equipment.

Besides what has already been mentioned here, advanced power management should also consider such things as power factor correction, uninterruptible power supplies, and voltage regulation; but the main point to take away is that electronic circuits of today’s studio equipment are of such a sensitivity and sophistication that they require more serious AC power conditioning. Anything less will limit the quality of your audio projects and leave unprotected equipment at risk.

Tips on supplying power to your studio

A good power conditioner can absorb an unlimited number of 6,000-volt and 3,000-amp pulses — without sustaining any damage. A suppressor’s “joule rating” is essentially a measurement of how long the unit will last before needing to be replaced, purchasing one with an unlimited joule rating means you can plug it in and forget about it.

A power conditioner that can survive being plugged into a 220-volt outlet when the equipment is rated for 120-volts is a power conditioner that could save you someday. EVS (Extreme Voltage Shutdown) functionality, will automatically block the power supply once the voltage has risen about 15 percent above nominal.

Buzzing audio and flickering video are the result of AC contamination that has steadily grown worse in the past decades. The only way to effectively deal with this problem is with a power conditioner that features a linear filter that suppresses noise evenly across a wide frequency range. Try it. You’ll not be sorry you did.