Electrical disturbances

Electrical issues are common when you have multiple electronic devices running off the same circuit, and sharing the same small space. So, home studios and DIY project studios are often riddled with electrical issues that can cause a whole range of problems.
Let’s first look at the circuits in your house (this varies from one house to the next). A typical house in Canberra might have seven circuits — two for the lights, two for powerpoints, one for an airconditioner/heater, one for the oven and one for the hotwater system. An apartment would generally have less than this. So, if the power points in your studio are on the same circuit as your fridge…you have problems.

Certain appliances are known to cause issues with audio equipment. The most prevalent of these are fridges/freezers, fluorescent lights, and dimmer switches. 
The solution? Make sure (with the help of an electrician – we don’t want every Clark Griswold out there burning his house down) that the power points in your studio are on their own circuit (or at least not sharing a circuit with any electromagnetic troublemakers). If you really want to be safe from any interference, make sure that circuit is also on the opposite electrical phase (ask your electrician) of fridges, dimmers, AC units, etc. And DON’T install fluorescent lights in your studio. In fact, don’t even think about florescent lights when you’re in your studio.

Too much? OK, if you’re not that worried about the odd noise, hum, or buzz, let’s calm down.

To help get rid of interference and hum, do this stuff:

  1. Don’t overload plug sockets. 
  2. If possible, have your monitor speakers in their own wall sockets (they can share if you’re short on wall sockets).
  3. If possible, have your computer and screen in their own socket (they can share).
  4. If you’re using plug boards, make sure they’re direct into a wall socket (don’t daisy chain  – see point 1), and use surge protect boards.
  5. Don’t pile everything on top of each other. Some units ground to their power sockets, but some ground to their chassis. 
  6. Your microphones, guitar amp, guitar pickups, and monitor speakers need their personal space. If you’ve got a rack of gear next to your mic or monitors, you’ll hear about it.
I recently bought an expensive glorified plug board. Why? Because, not only have I noticed that the power here in Australia is a bit wacky (at the best of times), but during a couple of thunderstorms recently, everything in the house switched off. I know that’s supposed to happen, but IF I had my studio gear switched on, would that have fried it all? Probably.
So I bought a power conditioner. It’s a 19″ rack mount unit made by a US company called Furman. Basically, what it does is make sure that the power coming in from the wall socket is nice and steady – no spikes or wobbliness – and then distributes it safely to anything plugged in to its 11 IEC sockets (kettle plug/jug cord type). If, IF there is a lightening strike or some other electrical jolt, it will jump in the way to protect your studio gear faster than Superman. You see, surge protect boards are all good and well, but they’re not going to react fast enough to save a computer, or your expensive rack gear, or your speakers. Neither will the circuit breaker in your house.
So, if it’s more financially viable to purchase a Furman power conditioner, than to replace all your recording gear (after a power surge or after a few years of bonkers current running into it), I implore you to do so.
*Be advised that the more expensive power conditioners can simply be reset via a small button after they’ve taken a bullet for your gear, while cheaper power conditioners are sacrificial – they’ll destroy themselves to protect your gear. But, even then, it’s cheaper than replacing all your gear!

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