What does a Power Conditioner Really do?

Image of Lightning Strike on Electric Power lines

When thinking about the necessities needed for an at-home studio setup, there’s always one item people tend not to think about. In reality, it can be a very crucial and vital addition to your overall setup. I’m talking about power conditioners. 

Now I know power conditioners aren’t the most exciting item to talk about when thinking of new gadgets to improve your workstation, but I’m here to tell you why it should be the first thing on your wishlist when shopping for new gear. 

Power conditioners are used to regulate the power/voltage you’re using for your gear. The conditioner creates a safe stream of power, effectively converting it and stabilizing it for your equipment. 

Whether you’re converting your apartment power to a more stable current or using it as a fail-safe for when the power goes out, power conditioners are a vital secret weapon to a more professional workflow in your studio. 

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What Does a Power Conditioner Really Do? 

A power conditioner reduces interference from your power source and can keep your output voltage consistent regardless of what power surges or interference comes from the mains power.

It’s pretty much like a really awesome power strip for your musical equipment that keeps your power source clean. Having dirty power can affect the quality of your recordings and can sometimes even be heard as a little crackle, hum or hiss on the track. 

Now, let’s talk about the different types of power conditioners and units you can find to upgrade your studio setup. 

Surge Protectors 

Surge protectors are units that protect your gear from voltage spikes or dips. Providing a safe and steady current of power. 

Most power from a normal outlet is not steady and has slight changes in voltage all the time. The changes are very small and unnoticeable to the average user, but for audio, it can become noticeable when trying to achieve a clear sound. Surge protectors come with multiple outlets and an indicator light to tell you if it’s working or not. 

Using a surge protector in your power chain can be an inexpensive place to start protecting

your gear from random power inconsistencies large or small. They are mainly only effective when a change in voltage does happen. 

Basic Power Conditioners 

Basic power conditioners are known for providing clean AC to any electrical equipment you have plugged into it. These units usually are able to act as a surge protector as well as a noise filter. Conditioners usually are rack mount compatible to easily fit into your current set up and are really easy to set up. Simply plug it in and use it as your AC hub for the rest of the gear. 

Additionally, I love using power conditioners because it makes your set up so much easier to power on and off as a whole. Having everything plugged up to one power conditioner provides simple access and ensures protection for all your gear. 

UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)

The UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) is used as the second line of defense for regulating power and protecting your equipment from aggressive changes in voltage or power outages.

Let’s say you’re working on a new song and just getting it going. You lay down a couple of tracks and are vibing on the production so far. All of a sudden the power in your home or studio goes out and shuts everything off. 

This means that a lot of your electronics inside your studio such as monitors, outboard gear, and your computer suddenly turn off without warning. Many of these devices should be carefully turned off and powered down in a specific order so as not to ruin the components inside the gear.

Not only this, but your computer may not save the latest changes you made to the project, so minutes or even hours of work could be lost!

If all of your gear is getting power from a UPS, if the power did go out, they would be protected from shutting off in a dangerous way. 

The UPS will give you time to react to the sudden power situation safely, saving your project by turning your speakers off, powering down compressors, and/or amplifiers. 

How does a UPS work?

A UPS has a large battery inside the unit and an inverter which converts the mains AC power to DC to charge the battery. The internal battery then provides a continuous DC power source, which is converted back to AC to power your equipment.

There are a few different types of UPS;

A. Standby UPS

A standby UPS allows your devices to be powered directly from the normal mains power, until it detects a problem. If a problem occurs, the UPS quickly switches into battery operation mode – powering your devices from its internal battery. This allows you to have time to shutdown all your equipment naturally without losing any work or damaging your gear.

A standby UPS is normally lower in cost and has a smaller battery, meaning it can’t power your equipment for long periods of time.

B. Continuous UPS

A continuous UPS powers all of your equipment from the internal battery all the time. Unlike a surge protector, or standby UPS, a continuous UPS is active all the time, keeping the voltage and AC current clean and consistent. 

You can really see the importance of a UPS unit when something actually does go wrong in your studio. 

This extra line of protection is super crucial, especially when working with clients or other musicians who are paying for studio time. 

C. UPS with Pure Sine Wave 

The biggest difference between a regular UPS or a UPS with sine wave technology is the quality of output AC waveform being produced from the unit. 

AC power naturally has a perfect sine wave curve to it’s waveform, while DC power from a UPS battery produces a choppier wave curve. Lower end UPS units produce a ‘modified sine wave’ which looks like a staircase as opposed to higher end UPS units which can produce a pure sine wave which looks like a natural curve.

The pure sine wave tech provides an even cleaner source of power to all the gear plugged into it. Sine waves add more sensitivity and overall smoothness making it ideal for getting a clean audio recording. 

If you’re looking for the highest quality UPS out there then I would definitely suggest looking into one that has sine wave tech built into it. These are fairly priced and could be worth it over just a regular UPS unit. 

Power conditioner with voltage regulation 

Voltage regulation is essentially adding insurance to a power conditioner, allowing it to be used even after a power outage. The power conditioner with voltage regulation is just another way to keep all of your outputs steady and at the same voltage. Having solid power is the foundation for all the electronics and conductors you’re using to make music. 

Having all of these fail-safes will ensure clean sound and reliable power whenever you’re creating. I also think that having some type of power conditioner or something regulating your equipment overall gives your projects a more professional feel. When I see this particular piece in someone’s set up, I can already assume this engineer or producer knows what’s up. 

Things to think about when choosing a Power Conditioner 

So now that you’ve decided to put this on your wishlist, it’s time to narrow down which one will be right for you. Let’s talk about some of the smaller details about the units and add ons to figure out the best unit to serve your setup. 

The number of power outputs is very important when choosing your new power conditioner. The number of outputs available will dictate where you can place the conditioner and how many electronics can be powered off of it. 

I would purchase one that has at least 8 outputs just to be safe. You never know what kind of new gear you’re going to bring home and want to plug in too. Having these extra outputs, even if you don’t need them right away, is beneficial in giving you the space to expand your studio. Maybe you’ll use the extra outputs when someone brings their own amp to your set up or needs an outlet for a phone charger. You never know! 

Power conditioners come with a wide variety of features to help you get the most out of your unit. This includes features like Surge Protection, Filtering, Voltage Regulation, UPS, and Pure Sine Wave. A lot of these options will take your power conditioner to the next level, giving you more power protection and quality for your audio recordings. I would definitely recommend getting a conditioner with surge protection and pure sine wave tech. It is possible to eliminate ground hum using plugins and some editing so don’t worry, but it’s usually best to get rid of all that before recording. 

Setting up a power conditioner is pretty easy and connecting everything to it only takes a few steps. If you’re planning on adding the power unit to a rack case or mount, I would do that first. After you’ve placed the conditioner in the place it’s going to live I would then plug its power cable into a reliable outlet or surge protected power strip. 

Once it has power the unit should be fully functional and ready to use. Start plugging all of your gear into the back of the conditioner. Most conditioners will have a voltage reader in the front or somewhere easily visible. This will give you a great indication of how much power is being conducted through the unit. The main units I would plug into it first are your computer, speakers, mixer or interface, and any type of musical gear that has tubes in it. 

I chose these items because they are the pieces of gear I would want to be protected from any power issues first. They are the most delicate and most likely to get ruined with improper powering down procedures. 

Be sure when purchasing a new power conditioner or device that requires power to check to make sure that it can safely use your country’s voltage. If you are concerned about your power conditioner not being compatible with international voltage currencies, I would invest in a voltage converter so that you would be able to connect your power conditioner to a local outlet. A voltage converter is a super cheap find on amazon.

Quality and price go hand in hand. This is the truth in the majority of situations involving music gear. Better gear will always cost more because the components that go into the item will be better quality. 

Having said that, you can buy a pretty decent power conditioner without breaking the bank. Furman has some really trustworthy power conditioners for your rack unit that are under $100. I have one in my studio and it has worked perfectly for years. 

They have a power conditioner that has built-in lights on the front of it which is pretty cool too. In the case of a rack, the light can be super useful for seeing all of your controls and parameters on your outboard gear and desk. 

Most units come with a pretty solid manufacture warranty, but I would suggest getting a warranty from the place you’re buying it from as well. Most online stores like Sweetwater and Guitar Center have good warranty deals and options. I buy the majority of my gear on Sweetwater because of the incredible customer support and insurance policies. 

At the end of the day, I know it’s really all about the look of the unit. It should add value and style to your studio for sure. Any of the rackmount conditioners look really amazing. 

Getting one with a voltage meter or lights on the front also has a really nice look to it especially in a dark studio space. 

Furman has a couple of different options that are all really solid. The Furman M-8X2, M-8Dx, and M-8Lx are all super solid affordable options. 

If you want something a little more pricey with some extra features like a LED screen or different built-in filters, you’re going to be spending more in the $400 range. The nicer units will be more money, but as I said on this particular item you could totally get one of the more affordable ones and be super happy with it. 

If you don’t have a rack case or desk then they have really nice floor power conditioners too that are just as effective in giving you all the same safeties. I usually end up buying those over cheaper power strips in general just because they are so bad ass for any of your electronics, not just musical equipment. 

Overall a power conditioner can be a fantastic addition to your home studio that won’t end up breaking the bank. I’ve had lots of experience with units that cost under $100 and they have never let me down in a power outage or surge. 

They look great and add that extra layer of electrical protection for all of your musical equipment that requires power. I would go online to Sweetwater or Amazon to find the unit that’s right for you. 

Protecting your assets is just as important as owning them. So are you ready to take the next step in upgrading your studio?

Tim Wells

Hi I’m Tim Wells – an experienced session and live drummer, mixing engineer and all-around lover of music! I’ve been passionate about music from a young age and I’ve had the great privilege of creating and performing music all around the world. I've had the incredible experience of touring as a live drummer through over 10 countries, performing in festivals, clubs, street corners, churches and cafes in front of audiences anywhere between 8 and 8,000! I've also spent time in the recording studio as a session drummer, but also as a recording and mixing engineer.

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