Power Conditioner

Discussion in 'Home Theater Projects' started by Wayde_R, May 21, 2004.

  1. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    Could someone who knows a thing or two about household power (like an electrician) please critique what say here about power conditioners. I want to make double sure I'm not including any blatant technical innacuracies.

    I wrote this for use on a website I'm writing as sort everyman's Home Theater guide (HT on a budget). I wanted to give specific information on what to expect from a power conditioner.

    I don't want to seem offencive to audiophiles who love their power conditioners, but I do want people on a budget not to know they can do without one. Household wiring is something I'm only just learning, the grouding thing I might be a little unclear on.

    Thank you in advance for reading and any comments.
    Wayde
    ------------------------------

    Hi-Fi writers and audiophiles have given compelling testimonies of improvements in sound when using a Power Conditioner for their Home Theater system.

    “…a very thin veil that I did not know had been there, was lifted. The clarity was now like a crystal goblet that was squeaky clean.”
    -An audio review of an expensive Power Conditioner


    Power Conditioners plug into your wall and provide outlets for Home Theater components. Paranoia over dirty and noisy household electricity are used to sell Power Conditioners as a miracle cure that will unlock your audio system’s potential. Power Conditioners should only be considered to address specific problems and an electrician should generally be consulted first, not an expensive miracle box.

    Here are some basic functions a Power Conditioner may perform:

    • Surge protector.Shunts excess voltage to ground but works more effectively in close proximity to natural Earth ground. A more effective solution is to protect all electrical appliances in your house by installing a surge protector at your household fuse box. Unplug your gear for absolute protection from surges.

    • RF Noise filter. Normal amounts of noise from AC outlets are filtered by your equipment’s power supply. Since there are no quantitative standards for reporting levels of RF filtering how well a filter performs is largely left to your faith in the manufacturer. Devices that perform high frequency switching such as computers, SACD players or even vacuum cleaners and blenders should be plugged into outlets away from your TV or Home Theater receiver to limit backwash noise flowing back into your power lines.

    • Voltage Stabilizers/Regulators. Stabilize fluctuating voltages that can shutdown or harm expensive equipment. Most household appliances including Home Theater equipment are sturdy enough to handle slight fluctuations from normal household power. Severe power fluctuations that can dim lights and cause brown outs should be addressed by your municipal utilities. Voltage Regulators measure voltages to ensure negligible heat generation, common sense should dictate when your gear might be overheating. Only households with serious and consistent power problems might to need to take these measures.

    • Ground Stabilizer. Grounding problems can create hum from speakers or damage equipment. A ground leak in one Home Theater component can create a ground loop, this should be repaired immediately. Ground problems in your household wiring should be repaired at the wall outlet or fuse box. An isolation transformer costs a fraction of a high end Power Conditioner and resolves problems with ground loops.

    There is no magic to the jobs performed by Power Conditioners. If you decide you need AC line protection for your Home Theater consider options that provide hard facts about how it performs and not colorful metaphors.
     
  2. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    I'm not going to edit what you wrote Wayde but will simply say if you're going to put this somewhere as a stand-alone piece you may want to embelish upon various items. You can always do a search, probably Tweaks is best, under the term 'conditioner' and just read what's been written.
     
  3. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

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    Hi Wayde.

    You might want to mention that many inexpensive power-strips give surge protection and RF Filtering. Some of these sub $20 power strips also have jacks to run your CATV coax through which can solve the number-one source of hum: your CATV Coax.

    You might also mention that the same, $800 power conditioner gave different results on 2 reviewers systems. One reviewer lived in a city apartment where the AC power had lots of demands, noise. The conditioner made a big difference. The other reviewer (who found little change using the conditioner) lived in the suburbs away from all business or industry.

    The AC power system literally changes every hour, and the shared use of it changes every second. (Not to mention seasonal changes.) Because of this, my stock advice to people pushed to buy one of these things is:

    - Find a store that has a 30 day money back return policy with no restocking fee. Buy the unit or arrange for a loan.

    - Wait for your normal TV/Movie watching day and time. Start watching your system to get used to the appearance. After about 30 minutes, power the system down and plug into the conditioner and continue watching.

    - Focus on the video, not audio part of your system. (Your eyes are much more sensitive than your ears). Does the conditioner help AT your normal watching times? If so, then consider keeping it.

    Auditioning a conditioner with a A/B type of testing at several different watching times is a real good way to decide if your AC power is 'dirty'.

    Another FAQ: "Can I use a computer Uninteruptable Power Supply (UPS) for my HT system?"

    Generally, no. This is like hooking a car battery-charger ahead of your HT equipment and passing the over-flow to your television. There are some UPS units that are now offering "Clean Power" and claim to be good for A/V equipment, but I have not heard much feedback on these.

    Hope this helps.
     
  4. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks guys.

    I like your ideas Bob and will try to integrate some, I like the contrast between apartment and suburban home, it might be an easy way to illustrate different situations people may encounter. Not expecting an edit Chu, just wanted to make sure nothing I've said here was blatantly innacurate or just plain wrong, that's all.

    Wayde
     
  5. CraigRogers

    CraigRogers Extra

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    Hmm...very few threads on line conditioners/surge protection. So I've dragged this one back from the past...

    I'd like to have something to protect my gear. If there's an audible or visual improvement, great, but I'm not expecting that. (I certainly don't want things to get worse though!) I'd like to get a non-mov protection unit, and have my eyes on the Adcom ACE-315 or 615 units. Does anyone have any experience with this model? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks!
     
  6. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    The Adcom, like units from SurgeX, Brickwall, etc., represents point of use devices based on a series approach. The idea here is to 'dam' the surge and then bleed it off into the neutral line. This is done through a complex network of capacitors and likely includes other components such as inductors. By virtue of this capacitor network, such a unit would be expected to excel in dealing with electronic glitches, baby spikes if you will, that may occur from noisy switches, devices such as the cycling from air conditioners or compressors, etc. so long as these glitches make their way through the electrical lines. The unit will not address air born emi or rfi but for that matter, neither will any other unit.

    According to what I've read, and I could be wrong, this presupposes that the only way a surge can come down the lines is via the hot and neutral. This would suggest that if a surge were to come in via the other avenues, that there might not be any protection. You may want to discuss this with Adcom or the other manufacturers if this is of concern to you. Further, if the device you're purchasing doesn't automatically inform you that you've got a wiring problem (hot & neutral reversed, neutral & ground reversed) then you should pick up a $4 outlet tester at Home Depot and ensure that you're wired correctly.

    If you own your own home, then a far superior method is to have a whole house device installed to route all incoming lines (electrical, phone, cable, etc.) through. Then you can always use additional point-of-use devices, which need not be expensive to provide redundancy. The idea here is to shunt a surge to earth ground before it enters your home. Once a surge enters your building, it has but one thought and that is to find earth ground. To do that it will jump wires if it has to, find an earthed water pipe, go back down one ground and back up to another appliance that is at lower potential in order to accomplish this. In its search for earth ground, other devices are likely to be destroyed, be it a toaster, microwave, garage door opener, whatever. Logically, it is prudent to stop the intruder from entering the premises rather than using a gun in the hopes of killing it once it enters.

    If you live in certain parts of the US where there is a large amount of cloud to ground lightning activity (NASA provides maps) such as certain parts of the midwest, Texas, in that part of Florida affectionately called lighting alley, then you've got more reason than the rest of the country to have your paranoia level raised. Further, if you have your own home, then even if you live in such places, there are common-sense approaches that you can take to protect all your electronic devices. They are not sexy, they don't rely on a particular company, but they are proven methods based on fundamental principles.

    That's my 2.83 volts worth.
     
  7. CraigRogers

    CraigRogers Extra

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    Wow...great info. Thanks.

    I live in a townhouse (own). What would one of those "whole house" protection units roughly run?
     
  8. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    This is a tough call since the pricing depends upon the unit and the cost of an electrician to install it, the latter perhaps being the most expensive part of the whole process since they may have a minimum charge even though the job takes 15 minutes. Further, some electricians will only deal with products that they obtain and you know as well as me, that means list price or a markup.
    A while back someone had posted that for around $200 they got the unit plus one or two dedicated 20 amp lines run to their HT.
    One thing you can do is call a place like Intermatic up (they've got a toll-free #) and ask to be connected to an applications engineer. Go through the whole question and answer scenario and they'll be able to recommend an appropriate unit or two that'll get the job done. They may also be able to tell you where you can get it locally so you'll be able to price it and then call a few electricians to get some quotes. Generally speaking, if you're not in a 'problem' area, a 1000 joule unit is more than sufficient. Don't make the mistake of equating a 1000 joule 'whole-house' device with a 1000 joule point of use one. It's not the same mainly because in the former case, you're less than 10 feet to earth ground, while in the latter, it could be 50 or more feet. To a bona fide surge, this is an enormous difference.
    A lot of places make these devices as a google search will show. Hammer-Cutler is also another respected brand but in all honesty, many lesser known ones are also likely up to the task. Like anything else, some devices come with additional bells and whistles such as surge counters that can add to the cost. A good protector does its job quietly and effectively and properly located, protects everything. Make some calls to those places and whatever local electrical supply houses you've got there to see what they have.
     
  9. Eric_E

    Eric_E Supporting Actor

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    I've recently had problems with the electricity in my apartment - while I was watching a DVD a few weeks ago, my receiver kept going into protect mode and shutting down. No circuits in the apartment were ever broken as far as I know, but periodically the lights would dim slightly. It was like a brownout - I think the dip in power was enough to trigger the receiver's protect mode.

    I'm wondering whether I just overloaded the one outlet, or whether the wiring in my apartment is just not good or if it's stressed from too many connections (there are seven other units in my building, and my air conditioning was also on at the time).

    Here's the connected equipment that was in use:

    Receiver: Harman/Kardon AVR-520
    Mains: Paradigm Monitor 7s
    Center: Paradigm CC-370
    Surrounds: Paradigm Titans
    Subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-12
    TV: Panasonic CT-27D10 (27" Tube)
    DVD: Panasonic DVD-CV50

    I wasn't pushing the system that hard - I was listening at about -30. At the time, all A/V components were plugged into a Panamax M8 surge protector. I guess I probably shouldn't have had so much plugged into one outlet, but I figured it would be okay since it's an 8-outlet surge protector. Since this happened, I've split the subwoofer off into a separate outlet (also with a surge protector). I've also disconnected all other non-essential, less-used equipment (a VCR, a turntable and a Sega Dreamcast).

    Is this a good start? Would a power conditioner help in my situation? I'd be willing to spend a bit on one if it could help handle the fluctuation in power my apartment seems to experience. I'm thinking about something like this Panamax MAX 4300.

    So does anyone have any thoughts about the cause of, and solution to, my problem? Any input is much appreciated.
     
  10. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    It's a difficult thing to say Eric. The dimming of lights does not necessarily suggest that is the reason for the receiver going into protect mode. Your entire system, even if cranked up to the point that your neighbors are going to be drawing straws to see who gets to wring your neck, will only draw maybe 7 to 10 amps tops. The dimming may be due to the cycling of A/C units or other devices that momentarily suck current therebye temporarily resulting in a general shortage throughout your house. However, if you observe a distinct and reproducible correlation between the dimming and the receiver going into protect mode, then you can take whatever steps are needed to maybe get some stuff to a different circuit. Although you've indicated that you've disconnected some stuff and moved others to a different outlet, if they're not on a separate circuit, you really haven't changed matters any.

    Protect mode can also be due to several other reasons.
    1) excessive heat buildup...don't stack stuff on top of your amp or for that matter don't put stuff under it that generates heat that makes its way into the amp...improve your ventilation.
    2) some people run bare wires for their connections. Its not hard to imagine one, just one, stray wire shorting out the receiver. Further if this wire only makes momentary contacts, the shorts might occur randomly. If that's your situation, very carefully examine your connections. Pull the wires out and retwist them or better yet, terminate them in spades or bananas. Even after you've pulled them out, carefully examine the posts on the back of the reciever or the speakers and just lightly brush them.
    3) You may be in a situation where the receiver is simply running out of current or voltage...the former I'd think in driving your existing setup. Set your system to "SMALL" and see if this improves matters. This will direct less LF information to your speakers and might relieve any strain that the amps are experiencing.
    4) Lastly, your receiver might be telling you its dying. If all else fails and you're still under warranty, consider getting the unit serviced.
     
  11. Eric_E

    Eric_E Supporting Actor

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    Thanks so much for the response, Chu. I really appreciate your input.

    I'm guessing the A/C may have something to do with it, because I rarely have it on unless guests are over (I don't spend too much time in my apartment).

    Your suggestion about setting the speakers to small is a good one. I'm not sure how they are currently configured, but I will check the setup tonight when I have a chance. As for the heat buildup and the connections, the receiver is on the top shelf, about three feet off the ground, with open air on all sides. The speakers are all connected by banana plugs, but I'll have a look to make sure there aren't any stray wires. HK's warranty is good for two years, and I've had the 520 for just over a year, so it should be covered if it needs service.

    Someone from the apartments' maintenance crew came to my apartment this morning and replaced the outlets I use for the HT, but I'm sure that won't help much of anything because he didn't actually change any wiring or circuits. I asked him about the brownouts and he said something vague about how the apartments do that sometimes when lots of people are using everything at once. He also told me that the building was susceptible to surges and that it happened frequently. Well, long story short, I told him I didn't think that it should.

    I am now beginning to wonder whether there's some agency I can contact to ensure that the wiring in my apartment complex is even safe. I'm not sure how serious the safety risks of surges and brownouts happening all the time are, but I feel like I should have a right to expect a reasonable amount of safety and security in the apartment without always having to worry about whether the old and outdated wiring is going to do something crazy. Does anyone know who I should contact to make sure my building is up to code and that it's safe to live there?
     
  12. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    What do you have, central air or window/wall A/C units?

    Just because the wiring is old, doesn't mean its unsafe. However buildings built years ago, houses too for that matter, were never envisioned to have the kinds of things people plug into them now so you may not have enough breakers (independent circuits) to handle the current draw. If your apartment has its own circuit box, open it up and take a stab at determining just what outlets go to what breaker. That might give you a clue as to how things ought to be set up. For example, if memory serves me right, the fridge is supposed to be on its own separate outlet. I believe this is NEC code (someone correct me if I'm wrong on this!) so your investigations will, in a sense, give you a handle on whether something isn't quite right.

    Definitely check how things are set up tonite. Then post back.
     
  13. Eric_E

    Eric_E Supporting Actor

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    Well, I had a look at the way everything was configured in my apartment last night. It looks like the speakers were set to large, so I changed them to small. Maybe this will help the speakers draw less current.

    When I looked at the outlets and the circuit box, it looked like there were only about four circuits for the whole apartment. They seemed to be grouped by room, and there's just one circuit for the living room. So I think I'm out of luck for splitting the components among multiple circuits.

    One other thing I noticed was that my thermostat's controls for the central air conditioner have settings for auto, fan, and continuous. I wonder if leaving the air on continuous when I have company over would prevent the spikes from the unit turning itself off and on?

    Just out of curiosity now, do you think the Panamax MAX 4300 or something similar would be a good idea?

    Thanks again for your help.
     
  14. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    I'm not familiar with your system (I just can't keep up with all the equipment that's out there.) but setting things to small will relieve your receiver of having to reproduce the lower frequencies which are then directed to your sub. You should play around with things like the crossover settings assuming you can in order to get your best sound. Then of course, calibrate your system with an SPL meter.

    For apartment dwellers, one has to hook their equipment into something, right? That something might as well provide some rudimentary surge protection as well as RFI/EMI attenuation. Once you get into units that look like the one you're considering, where they sit on a shelf, the price goes up. However, with that additional price you get some features that might, or might not, be of benefit to you such as switched/unswitched outlets, remote triggers, and so forth. If those are something you need or want, then buy it. If they're not, consider floor mount units which can cost as little as $20 for something like a Stratitec (Sam's Club) or A/V models from TrippLite or Belkin. Search under my name in tweaks for those terms and get additional info.

    Now if you're thinking that is going stop your unit from going into protect mode, I doubt it. For starters, we're not sure what's causing it, so I think it's a bad idea to start tossing money around like spam in hopes of making things better.
     

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