Do I need a power conditioner?

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Treefight
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2008/05/05 15:55:07 (permalink)

Do I need a power conditioner?

Folks:

I regularly hear/see musicians/producers talk/write about the benefits of a power conditioner for a recording studio, given the high power draw from the circuit(s) utilized in one's home/studio. By power conditioner, I mean something like this: Power Conditioner

I think the benefit is constant - that is, consistent and steady - power, as opposed to ups and downs in power to the DAW and all other related gear (and boy it adds up, doesn't it?).

Initially I was worried about a circuit overload, so I split my gear between two circuits in my basement studio. Then I had some more work done (workstation and wall installed), so I had the electrician install a third ciruit in that wall so I could further divide the power into different circuits and hopefully avoid a power surge leading to a fire and/or equipment damage. Obviously, everything is running through surge protectors already.

But if anyone can tell me what the real benefits of a power conditioner are, I would appreciate it. For example, do power fluctations cause dropouts and, if so, will a power conditioner prevent those fluctuations?

Also, will a power conditioner do any more than a surge protector to protect against circuit overload/fire?

And how do I add up amperage of my equipment? And is one power conditioner enough, because I'll need way more than 8 outlets, so can I plug in my surge protectors to the PC to increase the number of outlets, or do I have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on multiple PCs?

Thanks very much in advance.

More stuff than you.  But you probably know how to use it.
#1

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    corrupted
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/05 16:02:49 (permalink)
    Short answer, YES. Although not necessary to function, audio and computer gear are much less likely to fail or have issues if they're run on clean power. Furman RR's in the rack are great. I also use a UPS for my PC in case of a power loss. That conditions the power as well.

    As far as multiple circuits, that may cause more issues than it's worth. Ground loops can cause nightmares...

    Your best bet if you need lots of power is to run a higher current drop to your audio gear, and get a quad outlet on it. Personally, I run off of a single 15 amp line, and that's plenty for me. If amps are in the other room, they can run off of a different line, that won't cause an issue.

    As far as your current draw in Amps, there's two ways to do it. Theoretical and actual. Best bet is to do the theoretical first and make sure your safe, and then measure your actual draw with an ammeter.

    To do the theoretical math, add up the wattage of all gear plugged in (not output watts like a power amp, but AC input watts listed near the AC line of the component). Add that up and divide by your voltage (mine happens to be 120, as I assume yours is). That will give you how many amps you would draw if everything was at peak.

    #2
    bitflipper
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/05 16:30:39 (permalink)
    It's usually a safe investment, although it isn't always a requirement. The particular unit you linked to is a very simple line filter - a stretch to actually call it a "power conditioner". Quite likely it'd be pretty useless except as a convenient rack-mounted outlet strip.

    Manufacturers of conditioners play fast and loose with science in order to play on consumers' fears and exploit their ignorance. Furhman's actually one of the more up-front companies, but they're prone to hyperbole, too. Beware claims of being able to "lower your noise floor" or the supposed benefits of "balanced" power. It's all marketing B.S. for the most part.

    As is so often the case, arming yourself with knowledge is cheaper and more effective than any piece of gear you can buy. Find out what grounding is all about and make sure you're following good grounding practices. Then put on a good surge suppressor and you've got the minimum protection. Note that the outlet strips with "surge suppression" they sell at Wal-Mart and Radio Shack do not qualify as "good" surge suppressors.

    The next step would be to add a UPS to your computer - or to all your recording gear if it's powerful enough.

    All the above is predicated upon the assumption that you live in an area with reasonably clean and reliable power, as is the case in most parts of the U.S. and Canada. Of course, if you're in an area with particularly dirty power, you'll need more sophisticated conditioning - the kind that's not cheap!


    All else is in doubt, so this is the truth I cling to. 

    My Stuff
    #3
    droddey
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/05 16:32:41 (permalink)
    Manufacturers of conditioners play fast and loose with science in order to play on consumers' fears and exploit their ignorance. Furhman's actually one of the more up-front companies, but they're prone to hyperbole, too. Beware claims of being able to "lower your noise floor" or the supposed benefits of "balanced" power. It's all marketing B.S. for the most part.


    You mean using one doesn't create an enormously large soundstage with rock solid imaging? I'm shocked I tell you! Shocked....

    Dean Roddey
    Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems
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    #4
    Treefight
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/05 16:32:48 (permalink)
    Ok, thanks corrupted - question: the electrician was aware of my situation, i.e., needing more power, and installed two quad outlets on the new wall adjacent to my work station to supposedly address the power issue. So, does having a quad outlet automatically mean it has a "higher current drop" (assuming a competent/honest electrician)? For that matter, what is a "higher current drop?" Does that mean, in 5-year old terms, that such an outlet can handle a higher power draw? Or could he just have slapped a quad outlet on a regular circuit? FWIW, there was no outlet there before, so it was a brand new, um, circuit/outlet(?)

    And if anyone knows this, I'd love to know the answer: what are the real-world chances of a power overload leading to a fire in a new (six year-old, presumably up to "code") house?

    Thanks again.

    More stuff than you.  But you probably know how to use it.
    #5
    Treefight
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/05 16:37:21 (permalink)
    Ok, thanks B-Flip and d-dey, I'm going to go read up on good grounding practices...

    Now this thread is starting to tie into my thread on time-management and productivity!

    What is the value of learning about proper grounding versus how to use that new soft synth I just got... in the fifteen minutes I'll have tonight...

    I suppose if everything could blow up, grounding kind of jumps to the front of the line in importance...

    More stuff than you.  But you probably know how to use it.
    #6
    rumleymusic
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/05 18:22:08 (permalink)
    Well there is audio cable grounding and ac grounding. The latter is a pretty simple issue. For safety, never use a ground lifter (or cut the ground off you plugs). If you have AC noise in your studio, then yes, you should get a power conditioner. It helped tremendously in my studio at work in removing hum. Noise problems caused by audio cable grounding can be more complex, and a power conditioner will do nothing there. Good, clean, and efficient cableing practices are the best solution as suggested.
    #7
    soundchaser59
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/06 18:11:11 (permalink)
    Tripp Lite LC1800.
    #8
    Cromberger
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/06 20:22:02 (permalink)

    ORIGINAL: Treefight

    Folks:

    I regularly hear/see musicians/producers talk/write about the benefits of a power conditioner for a recording studio, given the high power draw from the circuit(s) utilized in one's home/studio. By power conditioner, I mean something like this: Power Conditioner

    I think the benefit is constant - that is, consistent and steady - power, as opposed to ups and downs in power to the DAW and all other related gear (and boy it adds up, doesn't it?).


    Hi, treefight,

    Forgive me if I'm missing something here but, but the unit your link points to is, as bitflipper said, nothing more than a line filter/surge suppessor with 8 plugs and some lights. From your second paragraph, above, it sounds like you're really asking about a unit that will *regulate* your voltage, meaning it will boost line sags and clamp down on line surges, keeping your supply voltage within acceptable limits for most equipment. The linked unit will *not* do this for you. Voltage regulators are much more expensive, typically, than the sort of unit that you're link points to. You can, as bitflipper also said, use a high powered UPS with voltage regulation to achieve the same thing as a dedicated voltage regulator and UPS units may be a bit less expensive. And, the UPS has the advatntage that , should your power go off during an editing session, your computer will stay on long enough for you to save your work before shutting down.

    But, Furman and Monster and other Mfgs. do, indeed, offer voltage regulators with "conditioning" and surge protection, if that's what you're looking for. I think they start out at around $500 or so for a 15 amp model from Furman and they go up quite a bit from there.

    Ignore this post if all you are really looking for is a multi-outlet line filter.....

    Best regards,
    Bill

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    #9
    joshhunsaker
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/07 02:39:50 (permalink)
    Don't waste your money on something that doesn't actually regulate the voltage at that price range. You might as well just get something like this:
    http://excessups.com/smartups-700va-su700net-beige-refurbished-with-batteries-p-36.html

    That will actually "regulate" the voltage itself...which will take strain off of the components in your equipment's circuitry.
    #10
    Treefight
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/09 12:49:30 (permalink)
    Ok, thank you all, that is very helpful - I actually didn't know the difference between what I linked to and a real power conditioner, so I'm glad I asked. Right now I don't have any issues that need immediate attention, I'm just trying to learn a bit about it and figure out if a good (real) power condition/backup will INCREASE PERFORMANCE of my DAW by giving it steady/non-fluctuating power.

    It seems that's the case from your answers(?)

    Thanks again.

    More stuff than you.  But you probably know how to use it.
    #11
    gstring
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/10 23:35:43 (permalink)
    One of the best investments I ever made was to pick up an APC Back-UPS XS 800. They have newer models available for under $150. In my area, we get a lot of power failures, and I seriously damaged my computer system during a blackout. It killed my video card, ethernet card, and hard drive. Since I got the UPS, I've never had a problem when the power sags, glitches, or drops out completely. It protects against any of these dirty power conditions, and if the power goes out, the UPS provides clean sustained power for long enough to gracefully shut down until the power is restored. This is cheaper than an extended computer warranty and offers REAL protection.
    #12
    spacey
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/11 09:11:15 (permalink)
    For what it's worth...when I had to decide this is what I went with.Power

    The steady and filtered AC are to me as important as the brown-out and surge control.

    The cost is relative. In my setup the filter is a small cost percentage. A factor that is user specific.

    I still unplug it from wall during electrical storms. Nothing protects from lightning.

    Edit; Thought I should add that when I remodeled the room I rewired so it was only outlets on circuit and seperate ground. Ground is direct from wall outlet to outside.
    With that and the AR 15 the noise from guitars in general are the only issue I have. Figured it worked great for me not knowing all the technical stuff. Elliminated ground loops. Steady,clean power. Low and high surge protection.
    post edited by spacey - 2008/05/11 11:14:07

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    #13
    wst3
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/11 10:14:36 (permalink)
    apologies in advance if I am being pedantic...

    There are a slew of minuscule details that must be addressed correctly for a quiet, reliable studio.

    I've designed a number of studios over the last 20 years, including broadcast and recording facilities, and a handful of large space sound systems as well. These days I design sound systems for retail and hospitality, including presentation spaces.

    You have to start somewhere, acoustics, sound isolation, power and grounding, ergonomics, lighting, routing, etc. It has been my experience that power and grounding is as good a place as any (partly because it is, in most cases, fairly simple.)

    If your studio is a space in a home or other building that was not designed from the ground up as a recording studio then you have to take certain steps to insure a good clean ground and good power distribution. The good news is that it does not require kilo-bucks to implement such a system for a small personal studio. The bad news is that it is often inconvenient.

    First rule - ground is not always ground, and in fact it almost never is, if we define ground as zero volts. Dozens of different things can cause small differences in the "real" potential at any given ground. This is why single point grounding is so popular, if everything references the same ground point we've eliminated at least one problem! Of course in the real world, where most of us live most of the time, even the short wires that connect a device to the common ground reference can introduce small potential differences.

    So if ground is not always ground, and even single point grounding can't make the problem go away completely what do you do? Happily the answer is you create the best, lowest impedance path to ground that you can and that is usually sufficient.

    One down, one to go...

    The next issue is power. You need sufficient power, you need a low impedance path to distribute the power, you need protection from excessive current draw, you need protection from spikes and other nasties, and you might need filtering. Depending on the gear you are powering you might also need protection from under-voltage, under-frequency, and or power outages.

    Taking things (mostly) one at a time:

    1 through 3) use dedicated circuits, preferably all from the same branch, and size the wire and the breakers to accommodate power you'll be drawing. Yes, this is stupidly obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many folks skip this step. Providing dedicated outlets for all your audio gear, and using isolated grounds for those outlets will provide you with a good clean power and grounding system that is the foundation of the rest of the project! If your electrician can re-arrange the breaker box so that the branch feeding your audio gear does not feed big motors that's good, but he also has to worry about balancing neutral current, so let him do his job. Sometimes that level of isolation simply isn't practical in a home.

    4) There are two ways to dissipate spikes and noise on a power line. You can dump it to ground or you can simply dissipate it as heat. Each approach has proponents and opponents. I tend to prefer series mode solutions, and you can learn all about them at the SurgeX or JuiceGoose web sites. Ultimately it is far more important that you provide protection than which method you use.

    5) Filtering is a more controversial topic... mostly I suspect because it doesn't come cheap. A series mode surge suppressor will provide a significant level of filtering, but it is not the same as a dedicated service or a dedicated isolation transformer. I install an isolation transformer every time, partly as a filter ,partly as a way to define my separately derived panel, and partly because it has always worked, and I don't like to mess with success<G>!

    There are lots of other devices on the market that purport to provide power line filtering. Some probably do, most probably don't, and some are infamous for being pure snake oil!

    6) Voltage and Frequency Control - I still find this to be an odd topic for audio system design, but you can't get around the fact that more equipment has computers in it than not. But a UPS should be the last piece of the puzzle, not the first. And if you are going to go this route be careful that your UPS does not introduce more noise to your system. There are a bunch of really good threads on the different types of UPS systems here, so I'll skip that.

    A couple other thoughts:

    A well executed safety ground system will always provide good audio frequency grounding. Get the safety part right first!

    Ground loops are not the enemy. The noise that is generated by other poor practices, including really shoddy input and output stage design is the enemy. I built one broadcast control room less than ten feet from a very old elevator. You could measure the noise current on the shields of all the wiring in the studio when that stupid thing was operating, and yet we managed a S/N ratio at the input to the studio-to-transmitter link of greater than 90 dB referenced to our nominal operating level.

    Telescoping shields work well in high RF environments, but they are nearly impossible to maintain. Avoid them.

    It is the twist of the signal conductors, not the shield, that protects you from magnetic fields.

    Wall warts are evil noise makers. Put them all in a cardboard box and take them to your local recycling center. Then purchase good transformers and a good, ferrous box, and power anything that uses low voltage AC from that. (For that matter the transformers included in some gear are just as bad, and can be bypassed safely, with an improvement in S/N ratio!)

    Wire everything as it if were carrying a balanced and symmetrical signal.

    Terminate shields on the cases!!

    And lastly, I mentioned single point grounding before, but I left out the alternative, which is mesh grounding. Mesh grounding is very expensive to implement, and very difficult to maintain. It is also extremely effective. It is unlikely that you can do mesh grounding in a home studio, but if you have racks you can implement them as mini-meshes. The combination works really well!

    In summary:
    A) establish a really good ground system, single point, mesh, or some well thought out hybrid.
    B) power all gear from one branch of your service entrance
    C) use dedicated outlets connected to dedicated breakers
    D) use isolated ground outlets
    E) if you can swing it use an isolation transformer to a dedicated panel
    F) only after you've done all that should you consider power conditioning devices, and at that point the first priority is protection.

    Hope this helps...

    Bill


    -- Bill
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    #14
    Treefight
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/13 07:24:54 (permalink)
    Bill:

    I appreciate the time and effort shown by your comprehensive and detailed (to me at least) response. At least 90% of what you have written is not only NOT "stupidly obvious," I barely understand it. Not sre what that makes me

    Thank you.

    More stuff than you.  But you probably know how to use it.
    #15
    wst3
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/13 08:41:22 (permalink)
    ORIGINAL: Treefight
    I appreciate the time and effort shown by your comprehensive and detailed (to me at least) response.

    You are quite welcome...

    ORIGINAL: Treefight
    At least 90% of what you have written is not only NOT "stupidly obvious," I barely understand it.

    hmmm... I'm afraid that means I didn't do that good a job after all... I'll try again!

    ORIGINAL: Treefight
    Not sre what that makes me

    Curious???

    Take care,

    Bill

    -- Bill
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    #16
    krizrox
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/13 10:41:53 (permalink)
    Hey Bill - great stuff. I could have used you around here when I was starting up my studio.

    Larry Kriz
    www.LnLRecording.com
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    #17
    Treefight
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/15 11:03:57 (permalink)
    No, you did a great job, Bill, I just have to fill in the gaps on my own. I can't expect every word to come with a definition footnoted! I'll figure it out. Can you guess I was a liberal arts major? Would you like fries with that?

    More stuff than you.  But you probably know how to use it.
    #18
    wst3
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/15 12:18:55 (permalink)

    ORIGINAL: Treefight

    No, you did a great job, Bill, I just have to fill in the gaps on my own. I can't expect every word to come with a definition footnoted! I'll figure it out. Can you guess I was a liberal arts major? Would you like fries with that?


    Hey... so was I!! Liberal Arts turned out the be the best decision I never made<G>!

    I can point you towards a couple of excellent references to help you fill in the details:

    The first was written by Jim Brown, who has that talent for explaining really complex issues and covering all the bases without causing your eyes to glaze:
    Jim Brown's White Paper for SurgeX

    The second was written by the folks at Middle Atlantic Products. The link takes you to a page where you can download the paper with or without registering, but I'd register... they will send you a note when they update the paper, and they don't inundate you with spam.
    Middle Atlantic's paper on Power and Grounding

    There are places where these papers disagree, and there are places where they agree, but disagree with me<G>! It isn't that one is right, it is just different ways to approach the problem. Between them you will have a ton of very useful information from which to develop your own scheme.

    Take care,

    Bill

    -- Bill
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    #19
    AJ_0000
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2008/05/15 16:11:49 (permalink)
    I own this:

    http://www.musiciansfriend.com/product/Monster-Power-MP-PRO-2500-Rack-Power-Center?sku=182650

    I know some people despise Monster, but I think they overstate the case. Their stuff is generally better than cheaper alternatives. It's just not usually enough better to justify their prices. In this case, the price is relatively reasonable, and it does the job quite well. It regulates voltage, protects against surges, and prevents line noise. It works as advertised, and it's probably worth it considering you can spend almost as much on a couple of decent surge protectors.
    #20
    TonyDigital
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2009/01/02 14:54:23 (permalink)
    Hi,


    I know it's a little late but I can't help but comment in the issue!


    It's important to invest in a good quality battery backup, not a cheapy power backup unit that promises you results that it can in no way develop.


    A lot of people who work with audio equipment find that cheap crappy UPSs make line noise and provide unreliable working conditions.


    Usually, the network grade UPSs are the best UPSs for any high end application because they use solid circuitry, good batteries and actually output a sine wave.


    Tony,
    ExcessUPS.com - APC Battery Backup Specialists
    #21
    krizrox
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    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2009/01/03 12:18:42 (permalink)

    ORIGINAL: wst3


    ORIGINAL: Treefight

    No, you did a great job, Bill, I just have to fill in the gaps on my own. I can't expect every word to come with a definition footnoted! I'll figure it out. Can you guess I was a liberal arts major? Would you like fries with that?


    Hey... so was I!! Liberal Arts turned out the be the best decision I never made<G>!

    I can point you towards a couple of excellent references to help you fill in the details:

    The first was written by Jim Brown, who has that talent for explaining really complex issues and covering all the bases without causing your eyes to glaze:
    Jim Brown's White Paper for SurgeX

    The second was written by the folks at Middle Atlantic Products. The link takes you to a page where you can download the paper with or without registering, but I'd register... they will send you a note when they update the paper, and they don't inundate you with spam.
    Middle Atlantic's paper on Power and Grounding

    There are places where these papers disagree, and there are places where they agree, but disagree with me<G>! It isn't that one is right, it is just different ways to approach the problem. Between them you will have a ton of very useful information from which to develop your own scheme.

    Take care,

    Bill



    Interesting links. Thanks for sharing! Over the years I've tried all sorts of things here in my studio. Many I tried just out of morbid curiosity to see if the mfg claims had any weight. I agree that most mfg claims are just marketing smoke. It seems to me that except in some very isolated and narrow circumstances, hardly any of this stuff offers any real world benefit. At the end of the day, you know what really matters? A good electrician.

    There is one area where I'd say voltage regulation really helps and that's with live sound. I'm sure you've all played at the local pub that was wired by the best electrician in town Having a stable 120V delivered to your gear can mean the difference between playing and not playing the gig. Digital gear doesn't work well at 90V. It doesn't peter out over time like analog gear, it just says, that's it - no more - good by. I have a Furman AC regulator unit here that I consider just cheap insurance. Those other power conditioners are just cheap outlet strips as far as I'm concerned. The only time I've seen any benefit to a cheap power conditioner is - again - live sound at the local pub where there are a lot of flourescent beer lights causing all sorts of hash in the signal. Sometimes those things will actually help reduce the noise. Sometimes not.

    Of course, a UPS is almost mandatory for PC's. I've tried a number of hi-end/lo-end models. I ended up with just something simple for my DAW. All it needs to do is kick in when power goes out and mine has done that flawlessly a few times already. As long as I can power down my DAW in a minute or so I'm happy.

    Larry Kriz
    www.LnLRecording.com
    www.myspace.com/lnlrecording

    Sonar PE 8.5, Samplitude Pro 11, Sonic Core Scope Professional/XTC, A16 Ultra AD/DA, Intel DG965RY MOBO, Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 2.4GHz processor, XFX GeForce 7300 GT PCIe video card, Barracuda 750 & 320GB SATA drives, 4GB DDR Ram, Plextor DVD/CD-R burner.
    #22
    TonyDigital
    Max Output Level: -90 dBFS
    • Total Posts : 2
    • Joined: 2009/01/02 14:49:23
    • Status: offline
    RE: Do I need a power conditioner? 2009/01/03 13:20:14 (permalink)
    Hi,


    The problem is that the manufacturer's had to start inventing features in order to compete with all the cheap imports that promised the world. They had to water down quality UPSs in order to make them "affordable" to home users.

    A lot of people bought into it and were later disappointed with their UPS not being able to do what it promised. Things like generator compatibility, and sine wave output were completely eliminated from the cheaper UPSs.


    As a guide line, if it's not critical you can get away with using a cheap low end UPS. If it's critical, equipment that needs to have a sine wave and clean power, stick to a good UPS.


    Tony,



    #23
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