How to arrange power grid and grounding for a home recording studio

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are sick with,” said Hippocrates, his words are also true for the power supply. Even those who use their PCs mainly for surfing the Internet try to protect their PCs with 80 Plus PSUs and surge protectors. What can we say about a workstation for editing video or working with sound. Power surges will not only make the sound clumpy and add noise, but can also damage a hard drive with terabytes of footage, samples, or an archive of working projects. How to properly organize the power supply, get rid of power surges, noise, interference and protect the device?

Both the studio console, home theater, and server are all designed to run on electricity at specific values. Deviations from these values ​​result in reduced performance, interference and risk of breakdown. In the case of audio systems, it is the electricity supplied to them that is converted into sound, and if it is with noises and differences, then the sound will be far from what the system is capable of.

In the home recording studio, analog devices are added to the arsenal of digital hardware, which are even more sensitive to power. Noises, low-frequency hum and squeal of a neighbor’s drill will be amplified many times over by their filling and become an unwanted arrangement for the recorded part.

The main enemies of electrical engineering:

1. Voltage surges. The stability of the equipment and the duration of its life depend on the stability of the voltage. For example, on computer power supplies, the 80 Plus marking is a guarantee that the device will deliver stable power under any load. In inexpensive power supplies, at maximum load, the voltage may sag, the PC will glitch and reboot. In the same way, the maximum load of the electrical network in the apartment (for example, if all household appliances are turned on at the same time) can lead to a low voltage in the outlet. With studio effect processors and other digital equipment, during voltage dips, bugs will occur, noise and distortion will appear.

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For example, amplifiers in studio monitors or any other audio system require a stable power supply to keep the cone operating quickly to reproduce sounds and instruments as accurate as possible, especially sharp and low-frequency ones such as kick kicks. If there is a drawdown in the mains, the amplifier will not have enough power at peak load and the sound of the blows will turn out to be wadded and sluggish, without attack.

The causes of power surges can vary. Sometimes they are provoked by thunderstorms over the power line or accidents at the substation, but more often they happen due to the switching on and off of powerful electrical appliances, especially the motors of refrigerators, washing machines, elevators, etc.

2. Noises. Even digital technology is vulnerable to power grid noise. For example, in 2017, they led to computer malfunctions on the ISS. What can we say about analog guitar amplifiers, tube compressors or even effect pedals – they are susceptible not only to noise in the mains, but also to radio waves, and some generate noise themselves. Also, noise is produced by inexpensive power supplies, for example, from an audio card or an effects pedal.

Therefore, when a guitarist wants to record his favorite analog overdrive or delay, problems can arise such as low-frequency hum, high-frequency squeak, intrusive white noise, or even the Mayak radio. Even the studio itself can produce harmonic noise due to voltage surges, so both phenomena are related to each other. You can deal with these harmful phenomena in the following ways.

Organization of power supply

Philip Newell, in his Project Studio home studio building manual, advises that the entire studio should be powered from one line, and it should all be connected to the same phase. This will minimize harmonic interference.

The fact is that amplifiers consume energy unevenly: when a barrel hits, the amplifier needs more power than when idle. There will be a surge in power consumption, which will lead to a drawdown of electricity throughout the circuit and noise in the signal.

Therefore, it is important to connect all studio equipment, or home theater equipment for example, to one line and one phase. This will keep the impedance of the power supply to a minimum, which will help reduce voltage surges. It is also for this reason that studio (or audio system) load power cables should be kept as short as possible and with minimum impedance. By the way, it is from here that the ears of audiophile power cables grow, which are sold for indecent sums.

In an apartment building or a country house, this means that all musical equipment must be kept at least on the same circuit as kettles, microwave ovens, washing machines, lamps, lamps and PCs. If, when recording a microphone, an extraneous noise, hum, crackling or ringing is heard along with the voice, it may be an electrical device connected to the network. Sometimes it is enough to walk around the apartment, turning off the devices, to find the reason.

Grounding and fighting ground loops

Properly organized grounding allows you to get rid of the interference that devices catch. It also protects devices from hot plug damage and even health. The fact is that electrical appliances with a metal case (the same PC and all rack devices) accumulate a potential of about 110 V. If you touch the battery and the case of the device at the same time, you can get a discharge. But if the device is grounded, the potential will go to the ground.

In Russian realities, grounding cannot always be organized – in old apartment buildings it simply does not exist. In newer high-rise buildings, there is usually grounding, but often it is not extended to the shield, which is solved by calling an electrician. What you should definitely not do is ground yourself to the battery or stick a grounding pin in front of the house: the first is dangerous and illegal, and the second must be coordinated with the house management.

If we are talking about a country house, grounding can be done according to all the rules. To do this, three welded metal pins are buried in the ground, and the contact from them is brought out above it. Then each electrical appliance is connected to this contact with an individual cord. This is necessary to obtain the lowest possible total impedance (as with the power supply). Such a system would act as a sink for electrical dirt.

However, in the conditions of an apartment building, it is often impossible to organize grounding that meets all the requirements. This often results in parasitic earth loops. They manifest themselves in a fairly quiet, but intrusive and constant high-frequency squeak from the speakers of the audio system, which becomes louder and more active when manipulating the computer: working with the program, scrolling through pages in the browser, and even just with mouse movements (an example can be heard in the video at 3.20) …

For example, a studio monitor and computer are plugged into a surge protector and plugged into a grounded power outlet. But there is also a cable from the monitor to the sound card, and from it to the PC. A parasitic ground loop arises, which will catch interference from the computer and send them directly to the input of the audio system amplifier. To get rid of the noise, you will have to tear it apart.

If the sound card and monitors are connected with a balanced XLR cable, you can disconnect the braid with the shield from the connector, or even tear off one of the devices, for example, monitors , off the ground. It also often helps to connect speakers and PCs to different extension cords.

Stabilizers and UPS
The lowest device is a power stabilizer

An ordinary PC already has some protection thanks to the power supply. Models of the high segment protect the components from short circuit, overload, undervoltage or overvoltage, etc. Therefore, a conventional surge protector is sufficient for a computer, if the voltage in the apartment does not jump too much.

GIGABYTE P850GM Power Supply [GP-P850GM] 11 999 *
With audio equipment, a surge protector is indispensable. Any recording studio or movie theater will have huge industrial voltage regulators. The same, but less power, will be needed for home studios and cinemas.

Voltage stabilizer Resant ASN-20000/3 74 799 *
Even the touring equipment of musicians always has a stabilizer. Who, if not them, knows how much tension can jump in clubs with powerful light and sound. Without a stabilizer, an analog music device will sound sluggish, and a digital one may turn off altogether.

For example, guitarist John 5 says that he can predict how the show will go based on the voltage in the mains supply (in the video at 15:20): “Now 120 V is normal, but if the device reads 121 or 122, then it will be great concert, because the machine starts to sound really cool. ” Although he modestly adds that it may just seem to him.

A home studio does not consume very much electricity, so in most cases a stabilizer within 2 kW will be enough. It is enough to add up the power consumption of all electrical appliances in the circuit to find out the exact figure. Typically, a PC consumes around 400-600 W, a pair of near-field monitors – about 150 W, a subwoofer – about 150 W, a tube amplifier – about 400 W.

Voltage stabilizer ERA SNPT-2000-Ts 4 699 *
If we are talking about a studio in a country house, there can be quite a problem with electricity: from drawdowns of several tens of volts to periodic blackouts. Even ordinary summer residents take stabilizers for the normal operation of some water heating boilers, let alone a studio apparatus.

APC Back-UPS RS 1100VA [BX1100CI-RS]
In case of power outages, the UPS will help. Uninterrupted power supply will not only allow you to calmly save the project and turn off the equipment, usually a voltage stabilizer is also built into them, which protects against surges and interference. True, once every few years its battery will have to be replaced, but studio equipment will not need to be repaired. Moreover, a home media library with 4K movies and terabytes of sound samples are usually stored on hard drives, and they die like flies with frequent power outages.

Professional musicians and studios usually use rack mount stabilizers that are tailored to the needs of audio equipment. At the output, they give a wave close to a sinusoid, with minimal deviations from ideal indicators. Manufacturers claim that this allows small details to be heard in audio recordings or seen in video images in the case of projectors or large TVs, since these details do not drown in noise.

The organization of catering for Hi-End audio equipment has become almost a meme. Among audiophiles, the obsession with quality power takes on grotesque incarnations. So, stabilizers for the price of a car are not the limit. And one Japanese man installed a whole electric pole with an individual transformer in his yard. However, if you strike a reasonable balance and not go to extremes, you can achieve ideal sound quality in your home studio