Protecting Your Gear: Power Strips, Surge Protectors, Power Conditioners, PDUs & UPS's
With all of the expensive computers, synths, speakers, and other gear in your studio running on electricity, there may come a time when you run out of wall outlets and/or want to get specific gear to protect your equipment from electrical damage.
Power Strips, Surge Protectors, Power Conditioners, and PDUs
When adding more outlets to your studio, most people may reach for a power strip. These are basically extension cords with additional outlets. What most people don’t realize is not all power strips are surge protectors. A surge protector usually is shaped exactly like a power strip, but offer the user an electrical circuit built inside that helps defend against power surges, protecting your tech. Depending on your use case, a power strip may be fine - like plugging a toaster rather than your computer, but when you have something more expensive like a large OLED television, it may be worth using a surge protector. Even more so than just plugging into the wall outlet, as surge protectors provide more protection than the outlet does alone.
If you have a lot of odd/large shaped connectors, instead of the traditional “bar” shaped power strip/surge protector, you might want to consider the more flexible “squid” type shape. Power squids can be strips or surge protectors, but provide much more flexibility when working with large/bulky gear.
The next step above a surge protector to protect your gear is a power conditioner. A power conditioner offers even more protection than a surge protector, as it has one built in and typically at least two other circuits (an isolation transformer and power line noise filtering). So power conditioners offer protection against power surges, radio frequency interference, electro-magnetic interference, as well as correcting fluctuations of electrical waveforms. What all this essentially means is a power conditioner filters, cleans, and stabilizes your electrical power, which makes your gear last longer as well as providing preventing noise and voltage fluctuations from causing other issues with your gear.
Power distribution units, or PDU’s, are probably one of the most “advanced” electrical devices you can use. Generally, these are most often used in server rooms and are usually the most “smart” of the devices I’ve mentioned. PDU’s can have remote access to enable/disable outlets, monitor your electrical usage and provide analytics, monitor the conditions of the room, and much more.
Uninterruptable Power Supplies
Last, and perhaps most importantly, are uninterruptable power supplies. Some of your gear like your computer and audio monitors for instance, should not be shut down improperly. That is to say they should not just be unplugged and unpowered suddenly without going through the proper shut down procedure. Should your studio lose power, this is likely to happen. An uninterruptable power supply, or a UPS, is one of the best investments you can make to protect your gear.
A UPS is essentially a battery powered surge protector that acts as an electrical backup in case your power fails. UPS’s range from providing a few minutes of back up power (for use cases such as saving your work and shutting down properly) to a few hours. These can not only be a life saver for protecting your expensive gear, but also on your projects to make sure you get a chance to save and that your hard drives don’t get damaged from an improper shut down.
You will typically find studios run a combination of all of these, so know that one is not necessarily “better” than another 100% of the time – it comes down to what suits your needs best for the given scenario.