Preventative protection from power surges

June 22, 2009 | No comments yet

Furman AC-215
Photo courtesy of Furman

June 22nd, 2009 – About a month ago, I completely disassembled my Korg Triton keyboard. For a while, I had known that the power cable had a loose connection and after a while, no amount of jiggling the cord would allow it to stay turned on. Knowing that Korg Tritons of that vintage were prone to a particular loose plug in the power supply, I went about performing the known fixes.

No matter what I did to make the connections more secure, the keyboard failed to turn on. Not being particularly electronic savvy, I decided that it had to be professionally repaired. Because I have other simple MIDI controllers, I can survive for a while, but I’d rather have the full-size and weighted Triton working.

On Saturday, I wanted to record some guitar tracks for a song I’m working on and I went to my trusty M-Audio Sputnik. The Sputnik is a tube condenser microphone and has its own power supply. Unlike many condensers, it cannot run under phantom power alone. I plugged it in and the power supply would not turn on. Usually the power supply has a 15 second power on sequence where it warms itself up, and an LED lights to show you that it’s ready. Nada.

One piece of gear not working is bad luck. Two, is something else entirely. The common denominator between the two pieces of gear? The same power outlet. Putting one and one together, the most likely cause of the gear failure was an outlet that was surging. Gear like a guitar amp (which is what I usually plug into that outlet) are usually beefy with heavy duty components. Sensitive gear like the Triton and the Sputnik, are less likely to be able to handle a power surge.

I really should have known better. Every engineer knows about power surges and all studios have power conditioners. The problem is, that very few worry about power surges at home. How many people plug their computer into a 5 dollar power strip from Ikea, or even worse, directly into the wall? That’s a thousand dollar plus gamble. I have a decent power strip with surge protection for my computer, but I didn’t have one for my good gear. For that, I will pay a hefty repair price (if the gear can be resurrected at all).

Luckily, there’s a fuse in the Sputnik’s power supply that I figure is protection against all this. It’s probably toast, and hopefully I can replace it and all will be fine. As for the recording session, I used some super old Shure microphones from the 60’s that I had laying around. The fidelity and available gain were certainly lacking. On top of that, the noise floor was horrendous. I will definitely need to redo the guitar tracks when my Sputnik is running again.

Joe over at HomeStudioCorner has a great post about this very topic. In it, he explains why you would want surge protection, and why you might want to pay a little extra to have power conditioning as well. While power conditioning is more of a want (unless you have really nice gear that is super finicky about the power coming in), power surge protection is an absolute need. I was careless, and now my wallet is going to be hurting.

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