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Can Power Conditioner Improve Sound Quality? [Easy Explanation]

Audio Basis - educational articles

A power conditioner is one of audiophile equipment, that may be demonstrated the easiest way (watch the video in the article). But what about the conditioner impact to audio quality?
Read below what happens inside musical devices with and without the power conditioner, how to find the best power conditioner for audiophile apparatus.

  1. Power conditioner using
  2. What is effect of power noise to sound quality
  3. Noise spreading inside a studio and home audio equipment
  4. Power conditioned system inner workings
  5. How to choose the best power conditioner for audiophile equipment
  6. Conclusions

Power conditioner audio

 

I'm want to tell right now: there is no simple univocal answer. Because each case is individual.
At each home or studio, personal work should be done. There are many variables. I suppose, even careful big research results don’t cover all cases.

 

Abbreviations

AC - alternating current

DC - direct current

PSU - power supply unit

PWC - power conditioner

UPS - uninterrupted power source

 

 

Power conditioner using

 

What does power conditioning results look like?

Ideal alternating current's electrical waveform is pure sine.
Distortions and ambient noise are added to the sine in wire spread. Electrical motors, transformers and other generate pulses when this equipment are switched.

"Dirty" alternating current come from an electrical outlet to home devices.

In general:

Power conditioner (PWC) is a device to suppressing the noise, spreading via an electrical network.

 

Electrical power conditioning

Electrical power conditioning

 

At the picture waveforms (top) and spectrums (bottom) are shown. Waveforms and spectrums are not real and intended for demonstration purposes only.

 

How it sounds

If power supply filtering, shielding, grounding is bad, it causes many different kinds of hum. It may be checked at higher volume knob positions during a listening of a recording of silence (zero level) or stopped playback (WARNING!!! Read carefully before any audio tests. Listening of audio equipment, especially at higher volume knob positions, can cause ear damaging. Avoid any discomfort. Always consult your doctor before ear tests. Higher volume knob positions of an audio equipment can cause damaging of the equipment. Before any audio tests consult the equipment vendor or manufacturer.).

If power supply doesn't keep voltage level for increase (or a sharp increasing in short-term) of electrical load, it can cause non-linear distortions (the author would call it "dirty sound"). Technical details read below.

 

How to power conditioner is connected and used

PWC is connected to an electrical network outlet.

At the PWC's output outlet, alternating current is filtered (purer sine). The current intended to feed heterogeneous home equipment, including musical ones.

 

Power conditioner using

Power conditioner using

 

  • Auto voltage regulation is very desirable functionality for music equipment, sensitive to voltage out of allowable range.
     
  • Impulse protector defends music equipment against damaging by big voltage pulses into the network.
     
  • Noise filter removes different air (caught on wires) and other interferences.
     
  • Also, isolation transformer may be used to electrical noise suppression via galvanic isolation of AC circuits. The transformer break so-called ground loops [1], causing additional currents (we can consider it as noise) in the line. The transformer, as a coil, may improve surge suppressing, theoretically.
     
  • The conditioner may remove constant part of the input voltage, that causes additional heating of electrical transformers into a power supply unit of an audio device.

 

However, still, there is no standard definition of "power conditioner" term.

As a conditioner, various devices from pulse protector may be considered: from an auto voltage regulator to very sophisticated uninterrupted energy source with the synthesis of output voltage sine form.

So a the conditioners may have different functionality.

If you choose the conditioner, check its specification.

 

Audio devices are connected to output outlets of PWC for more qualitative power supply.

 

 

What is effect of power noise to sound quality

 

Sound quality is noise and distortion level at an analog output of a musical device.

Theoretically, noise from AC can penetrate to an audio output and add noise and/or modulation of the musical signal.

Below we will learn an audio system structure to better understanding of how it can work.

 

 

Noise spreading inside a studio and home audio equipment

 

Noise is spread in 2 ways:

  • electrical power wires (more significant way),
  • air.

Electrical noise spread

Noise spread

 

 

Power conditioned system inner workings

 

First, let's consider the simplest system: the conditioner feed single device.

 

Power system structure

Power system structure

 

"Dirty" electrical voltage comes to the conditioner from AC power line.

Impulses with big voltage are suppressed by impulse protector. It allows avoiding damage of defending audio device.

Auto voltage regulator tries normalize long-term voltage changes.

The noise filter suppresses other noise.

In emergency case (super high voltage levels or extremely low quality) the conditioner can break the connection with input line. It allows defending the audio device and the conditioner against damage.

Power conditioner can synthesize a sine output voltage. Or output voltage may have waveform close to square.

The PWC may have internal accumulator battery. In emergency case the conditioner may switch the audio device's supply to the battery's DC/AC converter. Such PWC is called an uninterrupted power source (UPS) [2].

 

The approximate functional design of switched
uninterrupted power source

Switched UPS

 

As an alternative, DC/AC converter can feed audio device without switching.

 

Approximate functional design of permanent
voltage generation UPS

Permanent voltage generation UPS

 

PWC don't guarantee sine at conditioner's outlets. But some models can do it.

 

It's important to remember, that it is not mandatory functionality of power conditioner.
There are many different schemes and decisions.
Read carefully PWC's specification or manual.

 

 

Noise spreading through a power supply system

Noise and changes from a power network pass the conditioner with suppression.

 

Noise spreading thru power system

Noise spreading thru power system

 

Power supply unit (PSU) into the audio device converts high voltage AC to low voltage DC.

Noise pass thru the PSU partially and come to low voltage line (DC).

Power supply unit is noise source itself. So there are need to separate external noise (from AC input) and own PSU's hum.

Further, the cumulative noise comes to digital and analog part thru internal DC power buses. Digital part is noise source too.

When musical signal comes to analog part, this part can also affect to low voltage line. Because transistor/tube switching causes currency changes, that may cause power bus voltage changes.

 

Therefore, the power supply system is a comprehensive thing with several noise sources and feedbacks.

Total noise in low voltage power line (including external AC noise) affects audio output.

So, first, we must check the noise spectrum and level at the analog output of the audio device.

 

Measurement of the conditioner impact to sound quality (noise level)

Measurement of power conditioner impact to sound quality (noise level)

 

We can compare noise at the analog output with and without the PWC.

If the difference is invisible, we can use the conditioner as additional protection against probable surges into AC network.

If we protect an audio system via the conditioner, we should check the analog output of the system.

Read the details below.

 

As rule PSU have functionality like the conditioner, shown at this picture:

  • impulse protection,
  • auto voltage regulation,
  • high-frequency noise filtering.

However:

  • some power supply units may have input voltage range issues,
  • power conditioner may have a better implementation of impulse protector.

So the conditioner can provide a more optimal mode for the power supply unit, placed into the audio device.

 

Power conditioner may be checked via a special device - power line noise meter. You can plug it into home and conditioner's outlets and compare both noise values. If the conditioner works properly, noise at PWC's outlet will lesser, then at home power line.

 

Watch and share: One of check kind of power line noise meter
 

 

But, noise suppression at AC input of the audio device is not the final aim.

The final aim is audio quality increasing.

 

So we must check noise level at analog output first.

After it, we can learn the voltage spectrum of power lines inside the audio module: at the audio device's AC input, etc.

 

To interaction reducing of the analog device parts thru the low voltage power buses, line isolating filters are used.

 

Power system structure with noise isolating filters

Power system structure with noise isolating filters

 

Power line noise, impacting to analog output, may be reduced via line isolating filters.

These filters suppress noise from the audio device's power line, coming to supplied part.

Also, filter can block noise from the part to avoid the noise penetration to the analog device's power line.

 

Same filters may be implemented into the conditioner to reduce the noise penetration between the devices.

 

 

How to choose the best power conditioner for audiophile equipment

Above we have considered how to check the real impact of electrical power conditioner to the audio device. It is a comparison of noise and harmonics at analog output spectrum of the audio system with and without the conditioner.

Also, we can check it for different kinds of test audio signals to check the power conditioner under dynamic load (altering the conditioner output load in time).

There are maybe cases:

  • No difference;
  • Lesser of noise and artifact level.

Warning: You also need be sure, that a compared conditioners work the same under dynamical load during work of your system.

If power conditioner hasn't difference, it does not matter that conditioner you use.

However, if conditioners cause different noise level, in general case, conditioner with lower level is preferable.

To be exact, we can correct the noise/artifact measurement result to ear frequency-sensitivity curve. But your ears may have the curve form different from averaged one.

The simplest way is ear checking of noise at higher volume knob positions during listening of recording of silence (zero level) or stopped playback (WARNING!!! Read carefully before any audio tests. Listening of audio equipment, especially at higher volume knob positions, can cause ear damaging. Avoid any discomfort. Always consult your doctor before ear tests. Higher volume knob positions of an audio equipment can cause damaging of the equipment. Before any audio tests consult the equipment vendor or manufacturer.).

 

 

Conclusions

 

  1. Sound quality is defined as noise and distortions at the analog output of an audio device.
  2. A single way to estimate the impact of AC power supply quality to sound quality is noise measurement at the analog output of the audio device or system.
  3. "Clean" AC, coming to an audio system is not target in itself.
  4. Both, power supply unit of an audio device and the conditioner, have same functionality.
  5. But power conditioner may have a wider range of AC parameter deviation and provide better AC power line conditions (keeping proper electrical mode, surge protection) for the PSU.
  6. When audio equipment is connected to proper AC power line (the author suppose, it is an ordinary case), instability of voltage level for load increase is not the line matter. However, power conditioning device with lack of supported output power may cause the voltage keeping issue.

 

Author

 


References
  1. Bill Whitlock. Understanding, finding, & eliminating ground loops
  2. High-Availability Power Systems, Part I: UPS Internal Topology

 

 

 


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