When choosing to turn an area in your home or workplace into a studio for recording sound, thinking about how your electricity is delivered to that area and what kind of shape it is in should be something at the forefront of your mind. Ground loop, hum, noise, buzz… all of these things can be avoided with a careful look at your electrical system. This article will give you a few things to ask your licensed electrician when you have them look at your studio and plan for your power needs.
Isolation is Key
Much like in acoustic treatment, isolation from the rest of your home's electrical system is highly desirable. The more 'connected' your studio electricity is to the rest of your home's devices, the more chance you will pick up unwanted noise. Not to mention that powerful amplifiers and speakers absolutely have the capacity to trip a circuit breaker if your studio happens to be on the same circuit as something else powerful like an air conditioning or heating unit.
If you're having an electrician add outlets for your studio, ask for separate circuits with an isolated ground. This will keep your sensitive studio gear separate from your FAR less sensitive home. It will likely entail having the electrician put in a separate ground bar behind your service panel, but you'll be incredibly grateful when you plug in that old Fender Telecaster, flip on the amp and hear… nothing. A good clean ground can work wonders for vintage guitars, amps, and speakers.
Don't Be So Dim
Let me get this out there—lights are the worst. From a studio designer's standpoint, nothing can wreak havoc on a high-quality audio system like a low-quality lighting system. Dimmer switches on your lights or any other kind of transformer based device can give you a hum that is not only bad, but incredibly difficult to diagnose as the hum will come and go as people turn lights on and off. Fluorescent lights are big offenders as well.
If you can't avoid having your studio in a home with fluorescent lights or dimmer circuits, ask your electrician to put your studio's outlets on a different 'phase' (or leg) in your service panel than the offending lights. This may not entirely eliminate all hum, but it can definitely take a big bite out of it.
Power Conditioners and Isolation Transformers
Let's face it, some places just have terrifically dirty power. Bad grounds, fluctuating voltage, old lights… and you've got to do a gig there! Two things I never go to a mobile recording gig without are a good power conditioner and an isolation transformer. A high quality power conditioner will reduce electromagnetic interference and give you much cleaner power to work with. A decent isolation transformer will COMPLETELY de-couple you from the building's power system with high powered magnets. Basically the electricity is transferred from one end of the device to the other without a physical wire connection. Your 'new' power is now clean and free of any noise that was living inside of the 'old' power.
Don't Give Up
Making a hum-free environment is not something that is easy or simple. An exhaustive audit of your entire electricity system and looking for problem spots with a good electrician is often necessary. Go into that appointment armed with this knowledge and know what to ask for. You'll be rewarded with blissful silence every time you start up your recording system!