Major From the Roof Down Electricity Upgrade Produced Incredible Sonic Benefits!

The electrical service in my house has been problematic since I moved in 22 years ago. I’ve had ground hum issues, amplifiers that mysteriously buzz here but not elsewhere and general noise on the line problems too.

After a powerful amplifier I purchased produced a “zzzzz” sound that I couldn’t get rid of no matter what I tried, which included a cheater plug (not recommended on a 1000 watt per channel amplifier) among other desperate moves, I called in a studio pro and he was unable to help.

I sold that amp and the buyer experienced no buzzing or hum issues. The replacement amp was quiet but there were still issues. I brought in my electrician/audiophile friend and had him run a new line from a subpanel we’d had installed during a home renovation a decade ago, putting everything on one line because having separate circuits for the amp and low level parts of a system is plain foolish (ground potential between the two produces hum) but that didn’t help either. He even installed a ground rod associated with this circuit.

Last summer after we had lost power for a few days due to Hurricane Isaias and I was forced to use a small gasoline power generator to run the Internet modem, power the refrigerator and a few other essentials I opted for a Generac natural gas powered generator, which required the installation of a large transfer switch on the side of the house that when a sensor notes that the power from the street has quit, activates a large solenoid that switches power to the generator.

It didn’t occur to me that this might mess up the sound of my audio system even when power came from the Rockland Electric transformer on the pole across the street but wow did it! After the power was out for half a day for the generator install and was restored late in the afternoon, the sound that had been so outstanding (despite the hum and noise issues I’d for decades endured) turned to crap: soft, milky, foggy backgrounds, soft transients (etc.). What was going on????

The full story along gets told in detail in my Analog Corner column in the November Stereophile. The print edition will soon be out. The online column publishes the week of October 17th on Stereophile’s website. Meanwhile below is the embedded YouTube video that shows you everything that was done, which resulted in an amazing sonic transformation of my system, which is now super quiet and has never sounded better. The amplifiers sound far better plugged directly into the wall than through power conditioners, though I still use an AudioQuest Niagara 7000 in the “front end” to isolate from the the analog components digital noise produced by the dCS Vivaldi streaming DAC/SACD player.

Please read the column and of course watch this video that I’m sure you’ll find interesting and informative.The video and the column let you know who to contact if you are interested in doing this.

And many thanks to PS Audio for lending me P15 and P20 Power regenerators, which allowed me to work for the 8 or so months between the transfer switch installation and the full electrical upgrade. The Power Regenerators were a huge step up in power purity but after the upgrade straight into the wall sounded best. However, If I lived in an apartment building and had no control over the juice reaching my wall sockets I’d try a regenerator for sure.

COMMENTS
Thing Fish's picture

I dread to think how bad my wiring is as my house was built in 1903.

Anton D's picture

Plus, no digital artifacts, just pure analog AC.

Vintage copper!

Analog Scott's picture

OTOH there is no denying that hum and buzz can be legit issues with power. It's the rest of the alleged improvements that I am skeptical of. I enjoyed the laugh though. Thanks for that.

Anton D's picture

I have always been intrigued about where we 'forget' to hear all those minute differences we usually remember to hear when we remember to hear them.

Some favorites, and keep in mind, "everything makes a difference," right?

Remember when Lexicon shoved an Oppo BD 83 into Lexicon chassis? Bad move, they got caught....and IIRC the Stereophile review was appropriately appalled by this fakery and reassuringly said that the two units sounded identical. Now, that almost makes sense. But, not to a true audiophile. This new unit had a more substantial case, different feet, etc...yet the sound of the two units was exactly the same. Oops. If the reviewer had alternately been told that Lexicon had beefed up the case and 'suspension' of the original Oppo, you think he would have still found the two units identical in performance?

The new house electrical supply in the situation seems to have not demonstrated a break in period for all those new electrical components and wiring. That might be an oops, as well. Still time to rectify that, however.

Now and again, us audiophiles need to be reminded that we are supposed to be hearing everything we hear. I hate when we overlook the fact that "everything matters." As Leonard Cohen said, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." It shows us for what we are when those cracks let the light in.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go listen to a cartridge that is in that golden hour between break in and break down. ;-D

Michael Fremer's picture
First of all, I was not expecting my system sound to be degraded when the transfer switch was installed but there it was. This upgrade was easy to hear. Even you would. It did improve over time. Sorry to disappoint you.
Michael Fremer's picture
First of all, I was not expecting my system sound to be degraded when the transfer switch was installed but there it was. This upgrade was easy to hear. Even you would. It did improve over time. Sorry to disappoint you.
Michael Fremer's picture
Would hear the enormous sonic improvement
Analog Scott's picture

But how do you know it's "sonic?" Let's just start with some fundamentals of audio and physics. Do you at least agree that for there to be any change in the sound due to a change in the power supply from the wall that it has to manifest itself in a change in the audio signal hitting your speaker terminals?

Michael Fremer's picture
Improvement in ground impedance produces lower noise floor… that is just for starters. Much lower noise floor. This would be as if I had orange speakers and painted them blue and you asking are you sure you can see a difference?
Analog Scott's picture

what components are you using that have audible noise based on the powerlines? All of my components have a SNR at -110 or better. The noise floor is inaudible in those components regardless of the power coming from the wall. The only component I have that has audible noise is my TT which is not powerline based noise

amy88's picture

Yeah, I have wondered about this too. I often hear audio reviewers citing noise floor in the above way Michael is, but I don't really understand. Are they hearing like actual power-induced noise in their setups previous to changes like this? Surely not, right?
Michael does mention the buzzing one amp presented. But on your regular setup, Michael, were you hearing constant power-induced noise prior, which is now gone? Just trying to understand what is being described in your write up.

Babysharks's picture

One of my first thoughts is that I hope you do not have to be put in a position to "sell your house" anytime soon. If and when that does happen, I hope that any new owner would be aware of your efforts and continue to take sonic advantage of what has been done.

My next thought is that it will unfortunately end up as a washing machine connection or a cluster of wallwarts! So sad ...

My last thought is that maybe your house would be purchased by someone in the vinyl industry and have it designated as a national historic landmark! It could happen LOL!!!

Neward Thelman's picture

So true, Anton.

Hilarious.

Anton D's picture

New wiring and components, that's gonna take some break in time, for sure.

500 hours, maybe?

I dunno.

Howard's picture

Rex Hungerford, the guy who did Michael's rewire, did mine about two months before he did Michael's. I odnt listen a lot, maybe 15 hours per week. I probably have 100-150 hours on the new wiring now and Im still hearing improvements. Much deeper, blacker background, less noise of all types (including from my custom built tube amps), quicker transients, better tone and timber, the list goes on. What strikes me the most, perhaps, is the late night transparency. If your serious about your sound, Rex and his services are most highly recommended.

Neward Thelman's picture

You're "breaking in" ------ electrical service???????

Let me axe you sumpin: have you tried breaking in the air in your house? Try that.

[omg - these honchos believe anything --- I need to start selling audio fairy dust--- easy $$$$$].

AnalogJ's picture

While I haven't read the article or seen the video yet, I'm discovering that the quality of electricity is really important to sound quality as well as the health and well-being of the components.

I get a 60hz hum (I can hum it!), particularly pronounced when I'm using the vinyl chain. It seems to be partly from the cable line being brought into the house. I tried putting a filter after the cable, but while that reduced the hum, it created a problem with the signal reaching the cable box, reducing it to the point where a few stations were having problems locking in.

In any event, I have been using a Shunyata Hydra 6 power line conditioner, which I have all of my equipment plugged into. I'll have to try plugging it directly into the wall to compare, but I recall that I liked the sound plugged through the Hydra compared to the wall in terms of sound clarity. I tried several different power conditioners, but most sounded tamer compared to directly into the wall. With the Hydra, it sounded both cleaner and more dynamic, more spacious.

Anyway, the Hydra doesn't do as great a job in terms of surge protection, and I got some damage to my integrated. It's costing me $550 to fix.

In the meantime, a dealer suggested a Torus conditioner that contains a Zero Surge protector within it. A Torus that additionally has a power regenerator starts at about $4000.

But I called up Torus, and they suggested that, as long as I'm happy with the sound of the Shunyata, that I simply get an outboard Zero Surge protector. The 2-outlet 15amp goes for $210. I'm going to hope that it doesn't diminish the dynamics or aspects of the sound of the amplifier.

I had a direct line power outlet from the house mains installed a while back, but a new line from the street is really what is needed, in all likelihood, to really clean up the sound to the degree that Michael Fremer is now getting.

BruceN's picture

Michael:

I am pleased to learn that you solved your AC power problem. How frustrating that can be!

I had a problem that was perhaps similar. I bought a Cambridge Audio CXA60 integrated amplifier, and it had a mechanical hum that wouldn't go away. The noise was from the amp, probably the transformer, vibrating. It was inaudible through my speakers. Cambridge Audio was very nice to provide free warranty service, twice. The first time, the power transformer was replaced. That didn't fix it. The second time, they just said they couldn't reproduce the problem.

I did a lot of online research anent this problem. From what I read, the likely culprit was "DC offset" on the AC line. I couldn't isolate the problem inside the house, so I concluded that it was probably inherent to the power grid in my 60 plus year-old neighborhood.

The net result was that I gave the CXA60 to my sister, who was previously using my NAD hand-me-downs. As I suspected, the CXA60 doesn't have a mechanical hum in her 25-year-old house.

By the time I gave away the CXA60, it had been relegated to my low-budget bedroom system. I decided to get another inexpensive amp for that system, so I bought an Emotiva basX A-100. I plugged it in and put my ear over the power transformer. There was a slight humming noise, but it seemed to come from the rear of the unit, near the heat sinks. What the heck? Then, laugh out loud, this amp has a little fan in it. No problem. I can't hear it when I play music. I'm glad it's not another humming transformer.

I've had five amplifiers in the house in the past five years. Only one of them had mechanical hum, the CXA60. I've concluded that some amplifier power circuits just aren't well-suited to less-than-perfect AC power.

I wonder, Michael: would the amp that you sold still hum with your brand-new power setup? It's possible. But I'm happy to think that you'll seldom, if ever, run into frustrations with humming amplifiers.

liguorid42's picture

DC offset on the AC line is easily measurable with a cheap DVM. Not all this stuff is voodoo black box.

jazz's picture

did the regenerators have compared to straight to the wall after the change?
On the one hand, while always bettering a weak power supply, a regenerator looses impact, the better the general quality of the power supply is, may pick up noise or in the room and it may also limit dynamics in powerful and transparent setups, but the impedance advantage shouldering be there, right?

swimming1's picture

Life is vibrations..deal with it! LOL

PeterPani's picture

I can earth my tonearm in a way that the hum is minimzed (earthing to a central point at the mains) and with a hum that is bearable (earthing to the phono preamp). And I prefer the second one, because the heights (strings and female voices) sound less mechanical.I would not say warmer, but more in the right dimension inside the music and not on top of it.

sunderwood's picture

Paul Mcgowan in one of his videos had recommended hooking the amp directly to the wall outlet. I use a Vincent 236mk2 integrated. I have always been concerned about power surges damaging my equipment. What are your thoughts on that? Am I worrying needlessly?

rwwear's picture

Does this upgrade question all of your past reviews MF?

firedog's picture

Sounds like you had DC offset on the line.
Can be caused by another item in the home, or even something outside your home.
Some amps are sensitive to it and buzz. Others don't.
There are devices that block it and solve the problem.

jameswicks's picture

Now that your electricity has seen an "enormous sonic improvement?"

jazz's picture

the result or cross-relation of reviews should change due to an improved system which was on world class level before already?

In case of doubt regarding the improvement by electricity upgrades, I just can say from own experience, I don’t wonder at all that this is a boost without any negative changes aside.

Analog Scott's picture

How do world class systems have room for "enormous sonic improvement" with a mere change in the power supply from the wall? WTF are all those mega buck power cords, powerline conditioners and internal power supplies of those mega buck components doing wrong that we can say this is a "world class system?"

jazz's picture

will have experienced that the status before an upgrade mostly was extremely good already and there was no perception of anything „done wrong“. Anyway there’s always improvement possible and in a transparent setup, even small changes can have serious impact. And electricity upgrades are not even a small change. They are a change of preconditions, just like the change towards an optimized room. The setup gets improved preconditions, it did nothing wrong before that.

Analog Scott's picture

And what you describe is simply not the case for me. And I did not start out with an alleged "world class" system.

WesHeadley's picture

I don't know why this is so controversial here, but the truth is that beyond a certain build quality, materials quality, and the amount of wire used, there is no better or worse- there are just differences. Like there are with a good bottle of wine. Sometimes this will lead you to conclude the sound is better-- especially if you replace a poorly made or very old cable with something newer-- but most of it is just good old confirmation bias-- something that no audiophile I know has ever admitted was a factor in anything ever. Well it is! Try a double blind test with a handful of power cords switched out on a good high resolution analogue system-- ranging from good build and materials quality to those with obscene costs that make big claims. Anyone want to put any money on the table that you can reliably grade those cords from least to most expensive-- even in your own systems? So much snake oil, so little time...

Analog Scott's picture

All they dois cary the AC to the internal power supply of a component which turns it into DC. Most high end components have a power supply that quite adequately takes care of AC noise. no doubt, runavaccum cleaner on the same circut as a cheap table radio and you will hear the noise. That'sbecause cheap radios don't have really good power supplies built into them. And if you have a serious AC noise issue you need more than what any power cord can actually accomplish to fix the problem.

Eskisi's picture

But why waste your time and breath? This site is best read as humor, to see what other people waste their money on, based on “advice” from self-proclaimed experts. It is worse than snake oil (which may have novelty value) — it is about 70-year old technology clothed in what —umami lacquer? Do you need to lick it to make sure it is not sour, salty ot bitter instead?

Anyways, it is always nice to be called a “troll” for trying to point out the obvious!

liguorid42's picture

MF will call you a "cable denier" but I'm with you 100%. And while double blind tests have their problems (especially if a reviewer were to put his reputation on the line and, thus, be under enormous pressure), if neither I nor any other human on earth can hear a phenomenon under any conditions other than while being aware of what is being auditioned, I feel safe in regarding it as not an issue, and spending my money elsewhere.

I do acknowledge that you can no more expect an untrained listener to hear the difference between pristine analog versus lossy MP3 than between recordings made with spaced omni versus Blumlein microphones, or between a harpsichord tuned in Werkmeister versus modern equal temperament. But a thing has to be audible to somebody who can verify to me in some way he is actually hearing what he claims to be hearing, in order for me to take it seriously. Simply telling me my hearing is faulty, and the difference is as night and day, doesn't cut it.

Analog Scott's picture

looking forward to your thoughts on this issue.

JEB-42's picture

I'd love to see a schematic of the grounding. From what I saw and heard in the video, there are two new ground rods and the existing cold water pipe ground remains from inside the house. It does not appear that there are any ground loop issues. How did they tie these back? Is it because they centralized the grounding at the new emergency main breaker (like a star ground)? Does the Audio Sub Panel tie back into the same point?

It appears that the Generac ground goes to the same point also. I don't think that is an issue as when the Generac is on you no longer have power to the Audio subpanel as it comes off the main power to the home before the home main panel. The Generac only feeds the main house.

Fantastic write up. Really appreciate you sharing this journey. Thank you.

jlstrat's picture

My wife and I had solar power installed a year ago. A couple of years before that, PP&L installed a new pole and relay box near the house, and they replaced the meter box and meter at the same time. I heard a slight improvement in my audio gear then, but a really noticeable improvement with the solar power change, which required extensive rewiring. No skepticism here. I'm sure you hear improvement.

Russo7516's picture

Here in NYC the outside wires are so old that the insulation of the primary cables are falling off . I replaced much of the wiring inside my home and noticed that my voltage is a good 120 volts . But when summer hits it goes to 110 or even lower. My electircan calls its slow death of your appliances by Con Ed lol .

SET Man's picture

Hey!
I'm in Queens and during hot days in Summer I actually don't turn on my system at all. With lower AC voltage at 110V I know that my window AC unit couldn't keep up with the heat from my tubed system.

Also, I'm rental so not much I can do with house wiring so I've been using PS Audio P600 for the past 20 years.

liguorid42's picture

You know that your window AC is part of the problem, right?

jodaco's picture

people make fun of audiophiles and or our love for hi fi. The comment section never fails. As per usual, nothing to see here.

Greg S's picture

I've been religiously reading hi-fi mags for twenty years or more and as much as I love audio, equipment reviews sometimes get tiresome. There are only so many ways to describe sound without actually hearing it. This, on the other hand, is really interesting. A technical problem that took months to solve and a full rundown of what happened and what was done to correct it. Michael, thank you very much for writing about all of this.

fmena's picture

I can appreciate the electrical changes you made had a major sonic effect but what really puzzles me is the relatively small listening area you have in relation to the speakers you have. I would expect the room size and sound reflections there in would have a huge impact more so than electrical changes. Did you get to choose this room or was it chosen for you?
Cheers

Fsonicsmith's picture

stereo systems tend to be reflections of theirs. I respect you plenty Mr. Fremer but your listening room is a complete disaster. It is said we eat with our eyes as much as with our mouths. I don't care how nice your system "tastes", I can not bear to look at it. Imagine if the food at Eleven Madison Park was thrown onto a plate from ten feet away and then taken for a spin on a potter's wheel for good measure. No thanks. Somewhere in heaven Art is having a good chuckle at your expense.

Eskisi's picture

…went all vegan a few months ago and apparently the food is terrible even without being “thrown onto a plate from ten feet away and then taken for a spin on a potter's wheel for good measure.”

WesHeadley's picture

Vegan food at fine restaurants isn't terrible-- that is so twenty years ago! More importantly, animal agriculture is a growing public health disaster, and the animals are treated far worse than the Nazi's treated the Jews imprisoned in their concentration camps. Doesn't bother you a bit? Pity. Either way, change is coming like it or not. At minimum, be prepared to pay a lot more for your animal protein as the true costs of production are gradually added to the price tags. I know, animals feel nothing and Global Warming is nothing more than an evil hoax, perpetrated against all of us good people by a global conspiracy of the world's scientists-- who are all rabid socialists and commies! But enough said, it's lunch time, and I've got a bog bowl of vegan chili waiting for me. Bye!

John G's picture

Thanks Michael for sharing your experience. I’ve had a source first philosophy regarding hifi and it pretty much starts with the quality of the electrical supply. Your fortunate to have control over making that right. In my first home I put in a dedicated circuit for my hifi and it made a significant improvement.

jtavegia's picture

The dissimilar wire is a big problem and the aluminum wire needed to be replaced for sure.

I always have an electrician come out to my 25 years new house and tighten all the panel connections. It is amazing how many are not as tight as they should be and he checks the grounds as well. $50 well spent.

I also had 2 20amp dedicated outlets installed ($150) 5 years ago just for my audio. Furman conditioners are on all my audio gear. The great conditioners are a little out of my reach.

OldschoolE's picture

demanding the electric grid be revamped for his audio gear! I'm just kidding you Michael!
I recall over the years reading from various sources about how this or that particular wall outlet or power strip or power conditioner or some set of wooden blocks or plastic pieces or power cables or this or that wrapped around the cords would do wonders for the sound of ones system completely forgetting about how it all starts with the power coming into the dwelling and nothing at the end of the chain will fix that.
So I kind of laughed at your solution at first, but also knowing it was a real problem in your situation and the resolve was indeed always located beyond this or that "audiophile" gadget.

I live in an apartment (built in the early 90s) and I don't experience such electrical issues (although the power coming in is not the full 120V it should be, it hoovers around 114V oddly enough, but doesn't seem to harm anything. I'll take it over the extremely dirty electricity over Romex at 119V I had in a house I lived in back 16 years ago or so).

I don't need a "power regenerator". The electric seems clean, no issues, but the tap water is the dirtiest in the entire county, I don't even like showering with it! Good thing the gear doesn't run on tap water!

BillHart's picture

Seems crazy but.... I had Rockland Power when I lived in Grandview. All kinds of noise, plus the occasional outage--you basically rewired everything that you could from the service entrance, and reading about your travails with the ATS for the Generac, I wondered why same could not be installed AFTER the power feed to your hi-fi panel, which is apparently what you did. (An astute reader pointed it out to me).
Now in Texas, newer infrastructure, but that February cold snap with no power for 4.5 days made me a little less confident in the grid here. Which also got me thinking about a Generac.
I did do a complete upgrade to the power here, which was relatively new- 2004- in an 1880's Victorian. I did install a big (10kVA) Iso transformer in a NEMA case outside and had good commercial electricians, though they weren't audio savvy. Saw that you had Rex there. Cool. We were chatting about your video, which Mike Lavigne posted on A-Gon.
I wonder if having a small nuclear reactor is legal in Texas? :)
Glad you got it sorted.
Bill Hart

Joffa's picture

Hi Michael. Dont listen to the trolls

fmena's picture

I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr Fremer for my previous comments concerning his audio/vinyl room size. If the room suits Mr Fremer's intended purpose and he is happy with it, then that is all that matters. The fact that Mr Fremer can hear differences in certain vinyl recordings as well as differences in pressings, makes his column worth while in my opinion and that the equipment used is of high quality.

As an aside I myself have had to make do with a very sub-optimal room that I had no choice in, but I still enjoy listening to vinyl a lot in it regardless. I still contend that room acoustics is extremely important but in my case ... I work with what I got.

Cheers
Frank M

OldschoolE's picture

You have it correct. There is a sort of "order of operations" when it comes to sound in a listening space. Aside from the obvious recording, the biggest factors to how a system sounds is setup, the room and equipment matching. Power is way way down the list. In Michael's case he clearly had a grounding issue or the like that anyone who is not stone deaf would likely notice and he had to take necessary action. What he did is not to be taken as advice for the masses or some kind of acoustical treatment. It was a solution to a particular problem.

In the case of the sonics of a system in general, the power is not a likely source of trouble and spending tons of money on it would be nothing more than waste. The first possible culprit is set up. How are the speakers placed? What is the optimal placement? A series of placement experiments may reveal an improvement. After that if needed, room treatment would be next. It doesn't have to cost a fortune either. It could be anything from merely moving furniture around to using what is on hand to purchasing a treatment or two or something. I have seen guys waste money in this too by overbuying treatment and turning their place into an anechoic chamber. The best thing to do at the point of room treatment is to call a reputable acoustic engineer or company who can guide you to what you need. The good ones will always start with not spending a dime and if nothing comes of that they will sell you only what you need and no more. Recording, setup and room make the biggest impacts on the sound of your system. Cost has nothing to do with how a system sounds either. I have heard all manner of systems from $1000 to close to 1 million sound incredibly fantastic. It really is all in the wrist as they say.

marmaduke's picture

As one who avoids posting on forums such as this due to topic hijacking and more importantly impolite, rude or abusive posts, fmenna's apology is a refreshing display of civility which in my opinion should be acknowledged and encouraged.

Passionately held beliefs often result in hot rhetoric which may be appropriate for life and death issues; but dare I say not the enjoyment of listening to music or other audiophile related topics.

Simply put thank you fmenna whoever you are.

ericleehall's picture

I would have been very curious to see whether your sonic improvements would have held up even thru the new transfer switch.
(I had almost the same work done as you recently, and left my new transfer switch inline)

DaveyF's picture

I can relate 100% to what Mikey F has gone through. I went throughs something similar a few years back. At that time, we upgraded the total power supply delivery system, to include the transformer at the street ( which was suggested to Mikey, and which perhaps he should have also done). The upgrades were extensive and expensive. In our case, we had to rip up part of our street and all of our driveway to install new cabling ( new 500 amp wiring in conduit) and of course a new main panel, dedicated line to the audio room and Oyaide R1 receptacles. The net result was one of the best upgrades i have ever done in regards to the jump in SQ...equivalent to adding a far better front end ( for example). To those who are non-believers, I suggest that if you can get some way to listen to a system with the kind of power delivery that Mikey is talking about...do it.

KLW's picture

Glad Michael was able to get this situation rectified. I suspect the Frankenstein ground with dissimilar metal splices, creating Galvanic corrosion, was most of the problem here.
Always wanted to get a Tesla Powerwall for my audio system connected to a solar array.... Imagine that setup would be some of cleanest most instantaneous power available.

signet's picture

As an audiophile and electrician, I see many people grounding their subpanel feeds the wrong way, and it often causes problems with hum and other unwanted artifacts: The proper way to ground a subpanel feed to an audio system is to separate the neutral (white) wires and the bare ground copper wires. They should not be bonded together as in a main distribution panel! There is an accessory that most breaker boxes have that mounts to a small set of bosses on the back of the panel. This bar has screws that should hold all the bare ground wires coming in. Therefore, the only wires going to the neutral bar are white, and all the grounding wires go to this special accessory bar. Why? You only want neutral and ground bonded in the main panel. If you have two grounding points, they may both be at different potentials, and my pass microcurrents that cause hum...

Vinyl Rules's picture

Michael, a good friend of mine with about $20,000 invested in his audio system emailed me a while back asking for my thoughts on what he should upgrade next. He said his budget was about $4,000, and he was considering a major upgrade to his Linn analog setup. He knows I love vinyl as I have a fully tricked out Michell GyroDec with their first external outboard QC power supply (The original had an AC motor but the motor supplier discontinued the AC motor so Mitchell had to redo their turntables with DC motors).

I thought about what I would recommend to my friend. While thinking, I reflected on my own journey through this wonderful hobby we share, and then I remembered a potentially disastrous event that affected us when my wife and I lived in central Texas. And I was grateful that we had dodged a huge bullet at the time. So I wrote him back and said:

“If it were me, I’d spend the money on a good electrician: First, I’d have him install and properly ground a whole house surge protector. They can actually save your system and everything electrical in your home. A few years back I lived in Arlington, TX.

We had a bad thunderstorm roll through one afternoon and lightning struck the transformer that fed our home and several others, and it BLEW the transformer off the pole into my backyard next to my pool. I incurred ZERO damage, and my power feed was the closest to the transformer.

My neighbor on our left lost EVERYTHING that was plugged into an outlet, including their stove, refrigerator, D/W, water heater, and their HVAC. Even worse, all of their home’s interior electrical wiring was fried and the entire house had to be re-wired. Their insurance company was only willing to replace their inside wiring in code-approved conduit and conduit mounted outlets that would be placed on the bottom outside of their walls in all the interior rooms (they would have been ugly as hell).

The neighbor paid extra to have electricians fish new wiring from the attic so the wiring would be like (and look like) it was before the strike. This was an expensive extra cost NOT COVERED by their H/O policy. It was August in central Texas and an electrician could only last about 30 to 60 minutes in the attic as the attic temperature ranged from 140F to 150F. And they had to shop for and purchase all new appliances, install a new HVAC, and live in a hotel room for several months while all this work was being done.

My neighbor on the other side had a few of the $20 - $30 plug-in surge protectors like they sell at Lowe’s and Home Depot. All were fried as was everything that was plugged into them that they were allegedly protecting. The stuff that was plugged into a 240V outlet mostly survived, but their stove lost its clock and timer settings, their refrigerator’s temperature settings could no longer be adjusted, and their dryer somewhat worked but you could not set the drying time or temperature. 

After your electrician gets your surge protector installed and grounded, I would have him run at least two (three is better) 120V 20amp feeds (or 30amp feeds if a huge power amp is in your future) directly to your listening room for your system. Make SURE to have the electrician run each new feed to a SEPARATE breaker in your electrical panel. Your system will sound better and thank you!

All of this pain could likely been avoided by both neighbours if they had simply invested in a $150 -$250 whole house surge protector properly installed and properly grounded when they moved into their home. I’m retired now, but I previously worked in the corporate world and my wife and I relocated and purchased and lived in 8 different homes over the course of my career. 

The very first thing we would do after closing and moving into a new home would be to find a reputable licensed electrician and have them install and ground a whole-house surge protector. I would next have the electrician run at least two, sometimes three dedicated 120V 30 amp circuits to the room that was going to be our listening room in the area where I was going to install our audio system. And I made certain that each of these new lines were connected to their own breaker in the fuse panel and that nothing else was shared on this circuit.

Like I said earlier we incurred zero damage from this strike, and I immediately replaced my fried whole-house surge protector after this incident. As always, YMMV”

Michael, you have taken what I always did when buying a new home to a new, higher level. I was particularly pleased to see that your electrician installed a whole house surge protector when he did your work.

mooner's picture

In my business, I have 4 breaker panels. On a chat room for other folks in my business, there was a gentleman who worked for the NBC network in NYC as an electrical engineer. I was discussing grounding issues with him, and he recommended (highly) that each panel have it's own ground, along with the cold water pipe ground. So I did, but grounded each panel to a single grounding rod (in effect, a star ground?). This was deemed acceptable by the engineer. Immediately, the compressors sounded smoother, and yes, anecdotally and evideninced by my reduced equipment repair costs, this setup payed big dividends. Good grounding matters. I have yet to do this at my home however (listening to compressors becomes boring)!

liguorid42's picture

First, your mental problems are obvious to all. Your contractors must have been aware of them, and bravely showed up anyway.

Second, despite my comment on boutique cables I made earlier, I have no doubt the modifications did audibly improve your system, not to mention the general safety and efficiency of your home (aluminum wiring is godawful and should never have been allowed). Corrosion kills, literally and figuratively. You did lose me, though, with your "directivity" of the grounding wire.

Kavahead's picture

I had a custom home built in 2018 and had the electrician install a separate panel and run 10 gauge copper to my living room wall with five PS Audio outlets ($1500). My stereo equipment is plugged into PS Audio Perfect Wave AC/DC/AC power plant. No line noise, no hum. Was it worth the cost? Absolutely!

X