You’ve just purchased shiny new gear – maybe even a booth too. Everything is now plugged in and ready to go. You record your first podcast episode. During editing, you notice there’s a buzz in your audio. No clean up tools seem to be effective. Despite your best troubleshooting efforts, there’s still a buzz. The problem may not lie in your recording, but in your signal during playback.
Unfortunately, audio gear is susceptible to all sorts of interference, aka noise. This noise can be created at various points where the audio signal is travelling through your gear. If you’ve read our troubleshooting article, you’ve learned how to counteract this at the recording stage. Now it’s time to learn how your playback can be affected by noise, as well as some options on how to fix it.
First, some investigation is needed before opening your wallet.
Is the Noise Actually Coming From Your Recording?
The easiest way to determine if noise exists within the recording itself is to look at the audio through a spectrogram. You'll find a spectrogram tool inside most DAWs, for example, Audacity or Adobe Audition. A spectrogram is a visual representation of all frequency content within a recording. This can greatly help to isolate the stage from where a noise issue is arising.
A spectrogram takes care of any uncertainty. Noise will have a specific shape that differs from the voice. For example:
No matter which spectral tools you use, interference noise (other than hiss and crackles) will always look like solid horizontal bars across the recording, as above. The tricky thing to be aware of is that a fan or HVAC can produce a similar shape. This will also have to be investigated and ruled out.
If you don’t see solid bars, the noise is not in your recording. It’s your playback device. Listen carefully. Can you hear a buzz and or hiss from your monitors or headphones with nothing playing back? Remember, there might be some hiss. Every device has a self-noise, after all.
One Last Test
Next, check for a faulty cable if you are using studio monitors into an interface. It’s always a good idea to have a spare cable for testing purposes. Hear a buzz? Disconnect the monitor from the interface and turn on. Still hear a buzz? You might have a case of dirty power. This can potentially affect you in the recording stage too!
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What is dirty power? It can be anything from fluctuations in voltage to an introduction of electrical noise in various forms. Hums and crackles can actually be a side effect of dirty power for audio. In that case, you may want or need to consider using a power conditioner.
If It’s Not in My Recording, Why Should I Worry?
If you are doing your own editing and/or mixing, everything you hear in playback can affect the processing decisions you have to make. Having noise-free playback is just as important as a clean recording. A hum that isn’t actually in the recording could result in incorrect EQ’ing, unneeded noise reduction, or over-editing. This is where a power conditioner can come into play.
What is a Power Conditioner?
A power conditioner has two main functions, and perhaps a third depending on manufacturer:
- Regulates voltage output
- Filters noise like EMI & RFI
- Surge and spike protection (brand and model dependant)
Why Voltage Matters
Fluctuating voltage feeding into your gear can age your gear quicker. In North America, electronics are happy at 120V. If the voltage jumps too high or dips too low, your gear may not perform as intended. You’ve invested in your gear and computer. A proper voltage supply allows for peak performance of all your critical electronics. You may even realize energy efficiency on your power bill in the long term.
A power conditioner is like having a noise reduction plugin for your power supply. Keep one thing in mind: if noise persists after installation of a power conditioner, you may need to get your gear serviced.
Protect your investment from overloading due to an unexpected electrical event. It’s not just a storm that can cause a surge or spike. Birds on a power line, faulty transformers, accidental events, even beavers chewing down a power pole (yes, that happened to me!) will all cause unforeseen issues with your power supply. If you work out of your house, I also cannot recommend strongly enough getting a full house surge protector installed as well.
So What Do I Get?
My studio is rocking a power conditioner from ART PRO Audio. The slight difference between their base model and higher-end models is insignificant. You get the exact same protection with the base model as with the higher ones. The higher-end models have more outlets, USB ports, and voltage metering capabilities (not really needed for most people).
Here’s my right channel studio monitor without a power conditioner:
This sample was recorded using a TLM 103 into a FocusriteRednet X2P at 48kHz, 24 bit. I even use a platinum-shielded XLR cable for optimum noise protection for the microphone to interface. As you can hear, there’s quite a bit of hum going on. This is just with the monitor turned on with no signal passing through it.
After plugging everything back in to the power conditioner, I can no longer hear noise coming from the monitor, aside from its self-noise, which is so low you won’t hear it unless your ear is right against the cone.
Pros of ART PRO Audio Power Conditioner
- It’s plug and play. All you need to do is plug everything in, the box into the wall, flick on the power switch on the unit and you’re golden!
- The base model features eight outlets on the rear.
- It sports four outlets that are 1.25 inches apart. Perfect for chunky blocks.
- The chassis is made of steel – very sturdy.
- It is rack mountable.
- The power cable is thick and well protected.
- It is reasonably priced starting at $79.99 CAD/ $61.40 USD.
Cons of ART PRO Audio Power Conditioner
- Only for North American use at 120 V (however, other brands exist for each region).
- Doesn’t auto turn back on after an unsafe fluctuation in voltage. You will need to manually reset the circuit breaker reset switch.
- Power cable being too short is a consumer complaint. But short cables are your best friend in a production setting.
A Few Things to Look for When Purchasing
- Circuit Breaker- manual or auto reset
- The type of filtering it can do… surprisingly, in my search, not many brands tell you what exactly it will filter out.
- Power Capacity- you probably wouldn’t want to go below 1800 Watts.
- Protection Circuit- ensure the unit has surge and spike protection at the very minimum.
A power conditioner may just be your answer to finally rid yourself of those pesky hums. With your setup noise free, you can focus on creating, and not fixing what may not even be in the recording!
Need More Help?
Check out more articles that may help you track down gear-related noise woes:
- Finding The Best Audio Cables: The (Not So…) Fascinating Truth
- Is Cable Crossing a Bad Thing in Audio Recording?
- Studio Cable Management
And whether it's help with tech, content, growth, or any other aspect of podcasting that you need, you'll find it in The Podcast Host Academy. In there we have courses, downloadable tools and resources, and run weekly live Q&A sessions for you too!