Power Conditioning: How Do You Know You Need It?

Like many, I have been considering whether to purchase a power conditioner (e.g., PS Audio Power Plant Premier), that sort of solution for electric noise. Accepting the premise that cleaning the AC will improve the sound, how do I know whether I actually have a problem that needs to be solved? That is, how do I determine whether the AC coming out of my wall outlets is actually dirty, before dropping two large on a device that I might not actually need? Living in Chicago, I would *assume* my electricity is as dirty as it gets, but how would I *prove* that before investing in a power conditioner? And I suspect the real issue may be noise occurring *inside* my home, like my WiFi router, energy-saving compact fluorescent lights, the 6-foot tall Tesla coil I keep running 24/7 "just in case" next to the hamster cage, etc.
The easiest way to determine such a thing is to ask a local dealer for a loaner unit and install it in your system and if you hear improvements typically assocated with power conditioning equipment (quiter/blacker backgrounds, higher resolution, better soundstaging and imaging, etc...) then you know that you have a problem. A word of caution, though. Some power conditioners rob the music of its speed and dynamic range, almost thickening and slowing down the sonic presentation.
how do I know whether I actually have a problem that needs to be solved?

Try a basic power bar conditioner from Monster on your sources and preamp - they start at only around $100 - if it makes a difference then you should start investigating a proper conditioner. If it makes no difference then you at least have surge protection...
You should first consider dedicated lines ( if possible ) before any LC is added. Many LC will color your sound as mentioned.
Start at the beginning,ie circiuit panel with a environmental potentials 2050.Look at their website and it says that probably 90% as you suspect comes from your own house.I have this unit and its a great place to start as it also helps with all of the other electronics you may have as well as surge protection,etc.,especially for those who are running tesla coils for educational and recreational purposes(ha).
you might get the answer here;

Does your system sound better at night? If so then I would first suggest dedicated circuits (if possible) first. I just had dedicated circuits added and all I can say is WOW. A couple of weeks later I added a Topaz isolation transformer. I honestly can say the transformer made little to no difference. I do not mean to say the transformer isn't doing its job but the dedicated circuit made the biggest difference. According to the Topaz specs it does reduce normal mode noise (hot to neutral) by -65db and common mode noise (neutral to ground) by -146db. So an isolation transformer is another option. It is strictly for isolation and does not limit current (except for what it is rated at). It has no filters.
The first step to problem solutions is problem identification ... don't put the cart ahead of the horse by trying to select a P/Conditioner without knowing what the problems are and how you need to solve them.

In order for noise/distortion to corrupt your equipment you need to have 3 pre existing conditions ... (1) a source generating/transmitting the distortion, (2) a conduit for the distortion to travel along and (3) a Receiver to receive and reproduce that distortion ....

Eliminate any one factor and the problem goes away

Noise can enter your system via 2 ways ... line born ... that noise which is traveling along the conductor and captive couple ... that air born noise which is captured and coupled by your wiring which is acting as an antenna

You also have to understand how to dissipate high frequency RF and low level EMI ... and never try and shunt noise to ground as it will only reenter your circuits at the main panel box where all the neutrals from all the circuits in the house are tied together on one bar and all the safeties from all your circuits in the house are tied to another bar and then both these bars are bonded together before being fed to the ground rod outside your home/apartment

Will somebody please explain to me where the Isolation in dedicated lines occurs ??????????/

This is basic house wiring and has nothing to do with audio

You are dealing with alternating current, which travels from the HOT ( the breaker) through your component's transformer and out the neutral back to the main panel box ...

Here it is tied to all the other neutrals in the house (show me the dedicated line isolation ?) and bonded to all the 3rd wire safeties at safety bar ( again show me the isolation ?) ... then the current reverses and travels back through the neutral (carrying any noise that you dumped on the safety ... because the safety and the neutrals are connected/bonded together in the main panel box, before going to your ground rod outside you house.

On the return trip (which then completes one AC cycle ... remember we are dealing with alternating current here ) any noise you dumped/shunted onto the 3rd wire/safety will be picked up by the neutral ... because the neutral bar is bonded to the safety bar in the main panel box and will carry any noise shunted on safety line back to and through your equipment's transformer on it's return trip ... polluting your power supply

I believe in theory your power supply should use all the power it draws ... but as Yogi Berra once said " In theory Practice and Theory should be the same, but in Practice they are not" ... Yogi was Brilliant

The 3rd wire safety is there only to provide a low impedance path to ground in the event of a catastrophic fault/failure .... audio signals and shunted noise have no business riding on this line

Now you need to identify what is generating the noise ... what type of noise is being generated ... and how to dissipate that particular type of noise

Where is the noise coming from ... 3 sources ...

#1 your equipment by it's normal operation will output high frequency hash... any chip that switches on and off will create a beat frequency which will balloon RF into the system and switching power supplies are probably the worst, unless properly filtered

#2 Sources within your house will create DC offset (reducing transformer effiency and limiting dynamics and headroom) ... slot harmonics created by any running motor also degrade your systems sound and start up transient and their extended ringing are always a pleasure to cope with ...

What else, how about counter currents on the safety created by coupled RF and high soil resistivity .... no ground rod out there lies totally at Zero impedance for maximum transfer, so some RF is bounced back to the main panel where it is picked up by the neutral and feed to your components transformer

Remember even though your safety's wiring should carry Zero current the wire acts as antenna at certain resonate frequencies, picking up spurious RF which the ground rod can not totally dissipate and bounces back to the main panel where it is coupled to the neutral and fed back to your transformer on the AC's return trip

#3 Noise that is coupled and conducted from outside from your power company and worst of all your neighbors who are backing polluting the street's transformer

Stop blaming your power company for all your problems ... you neighbors are more of a problem than the power company

One problem the power company does create is a spike due to the telemetry signal they use to read your meter remotely and some 60hz harmonics ... IMO it's pales in comparison to the noise your neighbors add .

So in general that's where the noise is coming from ... how do you block ... simple

High frequency noise both common mode and differential mode can be trapped with a capacitor and resistor arrangement and dissipated ( NEVER FREAKING SHUNT TO GROUND) ... low level EMI ( magnetic noise) must be trapped with a permeable metal to absorb and dissipate ...

EMI is magnetic by nature and a cap and resistor offer no assistance ... the magnetic wave must be grabbed by some iron trap to be dissipated

Where to put these blocks/traps ... again pretty simple ... you first need to trap noise coming from outside sources at the main panel box, next you need a conditioner with proper filtering to capture noise generated from within your house and lastly you need to bi-directional filter/back filter the noise coming out of your components so it doesn't re-enter your circuits

One other area I haven't touched on is if you live in a condo or apartment complex you may be subject to surges and sags due to your neighbors useage.... here is where a good regenerator like an Exact Power EP15 can smoothen things out nicely

Now you have a good idea of what the problems are ... where they are coming from ... and how to eliminate them

No single conditioner deals with all these issues, so you will need a combination of conditioners if you are really serious about eliminating all the problems

As we listen to our power supplies the cleaner they are the better your systems presentation will be

You've been given "The Keys to the Kingdom" ... and I hope I've made this as "Clear as Vodka"

ATB Dave

Will somebody please explain to me where the Isolation in dedicated lines occurs ??????????/
Dedication and isolation are 2 different things. In theory Dave you are 100% correct but in my personal opinion you have to forget theory in this hobby. In my experience adding the dedicated circuits really lowered the noise floor. Then I added an balanced isolation transformer and can hear no difference. It would have been interesting had I got the transformer first - but I didn't. In theory the transformer should be better.
First of all there's no need to drop two large on a Premier, if that's your final decision. I bought one for 1200 and sold it for the same.
Xti16 ... My biggest rub with Dedicated Lines being touted as the Holy Grail and cure all is they offer no Isolation for the equipment either from it's self or other appliances

Install a dedicated line and then go turn on your furnace or AC and your dish washer and watch all the chit chat that occurs back at the main panel box because Neutrals and safeties are tied together .... this reminds me of the early 50's when some phone systems had Party Lines and you went to make a call only to find someone was using the phone

But let me say some positive things about dedicated lines ... replacing a branch circuit which has 3 or 4 outlets on it with a dedicated line can offer some improvement and I think that's what you've experienced

By removing the 3 or 4 outlets ... even if nothing is plugged into them ...you will lower the impedance and increase the deliver capabilities on that line ... also by removing the outlets you remove a possible entry point for RF and that may have accounted for most of your success in lowering your noise floor

Also if you run 2 dedicated lines and put your low level devices on one line and your high current components (amps and PCer) on the other ... the higher power(ed) power supplies in the amps and PC will not modulate the low level components power supplies as badly ... but this requires two lines and double the cost

As far as using two lines to isolate your analog from your digital ... IMO it is pure Kaf Ka ... [did you see the movie Congo (;-) ]

I'll buy two lines to keep power supplies separated, but not for isolation

Bear in mind many here either own a condo or rent and have to abide by the rules of their lease and/or association rules, which may not allow modification or addition of dedicated lines

Thank goodness as you've pointed out there may be more than one way to skin a cat in lowering the noise floor

I Bi-directionally filter my two low level components a CD player and external cross over for my Subs and then plug the two Foundation Research LC1's filters into an Exact Power EP 15 for linear power delivery ... I also plug my 500w main amp and 350w Sub amp into the same EP15 with no side effects I can detect

My next two moves will be to install a DC offset circuit and ground break circuit into the EP 15 and add a Environmental Potentials 2050 ( as Lifeengineer recommended ... good call, great piece IMO) at the main panel box to block the grunge from the pole and I'm done

The purpose in my post was for Jiminlogansquare to understand the problems in power delivery, where and how they occur, and in a broad sense how to generally fix them before blindly throwing big bucks at a PC which would only partially treat the overall problem

Xti16 ... I agree with you and Yogi Theory and Practice can be very different

Rgds, Dave

PS ... Jiminlogansquare welcome to the site ... there are a lot of good guys here who will share their knowledge and experience

New PS Audio PPPs are on sale right now for $500 off....$1699.00. I would not want to do without mine!

All the best!

That is, how do I determine whether the AC coming out of my wall outlets is actually dirty, before dropping two large on a device that I might not actually need?

The equipment to examine the frequency intensity and distribution on your AC lines is relatively expensive and complex. Even if lines are dirty, the end result depends on the ability of your componants power supplies to deal with it. I agree with those above that argue that there are substantial sources of noise within your home that most likely make the investment in power conditioning worth while.

For some systems, dedicated circuits do the job, and for others various power conditioning equipment is adequate. I have found that it is not necessary to spend "two large" on an all out solution. A combination of a dedicated subpanel, dedicated circuits and a used isolation transformer and do an outstanding job for far less.

Take a look at my system for details on this solution.
Hi, and thanks to all who have posted responses; much appreciated. Since making the OP, I have done a little experiment to determine whether I have a noise problem -- practical,not theoretical. Here is what I did. With my playback source on pause,I turned up the volume on my amp (Cambridge 840A v.2) and listened for noise. At -0 db,I could clearly hear some fuzz; but I usually listen at -30dB. At -20 dB, I had to be within 5 feet of a speaker to hear any noise. At -30 db, I couldn't hear any noise even when I pressed my ear directly against the speaker; I think this means I have a 0dB noise floor at my usual listening station ("The Con" is a good 12 feet from the speakers). I am pretty well satisfied that any noise in my system, AC-induced or otherwise, is a theoretical concern, at least with regard to audible interference/background noise on playback. Now, as to effects on soundstaging or other effects impacted by line noise, I suspect there is more to be said. But as far as creating/assuring a dead-black, 0dB background ... I think I'm actually already there. Thoughts?
I would not jump to that conclusion so quickly. First, you have all sources turned off. Second, equipment at rest does not have the same behaviour as when being driven. Third, the interaction between your equipment is not in play. I thought my system was quiet until I put in the iso and dedicated lines. The first time I listened and the music hit a momentary quiet spot, I felt like I was going to fall into the speakers. It was a dramatic change.
For what it is worth, see my post earlier today on the thread entitled:

"Is high end Power Conditioners worth the extra $$$"