TechTalk: Clean Power and Light

Mar 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Kevin Becka


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photo of Kevin Becka

If you haven’t been following my column for the past few months, I’m in the middle of building a small mix room—a high-end workspace on a moderate budget—while cutting as few corners as possible. Two of the most important considerations when building any listening space are light and power, both of which can impact audio quality. At this point in the build, I needed to make my lighting decisions while I still had Tim Solis from Urban Contractors on-site. Is track lighting practical? Can I have dimmers? What about heat?

I want to be “green” and produce the least amount of heat, as I knew I’d have a variety of tube gear (aka, space heaters) in my rack. Halogens and incandescent lights, although aesthetically pleasing, run hot, and CFCs can be noisy. In addition, AC dimmers can play havoc with audio. I explored other options. LEDs offer low power consumption and low heat but are new to the game and a bit more expensive than other options. Also, because LEDs are new, it’s difficult to get good info and/or product from “home” or lighting stores. I remained determined.

After searching brick-and-mortar and online stores, I came across Elemental LED in San Francisco, and I’m sure glad I did. I started by searching their Website and using their excellent online chat feature, instructional videos and free phone support before I bought a single item. I figured out my lighting runs and searched for the correct DC driver. I explored AC vs. DC dimmers, strip vs. bulb options. Once I got my order together, I ran it by Dan Casey at Elemental; he verified my choices and made some alterations, steering me in better directions. This is the kind of customer service you rarely find any more.

I ended up using a 150W, 12V dimmable driver, high-density, warm white, Brighter LED strip lights, and aluminum channel strips with slip-on diffusers and hanging clips. The whole rig is controlled via two of Elemental’s DC Reign dimmers and brightly lights the whole room using only 70 watts. I was able to mount the noisy driver in the wall in the adjacent laundry room and make power at DC into the room. Because the dimmers are DC, it is quiet and they cause no problems with the audio.

photo of LED

I did save some money because everything came in pieces ready for assembly, giving me the ability to customize the length of my runs. There are two 6-foot and two 4-foot fixtures that are no bigger around than your little finger and look slick on the ceiling. The LED strips come in a 16-foot spool and have a sticky back that lays into the aluminum channel. The diffuser fits over that and you’re done. I had an electrician come and install the driver and dimmers. The total cost for lighting was about $1,500, and it looks great.

Next, I looked at balanced power and voltage regulator units from Equitek, Furman and Monster and decided to go with the Monster AVS 2000 Voltage Stabilizer and Pro Power 7000 PowerSource UHC balanced power unit. It was the most affordable option that I trusted. My good friend David Rideau uses the same setup at his studio; I’ve heard his room and it’s excellent. He has tested the systems, is confident they deliver as advertised, and so am I.

I’ve also been talking to Michael Griffin at Essential Sound Products about AC power and how it affects audio system performance. He suggested I upgrade my outlets to “hospital grade” plugs. These units cost less than $10 each, and I only needed a couple to go to my Monster power units. I’m also using ESP’s MusicCord Pros for my speakers and two 14-gauge IEC cables for my converters. I mentioned Michael in my August column when I wrote about quality and where to find it. Michael is a former GM engineer and knows power. He can also speak well about the science behind his products and they are worth looking into. He also suggested Belkin heavy-grade distribution power strips, which contain none of the consumer-grade “protection” and offer the best affordable option for distributing clean power to all my gear.

Every little improvement I’ve made has taken another layer of “gauze” off my imaging and sound quality. I’m a big Tour de France fan and avid cyclist, and I sometimes am known to equate audio with high-end cycling machines. It’s always the last few elements (usually expensive ones) that elevate a bike to Le Tour readiness. It’s the same with a studio. The last few tweaks: good power cords, solid speaker stands de-coupled from the floor, balanced power and regulated voltage cumulatively make a big difference in your listening experience. My room is another step toward completion, and I’m itching to ride.

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