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What is a Power Conditioner?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A power conditioner is an electrical device that provides "clean" AC power to sensitive electrical equipment. A typical one for home or office has up to ten or more receptacles or outlets and commonly provides surge protection as well as noise filtering. Many models also provide Ethernet, cable and phone line conditioning.

Most people are familiar with surge protectors, which guard against damage due to sudden spikes in the electrical current. While these devices safeguard equipment, a power conditioner cleans the signal, eliminating interference on the line. This can translate to faster, more reliable network operations, improved modem throughput, better quality cable TV feed and superior audio/video for home theater systems.

Line noise can result from a number of issues, including random fluctuations in the AC current, inferior or damaged wiring, interference from other machines or appliances, overhead fluorescent lighting or even bad weather. "Dirty power" impedes signal clarity by causing disruption of signal integrity. In the example of a television set, static translates to a visually degraded picture or "snow." Audio signals suffer distortion. A dial-up modem might get frequent disconnects, while static on a DSL or cable modem will negatively impact data transfer speeds.

A good quality power conditioner is designed with internal filter banks to isolate its individual power outlets or receptacles. This eliminates interference or "cross-talk" between components. If one is used for a home theater system, the noise suppression rating listed in the technical specifications of the device will be very important. This rating is expressed in decibels (db).

The higher the db rating, the better the noise suppression. Good units start at a rating of about 40 to 60 db for noise filtering. If a device does not state the db rating in its specs, it may be better for a consumer to move on to a different model or manufacturer.

For surge suppression, people should be sure the unit has an adequate "maximum watt" capacity for their needs. Plasma HDTVs, for example, use more electricity than LCDs, and one popular 50-inch plasma HDTV is rated at 555 watts. With a multi-channel receiver and other components, wattage quickly can add up in a home theater system.

The power conditioner will also have a "joule" rating. A joule is a measurement of power or heat required to sustain one watt for one second, known as a watt-second. Since electrical surges are momentary spikes, the joule rating indicates how much watt-energy the suppressor can absorb at once before becoming damaged itself. The higher the joule rating, the greater the protection.

Today's computer and home theater systems represent substantial investments, so some high grade power conditioners come with monetary guarantees against damage to connected equipment due to electrical surge — in some cases up to $500,000 US Dollars (USD). These particular devices also come with lifetime guarantees. Considering their cost, they are a worthwhile investment to protect equipment and provide clean power for the best possible audio/visual experience.

A good conditioner with all of the features mentioned above and a noise suppression rating of 60 db might have a list price of well over $100 USD, but can usually be found for less with some diligent shopping. Units with higher list prices normally have extended LED indicator lights and are "flashier." They might also have higher wattage and db ratings, but this is not necessarily true, so shoppers should check the specifications.

Although this term is often used interchangeably with "line conditioner," these terms can also refer to devices that not only condition power but also regulate voltage. This type of line conditioner, often used in industry, will boost voltage when it drops or act as a surge protector when it peaks, maintaining a steady flow of electricity within a set range of voltage parameters. The typical power conditioner used by the householder for computer and home theater systems does not commonly include voltage regulation.

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Discussion Comments

By anon256665 — On Mar 22, 2012

@c38: The system is pretty solid in its application and rugged when it comes to "dirty" or noisy power. You need a power conditioner to give you clean, steady voltage.

The other thing is a surge protector to protect against any electrical transients that may exist on your electrical system. These transients may be caused by electrical storms or surges from your electrical power provider. The "USES electrical watchdog" does both. I do not sell these things -- just recommend them. Take care.

By anon255753 — On Mar 19, 2012

Is a power conditioner something that I can sort out or would I be best consulting a local electrician in Northampton for advice if I don't know much about electrics?

By anon161934 — On Mar 21, 2011

Is a power conditioner similar with a voltage stabilizer? We are manufacturer of a voltage stabilizer, but I didn't heard about the power conditioner frequently.

By anon150084 — On Feb 06, 2011

The above statements about the USES systems and the ecopower4 are true. I am a distributor for both. The USES unit does indeed recycle the wasted noise, harmonics, and just general trash if you will. The ecopower4 on the other hand shunts it to ground.

The ecopower4 is sold through an mlm company and was originally supplied to that company (for about 2 years) by Continental Power Corporation out of PA. The mlm company now makes their own. Bonitron makes the one I sell. They manufacture for fortune 50 companies requiring precision electronics and quality power.

Both companies provide whole home protection with a $25,000 protection policy and a 10 year warranty. Mostly people with a lot of motor loads benefit the fastest in savings on their electric bill, typically 4 to 8 percent with an roi of 2-3 years.

They have studio specific equipment as well only through Continental, not the mlm. You can only buy through a distributor such as myself with Continental. Our residential unit is the E-3, The studio type models are the Eliminator. One of these might be great for a generator as well as various types of generators, solar, and turbine are notorious for generating noise as well.

By thomson01 — On Jan 31, 2011

There is a system out that is called USES. It is a surge and spike suppressor, power conditioner, and if you have some inductive type loads(i.e., motors, magnetic ballasted lighting) in your home in will make that wasteful AC equipment much more efficient.

What I found to be exceptional about this system is that it does not waste the surges or spike or any line noise by bleeding it off to ground or the neutral, it actually captures them and then recycles it as clean, conditioned, usable power. The secret to its design is what are called, parallel wrap-around magnetic chokes. Chokes are an old term used in the radio industry for inductors. It is definitely worth checking out guys. Made in america (awesome), in Connecticut.

By anon117987 — On Oct 12, 2010

Be weary of a "power conditioner" that doesn't have an isolation transformer in it.

By anon56748 — On Dec 17, 2009

I own a mom and pops recording studio that uses one inch tape. It's in a warehouse with wiring that's very noisy. There's way too much hiss and an annoying ultra high pitch squeal. I was told to get a good power conditioner. Any thoughts?

By anon44657 — On Sep 09, 2009

does a power conditioner also fix ground issues due to a parallel path with the neutral.

By anon43906 — On Sep 02, 2009

Easy, it's called the ecopower4. To be installed by a professional electrician straight into the main circuit breaker. Not only will it protect your audio/video but it'll protect the everything else that's plugged to that breaker with a $25000.00 warranty.

By anon43548 — On Aug 30, 2009

The article says, "Since electrical surges are momentary spikes...". That is incorrect. Spikes, by definition, are of very short duration with "rapid" rise and decay rates.

Surges, on the other hand, are long term anomalies with slow rise and decay rates, like ocean waves. So in effect, a spike might be considered (by the layperson for understanding purposes) to be a "momentary surge".

If a surge is momentary, it's a spike! -Digerati

By anon43341 — On Aug 27, 2009

I would like to use a power conditioner plugged in to a 5700-watt portable generator. What size power conditioner would you recommend? this unit will be used to power laptops and photographic studio lights in the 600-watt range.

By c38 — On Mar 27, 2008

How do we fully protect home Audio-Video equipment in case of any possible problem in the main power network (fluctuations, noise, etc)?

What we want here is to protect the sensitive electronic equipment (home cinema) from damage and also have the best possible quality in audio & video.

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