Surge Suppressors

Surge Suppressors

Should I Buy a Surge Suppressor, or is it just marketing hype?

You've just forked over a sizable wad of dough on some of the most sophisticated Home Theater gear you've ever dreamed you'd own. Now the sales kid with the overproduced hairdo and illegible nametag is motioning toward the Monster brand surge suppressor display, trying to coo you into spending more money to protect your investment. Do you go with the basic Monster surge suppressor or spend a little more on Monster's higher end design that's supposed to protect your gear from maladies you've never even heard of? If you thought the surge suppressor speech was aggressive, wait 'til they move on to the extended warranty while you're standing there with your credit card in one hand scratching your head with the other.

Advertiser Links for Surge Suppressors

What is surge suppression? When your house is hit by electricity, the energy released into your home by the bolt of lightning will seek the path of least resistance to ground. Since all electronic circuits contain multiple points of ground while being plugged right into the wall, they're going to be a candidate for path of least resistance. This will literally fry your gear and, in some cases, such a hit won't be fixed under warranty.

The basic job performed by a surge suppressor is to shunt excessive voltage to ground before making it through your outlets. Fortunately, surge suppression has a quantifiable value measured in joules and outlined by the IEEE 587 standard. The higher the rating (in joules), the more voltage your suppressor can divert to ground and the more effective the suppressor will be. If you own your house or have access to the main fuse box, it makes sense to perform surge suppression at the fuse box to protect your entire house rather than one outlet. Suppression at the fuse box uses natural earth ground, which will give you better protection and will protect everything in the house at once.

The ultimate form of surge suppression is to unplug your gear if there is an electrical storm. Switch off your power bar when you're not home in case of any electrical storms while you're at work. This will not only protect you from power surges but will save you significantly on your energy bill. Every piece of gear that you keep in standby mode is still on and using some 30% of the total power it will use when running. That adds up to a lot of energy being used to keep all that gear on and exposed to the risk of power surges.

The sales pitch at the big box stores for a certain brand of suppressor such as Monster is becoming an annoying feature of shopping at these places. They peddle Monster because they're sold at higher profit margins, but it's not just surge suppressors they're trying to sell you. They'll also present Monster brand cables as well. The way they peddle that particular brand should put any consumer on high alert that something isn't right. The products are overpriced; if you really need outlet-based surge suppression there are high-quality units available online for reasonable prices by companies like Tripp Lite and APC. There is nothing magic about a particular brand - simply look at the rating of suppression and compare. Keep in mind, power strips with a fuse at one end do not provide surge suppression.

There are other AC line products and features that might be peddled to you at the conclusion of your Home Theater gear shopping. These include power conditioners, AC line noise filters and even ground or voltage stabilizers. If you live in a first world country where you pay for electricity from a fairly reliable electric company, you shouldn't need any of this. RF noise filters are an audiophile product often peddled by marketers who want you to believe that residual RF noise in your AC lines is adversely affecting audio quality. Expensive AC power conditioners promise to alleviate this and unveil your systems full potential. Garbage! If something is causing audible noise through your audio system, turn it off.

Any fast-switching electronic device plugged in close proximity to your equipment might be seen and heard as backwash noise, but it can always be localized to a specific appliance like a refrigerator's compressor kicking in. For an example of backwash noise in action, turn on a vacuum cleaner while watching TV. If you've ever seen those white lines shooting through your TV set, that's RF noise. The answer to AC line conditioning is simple - turn off the vacuum cleaner when you watch TV.

The trouble with exotic AC line conditioners is there is no measure of the job it's performing - you're basically trusting the good faith of the manufacturer that it's doing anything at all. There is no IEEE standard it has to follow, nor a measure of RF filtering. Most hi-fi equipment you own will perform its own RF line filtering internally - it's called the power supply and any electronic device you own has one. Power supplies in electronics components come in a variety of qualities that are directly proportionate to the amount of money you spend on the equipment. If you bought decent-quality gear, it performs all the RF line filtering you need. If you bought cheap gear, there is no hidden potential for an expensive RF line filter to unlock anyway.

Related Articles
RCA Cables
Nothing in the hi-fi world is more controversial than the mantra of the cable cultists who believe your choice of cables will affect the sound quality of your audio gear. Even the trusted hi-fi magazines have a hard time being objective because manufacturers of expensive cables take out expensive ads. Gizmo Cafe has no such restriction; here you'll get nothing but the objective truth about cables.

Read on