International Relocation: Power Implications

I've moved between the USA and Europe (the Netherlands) three times now, and I've found there are challenges sorting out the electrical power for all my music studio equipment. 

 

Here, I want to share some lessons I've learned in hopes that anyone else moving abroad will have an easier and more efficient transition, whether you have a music studio or any other power hungry devices you want to bring along.

The main points:

1. a lot of equipment can easily handle the 240 V, 50 Hz power, and those can be plugged in directly to the wall after using a plug converter.

2. some equipment requires 120 V (cannot handle 240 V), and a step down transformer will be needed

3. Leave your US power strips with surge protectors at home - they will blow fuses in Europe, even if placed after the step-down transformer.

The details:

Many pieces of electrical equipment have DC converters built in to their power plugs or housings, and these rectifiers can handle 100-240 V and 50-60Hz of input power.  Generally, this is clearly labeled on the plug or the housing of the device and is easy to audit before moving.  Typical examples are power cables for laptops external hard drives, monitors, audio input boxes, and electrical instruments.  For these devices, all that is needed is a plug-converter, so that the USA 2-prong, or grounded 3-prong, plugs can be converted to the size and shape to fit into a European 2-prong receptacle.  Examples of plug converters are shown below.  They are unusually expensive (EUR 10-20 a piece) given that they are just plastic and metal, but they can be found at travel stores or purchased online.  I used adapters like these for my Acer monitor, my Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) audio input box, and my external hard drive (G-Drive).

If you're like me and have a lot of equipment to plug in, then you're going to need one to several European power strips to plug everything in!  The plug converters shown above can sometimes be pretty bulky (especially the Samsonite plug), and the result is that it blocks a neighboring receptacle on the power strip.  Also, some of the 2-prong converters seem a bit wobbly when plugged in, leading me to worry about a loose connection.  So, I only use these adapters when there are no other options.

 

Where possible, I replaced the standard 3-prong power plugs with the European cable shown below.  These were only EUR 6 per cable, so not only more robust and stackable in the power strip, but also less expensive than the adapters above!  I used cables like these for my Mac Pro, my Dell monitor, my CalDigit Thunderbolt station, my Avalon U5, the phantom power source for my Vanguard V13 microphone, and my Universal Audio Satellite.

A couple pieces of equipment in my studio were not rated to handle 240 V.  This was true for my Fatar Studio 1100 keyboard, my two Yamaha HS80M studio monitors, and, less surprisingly, my DVD player.  The solution is to buy a voltage converter, that steps the 240V line voltage down to 120 V.  When we came to Europe in 2015, I expected to run my whole studio through such a converter, so I purchased the Bronson AVT-1500.  It can take up to 1500 W of power, and we purchased one for my music studio and a second one for the kitchen to power the KitchenAid stand mixer and CuisineArt that we brought.  It has a European 2-prong plug for the wall outlet and 2 American-style 3-prong receptacle on the front that deliver 120 V power at 50 Hz.  While the studio monitors, keyboard, and DVD player mention that require 120 V power at 60 Hz, I haven't seen any issues powering these devices with the 120 V 50 Hz power coming from the Bronson.

My initial plan was to plug my multiple USA power strips with surge protection directly into the USA-style 120 V output plug on the Bronson to supply all the power I needed for my equipment.  But, this failed dramatically.  Simply plugging an empty surge protected power strip into the Bronson immediately caused the lights in the room to go out because I had blown a circuit breaker.  After much experimentation I found that any power strip with surge protection will immediately cause the circuit to break.  Examples of such surge protectors are shown below.  Each of these blew a fuse when plugged in empty (with the switch either powered to the ON or OFF position)!  i still need to check if these will blow fuses when bypassing the Bronson.  I think they do.  Meaning that it doesn't have to do with the circuit of the Bronson.

Thankfully, I had also brought some less fancy power strips, ones without surge protection.  The power strips shown below could be safely plugged in and used with the Bronson.  For my currently studio set-up, I only needed one of these power strips since I only had 4 things requiring 120 V power.  

I felt a bit uneasy about using both 240 V and 120-V-converted power among different equipment in my studio.  I was worried that I'd have some sort of a ground loop or fight with noise.  Thankfully, everything sounds good and I haven't noticed any issues with my system.  For reference, my power and cable connections are shown in the diagram below.  The key is:

  • Gray lines: 240 V power

  • Green lines: 120 V power

  • Red lines: MIDI cables

  • Blue lines: Audio cables

  • Purple lines: Digital cables