the value of ups protection in your studio

The other evening was a particularly harrowing time to use Pro Audio equipment in the Midwest. Why? Well, it was freezing rain, which had a fairly devastating effect on the local power grid. Power didn’t go out, rather it wavered intermittently for hours. Thankfully, when I setup my studio, I invested in several Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) which have paid for themselves several times over. The evening in question, for instance, the UPS allowed me to finish my work and save my session without my computer powering down, losing connectivity with an audio interface, or my DAW crashing; all possibilities in intermittent power situations.

A UPS is a great investment if you live in an area plagued with power issues, but it’s a good idea no matter where you live because of the security it offers you in protecting not only your equipment but more importantly your data. This is because depending on the type of UPS you purchase, it can protect you from not only power failure, but surge, sag, spikes, noise, frequency instability, and harmonic distortion as well. There are several excellent manufacturers of UPS units, including APC, Tripp-Lite, Furman, and Middle Atlantic. It’s worth noting that no matter which manufacturer you choose, if you’re backing up audio equipment, it’s best to use an online unit that offers sine wave output.

When shopping for a UPS to backup your studio it’s important not to make the common mistake I seen seen time and time again; under powered UPS units. I once helped someone specify a new UPS several years after they had purchased their first. When I asked why wished to upgrade, they remarked that while the UPS kept their computer running long enough to save and shut down, it wasn’t enough to power the monitor. This left them having to save and shut down blind; effective yet extremely disconcerting to clients and engineers alike.

This is a very important lesson, and one often ignored until data has inadvertently been lost the first time. When specifying a UPS unit, you need to ensure that anything necessary to finish work, save, and shut down is powered by battery. Additionally, you need to leave sufficient capacity for expansion. Devices that commonly require power to allow you finish your work and safely save include the following.

  • Computers
  • Monitors
  • Audio Interfaces and Converters
  • MIDI Interfaces
  • Expansion Chassis
  • All external storage devices
    • Hard Drives
    • Digital Tape
    • Disc Burners (CD/DVD)
    • Anything on which you may need to save
  • Essential Connected Peripherals
    • Keyboard
    • Mouse
    • USB & FireWire hubs
  • Power Sequencers and/or Conditioner

It is extremely important that all equipment essential to finishing a mix before saving be protected by UPS, as a hard drive or audio interface going offline can easily lock up and crash your DAW, making saving your data all but impossible. You personally may prefer the ability to bounce down before saving, so your essential equipment could include a signature EQ and monitors, or it could be the bare essentials of just a computer, hard drive, and audio interface. When it comes down to it, the equipment you backup is a very personal choice, however it’s worth remembering that a few hundred dollars for UPS protection is rather inconsequential compared to the cost of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and truly priceless data.

Let’s suppose for a moment that you’re sold UPS on protection. It’s advisable to routinely test your UPS, ideally twice a year, but every 18 months at a minimum. While the unit may work great one day, a year down the road the road the battery might not hold a charge like it did when it was new. If the performance isn’t up to par, replace the battery as soon as possible because you don’t want to be caught off guard. Also, as a side note, it’s worth remembering that even if you’ve taken the steps to protect your studio equipment with a UPS, it is not a replacement for a power conditioner or sequencer. It’s easy to say you can never be too careful, but in this case it’s true.

So, is an Uninterruptible Power Supply worth the cost? Well, that’s something that has to weighed by each individual when making the consideration to purchase. For me, the savings is not only in protecting my equipment and data, but also in the brief ability to finish work when power fails. No matter your justification, if your considering power protection, a UPS is a tremendous asset.

Have an opinion on power protection? Found a favorite UPS and just want to share? Please let me know in the comments!

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Kyle P. Snyder

Kyle P. Snyder is an engineer, educator, and consultant skilled in audio recording and mixing, sound design for film and video, facility design and integration, and live event production. Snyder works remotely on projects of all sizes from his Ohio-based studio, White Coat Audio, LLC. He is also a faculty member within Ohio University’s School of Media Arts & Studies dedicated to the advancement of audio education for engineers at every stage of development where he routinely teaches courses in music production, critical listening, and sound design for film and video.