How Bad Electricity Can Affect Your Recordings and Monitoring

One of the perils of living in the greatest city in the world to be an engineer in (oh yes, I went there), is that you’re very likely dealing with electricity that was installed when the technology itself was invented; which was a long time ago. And if you’ve ever tried to record or produce any type of sound with gear requiring a power source (ie: all gear), you’ve likely encountered something undesirable. Feedback? Yep. Buzzing in your monitors? That too. Seeing weird spikes when no audio is playing on an oscilloscope at 125Hz? That’s where I draw the line! (this actually happened!)

Building a project mixing/mastering studio in my Brookyln apartment has been a process I have embarked on with great care. After all, it is my livelihood. I want to do everything right, as I have what is an ideal room for this type of thing. However, I have a problem I can’t build/design my way out of: the two-prong/non grounded outlet.

The hardest part about this was the feedback created in my monitors (Yamaha HSM50s). At first I thought my cables were bad, or worse, that my monitors or interface were malfunctioning. After some troubleshooting, I found it wasn’t any of these things: it was my power that was creating these problems. I was having a grounding problem, but not a ground-loop problem that plagues some studios.

THE SOLUTION (and please note, this was my solution- TRY AT YOUR OWN RISK!)

If you have 2-prong outlets and want to use your grounded, 3-prong gear with it, DO NOT simply use a converter plug. Instead, you will need to physically remove the “third prong” (aka the earth pin or grounding), of the standard 3-prong plug. I only had to remove this pin on the power strip that I plug my monitors into individually. I did NOT remove the grounding pin on the individual monitors power cords.

NOTE: Now, this practice is extremely unsafe and not recommended when your studio or home already has THREE PRONG OUTLETS. If you have a three prong, grounded outlet and have the problems with feedback and buzzing like I’ve experienced, you will need to purchase a Ground Loop Isolator (Google this for more info). This solution is by far less invasive and much more convenient than the one I described. Consider yourself lucky if you’re having this issue with a 3-prong outlet. (Well, maybe not lucky). See the picture below to determine what type of outlet you’re dealing with:

Some people have reported similar problems and have solved said problems by removing the same grounding pin on the XLR cable that they use to connect their monitors to their interface. I can’t speak to the safety of that, but the possibility is there.

Why was this happening?

Well, if you want to play electrician, which I’m rather poor at:

Give yourself some background on the term “Ground” as it relates to electricity.

Check out Ground Loop while you’re at it.

Cliff Notes (That I Hopefully I have not butchered): The grounding pin helps regulate the electrical current that passes through your gear. The ground current can sometimes create a ground loop that often brings with it unwanted noise, which is why you experience these types of problems. Ground Currents (or Earth Currents), travel at very low frequencies (which explains why I had the 125Hz-ish spikes!).

I will close by saying again that this is what worked for me. I realize this solution may not work for everyone. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll share additional suggestions!


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