Thursday, February 18, 2016

Kitchen Audio UPS Reconsidered

Back around 2008-2010, I purchased 3 Belkin AVU1500 audio power conditioners with UPS.  Originally priced at $1500, these were being closed out and discounted to $350-$500.  There appeared to be nothing like it on the market, and Monster Power made conditioners that didn't look as beefy for the price and lacked UPS.  I reviewed and photographed the internals of the Belkin units on this blog.

Even then, I knew that the UPS part of the Belkin was probably not particularly good, though it has massive battery capacity and you wouldn't think it would be that bad either.  But I knew at the time I bought these units that Belkin had dropped out of the UPS market and was then only selling power conditioners for audio.  That was not a good sign, and I had the fear that the UPS was not as good as it should have been.  Since then even the name Belkin seems less heard then before.  Not to be confused with the leading US cable manufacturer Belden, for which it always seemed Chinese Belkin was a ripoff name.  I always knew that, but Belkin made neat looking stuff I could just buy rather than reels of cable, and I didn't look past them just because of the name.  In stores such as Computer City which no longer exists, the Belkin cables were the priciest you could buy there and didn't look bad while everything else looked like freebie wire.  I never had a problem with Belkin computer cables, but haven't needed any for 15 years since SCSI and Parallel cables went out of fashion.  Since that time over a decade ago, I have gotten most of my audio  and video cables from Blue Jeans Cable who uses genuine Belden wire.  Only once ever did I get Belkin audio cables and while they seemed to have the right stuff (polyethylene dielectric for example) I didn't like them much because of the too-tight connectors.  I may still be using some Belkin speaker wire, looked similar to Monster zip cord with polyethylene dielectric.

It also appeared that the UPS section of the unit was not given that much attention in my earlier investigations.  But I was then leaning heavily on the power conditioning aspect as being the more important one, and at least the power conditioning parts inside the Belkin looked serious.

The three units I purchased were intended for living room main system, kitchen system (which is also my "Audio/Video Production Center", and the Laboratory (previously called the Computer Room).

Since then, the Laboratory hasn't been cleaned up enough to do much work in there, let alone set up the Belkin UPS.  So the unit designated for the Laboratory has been sitting around unboxed in various rooms, first the master bedroom, then my climate controlled storage building (dubbed Lyndhurst).  It was one of the earliest pieces moved to Lyndhurst and was sitting on the bottom of a pile that reached to the 9 foot ceiling.

The Belkin UPS in the living room has done well.  Actually I think that was the second one I purchased.  The power conditioning has always seemed adequate, it looks the part, and the UPS has almost always kept the digital equipment running continuously so I don't need to reset stuff all the time.  It started beeping about batteries in 2013 and got a new set of batteries then and has had no issues since.

The UPS in the Kitchen had been doing fine until 2014.  Then it started beeping too, and it got a new set of batteries.  Those batteries lasted only 19 months until now.

That didn't seem right.  Batteries lasting only 19 months isn't normal, UPS batteries should traditionally last 3-5 years and in low impact use can last up to 7 years.

Replacing the batteries in the Kitchen UPS is a task that takes at least a dedicated weekend if not two.  A gazillion wires and several pieces of key equipment need to be moved out of the way just to pull the UPS away from the wall so that I can remove the battery "cartridge."  Then the cartridge itself must be disassembled and the batteries packed in a box to take down to the battery store.  Then after getting the new batteries, everything has to be put back into place.

A new set of batteries isn't cheap either.  The last set I purchased in 2014 was nearly $200 and prices seem to have gone up a bit since then.  The Belkin takes 4 batteries which cost upwards of $40 apiece.

It immediately occurred to me I probably didn't want to chance another set of batteries in the kitchen UPS.  I think there's a big chance the Belkin UPS isn't keeping batteries in good condition.  Perhaps the charger isn't charging up to voltage, or goes overvoltage, or something.  I never trusted the Belkin UPS very much, and wrt the kitchen UPS whose batteries failed in 19 months, I have even less trust.

So, I got out the unused Belkin sitting in the bottom of a pile of junk in my junk building.  That's what I did last Sunday.  I hooked it up for the 12 hour "charging."  Just to see what was happening I also connected a Kill A Watt meter.

I was shocked to see that it was only drawing 0.09 amp, or 1 watt.  I tried multiple times to turn the unit on by pressing the On button for up to 30 seconds.  It did not come on.

I left it plugged in for over 24 hours, then tried unplugging and replugging a few times.  Nothing.  It never draws more than 1 watt or allows itself to be turned on.

I took apart the battery compartment and examined the batteries and battery connections.  Everything looked perfect.  I measued a combined voltage of 5V.

I think what might be occurring here is that the 5V isn't enough to power some part which must be powered in order even to turn the "charger" on.  So it never even starts charging, there's a relay or transistor controlled by battery voltage that doesn't engage.

But the only way to know is--to buy a new set of batteries.  And even then it might have the problem of the old Kitchen UPS--the battery might not stay in condition.  And what happens after a deep deep discharge?

For the approximate $200 price of the set of batteries, I could buy a new UPS.  A real UPS made by a respectable UPS company, not a company that exited the business 6 years ago.  A brand new UPS that hasn't been subjected to 6 years of noisy AC power and outages and electrical work, not to menton loads such as my Sony 34XBR960 CRT television (now sadly deceased and removed).  I could even spend much less, only $139, and get a highly regarded very popular and top rated Cyberpower UPS with 1500 VA.

I also started re-thinking the kitchen UPS responsibilities.  This kitchen UPS isn't only for the audio system.  I can loose far more than not-having-to reset all the digital devices after an outage.  Here are the things the Kitchen UPS must keep powered:

1) The irreplaceable nothing-made-like-it-since Pioneer DVR LX70 video recorder which I have constantly playing programs in infinite loops to keep my bedroom TV busy.  A power outage could cause loss of the hard drive causing months of agonizing repair or replacement, not to mention lost programs, many of which have not already been written to DVDR's because that takes lots of time to do it well.

2) My Mac Mini, fully loaded with 1+TB hybrid drive.  This has all my music and video collections, as well as all my open applications, etc.  I do back this up,  at least, but losing it would cause a month of downtime.

3) My Dish Network DVR, with all my most recently saved TV shows going back months.

4) My HDMI 4x4 switcher (this could go down, but up-and-down probably isn't good, and like the Pioneer this is a rarest-of-the-rare unit).  My Oppo.  My DVDO format converter.  My Plextor Premium CDR drive.  Lots of valueable equipment I don't want to stress.

5) The managed Ethernet Switch for the entire house.  All the HDMI to CAT6 converters.

6) My security cameras, and the security DVR.

Clearly the UPS function here should be taken seriously.  It can kind-of be laughed off in the Living Room, but in the Kitchen I have a serious Data, Networking and Security center.

Meanwhile, I don't really know how important the "Power Conditioning" function is.  Objectivist audiophiles claim that the AC power purity obsession is unwarranted.  I certainly have no blind test results proving different.  In my attempts at doing objective measurements on AC power noise (using the Audioquest Noise Sniffer), I hadn't even found a consistent difference with the massive Belkin in place.  The only thing I've found to make a consistent difference in AC noise levels is having dedicated power lines, as I now have in the bedroom and living room but not in the kitchen.

Nevertheless, I did look for UPS's which claimed to have AC line EMI/RFI filtration, FWIW.

How I decided on a particular new UPS will be discussed in the next posting.

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