Monday, March 7, 2016

Choosing a UPS for the Kitchen Audio Video Equipment

I first believed that I wanted to get another UPS made specifically for Audio usage.  Such a UPS would, you would think, deliver clean power when running on AC, and at least decent power when running on batteries.  As an Audiophile I want everything that touches my Audio systems to be Audio Quality.

The very most respectable Audiophile UPS are the PurePower units.  The obvious downside is cost: these cost more than the audio equipment I actually have in the kitchen (though not if I include all the video and computer equipment).  While audiophiles I know boast about the sound improvement, I'm am aware that objectivist audiophiles discount these claims.  As far as I know, the benefits of using power conditioners on normal "noisy" but fairly stable power has not been proven in blind testing.  Sure AC lines are noisy but most equipment is designed to deal with that.  If differences do exist in using special Audio AC Power Conditioners I would not expect them to be large enough to worry much about to spend vast sums of money.  Even if I did believe in such differences, such elaborate power conditioning would be more appropriate on the more serious Living Room System than in the Kitchen.

Next best would be the Furman UPS for Audio.  Furman specializes in making power conditioners for audio use, but primarily for musicians who are endlessly faced with lousy power on location.  Anyway clearly they know some things about power conditioning.  But their Pro Audio 1500VA UPS is also pretty expensive, $1299.  I have been briefly tempted to buy one of these several times, they look nice.

But I have come to believe the UPS function is more important than the power conditioning function for my kitchen equpment, primarily because of all the hard drives online in different pieces of gear.  And, right now I'm being faced by a lot of non-audio expenses, such as replacing my central air conditioning.  So I've been looking mainly for ordinary UPS's which at least give some mention of EMI/RFI filtration--which nobody ever seems to test.

For my computer room I've previously used a series of Server Grade UPS's.  First I had one made by Best Power.  It was the cheaper model made by Best, and when the batteries died I decided not to bother with replacing them.  Replacing UPS batteries often costs almost as much as buying a new UPS and often when the batteries go the UPS is dead or nearly dead anyway.  So there's a big risk involved.  Then I got a 50 pound 1500VA server grade Smart UPS from APC.  I was using that UPS when making a lot of sensitive audio measurements and I became aware that it seemed to be adding to the noise spectrum of units being tested.  When the units and the measuring devices were plugged straight into the wall, I got slightly better measurements.  Then I took my Audioquest Noise Sniffer and plugged it into the APC.  WOW it was noisy, on plain old AC power.  Later, I also found the powerful Automatic Voltage Regulation function of the heavy APC was dragging down the entire 15A household circuit.  It got into a tug-of-war (aka feedback loop) with the PS Audio Power Plant Premier I had on that same circuit, and the power was thrashing so furiously it made equipment plugged into the Power Plant to buzz and even blow fuses.  When I took the APC out of the circuit, the problems with the Power Plant Premier went away.

So with all these problems with the previous APC unit I was using, I was not very interested in trying APC again.  A friend of mine who worked in computer rooms in Washington DC has always given his best word for only Tripp Lite.  He puts down APC vehemently.   I wouldn't necessarily say APC were bad for non-Audio use, and maybe newer units are OK for audio too, I just don't have time to check.

So then I checked out Tripp Lite.  They do seem to be generally respected, though it seems rather that the prevailing view is that APC is The Standard and Tripp Lite is an alternative that may have lower cost or particular desired features.  I can't tell if there is merit to that view because both APC and Tripp Lite (and other brands) make a whole range of products, from quite inexpensive models to super expensive models costing $10,000 and more.  If you're comparing the bottom line from one manufacturer to a higher line from another manufacturer, as it seems I may have often done in the past, it's not a fair comparison.

Well I remember when APC was Not The Standard and I thought that Best Power was, but Best Power seems to have disappeared.  Perhaps Best Power wasn't really the best.  Anyway, those were classic unfair comparisons comparing the bottom line APC with the most crude inverters to the more expensive Best having Sinewave Power.  Or perhaps APC didn't always make a full line of products.  But now they do now (or at least they sell a full line of products).  It seems All manufacturers now make cheap products and more expensive products that have Sinewave Power (sometimes called Pure Sinewave Power to distinguish from the lower grade approximations in cheaper models).  As many note, there are no firm standards on what Pure Sinewave Power is, so it's really hard to know much of anything unless you see actual oscilloscope photos.  And even if you do see oscilloscope photos you don't know if that's what you are going to get, with your equipment loading.

Anyway, I had picked out a very nice looking Tripp Lite UPS, the T1500.  It has the Pure Sinewave Power, not the mere Sinewave Power in the cheaper units.  It's is a heavy Server Grade unit in a metal box.  You can usually tell the Server Grade units, presumably better made but who knows, come in metal boxes.  Those units typically have better sinewave power, remote control features, and come in metal boxes.

I was just set to order one, then I finally took a look at the actual reviews on Amazon.  Well the very top review complained about a noisy fan constantly running.  I checked and the mention of noisy fan occurred in a high proportion of reviews.  And there weren't many reviews comparted to APC UPS's.

That threw my carefully baked plan out the window.  I had been fretting about the small differences in the Server Grade Tripp Lite units before I picked out the one I did.  I started thinking wildly.  Do I really need Sinewave Power after all?  My conclusion: probably not.  And then I came across another brand seemingly more popular than all the others on Amazon: Cyberpower.  Cyberpower was considered the even cheaper alternative the APC and Tripp Lite, but just as good--maybe better sometimes.

It was Cyberpower who makes the $139 1500VA UPS I mentioned earlier, that would actually be cheaper than a full set of batteries for either of my currently not working Belkin AVU 1500's.  And it might not ruin it's batteries as quickly as the Kitchen Belkin did.

But for a mere $204 I could get the Cyberpower model with pure sinewave power.   That sounded like a worthwhile upgrade to me.  Now this was another Plastic UPS, not a metal Server Grade UPS.  But it did have, so it claimed, pure sinewave power, as I have ALWAYS sought out, perhaps too unthinkingly.

Well it turns out Cyberpower didn't call the original power "pure sinewave" it called it "adaptive sinewave" for this model.  It isn't, really, sinewave, in the sense of being made like a sinewave as is done, maybe, in the server grade models.  It's a cheaper method.  However, when they saw how well it worked, as is actually documented in many many photos in Amazon reviews, they decided to call it pure sinewave.  Apparently into real customer loads you do get something that looks like sinewave.

It's not clear how this actually compares to the "PWM Sinewave" employed in the lower end plastic UPS's from Tripp Lite.  Maybe those are actually as good as the Cyperpower Adaptive Pure Sinewave Power.  If so, I haven't seen the pictures yet, I've only been looking a few days.

But then I did come across a very long review crossposted to several products doing the most detailed cross comparison I've ever seen.  It was very helpful, though despite permitting (and having) a vast number of corrections over the years, I though I still found an error or two in a critical part about fans.

It appears actually (and not as that review claimed) all of the heavier metal Server Grade units have fans, many if not most of the plastic ones do also.  But in the plastic ones....or perhaps simply newer dates of manufacture???....they've figured out only how to run the fan under extreme circumstances.

Actually the review clearly states the complex APC way of running the fan either on higher loads, high ambient temperature, charging the battery, as well as operating on Battery Power.  Then the claim is made, though I wonder if completely true, that virtually all Cyberpower UPS run the fan only on running on battery power--clearly when it would need it most.

I think this really makes all the difference.  And the model Tripp Lite I was looking at may have been older and not have the more sophisticated fan control...or just really be more like a server room product where all the fans are running all the time.

But by this time I was not seeing a slant in the reviews or anywhere suggesting Cyberpower to be an inferior product.  It did seem like they might be better in keeping fan noise down.  And finally I saw the specs for (though as they were provided by manufacturers, possibly differently obtained) time on battery power with different loads, from 100W, 200W, and so on up to full power.

Immediately I was impressed by the 147 minute time claimed by the Cyberpower server grade unit, the PR1500LCD for 100W.   Nothing else comes close to that.  And meanwhile the cheaper Cyberpower units have very low numbers.  So if you're interested in keeping things like DVR's running for as long a time as possible, it's not worth considering the cheaper Cyberpower units for sure and it's probably worth considering the PR1500LCD.

After lots of consideration, I did buy a PR1500LCD.  It impressed me in many ways.  It turns out that Cyberpower is just like Tripp Lite and APC in having a full line of products, from cheap plastic UPS's where Cyperpower generally has the cheapest-of-the-three units comparing apples to apples, though you also may argue that there are many cases where you have no two of anything.

Anyway, the PR1500LCD does have the longer claims, though I see in the fine print that Cyberpower uses "calculated time" and APC uses "actual time" or some such wording.  It's possible that the Cyberpower numbers are slightly inflated.  But there'd have to be a lot of inflation for the PR1500LCD not to have the best runtimes.  At half load it's given as 25 minutes, where other similar models claim 14.  Where it really shines is for 100W and 200W.  Perhaps that's the benefit from more intelligent fan running operation.

I've determined that what I really care about is about 200W, maybe down to 100W if I can do load shedding.  And it turns out I can program load shedding from the removable control panel the PR1500LCD has.  This removeable control panel is one of the best features anywhere.  With the Belken UPS I have the outlets facing outward for conveniently plugging thigs in under the table.  Which means by necessity the fancy LCD panel through which everything has to be seen, as there are no lights elsewhere, can only barely be seen--when using a mirror.

It would be the exact same situation with the PR1500LCD if it didn't have the removeable panel.

That feature, the low fan noise, the generally high regard by knowledgeable reviewers, make me think this is the unit to have.

Another great feature is the second bank of Not Critical plugs can be switched separately.  This means I can easily dump the watt guzzling TV and Monitor.  I can even let them ride out quick momentary blackouts of a few seconds, but fairly quickly shut down to save power.  I was disappointed to see that unlike the cheaper Cyberpower models the PR1500LCD does not have a set of Surge Only

Virtually identically to Tripp Lite, they do claim EMI/RFI filtration on the outputs.  Actually Cyberpower gives a list of different attenuations in different ranges.  The only such numbers which can be believed are numbers computed by the same method on both units by an independent reviewer.  And even then you may wonder if they got their facts straight.

Update: I instaled the Cyberpower PR1500LCD a week ago and it has been good so far.  The detachable control panel is very useful though I wonder if it might be more prone to accidental breakage.  Anyway, without that's I'd be unable to monitor or control the unit so I like it.  It is silent in normal operation