Why Do I Need an Isolated Power Supply?
Building a pedalboard may involve some growing pains with regards to pedal power. Here’s why every guitarist should consider skipping the wall-wart and daisy chain setup for a fully-fledged isolated power supply unit.
There’s nothing more frustrating than setting up your new-and-improved pedalboard only to be met with some new issue hampering your sound.
Perhaps a pedal you were powering with a battery suddenly finds itself struggling to operate, or some newfound noise is getting in the way of your playing. The noise issues can even manifest itself in many ways, with some common ones being white noise, faint whines, or harsh static. Fortunately, a quality isolated power supply unit can fix all these issues and even drastically lower the overall noise floor.
Most noise issues musicians are probably most familiar with are typically related to power. Power supply units take the AC power from the wall outlets and convert them into the standard DC power that most pedals rely on. Although this sounds like a relatively simple process, variables are constantly being thrown into the mix, and these variables can exist on the entire spectrum of difficulty to diagnose.
For example, every guitarist that has used a daisy chain to power multiple pedals has probably noticed that some pedals may inexplicably not enjoy being daisy chained together. A quick solution may be switching up your daisy chained pedals, but this problem can get out of hand and compounded on more complicated boards.
A common example on the more difficult end of the spectrum comes down to shoddy wiring – the venue or household you are in may have old or faulty electrical wiring that a non-isolated power supply can easily pick up. Obviously, solving a building’s power issue is a little more complicated than re-arranging a daisy chain, but an isolated power supply solves both.
Isolated power supplies solve these noise issues by separating and filtering each power channel. This keeps noise from passing between pedals and other appliances in the same power flow.
Reasons Beyond Noise
Aside from potential noise issues, an isolated power supply solves other common pedalboard problems.
An isolated power supply will be undoubtedly neater than most non-isolated power solutions. Because all the outlets can come from one unit, the resulting underside wiring can be much more organized and robust. A cleanly wired pedalboard will ultimately be easier to transport and re-wire.
An isolated power supply can also save money in the long run! An alternative to using an isolated power supply is to either use a wall wart or 9-volt battery for each pedal. Batteries run out and wall warts are often not built to stand the rigors of heavy use. A quality isolated power supply can save musicians from the hassle of replacing these items (which quickly add up in costs) while also being much more environmentally friendly.
Why Are Isolated Power Supplies More Expensive?
A quality isolated power supply isn’t a cheap investment! With most power supplies from major companies starting at around $100, you may wonder about what exactly it is you are purchasing.
Simply put, the technology is much more advanced and costlier to build than a non-isolated power solution. An isolated power supply basically has several isolated power outlets within it, and all of these require their own components, which can increase based on the power demand of the outlet. The physical isolation of each supply requires an expensive transformer for each outlet. Factoring in additional elements like robust casing, safety testing, and research and development, it is easy to see where the resulting price comes from.
Is an Isolated Power Supply Suitable For ME?
It’s easy to see how an isolated power supply can prevent a lot of headache, but whether or not it’s absolutely necessary is up to the individual. After all, not everyone experiences the same problems. While you’re considering a power supply, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:
– What is my budget?
The cheapest isolated power supplies from well-known companies usually start around $100-150 and can easily run up to $250 and over depending on the features needed.
– How many pedals do I own?
Isolated power supplies on the smaller scale tend to be around 5-8 pedals. Larger pedalboards will require larger, more expensive power supplies, or even multiple power supplies!
Tip: Analog pedals that don’t require a lot of power (like overdrives and distortions) can often be daisy chained together to save outlet space on a power supply.
– What pedalboard am I going to be using?
Power supplies from Truetone, Voodoo Lab, and Strymon are all designed to be able to be mounted underneath popular pedalboard brands like Pedaltrain. This allows for more pedal real estate on the top of your board! When shopping for isolated power supplies, be sure to check if your pedalboard is compatible with it.
– What are the power requirements of my pedals?
Most pedals will only require a small current of 9v DC power, but digital pedals can often be a bit more power-hungry. Certain pedals also may require 12v or 24v power, which can call for a special doubler cable depending on your isolated power supply unit of choice. Make sure you purchase a product with the necessary power output for your pedals.
– Will I be adding new pedals to my pedalboard often?
If you have a non-isolated power solution and you are satisfied with your signal quality, then you certainly don’t have to worry too much about purchasing a fancy isolated power supply. However, just remember that increasing the size of your board or introducing high power requirement may add unwanted noise to your pedalboard.
Which Power Supply Should I Buy?
There are many options for isolated power supplies on the market. To help you avoid feeling overwhelmed, we have created a list of a few trusted manufacturers of isolated power supplies.
- Voodoo Lab
Voodoo Lab are a consumer-trusted brand that creates power supplies that are built to stand the rigors of gigging. Their most popular product, the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus, was one of the first isolated power supplies to ever hit the market!
Voodoo Lab also sells a variety of accessory cables that allow your power supply to work with higher voltage pedals.
Strymon is known for their advanced digital pedals, and their power supplies reflect that. Each Strymon power supply is well-built and features high-powered outlets that can power most 9v DC pedals. If you need to support many powerful pedals, Strymon power supplies are able to be combined for an expanded isolated power supply.
You may recognize Truetone from creating the 1Spot wall wart and daisy chain, but they also create affordable and reliable isolated power supplies that should cover the needs of most guitarists! Truetone power supplies come in a variety of sizes and feature international switching for international musicians.
- Walrus Audio
Although Walrus Audio is known primarily for their line of pedals, they also sell two quality isolated power supply units. The Phoenix is especially notable for boasting 15 isolated power outlets!