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Smart Plugs to Streamline the Synth Studio



The riveting tale of how I turn on my studio just by telling it to power up 

You’d be surprised at how much more likely you are to pursue a musical idea when you don’t have to get up out of your chair to turn on your studio. Silly but true.

With that in mind, some guy very close by finally decided to get rid of all the cables going nowhere in his studio. You know, the wall warts left behind from successive broken routers, ridiculous boxes to extend FireWire cables, detachable power cords from retired effects processors, and on and on.

It was an opportunity to consolidate all the remaining power strips with a “smart” one – meaning one you control over Wi-Fi from an app. And if you have a smart home setup (Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home), you can control its individual outlets by voice.

The model I chose, marketed under the Gosund brand on Amazon (also sold under other names – do a search for “smart power strip”), was less than $25. It has three switched AC outlets and one USB charging port that you turn on and off over the network, and three more unswitched ACs plus two more USBs that are always on.

This $25 model is the Gosund mentioned here, just under a different brand. It has three switched power outlets + one USB charging port, and three always-on unswitched ones + two always-on USB charging ports.

Setting it up and linking it to Alexa for voice control (optional) was really simple. But it did take some minor planning to decide what to plug in where.

Hopefully the following considerations will give you some ideas, should you decide to follow suit and bring your power setup into the roaring 2020s.

1. Switched vs. unswitched outlets.

Unswitched outlets are on all the time. They’re for devices like Internet modems and routers, computers, monitors, laptop chargers, and so on – things you don’t want to turn off.

Switched outlets are just that. And having independently switchable outlets means you don’t have to turn on everything. One might have your audio interface and speakers for when you want to listen to music on something other than your computer’s built-in sound; another might have your basic music instruments, say your controller keyboard, MIDI interface, and primary sound source(s); and the other could have instruments you only use some of the time.

2. How many switched and unswitched outlets do you need?

If you need more than the smart powerstrip you don’t have yet provides, you can use standard power strips to expand the number – but get ones that don’t have surge protection, because daisy chaining surge protectors is considered a nein-nein in polite circles.

Apple specifies the Mac Studio as using 370W maximum sustained power. I have yet to see it + all the other things connected to this UPS hit 70W (although it will draw more while powering up). But I’m also skeptical that I could run it for 77 minutes off the battery.

3. Add up the amperage required and don’t overload your circuits.

15 amps is a typical circuit in North America, and it’s rated for up to 1440 Watts peak power, or 80% of the maximum 1800 Watts it can deliver. Some circuits are 20A, in which case that goes up to 1920W.

The formula is (A x voltage) x 80%, e.g. 15A x 120W = 1800W x 80% = 1440W.

1440W is quite a lot – as it has to be to power things like microwave ovens and space heaters – and manufacturers tend to be conservative when they specify how much power their equipment draws. (“Conservative” meaning they overstate the power use, but that doesn’t rule out the opposite – being liberal with their energy efficiency claims!)

Extreme example of being conservative: Apple specifies the Mac Studio as drawing 370W 
“maximum sustained power.” The Internet modem, router base station, and entire computer system (computer plus monitor and peripherals) is drawing 44W at the moment. Devices use considerably more power while starting up, but once started I’ve never seen it higher than about 60W.

We’re certainly not advising you to ignore the ratings and risk triggering circuit breakers or worse, but it’s probably safe to skirt close to the 80% maximum.

Bear in mind that there are going to be multiple circuits in your house or apartment, and you don’t have to put everything on the same one.

As to how to figure out which outlets are on which circuits without being able to simply flip switches at the breaker (if you’re in an apartment building, for example)… if we were a software manual we’d just say “consult your system administrator,” which is a cross between an elephant and a rhino (an ellifIknow).

4. Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS).

If you’re wondering whether there’s any benefit to putting unswitched equipment on a smart power strip (other than surge protection), the answer is no. The concept is that you use the switched outlets to turn on your studio and instruments.

A logical way to divide the circuits in your abode is with switched instruments on one, unswitched on another. Not only does that lessen the load on each circuit, it helps avoid potential problems with hum when different instruments have different paths to ground (i.e. if you were to put them on separate circuits).

One thing to consider – a thing that costs more than $25, I’m afraid – is putting your unswitched equipment on a UPS.

Even short power glitches can ruin your day, for example if you’re working on your computer when the power is interrupted, and these battery-backed power sources prevent that from happening.

The main sales argument is that they’ll give you time to save your work and shut down your computer in a power outage. And it’s true, you do get a couple or few minutes to do that. (Call me skeptical, but I don’t believe my UPS software for one minute when it says I can work for 77 minutes off the battery.)

Nonetheless, short power glitches happen everywhere, in fact the software for my UPS reports a 6-second outage just last week – here in Los Angeles, where the power is exceptionally stable. It just glided over the outage. That’s good for computer power supplies, plus it stops your Internet modem and routers from having to start up again (which tends to make them think it’s time to act up).

Most UPSes will also regulate the power to keep it within a healthy range, they have surge protection, and some claim “simulated sine wave” AC. 

The model I chose has a capacity about 40% over Apple’s Mac Studio spec plus everything else connected to it. Is that overkill? We’ll never have a chance to know, if everything goes to plan.

One other point about UPSes: their batteries don’t last forever, and neither do the units themselves. If you can find a model with software to monitor it (over a USB connection), that seems like a great idea. It will tell you whether it’s functioning properly and when you need to replace the battery.

My previous one failed after a few years, taking out a couple of important power supplies with it. Ouch.

These things were four for $10. They prevent wall wart power transformers from bogarting your power sockets.

5. Knick-knacks.

Power transformers – aka wall warts – often take up more than one parking space in a power strip. The solution is very short extension cords, such as the 8″ ones shown here. Four for $10.

If anyone has other pointers, please let us know. In the meantime, being able to sweet-talk Alexa into turning on my studio without having to get up and flip switches really does make a difference.

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