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Guitar pedals all need their own source of power. One term that you'll often hear as a solution is isolated power supplies. If you aren't familiar with that lingo, you might still know that it's important to look for the "isolated" tag when you're looking for a good power supply box. Yet, its exact meaning isn't necessarily well known or understood.
In this article, I'm going to explain what constitutes an isolated power supply, give some examples, and talk about why it's better to have isolated power for your guitar pedals.
Let's start with a simple definition:
An isolated power supply is any device that creates a one-to-one, un-shared electrical connection between a power source and a device drawing from that source.
In other words, the source of power is "isolated" and not shared, in order to prevent crossover between multiple sources of power. We'll get into the benefits of that shortly. First, let's give some examples of isolated power supplies.
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Examples of Isolated Power Supplies
While isolated power can come in many different forms, the most common option for guitar pedals would be a power box like the Voodoo Lab ISO 5. These boxes provide multiple power sources in one device, yet each power connection is isolated from every other connection.
A 9V battery used in a guitar pedal is also a form of isolated power, since it's one power source directly connected to one drawing device. A single AC power adapter could also be considered isolated power for the same reason. Power supplies like the Voodoo Lab boxes are popular because they solve the problem of needing multiple batteries or multiple AC adapters per the number of pedals you have. The ISO 5 can power up to five devices, all isolated, at one time.
Some Real Life Examples
Despite being more expensive because of the work that needs to be done to isolate each power connection within the same device, boxes like the Voodoo Lab power supplies are the best option for those that want isolated power.
Which begs the question:
Why would you spend the extra money for isolated power? What's the benefit?
Benefits of Isolated Power Supplies
The primary benefit of an isolated power supply is the role it plays in reducing noise from your electric guitar. Noise problems can originate quickly when you're running multiple guitar pedals that are sharing power, perhaps from a daisy chain. While daisy chains are cheap, they are not a form of isolated power.
This can lead to crossover which creates unwanted noise issues. An isolated power supply will immediately solve these concerns.
While there are other quality markers of an isolated power supply, the biggest concern - by far - is that of noise reduction and having "clean" power sources.
Do I need an isolated power supply?
Now, do you need an isolated power supply like the expensive Voodoo Lab boxes?
I would advise making that decision based on the number of pedals you have. Here's how I would break it down:
- One or two pedals? Nah, use batteries or single power adapters.
- Three or four pedals? Maybe, probably.
- Five or more pedals? Absolutely, no question about it. Get the Voodoo Lab.
Even if you only have a couple pedals and you plan to expand your board, getting a good isolated power supply is absolutely something you should consider. For me, I would say any more than two pedals should get an isolated box like the Voodoo Labs I use, or one of the others we recommend in this list.
Isolated power should be a part of your guitar pedal budget if and when you decide to run multiple effects. As a general rule, the more elements your signal has to pass through, the more likely you are to have excess noise issues. The most basic way to deal with those issues is to isolate your electrical sources and then see where you land.
Your Questions and Comments
Do you have questions about isolated power or some of the products mentioned in this article?
Maybe you have questions about a different power supply we didn't mention.
If so, leave your questions in the comments section below and I'll take a look. Where I can, I'm always happy to help.