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At KCC Scientific, we proudly invest a great deal of effort to design products which solve a difficult power conversion problem. Interestingly, correct solutions are not widely available which address precision sine wave voltage and frequency conversion in a single product. Although there are an array of conversion products out there, no economical solution exists (other than ours) which solves the conversion problem both completely and correctly. That is why we developed these products.
Some might believe you can solve the problem with a low-cost Chinese sine wave inverter and a power supply. It is not that easy; it can be dangerous, woefully inaccurate, intolerably noisy, and you could even damage your device! So unless you are an experienced, trained engineer, you are taking your chances with this approach. Even then, proceed with caution and read our blog entry on this topic!
To help you understand the issues involved with frequency conversion, we decided to start with the basics. Hopefully the following FAQ will help in your understanding of the issues, and help you make a correct, informed decision. We use the word “device” to refer to something you might be trying to power with a converter.
What is voltage and current in electricity?
Voltage (abbreviated “Volts” or simply “V”), also termed electromotive force, refers to the potential difference between two electrical terminals (analogous to pressure in a water system). Current (sometimes called “Amps”) is the amount of electrical flow that results from an applied voltage to a device. Voltage and current can be either DC or AC. DC, or Direct Current, is constant; eg, it does not change polarity or direction with time. Examples of DC voltage and current are batteries and DC wall adapter outputs, such as those powering portable computers. DC has no frequency.
AC, or Alternating Current, changes polarity or direction rapidly with time. The best example of AC voltage is the power grid which supplies all of our household and business power outlets. Voltage and current in its AC form is much, much easier (and economical) to transport over long distances, which is why it is used in our power grids.
In North America, the power grid delivers 115V AC to our outlets. In most other parts of the world, the power grid delivers 230V AC to our outlets.
What is frequency?
Frequency is the measure of how rapidly the voltage or current changes polarity, measured in cycles per second (changes in polarity per second), also called Hertz. Incidentally, the name “Hertz” is in honor of the famous late 1800’s scientist, Heinrich Hertz, who discovered radio waves. You can also understand frequency as the speed at which the current alters its course each second. Most commonly, we refer to 50Hz and 60Hz as the two most common frequencies used throughout the world for our electrical power grids.
In North America, the standard power grid provides 115V AC at 60Hz. In most other parts of the world, the power grid is 230V AC at 50Hz. Thus, BOTH voltage and frequency need to be matched to what the device to be powered was designed to accept.
For example, this frequency determines at what speed a motor will operate. Thus, a frequency converter must be very, very precise or accurate, as well as stable. Absolutely no budget converters we have found are anywhere near precise or accurate enough to do the job properly, and this can lead to problems.
What is a sine wave? What is a square wave?
A sine wave is the pattern of how the polarity of AC voltage or current changes, smoothly varying from one polarity to the other. It is like walking smoothly to one side of the room, slowing, then turning around and walking back to the other side again. This is the way the power grid changes the polarity, and it is the way your electrical or electronic device was designed to be powered. A square wave (sometimes inappropriately marketed as quasi-sine wave), on the other hand, is an abrupt way to change the polarity. It is like being thrown at a wall, then being thrown back at the other wall on the other side of a room. Just as this would be a harmful way for a person to move from one side of a room to another, it is likewise electronically stressful to the device being powered by a square wave (or quasi sine wave) converter.
Nearly all budget power converters use the square wave method of frequency conversion, because it is substantially cheaper electronically to build square wave generating converters. It should be avoided, especially since better methods are available now. While building a sine wave frequency converter requires more innovation, it is what your device requires to operate properly. Suppliers of budget travel converters won’t tell you this, but it is absolutely true.
What is a frequency converter?
A frequency changer or frequency converter provides a way to modify the alternating current (AC) of one frequency, changing it to the alternating current of a different frequency. Huge frequency converters, which change the frequency on the power grid capable of millions of watts, are built with enormous motors and generators. Historically, adjusting a generator’s speed of rotation has been the method of effectively altering the frequency of its output. With today’s advances, a small electronic device can be all you need for powering a specific product such as a clock, clipper, or turntable.
If the improper mains frequency is applied to a device (especially a device with a motor in it), it will operate at the wrong speed or will operate erratically. In extreme cases, the device could be damaged.
What is a voltage converter?
A voltage converter (also identified as a power converter or voltage transformer) is designed for the modification of the voltage output of a power source. Internally, these are typically built with an electronic transformer, which is a single, rather heavy electronic component with “primary” and “secondary” windings coupled together magnetically. Typically, a voltage converter will convert 115V AC to 230V AC. Likewise, a voltage converter might change 230V AC into 115V AC. Keep in mind that a voltage converter transformer alone cannot change frequency. Therefore with a transformer, the frequency in will be the frequency out.
The actual voltage specified for a device is important. If it is exceeded, damage can result. Thus, it is very important to match the voltage a device was designed for, to the voltage applied. For example, if 230V AC is applied to a motor designed for 115V AC, a great deal of irreparable damage will likely result. Thus, it is imperative to power a device with the proper voltage.
Some devices are designed to be “Universal,” meaning that any voltage over a broad range can be applied (most commonly 100-250V AC) without damaging it. Modern electronic devices can be designed to be universal; older electronic devices and most motors (as are found in vintage electronics, turntables, motorized clocks, clippers, etc) are NOT universal and require the proper voltage to operate.
What is power?
Power is a measure of the amount of energy a device needs to operate. It is usually communicated to the consumer in the form of a rating tag attached somewhere to the device, or is stamped into the casing of smaller devices. The power rating of a device should be checked before selecting a power converter, since the converter should have a higher rating than the device being powered.
What should I look for in a travel converter?
Because BOTH voltage and frequency matter, proper travel conversion means BOTH frequency and voltage must be considered. In the past, it was so complex and expensive to do frequency conversion that no affordable means existed to do both. So, travel conversion was done with ONLY voltage conversion devices (often called transformers), resulting in problems.
Many budget travel power converters have no (or counterfeit) safety certifications. This is important! You should NEVER plug anything into the wall that is not certified by multiple testing agencies such as UL and CE.
At KCC Scientific, each expertly designed frequency converter we offer includes the following:
- Safety-certified, universal wall adapter so it can be used safely anywhere in the world.
- BOTH voltage and frequency conversion, needed when traveling or moving to a location with a different power grid.
- All of our products produce very smooth, clean sine wave power, which is what your device was designed to accommodate. We NEVER take short cuts by offering square or quasi sine wave converters.
- Our products are conservatively power rated, and well protected from overloads in ways which protect both the converter and the device being powered.
When choosing a frequency converter, look for a company that stands behind its innovations and solves the entire power conversion problem, so you never have to worry about it again. All KCC Scientific products are confidently backed by a 2-year warranty.