We take it for granted. We plug our high-performance audio systems into it. We count on it being there when we need it. Everything from vacuum cleaners to washing machines, and voila, they just work! Sounds like magic; doesn’t it?
Of course, we’re talking about the mains power line grid, delivered to us through our convenient wall outlets. We depend on it so completely that we forget how much can go wrong if it malfunctions. In fact, if we are audiophiles, we know that the speed of our turntables, tape players and (of course) clocks often depends on its accuracy. So, why worry?
If you ask a reasonably-informed engineer, you might hear that the mains power line frequency is deadly accurate–almost a timing standard of sorts. But this simply isn’t true! Well, like most things, it is partially true. But that’s where it ends.
Certainly in the US, the mains power line grid is complex beyond our imagination. With interest in grid augmentation through wind, solar and other means, plus the ever-increasing demand (yes, even in the winter!) to satisfy more and more energy-hungry customers, the grid is stressed beyond the limits it was originally designed to accommodate. The problem of Time Error Correction is becoming serious. In the US, many industry experts feel we are reaching the end of an era, when Time Error Correction will be eliminated.
What is Time Error Correction, and why should anyone care? Quite simply, Time Error Correction is the process by which the frequency of the mains power line is controlled by our utility companies. Contrary to many knowledgeable engineers’ understanding, the mains power line is NOT precisely controlled at any instant in time. When demand is high, generators slow down substantially. The result of this load is that mains power line frequency drops–and often, dramatically.
The idea behind Time Error Correction (TEC) is that over a 24-hour period the total number of cycles is held constant. This is done by speeding up the generators in that timeframe, to compensate for slow downs due to load. So there you have it–if something happens to lower the mains power line frequency, it is corrected by a DELIBERATE reaction of over-compensating by speeding it dramatically! In recent years, the error has often exceeded the limits set by the NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) of under 0.083% excursion from the nominal value of 60Hz.
And, in Europe, similar and perhaps worse problems have been reported by ENTSO-E. This is a worldwide issue. The origins of the problems are similar albeit not exactly the same. But in the end, it’s the same technical result.
Some experts believe that as a consequence, TEC creates bigger problems than it solves, and are now looking to eliminate it. For us, that means anything in our systems that tightly requires frequency accuracy may suffer. Will we be able to hear a 0.083% (or more) shift in mains power line frequency? Well, here we are investing in the best equipment, highest-quality turntables, preamplifiers, etc., and everything else we can do to optimize sonic performance, and yet completely out of our control is the mains power line frequency–until now.
At KCC Scientific, we have known about the vulnerability of TEC for years, and have been developing and producing products to re-create the mains power line frequency with more accuracy than TEC could ever produce. And, our solution is consistent, stable, and reliable down to 0.0002%. That kind of error is what our discriminating audio customers expect. Why settle for less? KCC Scientific voltage and frequency converters–all of them–are designed for this level of performance.