In this blog we review the difference between inexpensive imported voltage converters and precision, properly designed converters. There are entire websites out there dedicated to selling budget import voltage converter transformers. Some of them actually have words that imply great deals in their company names. Unfortunately, the unwitting consumer is attracted to the implication of low price and they take the bait. And, most consumers don’t appreciate that when dealing with power products, “budget buys” is often synonymous with big trouble. What can go wrong?

We were recently contacted by someone who unfortunately “took the bait.” Let’s call her “Mary.” Bottom line, Mary was trying to power an important medical instrument using a typical budget import voltage converter. Her medical equipment was not working. She was stumped.

We did some background research for her. An important point here is that there was nothing in this for us, except to help her, and maybe the revelation of truth about these budget import voltage converters.

Overseas budget manufacturers live in a land where fundamental electronics principles apply, just like they do across the rest of the world. They do not build products which sell at low prices because they have access to magic (or even innovative) technology that can turn an under-designed product around to meet their over-promises. Nor is the cost of producing things at an acceptable level of quality as economical there as people elsewhere seem to think. Add in the cost of shipping across the globe, the cost of local distributors and tariffs, and the only thing left allowing them to produce budget (under)-priced devices is using under-designed, under-rated components. Voltage converters are a perilous and frightening example.

Mary bought her budget import voltage converter from a very well-known dominant distributor with a jungle rainforest name that we would all recognize. This budget import voltage converter was rated for 500 watts. Her equipment required about 300 watts, and she was stumped as to why it wasn’t working. So we dug in and did some research.

In the world of transformers, nothing is more clear cut. A transformer’s performance (relatively speaking) can largely be determined by the thickness (weight) of the copper used to wind it, as well as the mass of the core (again, reflected in its weight). Therefore, the overall weight of the voltage converter can tell us quite a bit, when comparing to reputable transformers.

The weight of Mary’s 500 watt voltage converter is specified at 4.9 lbs. Remember that this includes the internal transformer, the metal box, all of the internal hardware, power cord, everything. We measured the weight of our Hercules output transformer (a 200 watt device) and it measured 5.3 lbs–for the transformer component alone, no case, metal, cords, nothing. Again, that’s for a reputable 200 watt transformer that we wouldn’t dream of operating above that, let alone at 500 watts! What is going on?

The manufacturer of this budget import voltage converter claims it is rated to run 24/7 at 500 watts. They also claim that it is certified for safety. Yet, on the back of the product, the word “Compliant” is mis-spelled “Compled.” Does that sound like anyone other than the manufacturer inspected this product for errors in communication to potential customers? This is something that would be caught during even the most rudimentary compliance testing and evaluation.  This issue is well-known in the industry as “counterfeit certification.”  But it often goes unnoticed by a consumer who, obviously, may not be an expert.

Bottom line, this was another example of the many budget import converter products that misrepresent performance and use counterfeit certifications so they can employ substandard components and sell at bargain prices. Their claims mislead you to believe that the products will work and remain safe.

Buyer beware. Budget import converter manufacturers play the odds. They know that many folks will buy based on price alone, and may not always need the full power that the product claims. They expect a few will burn up, blow fuses, and fail. But what harm can come? There will be some returns, but who can resist that price. Is this the kind of supplier and equipment you want powering your critical application?  Or risking your safety?

That said, if you are dead set on buying one of these import voltage converter transformers, then buy one that is rated for 4 times the power you need, or more (and always round up). But then, you’ll find that pricing is pretty close to what it costs for a reputable voltage converter. Just beware that the budget import is likely to carry questionable safety certifications, if any, and will probably operate improperly and even smoke if operated at or near its limits.

The one in the featured picture at the top of this blog really had us wondering. Here’s a budget import converter product with a 3-prong input receptacle, but only a 2-prong plug. Incredibly, it provides no connection for the critical safety ground your equipment might require.  A quick performance evaluation showed a non-sinusoidal output (so-called quasi-square wave) operating at 70Hz (not the specified 60Hz)–far from what most electronic and electrical equipment need to operate properly, quietly and cool.  But that’s another blog.


If you need a voltage converter transformer for a particular application, contact us. We’ll guide you to reputable manufacturers such as Hammond Manufacturing, or acupwr, who design and produce voltage converter transformers which are properly safety certified and designed to run reliably for the long haul, at full rated power. These products WILL reliably operate your critical household, medical, or industrial applications.

But always remember–voltage converter transformers are quite limited in what they can do, even the best of them.  They will ONLY convert voltage and they don’t help improve the quality of the mains power. They simply cannot provide clean power. If you need voltage and frequency conversion, or if you need clean power anywhere in the world, KCC Scientific voltage and frequency converters are your best choice.  And choice is important here.  We won’t sell you more power than you need, or may need in the future, so you will only pay for what you actually need.