Leave it on

December 30, 2011
 by Paul McGowan

In an earlier post I mentioned that we were one of the guys who first introduced the idea to high-end audio of just turning the front panel light off instead of the power.

I wanted to touch on this subject once more because I think it’s important. Important to keep your equipment powered up and at the ready – as long as we’re talking solid state not tubes.

I think most of us understand that when a piece of high-end gear has been warmed up and burned in for some time it sounds better – but there seems to be a common misunderstanding that left on it wears out – when actually the opposite is true.

If you switch off the power to your equipment day in and day out it won’t last as long as simply leaving it powered on. Why? Because the inrush current to charge your power supply up takes its toll over time – while steady state power has no such problem. Your electronics take a small thrashing every time you plug and unplug them from the power.

I think the myth that products wear out started with tubes and mechanical devices like turntables, CD transport mechanisms, hard drives etc. (because it’s true in their case). But a purely electronic piece like a power amp or preamp are better left powered on at all times – with but few exceptions.

So, keep the lights on with your equipment – it helps everything live longer and sound better.

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19 comments on “Leave it on”

  1. It’s especially tube gear that we associate with wearing out. But with proper design even leaving on tube gear can exhibit long life. I recall being told that the prototype David Berning power amp, a 150 watt/channel amp, which became the Audionics BA150, was turned on in 1972 and turned off in 1977 with no measureable wear on the output tubes.

  2. This strikes me as a very strange notion, not only because the number one factor limiting component life is usually believed to be heat but because there are so many other variables involved. Certainly this is very bad advice for flat panel displays. Originally plasma panels costing $15,000 had a MTBF of only 10,000 to 20,000 hours. That may have improved somewhat over the last 10 years. LED and LCD panels usually have a MTBF between 60,000 and 100,000 hours, around the same as a CRT so it’s still a good idea to turn them off when not in use. Large manufacturers can afford the testing equipment and to sacrifice random production samples to life cycle test their products to determine not only how long their equipment will last under various conditions but the most common failure modes. Failure modes not directly related to short term thermal failure often fail because of long term processes indirectly related to temperature such as molecular migration in crystals (transistors) and chemical deterioration such as oxidation. Have you got any data from component manufacturers (transistors, capacitors, resistors etc.) or from equipment manufacturers or organizations such as EIA, CBEMA, ASTM, ASQC for example to support this assertion?

  3. Certainly I didn’t mean plasma and video displays, nor toasters or anything unrelated to high-end 2 channel audio. Sorry for not making that clear. 🙂

    I would also not recommend this for any product that generates a lot of heat – to your point – like a big class A amplifier – unless that product’s been designed to handle long term heat.

    However, I would stand by my suggestion – and it is based solely on years of experience. I certainly haven’t spent time documenting this.

  4. As I look at my GCA, it is off. At night I listen to headphones. I can mute my subwoofer, but there is no way to mute the GCA. Therefore I turn it on and off. This happens during the day also. My wife just retired! Life is full of manditory compromises.

        1. From the manual:

          The front panel PS logo is the power button. Press the blue PS logo on the GCA series power
          amplifier’s front panel to turn the amplifier on or off. We recommend keeping the rear mounted switch
          for the blue light brightness at one of the two visible levels so you can tell if the GCA series power
          amplifier is on or off.

          This is why I thought I was turning it on and off by using the front panel? Confused in Kansas.

          1. Hey Paul, I just bought the sprout100 and have been enjoying it for the past 48 hours but I’m wondering about leaving it on all the time becuase the sprout is hot, not super hot but hotter than warm. Should I turn it off? Or you mean do not plugged it off? Just need clarification.

  5. Paul, I have a good question for you then. I have a Parasound 5-channel amp at 230wpc. It’s got a switch on it and although it’s plugged into a one of your reconditioners, I switch it off after each use; reason being I have lots of power surges and outages where I live. In fact one time within 15 seconds the power went on and off on it’s own 7 consecutive times!!!!! I ripped everything out of the wall (just when the last outage completed of course…) in hope to save anything from blowing out. Nothing blew in this event but it has blown the fuse on my Anthem processor (twice), and has blown out one of my Velodyne subs. Would you recommend I still leave the amp on and powered up under these conditions?

    Also, should I leave my Oppo, reconditioner, and Anthem on 24/7 too if you feel I should leave the amp on under this scenario? Thanks.

    1. Well, that’s a real personal choice. If everything’s connected through a proper power product (and it sounds like it is) then I’d leave it connected. But if the power situation is really bad -p and as you describe it perhaps it is – then maybe it’s best to turn it off.

      There are always extraordinary circumstances we have think through and make a decision based on those circumstances. In my situation everything is fairly normal, protected by Power Plants and I have zero hesitation leaving everything on.

  6. Hi Paul.., I’ve commented before and as you may, or may not, remember I’m a recording professional. My career covers several record companies and many studios where I did production work as well as tech maintenance. One of the strict rules in all cases was that the gear stayed fired up 24/7…, and damned the electric bill. we found out over time, that we experienced fewer maintenance problems by leaving everything on, all the time…,AND, as a side effect, we noticed that the stuff sounded better as well. Even the tube gear suffered less if left on, save for a few heat sensitive components crapping out once in a while. This was usually remedied with a well placed cooling fan, or separation space in the rack. Happy New Year all!

  7. Just wonder the life of the capacitors is better with the equipment remains on or just on for say 3~4 hrs each day? i believe the ripple current still generate some heat inside the capacitor.

    Happy new year all!

    1. Well, that’s a great question – and brings up the point of extremes and what the real subject matter was on the post.

      Obviously, a capacitor will last longer sitting on a parts shelf as opposed to being in a unit running all the time. But it’s pretty useless on the shelf. 🙂

      The point of the article had more to do with the trade offs we make. Turning equipment on and off is tough on capacitors and power supply components – relative to simply leaving it on. I think that message, coupled with the fact things sound better when left on is what I wanted to convey.

    1. If that’s all they did then yes. However, at least in our equipment, three things happen: the outputs are muted through a relay, the front panel is disabled and the light is off.

      The first two can be important – imagine if your preamp was left on as was your power amplifier and the power glitched or something caused the preamp to send a spike through to the amp. Probably over cautious but it’s happened to me before – better it’s muted when not under your direct control. Disabling the front panel can be good from curious little fingers of children and people who shouldn’t be messing with your stuff.

      The light is superflous under any condition – but people seem to need it to tell if it’s on and then need it off. Lastly, most of our products now have a touch screen for control and, as you correctly pointed out, LCD screens have a metered lifespan and better they are off when not in use.

  8. This is a subject that has always fascinated me. I have several high-end amps ($10k+ ea) and the manufacturer does not recommend leave them on; they’re not Class -A nor are they tubes. The dealer however, does leave theirs on, and you can tell the difference in the sound of them when they’ve been on a few days — it always sounds better that way.

    Here’s the real issue with leaving them on: At over 1,000 Watts each the manufacturer says to not use any sort of power conditioner in the path as it can negatively affect the amps. I just don’t feel comfortable that the power company can provide consistent, stable power all the time in order to just leave my equipment on all the time. I feel like I’m already taking my chances when I’m listening to the system 😉

    As for leaving on hard drives, it can be argued that you’re better leaving them on all the time. The spin-up and down of the platters is very stressful on the motor and components in a hard drive. That said, there still is a MTBF expectancy so if you left it off for 3 years it would certainly outlast one that hadn’t been used during that time!

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