Mains hum

Mains hum

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Encyclopedia
Mains hum, electric hum, or power line hum is an audible oscillation of alternating current
Alternating current
In alternating current the movement of electric charge periodically reverses direction. In direct current , the flow of electric charge is only in one direction....

 at the frequency
Utility frequency
The utility frequency, line frequency or mains frequency is the frequency at which alternating current is transmitted from a power plant to the end-user. In most parts of the world this is 50 Hz, although in the Americas it is typically 60 Hz...

 of the mains electricity
Mains electricity
Mains is the general-purpose alternating current electric power supply. In the US, electric power is referred to by several names including household power, household electricity, powerline, domestic power, wall power, line power, AC power, city power, street power, and grid power...

, which is usually 50 Hz
Hertz
The hertz is the SI unit of frequency defined as the number of cycles per second of a periodic phenomenon. One of its most common uses is the description of the sine wave, particularly those used in radio and audio applications....

 or 60 Hz, depending on the local power line frequency
Utility frequency
The utility frequency, line frequency or mains frequency is the frequency at which alternating current is transmitted from a power plant to the end-user. In most parts of the world this is 50 Hz, although in the Americas it is typically 60 Hz...

. The sound often has heavy harmonic
Harmonic
A harmonic of a wave is a component frequency of the signal that is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency, i.e. if the fundamental frequency is f, the harmonics have frequencies 2f, 3f, 4f, . . . etc. The harmonics have the property that they are all periodic at the fundamental...

 content.

Causes of electric hum


Electric hum around transformer
Transformer
A transformer is a device that transfers electrical energy from one circuit to another through inductively coupled conductors—the transformer's coils. A varying current in the first or primary winding creates a varying magnetic flux in the transformer's core and thus a varying magnetic field...

s is caused by stray magnetic fields causing the enclosure and accessories to vibrate. Magnetostriction
Magnetostriction
Magnetostriction is a property of ferromagnetic materials that causes them to change their shape or dimensions during the process of magnetization. The variation of material's magnetization due to the applied magnetic field changes the magnetostrictive strain until reaching its saturation value, λ...

 is a second source of vibration, where the core iron changes shape minutely when exposed to magnetic fields. The intensity of the fields, and thus the "hum" intensity, is a function of the applied voltage. Because the magnetic flux density is strongest twice every electrical cycle, the fundamental "hum" frequency will be twice the electrical frequency. Additional harmonics above 100 Hz or 120 Hz will be caused by the non-linear behavior of most common magnetic materials.

Around high-voltage power lines, hum may be produced by corona discharge
Corona discharge
In electricity, a corona discharge is an electrical discharge brought on by the ionization of a fluid surrounding a conductor that is electrically energized...

.

In the realm of sound reinforcement (as in public address systems and loudspeaker
Loudspeaker
A loudspeaker is an electroacoustic transducer that produces sound in response to an electrical audio signal input. Non-electrical loudspeakers were developed as accessories to telephone systems, but electronic amplification by vacuum tube made loudspeakers more generally useful...

s), electric hum is often caused by induction
Electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction is the production of an electric current across a conductor moving through a magnetic field. It underlies the operation of generators, transformers, induction motors, electric motors, synchronous motors, and solenoids....

. This hum is generated by oscillating electric current
Electric current
Electric current is a flow of electric charge through a medium.This charge is typically carried by moving electrons in a conductor such as wire...

s induced in sensitive (high gain
Gain
In electronics, gain is a measure of the ability of a circuit to increase the power or amplitude of a signal from the input to the output. It is usually defined as the mean ratio of the signal output of a system to the signal input of the same system. It may also be defined on a logarithmic scale,...

 or high impedance) audio
Sound
Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard, or the sensation stimulated in organs of hearing by such vibrations.-Propagation of...

 circuitry by the alternating electromagnetic field
Electromagnetic field
An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by moving electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction...

s emanating from nearby mains-powered devices like power transformers. The audible aspect of this sort of electric hum is produced by amplifier
Amplifier
Generally, an amplifier or simply amp, is a device for increasing the power of a signal.In popular use, the term usually describes an electronic amplifier, in which the input "signal" is usually a voltage or a current. In audio applications, amplifiers drive the loudspeakers used in PA systems to...

s and loudspeakers.

The other major source of hum in audio equipment is shared impedance
Electrical impedance
Electrical impedance, or simply impedance, is the measure of the opposition that an electrical circuit presents to the passage of a current when a voltage is applied. In quantitative terms, it is the complex ratio of the voltage to the current in an alternating current circuit...

s; when a heavy current is flowing through a conductor (a ground
Ground (electricity)
In electrical engineering, ground or earth may be the reference point in an electrical circuit from which other voltages are measured, or a common return path for electric current, or a direct physical connection to the Earth....

 trace) that a small-signal device is also connected to. All practical conductors will have a finite, if small, resistance, and the small resistance present means that devices using different points on the conductor as a ground reference will be at slightly different potentials. This hum is usually at the second harmonic
Harmonic
A harmonic of a wave is a component frequency of the signal that is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency, i.e. if the fundamental frequency is f, the harmonics have frequencies 2f, 3f, 4f, . . . etc. The harmonics have the property that they are all periodic at the fundamental...

 of the power line frequency (100 Hz or 120 Hz), since the heavy ground currents are from AC to DC converters that rectify
Rectifier
A rectifier is an electrical device that converts alternating current , which periodically reverses direction, to direct current , which flows in only one direction. The process is known as rectification...

 the mains waveform. See also ground loop
Ground loop (electricity)
In an electrical system, a ground loop usually refers to a current, almost always unwanted, in a conductor connecting two points that are supposed to be at the same potential, often ground, but are actually at different potentials. Ground loops created by improperly designed or improperly installed...

.

In vacuum tube
Vacuum tube
In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube , or thermionic valve , reduced to simply "tube" or "valve" in everyday parlance, is a device that relies on the flow of electric current through a vacuum...

 equipment, one potential source of hum is current leakage between the heaters and cathodes of the tubes. Another source is direct emission of electrons from the heater, or magnetic fields produced by the heater. Tubes for critical applications may have the heater circuit powered by direct current to prevent this source of hum.

Prevention


It is often the case that electric hum at a venue is picked up via a ground loop
Ground loop (electricity)
In an electrical system, a ground loop usually refers to a current, almost always unwanted, in a conductor connecting two points that are supposed to be at the same potential, often ground, but are actually at different potentials. Ground loops created by improperly designed or improperly installed...

. In this situation, an amplifier and a mixing deck are typically at some distance from one another. The chassis of each item is grounded via the mains earth pin, and is also connected along a different pathway via the conductor of a shielded cable. As these two pathways do not run alongside each other, an electrical circuit in the shape of a loop is formed. The same situation occurs between musical instrument amplifiers on stage and the mixing desk. To fix this, stage equipment often has a "ground lift
Ground lift
In sound recording and reproduction, ground lift or earth lift is a technique used to reduce or eliminate ground-related noise when connecting signal lines between two or more pieces of equipment. It interrupts the ground line at some point. It is particularly effective at eliminating ground loops,...

" switch which breaks the loop. Another solution is to connect the source and destination through a 1:1 isolation transformer, called variously audio humbucker
Humbucker
A humbucker is a type of electric guitar pickup, first patented by Seth Lover and the Gibson company, that uses two coils, both generating string signal. Humbuckers have higher output than a single coil pickup since both coils are connected in series...

or iso coil. Another extremely dangerous option is to break contact with the ground wire by using an AC ground lift adapter
Cheater plug
A cheater plug, AC ground lifter or three-prong/two-prong adapter is an adapter that allows a NEMA 5-15P grounding-type plug to connect to a NEMA 1-15R non-grounding receptacle . The use of such an adapter avoids the need to replace receptacles, but is potentially hazardous, if the grounding tab...

 or by breaking the earth pin off the power plug used at the mixing deck. Depending on the design and layout of the audio equipment, lethal voltages between the (now isolated) ground at the mixing desk and earth ground can then develop. Any contact between the AC line live terminals and the equipment chassis will energize all the cable shields and interconnected equipment.

Tone


Assuming a tempered scale with A
A (musical note)
La or A is the sixth note of the solfège. "A" is generally used as a standard for tuning. When the orchestra tunes, the oboe plays an "A" and the rest of the instruments tune to match that pitch. Every string instrument in the orchestra has an A string, from which each player can tune the rest of...

=440 Hz, a 60 Hz tone is almost exactly halfway between A♯ (58.24 Hz) and B
B (musical note)
B, also known as H, Si or Ti, is the seventh note of the solfège. It lies a chromatic semitone below C and is thus the enharmonic equivalent of C-flat....

 (61.68 Hz) two octaves below Middle C
Middle C
C or Do is the first note of the fixed-Do solfège scale. Its enharmonic is B.-Middle C:Middle C is designated C4 in scientific pitch notation because of the note's position as the fourth C key on a standard 88-key piano keyboard...

, and a 50 Hz tone is between G
G (musical note)
Sol, So, or G is the fifth note of the solfège starting on C. As such it is the dominant, a perfect fifth above C.When calculated in equal temperament with a reference of A above middle C as 440 Hz, the frequency of Middle G note is approximately 391.995 Hz...

 (49.04 Hz) and G♯ (51.93 Hz) two octaves below Middle C
Middle C
C or Do is the first note of the fixed-Do solfège scale. Its enharmonic is B.-Middle C:Middle C is designated C4 in scientific pitch notation because of the note's position as the fourth C key on a standard 88-key piano keyboard...

, but slightly flatter than the quarter-tone. These notes fall within the range of a 4-string bass guitar
Bass guitar
The bass guitar is a stringed instrument played primarily with the fingers or thumb , or by using a pick....

.

In music


In musical instruments, hum is usually treated as a nuisance, and various electrical modifications are made to eliminate it. For instance, certain pickups
Pickup (music technology)
A pickup device is a transducer that captures mechanical vibrations, usually from suitably equipped stringed instruments such as the electric guitar, electric bass guitar, Chapman Stick, or electric violin, and converts them to an electrical signal that is amplified, recorded, or broadcast.-...

 on electric guitar
Electric guitar
An electric guitar is a guitar that uses the principle of direct electromagnetic induction to convert vibrations of its metal strings into electric audio signals. The signal generated by an electric guitar is too weak to drive a loudspeaker, so it is amplified before sending it to a loudspeaker...

s are designed to reduce hum. Sometimes it is used creatively, for example in electronic music
Electronic music
Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronic technology. Examples of electromechanical sound...

.

In forensics



Electrical network frequency (ENF) analysis is a forensic technique for validating audio recordings by comparing frequency changes in background mains hum in the recording with long-term high-precision historical records of mains frequency changes from a database. In effect the mains hum signal is treated as a time-dependent digital watermark that can be used to find when the recording was created, and to help to detect any edits in the sound recording.

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