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  • austinpop
    austinpop

    The Audio Impact of  Solar Panels and Battery Backup: Comparing Sound Quality of Panels, Batteries, and the Grid

     

     

    The Audio Impact of  Solar Panels and Battery Backup:

    Comparing Sound Quality of Panels, Batteries, and the Grid

     

     

    Introduction

     

    I recently got solar panels and a battery backup system installed at my house. While this was a decision driven by many factors, as I described in my previous article, The Audio Impact of Solar Panels and Battery Backup: Introduction, Installation & Initial Listen, one of the important concerns was whether it would have a negative impact on the sound quality of my audio system. At the time of that article, the system had just been installed, and was pending PTO (permission to operate) from my local utility.

     

    The main audio impact finding from that stage of the install was that the addition of the Tesla Gateway in the formerly-direct path from the grid to my main panel did not degrade sound quality in any discernible way. This was a huge relief, as it guaranteed that I could always use grid power to keep sound quality at the pre-install level, just in case solar panels and/or the batteries degraded sound significantly.

     

    The evaluation of the SQ benefits or degradations due to panels and battery would happen after PTO. This is where I am now, so this article will continue the saga!

     

     

    System Progress Update

     

    To recap: the installation is a 12.33kW system, with 29x 425W panels, along with 3x PowerWalls, with a total capacity of 40.5 kWh. Here again is a diagram of the installation:

     

    263410455_OutsideTeslaPowerwall.jpg.1742ced88a825712d2ff3937d0d4024c.jpg

     

     

    As is typical of these installs, the next steps to PTO did not go perfectly smoothly! The system failed the utility inspection scheduled about 2 weeks after installation. The inspector could not register any voltage (signifying production) on one of the panel strings. While I was glad he was being this thorough, the Tesla tech later told me he thought the inspector’s multimeter was set to AC volts, not DC volts. Who knows! In any event, it did cause Tesla techs to conduct a couple more testing sessions, which in the grand scheme is not a bad thing. The second inspection another 3 weeks later went without incident.

     

    SInce Austin Energy mandates a PV meter that they install to measure panel production, it meant that prior to PTO, I could not run my panels at all, as without the PV meter, there was an open switch between the panels and the gateway. This meant that for 5 weeks, I went without any way to use my panels and batteries. On the plus side, AE’s definition of PTO is once they install the official PV meter after the passing of the inspection. At least in this phase, I lucked out, and an AE tech came by early the day after inspection and installed the PV meter. I was up and running! As it was a glorious sunny late fall day, here’s my first production day:

     

    image1.png

     

     

    It felt so good to return more than half the production of that day to the grid!

     

    After a few days of observing the system in operation, it was time to do some listening tests.

     

     

    My Listening Setup

     

    Here is a diagram of my listening setup.

     

    456644862_AustinpopSystem.jpg.f12f849f02cf18d3516409d3393408c9.jpg

     

     

     

     

    Review Playlist

     

    Fall 2021 Review Playlist on Qobuz (US)

     

    To enable you to listen to the same tracks that I did, I have created a public playlist on Qobuz USA. This playlist includes the tracks mentioned in this review, as well as some of the others I listened to in the course of this evaluation. Please note that in some cases, the Qobuz track will not match the mastering I listened to, especially since all my listening was with PGGB-upsampled files. Still, this gives you a sense for the music I listened to for evaluation.

     

     

    Listening Tests

     

    In operation, the Tesla Gateway manages the flow of energy required to both meet the instantaneous demand from the home, and the production from the panels. This means at any moment, my audio system could be receiving energy from the grid, the panels, the batteries, or some combination of all three.

     

    My goal was to understand the sound quality of each energy source in isolation. To this end, I needed to do some configuration, either through policy settings in the control software through the Tesla app, or by flipping breakers. More on this later.

     

    Here is what the path for each energy source looks like:

    • Solar panels -> inverters -> gateway -> main panel -> dedicated audio circuit,
    • Powerwalls (builtin inverters) -> gateway -> main panel -> dedicated audio circuit, and
    • Grid -> gateway -> main panel -> dedicated audio circuit.

     

     

    Solar Panels vs. Grid Comparison

     

    To conduct this test, I started on a clear sunny day, and I minimized the loads in the home to ensure that during the listening, power would come solely from the panels. Here’s the app view. The panels’ instantaneous production is 8.9kW, of which 1.7kW is going to satisfy the house demand, with the remainder of 7.2kW charging the Powerwalls, as their current charge of 23% is below my setting of 80% backup reserve.

     

    image6.png image10.png

     

     

    Since there isn’t a software-driven way to turn off the solar panels, I had to go to the Gateway box and physically switch off the solar panel breakers. With the solar panels switched off, the picture shows no production from the panels and no energy to the Powerwalls. In the US, utility regulations require that batteries can only be charged from panel power, and never from the grid, other than during weather events. The 1.0kW demand from the house is being satisfied from the grid.

     

    image4.png

     

     

     

    Solar Panels vs. Grid Results

     

    In a word, these two configurations were indistinguishable.

     

    Keep in mind there were logistical challenges here. If A is panels and B is grid, it was possible to go from A to B within seconds, if you had a helper to flip the breakers outside for you. However, going from B to A was a 5-minute endeavor. Once solar panel power has been disrupted, it takes the Tesla Inverters about 5 minutes to reboot and start producing again.

     

    I tried this experiment on multiple days, and while on some days I could detect small differences, I would be hard pressed to identify them with any certainty. Let’s just say that the difference, if any, was miniscule.

     

    Could this have been the effect of my Sound Application TT-7 Reference power line conditioner? Impossible to say without more testing. Were I much more motivated, I would assemble a collection of PLCs and power regenerators, and assess this difference on each of them. I’m not motivated to do this comparison.

     

    All I can say is that on my system, with my gear, running off a dedicated circuit from the main panel, through the TT-7 Reference PLC, panel power and grid power were indistinguishable to my ears.

     

    This was a welcome result, and meant I didn’t have to do drastic things like turn off solar panels for critical sunny-day listening!

     

     

    Powerwall Batteries vs. Grid Comparison

     

    This was a comparison that was possible to do without leaving my listening chair, so it was easy to go back and forth within a few seconds per transition. To ensure purely grid consumption, my reserve threshold had to be set as shown:

     

    image9.png image4.png

     

     

    Conversely, to go to battery power, I just had to set the backup reserve down to well below the current battery level:

     

    image3.png image2.png

     

     

     

    Battery vs. Grid Results

     

    Unlike the panels vs. grid comparison, these results were conclusive, and quite delightful! Consistently, the Powerwalls sounded better than the grid. What do I mean by better?

     

    image11.pngOne track on Wagner Overtures & Preludes, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Frankfurt Radio Symphony (Sony Classical, 24/48) illustrates this well. On Tannhäuser Overture, the piece opens with a soaring hymnal melody on the horns. With battery power, these horn notes soar higher, hang longer, and convey a more spacious image. Going back and forth, the battery source was very reminiscent of a PSU upgrade. I’ve heard a similar improvement going from a stock SMPS to a Farad Super 3, or from the latter to a Paul Hynes SR-7 DR. There is an opening up of the soundstage, allowing the music to breathe and feel effortless. Instruments sound richer and more fleshed out. Very soft passages have a greater clarity, suggesting a lowering of the noise floor. Most importantly, all these improvements did not come at the expense of dynamics, a common complaint with battery supplies.

     

    I’ve done this comparison now over many days, with many different pieces of music. I have yet to have an instance when I favored the grid over the Powerwalls. What about time of day? Granted, these tests were conducted during evening hours (no panel production), but this still spanned between 6pm and 2am across listening sessions. Even late at night, during a season when HVAC usage was minimal, the grid source never even approached the sound quality of the batteries.

     

    Of course, this still leaves many questions that are practically difficult to answer. What is the explanation for this effect? If the batteries are presenting a lower output-impedance power source than the grid, is that measurable? And, how is this effect related to the number of batteries in the installation? I have 3 Powerwalls effectively delivering power in parallel. Could I increase the advantage by going to 4 batteries? 5? What about the other direction? Does this effect disappear with one or two batteries?

     

    I’m not equipped to answer these questions, but it’s something on which we can seek empirical data as more audiophiles install these battery backup systems along with their solar panels.

     

     

    Conclusions

     

    I approached this entire solar + battery project with some trepidation about its impact on audio sound quality. My rather pessimistic expectation was that I would need to be on the grid for optimal SQ, and my fear was that even grid SQ would be degraded by the introduction of the additional infrastructure, especially the Gateway.

     

    I am therefore delighted with the results. The quick listening test in Part 1 dispelled my misgivings about the effect of the Gateway. Comparing solar panels to the grid, I was pleasantly surprised to find essentially no difference in SQ between the two, perhaps helped by my Sound Application power line conditioner. And finally, the superior SQ of the Powerwalls was an unexpected bonus!

     

    I now know that to achieve the best SQ in my system, I must configure power to be flowing from the batteries. This is trivial at night, but challenging during solar panel production during the day. If I really need the ultimate SQ during the day, I will have to switch off my panels and forego production. Shh, please, no one tell my wife and daughters!

     

    This has been an 8-months long odyssey, from initial order to PTO, but I am so glad we now have an operational solar panel and battery backup system in place. It is very gratifying to see days where solar production far exceeded the house consumption. The fact that I got an SQ boost out of this project just makes it all the sweeter!

     

     

     

     

    Primary System

     

    Music Computer:          Taiko Audio SGM Extreme Music Server, Taiko USB upgrade

    Headphone Amplifier:  Cavalli Liquid Gold

    Headphones:                 Meze Empyrean, Abyss AB-1266 CC, Sennheiser HD800 (SD mod)

    DAC:                                Chord DAVE

    USB to dual-SPDIF: Audiowise SRC-DX bridge

    Ethernet Switches:        SOtM sNH-10G, Uptone EtherREGEN,

      Buffalo BS-GS2016 (modded for LPS)

    Power supplies:             Paul Hynes SR7MR3DRXL (dual regulation, 3-rail)  for switches

                                             Sean Jacobs DC-3 for DAVE

    Power Details:               Dedicated 30A 6AWG AC circuit,

    Sound Application TT-7 Reference Power Conditioner

    Power Cables:               Sablon King (wall to TT-7), Sablon Prince (Extreme),

      Cardas Clear Beyond (DC-3, SR-7),

                                             Cardas Clear for all other components

    USB cables:                   Sablon Reserva 2020 USB

    BNC cables:                   High Fidelity Cables CT-2 in Schroeder config, JSSG360’d (DIY)

    Ethernet cables:            Sablon 2020, SOtM dCBL-Cat7, Supra Cat 8

    DC cables:                      Neotech OCC (DC-3), Paul Hynes fine silver (SR-7)

    Interconnects:               Cardas Clear XLR balanced

    Headphone cables:       Transparent Ultra cable system

    Accessories:                  Synergistic Research Tranquility Base XL UEF with Galileo MPC

      Synergistic Research MiG 2.0 footers

      Taiko Audio Daiza Isolation Platforms

     

     

    Acknowledgments

     

    Many thanks to the following companies for supplying cables and accessories to aid in this evaluation:

    • Cardas Audio, for a full loom of Cardas Clear cables.
    • Transparent Audio, for the Transparent Ultra headphone cable with a full complement of headphones leads and source terminators.

     

     

    About the Author

     

    _DSF1457_cropped.thumb.jpg.374fcb00f1b9abf63c1cefcb6168d35e.jpgRajiv Arora — a.k.a. @austinpop — is both a computer geek and a lifelong audiophile. He doesn’t work much, but when he does, it’s as a consultant in the computer industry. Having retired from a corporate career as a researcher, technologist and executive, he now combines his passion for music and audio gear with his computer skills and his love of writing to author reviews and articles about high-end audio.

     

    He  has "a special set of skills" that help him bring technical perspective to the audio hobby. No, they do not involve kicking criminal ass in exotic foreign locales! Starting with his Ph.D. research on computer networks, and extending over his professional career, his area of expertise is the performance and scalability of distributed computing systems. Tuning and optimization are in his blood. He is guided by the scientific method and robust experimental design. That said, he trusts his ears, and how a system or component sounds is always the final determinant in his findings. He does not need every audio effect to be measurable, as long as it is consistently audible.

     

    Finally, he believes in integrity, honesty, civility and community, and this is what he strives to bring to every interaction, both as an author and as a forum contributor.




    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments



    @austinpop Thanks for the update.  

     

    It would be very interesting to put a commercial power line monitor on the input to your system just to look at the line.

     

    Is there a way that you could install a circuit to the PW+inverter to always run that way?  So, a Power Wall powered Audio System?  I am not certain, I want to see the budget estimate for that.

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    Why it sounds the way it does I don’t know, but I’m very happy for you, Rajiv, that you have done well audio-wise by doing good for the planet with your solar and battery system.

     

     

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    Thank you for the great article. Timely, as I am looking into solar myself. In my case, I've thought about a dedicated audio power circuit that was fed this way: Solar Array > Batteries > Dedicated Audio A/C Circuit

     

    Question: 

    Doesn't the Tesla PW system just continuously charge on-site batteries? And would that not effectively insulate your power supply from the messy interference on the public A/C grid? I figured it would work like a large-scale power regenerator,...since your A/C is being converted locally from D/C it would be very clean and pure. No? 

     

     

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    Awesome results Rajiv! Solar doesn’t make sense here due to topography as I was in contact with Tesla about this a couple of years ago. I do know that my SQ with our whole house generator sounds identical to the grid which is a plus too. I will have to do a listening test with my new MacBook Oro running off battery power vs. plugged in given the 21 hour battery life!

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    6 hours ago, bobfa said:

    Is there a way that you could install a circuit to the PW+inverter to always run that way?  So, a Power Wall powered Audio System?  I am not certain, I want to see the budget estimate for that.

     

    3 hours ago, Temporal_Dissident said:

    Question: 

    Doesn't the Tesla PW system just continuously charge on-site batteries? And would that not effectively insulate your power supply from the messy interference on the public A/C grid? I figured it would work like a large-scale power regenerator,...since your A/C is being converted locally from D/C it would be very clean and pure. No? 

     

     

     

    At least with the Tesla system, and I suspect most other solar+battery installs, the house is fed energy by a smart gateway, which treats each component as follows:

    • Solar panels: Power source
    • Grid: Power source AND sink
    • Batteries: Power source AND sink
    • House: Power sink.

    I don't see an easy way to bypass the gateway.

     

    Here is a little video snippet of the power flow in real time. Notice how the sum of power generated and consumed always match.

     

     

     

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    Thank u, This is a  great article. I've been using a UPS for computer as my AC POWER PURIFIER for a while, it's very close to your ideal using the  POWERWALL DC convert to AC to power supply your  audio equipments. 

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    I posted in response to your first article that I hear no differences in SQ whether drawing from the panels during the daytime or from the grid at night, possibly due to the presence of a PS Audio regenerator in the path. Sounds as though my experience isn’t unique.  
     

    You make a compelling audio case for batteries, though. Here in San Francisco, with PG&E availability increasingly on a banana peel, solar homes are moving quickly in that direction. In my case, however, the economics for the upgrade to batteries haven’t been compelling and I will have some logistical issues locating them on the premises so I haven’t pressed the issue.  You may have just given me the most important reason to look more closely. :)

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    Very cool.  I suppose this must be considered the ultimate tweak!  

     

    I've read about some audiophiles who unplug the refrigerator so that they can hear their system unimpeded by compressor noise.  Those folks might consider a battery backup as a great upgrade.   They can have their (unspoiled) cake and eat it too (so to speak).  

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    Great article! We're about to have solar installed and I never gave battery packs a serious thought but now I will (of which we'll also benefit given the current energy issues in Europe)!

     

     

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    Great pair of articles. I’m thinking measuring source impedance might be, ah, “non-trivial.” But if you have access to an oscilloscope, you could *very carefully* observe the AC waveform for noise in both conditions. A DSO could capture both waveforms for comparison, null test, etc. Might or might not tell you anything useful. 
     

    But don’t electrocute yourself! We want to read part 3!

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    Are you doing this as a hoax or just for really stupid people that think that great audio equipment can't deal with power line grunge?

     

    When John Atkinson tests equipment for Stereophile, he plugs it straight into the wall with the supplied cable.

     

    In testing Benchmark's AHB-2 amp and LA4 pre/amp, he found them to have less distortion and noise than any similar products ("Benchmark's LA4 is the widest-bandwidth, widest-dynamic-range, lowest-noise, lowest-distortion preamplifier I have encountered.")

     

    Hey, having a cleaner power supply will improve the sound of your system by reducing noise 3dB or so cumulatively. That's it. Also, having the power conditioner take the hit from a lightning strike is good.

     

    If your equipment is so poorly designed and built that a power conditioner or the power source drastically changes its audio quality, there is something seriously wrong with it.

     

    Either that or your preconception bias has gone into overdrive. Regardless, this article is of no value.

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    17 minutes ago, jeffhenning said:

    Are you doing this as a hoax or just for really stupid people that think that great audio equipment can't deal with power line grunge?

     

    When John Atkinson tests equipment for Stereophile, he plugs it straight into the wall with the supplied cable.

     

    In testing Benchmark's AHB-2 amp and LA4 pre/amp, he found them to have less distortion and noise than any similar products ("Benchmark's LA4 is the widest-bandwidth, widest-dynamic-range, lowest-noise, lowest-distortion preamplifier I have encountered.")

     

    Hey, having a cleaner power supply will improve the sound of your system by reducing noise 3dB or so cumulatively. That's it. Also, having the power conditioner take the hit from a lightning strike is good.

     

    If your equipment is so poorly designed and built that a power conditioner or the power source drastically changes its audio quality, there is something seriously wrong with it.

     

    Either that or your preconception bias has gone into overdrive. Regardless, this article is of no value.

     

    Hi Jeff, thanks for the opinion, I think. 

     

    You have some serious bias on this one and preconceived ideas about this stuff. 

     

    Appealing to an authority, to support your belief, has been used for eons. Imagine the kerfuffle if JA used something like a Shunyata or 512 Engineering power unit while measuring everyone else's gear. That wouldn't fly in anyone's book. Plus, measuring gear as standalone devices is a pretty benign way to do it.

     

    Do you have any evidence that only poorly designed equipment can benefit drastically from clean power? In fact, do you have any evidence even poorly designed equipment can benefit from clean power? Or, how do you define poorly designed?

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    So international standards for electric current supply quality, given the force of law by state and local regulations, are worthless, or audio equipment is the sole exception among all electrical equipment in the home?

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    ...I dunno. I rarely listen intently to my microwave unless Sweetie is making popcorn. Again. 

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    10 hours ago, jeffhenning said:

    Hey, having a cleaner power supply will improve the sound of your system by reducing noise 3dB or so cumulatively

     

    and you know this because .... ???????

     

    BTW 3dB of power is a factor of 2, as in twice as much or half as much,  so that seems to me to be significant, but I'm thinking you just pulled that number out of thin air

     

    A-POP, I am curious what the specifications are for the output of the Tesla inverter. What is the distortion spec for it? Does it produce a significantly cleaner 60 Hz or eliminate some other noise coming in off the grid or ??? What is the output impedance of the inverter versus the grid? I know you didn't say this, but some may assume because it starts from a battery it must be cleaner, but that depends on the design of the DC to AC inverter, not just the fact it runs from a battery.

     

    It is possible it is actually more distorted than the grid and adds something to the sound that you perceive as an improvement? PSAudio had (maybe still has) a MultiWave option on their regenerators which basically produces a distorted 60 HZ instead of a clean one, and many report feeding this distorted wave to their equipment improves the sound. 

     

    I believe you hear what you hear, but to explain it there must be something significantly different about the grid versus the inverter. Just curious what that difference is

     

    And if using DC batteries to produce AC to feed to components which take the AC to make DC, seems like the next logical step is just run everything straight off the batteries and skip the DC to AC to DC. I realize that will take some modification of the components and a way to regulate the DC down to the level needed by the device, but if you've gone this far....................

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    Hello Austinpop,

    I have a couple comments. 

    Its unfortunate you have no way to bypass the gateway and feed your main panel direct from the utility.   Your installation is a similar in design to how generators are installed now.  The utility is in essence routed through a transfer switch that decides if the power is sourced from the utility or a secondary source.  When I design a system for generator use such as I did at Fremer's home, I separate the secondary power from the utility power to reduce the amount of conductor and termination points in the path of the audio power supplies. 

    Did they use aluminum wire for the service connections or copper is also a question I would ask.

     

    What you did is interesting in that it has given you the opportunity to listen to  battery vs utility.  I begun investigating this myself.  I never got to building out a system as battery makers who have worked with audiophile doing as such did not receive positive feedback.  You on the other hand did. 

     

    I am not sceptical of your perception of battery bettering utility.  I have used a Fluke 125 scopemeter on many houses and I always see about 2.4% to 4.5% THD measured to voltage on the 3rd and 5th.  Sometimes out to the 7th and 9th.  Utility power is never clean as your sharing the transformer with 4 or 5 neighbors.  

     

    Your test also appear to be performed with very low power headphone amplifiers.  Your perception of battery and wall could be very different if you were driving a high power amplifier connected to power hungry speakers.  In the most general sense, I see most audiophile enjoy their front end gear feed via a filter/regenerator of some kind.  I only know 2 people who likes their amps through a filter.  All others like direct to the wall.  

     

    I would like to PM with you and be put in contact with others investigating the battery solution.  If indeed it is a good solution, I would like to know.  Although Stromtank is a excellent turn key solution for those in apartments with poor utility power.  Most audiophile don't want to purchase $5k in lithium, a charger and $2k inverter,  then wire it all up.  It would be a dangerous mess behind your rack unless enclosed in a safe storage container. 

     

    I appreciate your review, but it leaves many questions unanswered.

    Rex

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    2 hours ago, KingRex said:

     

    What you did is interesting in that it has given you the opportunity to listen to  battery vs utility. 

     

    that statements gives the impression that one is listening to battery power, when in in fact you are listening to power from a DC-AC inverter powered by batteries. I know you know this, but like you said this all raises questions one of which goes back to my question above..... how clean is the Tesla  inverter power? I have no idea , but given that the purpose of the device is to power refrigerators, furnaces, AC units, etc. they may not have been overly concerned about the purity of the output.

     

    just curious

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    6 hours ago, KingRex said:

    I would like to PM with you and be put in contact with others investigating the battery solution.  If indeed it is a good solution, I would like to know.  

     

    I would suggest waiting until they have anything workable, as they said they would start a discussion thread here. As you correctly noted, the trick is to find a solution that is practical, in light of the challenges of safety and cost.

     

    6 hours ago, KingRex said:

     

    I appreciate your review, but it leaves many questions unanswered.

     

    Indeed it does, and I hope I was clear that I was not asserting otherwise. I went into my solar+battery install without any expectation of SQ gain. Indeed, my only hope was not to lose SQ, based on Michael Fremer's report with the transfer switch. That I found a configuration that gave me an SQ benefit was truly a bonus.

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    2 hours ago, bbosler said:

     

    that statements gives the impression that one is listening to battery power, when in in fact you are listening to power from a DC-AC inverter powered by batteries. I know you know this, but like you said this all raises questions one of which goes back to my question above..... how clean is the Tesla  inverter power? I have no idea , but given that the purpose of the device is to power refrigerators, furnaces, AC units, etc. they may not have been overly concerned about the purity of the output.

     

    just curious

    I 100% agree.   And I believe regenerator such as PurePower, PS Audio and Stromtank are also an inverter of sorts.  I believe some equipment can function better on clean power.  And some equipment may be less bothered by it. 

     

    I am not sure the issue is so much the switching power supply noise with audio.  As in, backfeed pollution to the audio branch circuits.  I have spoken to others with micro inverter solar, which Austinpop's is not.  They do not have batteries and there system is not routed through a Gateway.  They can disconnect the solar from the utility power.  They do not notice and degradation in sound with the solar connected.  Again, its a different inverter system and a different wiring scheme.  

     

    Rex

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    Rajiv - Understand the whole house/green desire driving the project but at any time did you consider a stereo only alternative like the Stromtank?

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