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Grounding and Shielding for Sound and Video

By Philip Giddings

This article is Philip Giddings 1996.

1. A Perspective on Noise in Audio and Video Systems

To the uninitiated, the attraction of audio and video systems design, is the thrill and excitement
of carefully selecting all the audio and video components, determining the correct interconnect
of this equipment to provide the system's necessary functionality, the installation of this
equipment into its new home, and the testing and commissioning of this equipment to bring it
on line. It is not long, however, before our new audio/video and systems designer is disillusioned
by the effects of the real world on his new system. These effects include noise, hum, buzzes,
snow on video pictures, shadowing and a variety of other forms of distortion to what was hoped
would be a clean signal. The challenge of designing audio and video systems not only includes
that of the actual system design but all of the other detail necessary to keep these systems
operating at the performance levels that the individual components are capable of. The veteran
is all too familiar with the less than ideal performance that results when individual pieces of
equipment are interconnected into larger systems in real world conditions.
The magnitude of this problem is illustrated by the simple fact that the editor of this magazine
has chosen to run an entire issue on a solution of this problem; the proper use of grounding and
shielding. Other organizations such as the Audio Engineering Society have in recent years
devoted entire workshops to this problem. In a world of incredibly sophisticated audio and video
systems where literally any form of signal manipulation, editing, transmission and reproduction
is possible, we still suffer from extreme problems in executing all of these functions without
producing additional distortion and artifacts due to the effects of the real world on our systems.
One of the difficulties that the audio and video industries face as a whole is that the designers of
the electronic equipment work in the sterile environment of their laboratories and factories. The
people who are designing the equipment are not those who are out designing the systems that
are being installed into the theatres, churches, recording studios, concert halls, broadcast
facilities and audio/visual facilities, to name only a few. The equipment that they design often
tests out perfectly in the laboratory and seems to have all of the necessary input/output and
internal wiring considerations necessary to provide signal integrity through their device.
However, when this equipment is installed in the real world, the performance of the overall
system is less than one might expect based on the performance of the individual components.
In recent times, particularly through the Audio Engineering Society, there has been a great deal
of finger pointing. A number of system designers, including myself, have taken the time to
document the problems that we as systems designers must deal with due to the inadequacies of
the electronic equipment that is used in our systems. I am pleased to report that it appears that
headway is being made and that manufacturers are becoming more receptive to the problems
that people designing, building and using audio/video systems are experiencing.
The reason this is important is that grounding and shielding systems alone will not provide
guaranteed freedom from noise problems. Further, the design of the grounding and shielding
system is very much dependent on other factors in the system. Achieving the right level of
hardware installation to optimize the system performance and the cost of the installation must
be done with a clear head and knowledge of all the issues that affect the noise in the audio or
video system. It is very easy to overdesign and spend a lot of time with installation procedures
that have little impact on the systems freedom from noise.

1.1. A Systems Approach

The complexity of the problem of noise in audio and video systems requires that an organized
and methodical approach be taken to control or minimize its affects. The problem of noise in
electronic signaling is universal and affects the computer, aerospace and manufacturing
industries, as well as, the audio and video industries. The problems that we all face with regard
to noise in signal systems are referred to as electro-magnetic interference (EMI). EMI is, in fact,
a very well-studied and documented science and the problems of solving these types of system
inadequacies are well developed. Several excellent texts on the subject are [15], [16] & [17].
It is possible to breakdown the problem of EMI into a number of individual components that can
be studied and dealt with one at a time at the concept development, design, installation and
testing phases of any audio or video system. This systems approach to dealing with EMI is an
effective and efficient means of attacking these problems. The following section, an EMI
refresher, will help systematize the ideas that are used in understanding and resolving EMI

1.2. An EMI Refresher

1.2.1. EMI?

In order for Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI) to occur, three elements must be present.
These are:
a source of electromagnetic noise (any electrical device)
a transmission medium for the electrical noise to propagate in
and a receiver that is sensitive to the nature of electrical energy being radiated by the
When each of these three elements exists, then the performance of the receiver, often referred
to as the victim, may be adversely affected.
When this short coming exists, there are a number of ways of controlling EMI. The trick in the
proper design of any audio or video system is to select the means of control that will most
effectively deal with the problem without incurring undue cost. There are a select number of
techniques that can be used in our quest for an EMI free world and these are discussed in the
following section.
Specifically there are four means of transmission for electrical noise. It is important to identify
how the noise is being transmitted to the receiver as this is a key factor in determining how it
may be easily and effectively controlled.
The first form of transmission is referred to as common impedance coupling. This form of
transmission occurs when there is a shared conductor (wire) between the source and the victim.
This is obviously the case between any two pieces of equipment that are hard wired together be
it through signal lines or AC power or ground lines. This subject is discussed in more detail in
Section 2.2. See the figure in that section.
The next form of transmission is electric field coupling. The model of an electric field emanating
from a wire is shown in Figure 1. This type of coupling is determined by the capacitance
between the source and the receiver. It is proportional to: the area that the source and the
receiver share between each other; the frequency and amplitude of the noise voltage; and the
permittivity of the medium between the source and the receiver. It is inversely proportional to
the square of the distance between them. Electric field coupling is a function, then, of the
voltage of the source and it creates a voltage in the victim conductors.

The third form of transmission is magnetic field coupling. The model of a magnetic field
emanating from a wire is shown in Figure 2. This type of coupling is determined by the mutual
inductance between the source and the receiver. It is a positive function of the loop area of the
receiver circuit, the frequency and the current of the source, and the permeability of the medium
between the source and the receiver. It is inversely proportional to the square of the distance
between them. Magnetic field coupling, then, is a function of the current of the source and it
creates a current in the victim circuit.

The final form of EMI transmission is electro-magnetic radiation. This type of coupling occurs
when the source and the receiver are at least 1/6 of a wavelength apart placing the receiver in
what is known as the far field. The far field is defined as that distance away where the wave
front is a plane and the ratio of the electrostatic and electromagnetic field strength is a constant
(equal to 377). An example of an electromagnetic radiation is radio frequency interference (RFI)
due to radio stations, CBs and other high powered transmitters.

1.2.2. Controlling EMI

There are a number of well established techniques to controlling EMI as discussed here. Shielding

As the name implies, shielding consists of placing a conductive material between the source and
the receiver. It can be done close to the source or close to the receiver. It is a very common
technique with a well known application being the conductive outer covering on most audio and
video cables. Balancing and Twisting

Balancing refers to inputs and outputs of electronic equipment that have both an in-polarity and
an out- of-polarity signal. Twisting refers to the twist in the interconnecting wire between
balanced input and outputs. Together these two techniques provide substantial EMI immunity in
interconnects. Twisting reduces magnetic pick-up almost completely by reducing the loop area of
the cable to zero. Twisting the wires causes electric fields to induce common mode signals on
the wire. As a balanced system allows only differential mode signals to pass through, these
common mode signals are rejected. (For further detail on this subject see [1]. Separation and Routing

By proper separation and routing the effect of the EMI source on the victim can be reduced by
the simple fact that the strength of the EMI is reduced with distance. Therefore, careful
separation and routing of audio and video cables and the electronic equipment from noise
sources is a simple and effective means of reducing EMI problems. The field strength for a point
source drops 6 dB per doubling of distance while a line source drops 3 dB per doubling of
distance. Isolation

Anytime there is a conductor between a noise source and a victim there is a great opportunity
for EMI via common impedance coupling. A very common and successful technique is to provide
electrical isolation between the two. Isolation is typically provided by transformers, opto-
isolators, or more recently fibre-optic connections. Grounding and Bonding

Grounding and bonding consist of using conductive connections between equipment (bonding)
and between equipment and the earth (grounding). The effects of this are two-fold. The
connection to earth provides an infinite sink for the electromagnetic energy. The effect of this is
to keep all of the equipment connected to the ground at a stable potential. The effect of bonding
is to keep all of the equipment that is bonded together at the same potential. Bonding alone can
be very effective. Bonding and grounding connections must be of very low resistance to avoid
common impedance coupling.

1.3. When to Ground and to What Extent

It is difficult to know the trade-off between shielding, balancing, separation, isolation and
grounding. There have been countless installations, particularly in the recording studio industry,
where substantial efforts have been made to install grounding systems of extremely low
impedance. Often these extreme measures are taken to obtain the last ounces of performance
from the audio systems. In small systems the expense associated with going to these extreme
measures is not large and consequently it is not a big issue as to whether these measures were
really required. Often it may be more of a point of pride with the studio owner or builder with
regard to the rigorousness of his grounding system. However, in larger installations or more cost
sensitive ones, the necessary degree of complexity and robustness of the grounding system may
be more of an issue. Depending on the architecture of the system it may be easier to use
isolation techniques, such as balancing transformers to obtain the necessary results. Further as
audio and video equipment improve with regard to the robustness of the input and output
interconnections, the need for grounding systems will diminish.

1.4. Conclusion

Shielding and grounding are only two of many other means available for controlling EMI. The
effectiveness of shielding will normally be determined by the designers of the equipment being
used, such as the cable, the equipment racks, the electronic equipment cases, and so on.
Designers have little control over most of these items other than by proper selection of the wire,
racks and equipment. Grounding, where it pertains to large systems, is very much under the
control of the system designer and the installers and it is an area where proper application of
good engineering principles can result in benefits.

2. Technical Grounding Theory and Issues

Technical grounding refers to special grounding procedures, hardware or techniques used for the
benefit of technical or electronic equipment. For example, the special grounding that is used in a
recording studio or broadcast plant for the purposes of grounding the audio, video or control
equipment is properly referred to as technical grounding.

2.1. The Isolated Star Ground

The isolated star ground system is an approach to grounding that has a minimum of technical
compromises and meets the requirements of equipment grounding (as discussed in Section 4)
while also providing a system that is relatively practical to install, troubleshoot and maintain.
There are other approaches such as using a ground plane that will be discussed later; however,
the isolated star ground is the most common system for technical grounding.
Figure 3 illustrates the basic geometry for a star ground system. We can see from the illustration
that the ground system consists of a central point that stars out to local points that further star
out to equipment within a given area. Within that equipment these grounds can further star out
to the electronics, the shields and other systems and sub systems requiring a ground reference.

The entire technical ground systems of conductors and ground busses is insulated and isolated
from all other systems with the exception of a single point at the centre of the ground system
that must be, by electrical code requirements, connected to the other grounding systems within
a facility.
There are several key points to be recognized regarding why this approach works. They are:
1. All of the electronic equipment within a given area has individual conductors providing it
with a reference.
2. Each piece of equipment within a given area has a ground reference to the same level.
3. Every piece of equipment has only one possible path to earth.
4. Each piece of equipment has a similar resistance to ground.
Item one means the common impedance coupling is eliminated by pieces of equipment within a
given area. As this equipment will normally have many signal interconnections it is subject to
this type of EMI generation.
Item two means that all of the equipment in a given area will all have a similar reference as they
are connected to the same point. Again, this will reduce common impedance coupling and the
effects of common mode noise on differential lines. This item also means that any ground loops
between equipment in a given area will have a minimum loop area.
Item three means that there will not be any ground loops as there is only a single path to earth.
Note that while ground loops are not being creating by the grounding system it is possible
through interconnecting cable to create a ground loop. This will be discussed later.
Item four means that given the system is picking up a certain amount of electromagnetic
interference and sinking these noises to ground that all branches in the system will have a
similar ground reference voltage (potential).

2.1.1. Levels of Ground

The star grounding system results in various levels of ground as follows. Circuit Ground

All electronics require a ground that is routed through the circuit board. Each circuit board is
housed within a chassis that has an equipment ground. At one point within the chassis the
circuit ground is grounded to the equipment ground point for that chassis. This point being the
star ground point for the unit. Shield Ground

Each piece of electronics will have interconnecting cables for its signal inputs and outputs. The
shields of these cables are normally grounded (often at one end only). The most common place
to ground the shield is at the electronics unit where it terminates. Therefore, it is necessary to
take the input/output connector ground pin to a ground within the chassis. How this is done is in
fact critical and will be discussed later in Section 7 on equipment wiring.
Shield grounding can, of course, also occur at interim jackfields. In this case it is necessary to
take a technical ground wire to the jackfields for this purpose. Equipment Ground

The equipment ground refers to the ground reference to each individual piece of electronic
equipment within an audio or video system. This ground is part of the safety ground of the
electrical system and enters the equipment through the AC power cord via the third prong. This
is a requirement of the electrical code. The codes intention is that when the piece of equipment
is plugged in, so that it may be powered up, that it is also grounded with that same connection
point. In this way, it is not possible to have a piece of equipment that is powered up and not
grounded. Tampering with this equipment ground is illegal. Master Technical Ground Reference Bus

This is the central hub for all technical ground conductors. There is only one within any given
facility and it is this point that connects the technical ground system to the ground electrode
system of the building as well as the electrical grounding system for the building. This point also
grounds to the neutral conductor for the power distribution. Local or Area Technical Ground Reference Bus

This point is connected to the master ground reference by a single heavy conductor. There are
typically one or more of these in a facility and they are located near the equipment centers such
as control rooms, machine rooms, remote amplifier rooms or mobile truck locations.

2.2. Common Impedance Coupling

Common impedance coupling can occur between any two pieces of electronics whenever they
have a shared conductor, which has impedance, between them. A common example of this is a
shared grounding conductor used by more than one piece of equipment. This is one of the main
reasons why the star ground system is employed; however, the trade-off between loop area and
common impedance coupling has to be considered. Figure 4A & 4B show two examples of
common impedance coupling. In Figure 4A, the example shows common impedance coupling via
the neutral conductor. Figure 4B, shows common impedance coupling via a daisy chain ground.
In this figure we see that any noise currents created by the two left amplifiers will create a
voltage across R3 which will modulate the ground reference of the third amplifier. The common
impedance R3 results in common impedance coupling.

2.3. Ground Loops

A major cause of failure of technical ground systems is ground loops. They result in
electromagnetic interference. A ground loop, as the name implies, is created when a conductive
loop is formed by the technical ground conductors and some additional conductor. A ground loop
can be formed when a short to ground occurs in a technical ground system as shown in Figure 5.
It is also possible to have a ground loop in a technical ground system when two points of the
technical ground system are connected together usually through a piece of interconnecting
signal cable as shown in Figure 6. In other words, ground loops can occur when a piece of
technical equipment becomes grounded to building steel or some other conductive member.
Alternatively, ground loops can occur when a piece of signal cable has the shield terminated to
the technical equipment (and hence ground) at both ends.

The reason ground loops are detrimental to audio and video and related equipment is that when
they occur stray currents begin to flow within the technical ground conductors. These ground
conductors are used as the ground reference to the electronic equipment of the system. The
stray currents consequently induce noise in the ground reference and this noise can be induced
into the signal lines of the system.

2.4. Loop Area and Impedance

The idea of loop area is important to technical ground systems. We discussed earlier that when a
conductive loop is formed, a magnetic field will induce a current into that loop. The current will
be a function on the size of the loop and/or the strength of the magnetic field. (A larger loop will
contain more magnetic field lines.) If the field increases or the loop area increases the current
will increase. Obviously the EMI problem associated with this, then, increases with the loop area
or the magnetic field strength. Figure 7 shows different scenarios where the loop area varies
because of how the wiring was done and illustrates the effect that this has on the magnitude of
the EMI. In one case, the equipment is grounded locally and the loop area of the ground loop is
small. In the second case, the equipment is not grounded locally but some distance away and
now the loop area is much larger. We would anticipate that the EMI problem, when a ground
loop is present, is more in the latter case. This example illustrates an important issue of
technical grounding and, that is, that it is necessary to consider the geometry of the ground and
wires. While two different grounding systems may look equivalent, the fact the one has a larger
loop area (a geometry problem not a circuit problem) means they may behave quite differently
in practice.

Figure 8 presents another illustrative look at loop area and EMI.

2.5. Conductor Impedance

Impedance is defined as the AC resistance to electrical current flow. Impedance describes the
resistance of a piece of wire in the presence of an AC or alternating current. Interestingly,
impedance will vary with the frequency of the current in the wire. As the frequency increases so
does the impedance. There are two major effects that cause the impedance of a piece of wire to
increase with frequency. As many forms of EMI are high in frequency and in some cases very
high in frequency - in the MHz - the impedance of the wire becomes a significant factor in
determining its ability to drain away stray electrical noise.
The two main effects that increase impedance are the skin effect and the inductance of the
individual conductor. One explanation of skin effect is that the internal inductance of a wire
increases towards the centre making current flow easier toward the outside of the wire. The
effect of this is that at very high frequencies most of the current flows around the outside of the
conductor and consequently the conductor have effectively a smaller area causing its resistance
to increase. The incremental self inductance of a single piece of wire is a function of its length
and the radius of the conductor in centimeters. A piece of wire with a bend in it will have a
greater inductance than a single straight piece. Therefore, it is important to route ground
conductors with a minimum number of bends and turns.
Due to of the skin effect problem it is very common to use braided conductors or flat pieces of
copper plate or ribbon. The reason for this is that they have a greater surface area and hence
less skin effect. However, it should be noted that under normal EMI conditions the use of braid
and straps is not required.

2.6. Standing Waves

As the frequency of alternating signals increases, the manner in which the signals propagate
through a wire is governed by transmission line theory. While this topic is beyond the scope of
this article an intuitive understanding of this topic can be gained by considering waves traveling
down a river or channel. If there are any obstacles in the channel the waves become broken up
and may be reflected back up the channel. The extreme case of this is a wall at the end of the
channel where the waves will be reflected complete back up the channel. It is possible under
these conditions to have standing waves in the channel, where the waves traveling down the
channel and the waves being reflected back up the channel interact with each other to create
waves that are not moving longitudinally in the channel but simply moving up and down.
One of the effects of standing waves is that at certain frequencies of excitation a wire behaves
as an open circuit. In other words, no electrical energy is transmitted through the wire. In this
case, where a wire is being used as a grounding conductor, there is no grounding taking place.
The frequency at which the standing waves take place is a function of the length of the wire. So
for a given frequency there is always a wire length that given that there is a termination
discontinuity at the end of the line, some energy will be reflected back down the line resulting in
an impedance characteristic as shown in Figure 9. One solution to this problem is to provide
multiple grounding paths of varying length. This, however, may create ground loops. This
phenomenon is one of the reasons why good high frequency grounding (in the MHz region) is so
difficult to achieve.

2.7. Ground Planes - The Final Solution?

Given that at certain frequencies a conductor of a given length acts as an open circuit or at least
its impedance increases, multiple ground routes are desirable. A ground plane consists of a large
conductive surface. Obviously any two points between the surfaces can be connected through a
large number of paths through the ground plane. This means that at any frequency the
impedance between any two points on the ground plane will always be low. For this reason,
ground planes are a very common technique used in circuit boards where they are easily
implemented. The concept of ground planes can be applied to audio and video systems
grounding, however, its clear that implementing a ground plane is considerably more difficult
than implementing discreet insulated grounding conductors. Consider for example a recording
studio with a large conductive mat placed below a carpeted floor. Every piece of equipment in
the studio could be grounded to this mat at a point immediately below the equipment. Such a
system would provide extremely low impedance between all pieces of equipment in the studio.
However, it would be difficult to ensure that this ground plane did not become inadvertently
shorted to building steel. Consequently these systems are somewhat unusual and found in only
the most challenging of electromagnetic interference environments. One example of how
grounding planes might be used in a facility is shown in Figure 10.

3. Shielding

Shielding is a technique used to control EMI by preventing transmission of noise signals from the
source to the receiver. Shields can be located at the source or at the receiver or anywhere in
between. In the case of electric fields where it is most effective, it is a function of the shield
materials thickness, conductivity and continuity.
Shielding can be applied at many points in audio and video systems. Starting at the circuit level
all the way up to the systems level such as in the case of shielded rooms. Regardless of the size
of the shield, the physics of shielding remains the same.

3.1. The Shield and How it Works

There are two principle shielding mechanisms. These are reflection and absorption. When an
electromagnetic wave traveling through space encounters a shield two things happen. First,
much of the energy is reflected as shown in Figure 11. Second some of the energy that is not
reflected is then absorbed by the shield. Only the residual energy emerges from the other side
of the shield. These two effects of reflection and absorption are independent but they combine
with each other to give the overall shields effectiveness.
A third factor called re-reflection occurs in very thin shields. This is also shown in Figure 11. This
secondary reflection occurs at the shield boundary on the far side of the shield material. This
factor is fairly minor and is often ignored.

Most high frequency shielding problems are caused by openings in the shield material, not in
fact by the material itself. Most conductive materials such as aluminum, copper and steel
provide substantial electric shielding. For example, at frequencies from 30 to 100 MHz, even
aluminum foil exceeds 90 dB shielding effectiveness. Unfortunately though, the same aluminum
foil is extremely inadequate against low frequency magnetic fields where you need a thick steel
or highly permeable material for adequate shielding.

3.1.1. Types of Fields

In analyzing shielding it is helpful to consider the three types of fields that occur. These different
field types explain why the same shield can behave differently under different operating
conditions. Planes Waves

Planes waves exist greater than about 1/6 of a wavelength from the source. In this condition the
ratio of the electric field to the magnetic field is a constant and equal to 377 in free space or air.
The field is known as a far field or a radiation field. Examples of this are radio waves.
At 30 MHz a wavelength is 10 metres, and so any transmitter more than about 10/6 or 1.6 m
away is in the far field. Electric Fields

If you are less than 1/6 of a wavelength to a high impedance source, the wave impedance is
greater than 377. This is known as the near field and capacitive energy dominates. In the near
field the losses are greater because of the higher wave impedance. This is why it is possible to
do effective shielding from electric fields.
Another way of looking at this is that electric fields produce voltages in victim circuits. If you
suspect that a given analog interconnect is electric field EMI, try disconnecting the wiring from
the circuit driving the line and then shorting the signal pair together. Any voltage differential will
be shorted out and the input should go silent, confirming the electric field. A similar experiment
will be discussed for magnetic fields. Magnetic Fields

If you are close to a low impedance source, in other words a current source, the wave
impedance is less than 377. This is also the near field, but in this case inductive energy
predominates. Reflection losses are much less here because of the lower wave impedance and
this problem worsens as you drop in frequency. This is the reason that shielding is ineffective
against low frequency magnetic fields (and why balanced circuits over twist pair wire are
Another way of looking at this is that magnetic fields produce current in victim circuits. If you
suspect that a given analog interconnect is magnetic field EMI, try disconnecting the wiring from
the circuit driving the line and leaving the signal pair open. Any current will be stopped and if
the input goes silent, this will confirm magnetic field coupling.

3.2. Types of Shields

Aluminum and steel are the most common shielding materials in use today. Even thin layers of
these materials provide more than adequate high frequency shielding from electric fields. Low
frequency shielding, however, against magnetic fields must be done with steel. Aluminum is
virtually transparent to low frequency magnetic fields - those below 1,000 Hz.
The effectiveness of a shield can be compared to that of a bucket for water. Even a small hole in
the bucket will render it useless under some conditions. It is very important when attempting to
create shielding that the shielding surface be conductively continuous. For example, in the case
of a foil shield on a cable it is important that the way in which the aluminum Mylar shield is
wrapped on the cable provides a continuous circumferential conductive bond or that there be
substantial overwrap.

3.2.1. Shielding Materials
Raceway Shielding
60-Hz Magnetic Field
100-kHz Electric Field
Raceway Type Thickness
(Ratio) (dB) (Ratio) (dB)
Free air 1:1 0 1:1 0
2-in aluminum conduit 0.154 1.5:1 3.3 2150:1 66.5
No. 16 ga. aluminum
tray *
0.060 1.6:1 4.1 15,550:1 83.9
No. 16 ga. steel tray 0.060 3:1 9.4 20,000:1 86.0
No. 16 ga. galvanized
ingot iron tray
0.060 3.2:1 10.0 22,000:1 86.8
2-in IPS copper pipe 0.156 3.3:1 10.2 10,750:1 80.6
No. 16 ga. aluminum
0.060 4.2:1 11.5 29,000:1 89.6
No. 14 ga. galvanized
steel tray
0.075 6:1 15.5 23,750:1 87.5
2-in electric metallic
tubing (EMT)
0.065 6.7:1 16.5 3350:1 70.5
2-in rigid galvanized
0.154 40:1 32.0 8850:1 78.9
Reprinted from ANSI/IEEE Std 518-1982, copyright by The Institute of Electrical
and Electronic Engineers, Inc.
* We assume this should be No.14.

3.3. Maintaining Shield Integrity

3.3.1. Penetrations
Whenever a conductive material passes through a shield, for example, when a conductor passes
into a metal enclosure, the effectiveness of the shield is greatly diminished. This is simply
because any fields impinging on the shield on one side are conducted through the shield on the
conductor and re-radiated on the far side of the shield. See Figure 12. Even the smallest opening
with a conductor through it is a significant shielding problem. This explains the very common
use of A/C line filters at the boundary of the power conductor entering electronic units. (These
EMI filters are commonly terminated on an IEC type power cord on the unit.)

While penetration through shields can be signal or power lines, they can also be unintentional
conductors such as the control shafts on potentiometers and other switches as shown in Figure

3.3.2. Openings

Any opening in the shield will diminish its effectiveness. The most interesting thing about
electromagnetic leakage through slots is that the longest dimension on the opening is critical not
the total area of the opening. For example, a ten by 1/10th inch slot will be about 10 times more
leaky than a 1 by 1 inch square hole, even though both have the same total area. The general
guide line is that slots should be kept shorter than 1/20th of the wavelength of the highest
frequency of concern. For example, at 100 MHz the slot should be less than about 6, 300 MHz
about 2 and 1,000 MHz about 2/3 of an inch. These dimensions will assure at least 20 dB of
attenuation at the highest frequency. For 40 dB of attenuation you would need to keep the slots
shorter than 1/200 of a wavelength.
The compromises resulting from openings of any sort make the idealized Barbell approach to
shielding attractive. See Figure 14. Coaxial connectors realize this ideal.

3.3.3. Grounding the Shield

An actual connection to earth plays no part in EMI shielding effectiveness. The ideal EMI shield
forms a continuous conductive layer around those items that it protects as shown in Figure 14.
In the case of twisted shielded pair cable, normally terminated with an XLR, clearly there is an
opening in the shield at the connector. By connecting the shield to the ground of the equipment
case the continuity of this shield is improved, however, clearly it is far from perfect as the
conductors are clearly exposed. In the case of coaxial connectors such as BNCs, the shield
makes a circumferential connection to the cable connector and that in turn makes a
circumferential connection to the panel mounted connector providing 100% coverage of the
inner conductor. In the case of coaxial cable, we have 100% shielding throughout the length of
the interconnect and we have a ground loop that is formed between the send and received ends.
This has always been one of the difficulties of the single ended transmission system used for
video. In the case of audio equipment, the shield is never grounded at both ends to avoid this
ground loop problem. At the high operating frequencies of video, maintaining the characteristic
impedance of the transmission line (usually 75 ohms) and high frequency shielding are more
important than maintaining the ground system integrity.
It should be pointed out, however, that many shields are also the equipment housing and
require grounding for power safety purposes. For example, equipment racks are required to be
grounded along with conduit and raceway, as well as the chassis of most electronic equipment.
In this case the grounding is for safety purposes.

4. Grounded Power Systems
4.1. System Grounding

System grounding is illustrated in Figures 15 & 16 that show 120/240-V, 3-wire, single-phase
power and 120/208-V, 4-wire, 3-phase power. In both cases one of the current carrying
conductors is connected to earth. System grounding is defined as connecting to earth one of the
conductors that carries power under normal operating circumstances.

It is interesting to note that the neutral conductor is, in most existing power systems, the
conductor that is connected to ground. However, this is not the definition of the neutral
conductor. The definition of the neutral conductor is that conductor which under balanced load
conditions will carry no current. In other words, in a 3-phase system where each of the 3 phases
has an equal load, the current in the neutral conductor will be 0. In practice, it is easiest to
ground the neutral conductor.

4.2. Equipment Grounding

Equipment grounding consists of separate conductors that bond various elements of the AC
system together and to earth. These conductors under normal operating conditions are not
connected to AC power. In other words, equipment grounding conductors only carry current
under fault conditions. As a result of this, it is possible to also use equipment grounding
conductors to ground sensitive electronic equipment or other devices that need a stable
connection to earth.

4.2.1. The Kaufmann Experiment

This experiment conducted in the early 50's and documented in reference [14] illustrates the
importance of routing the ground conductor with the power conductors. The experiment setup is
shown in Figure 17 and illustrates the typical arrangement that could be found on any job site. A
current source was connected to the phase conductor and to pairs of possible ground return
paths that included a #4/0 conductor run with the phase conductor in the conduit, the rigid
conduit itself surrounding the phase conductor, a #4/0 wire run one foot away from the rigid
conduit, and structural building steel. In a comparison of the relative impedances of 100 feet of
the rigid steel conduit versus the insulated #4/0 ground conductors routed external to the
conduit, 95% of the fault current flowed on the conduit and only 10% flowed on the equipment
grounding conductor routed outside of the conduit. This illustrates that the impedance of the
conduit was 9 times less than the impedance of the grounding conductor routed external to it.
However, when the #4/0 equipment grounding conductor was routed with the phase conductor
inside of the conduit, 80% of the fault current flowed in the equipment grounding wire and only
20% flowed in the conduit. This experiment proves conclusively that the fault current which will
flow through a ground conductor will be much higher when it is routed with the phase conductor.
The importance of this is simply that in the event of a fault the circuit protection devise will be
tripped much more quickly due to the high fault current. This minimizes the duration of the
hazard. The results of the Kaufmann experiment are a primary reason why electrical codes
require grounding conductors to be run with phase conductors.

It is interesting to note, when the building steel was compared to the rigid conduit 95% of the
fault current flowed on the conduit and only 5% flowed on the building steel.

4.3. Safety to People and Equipment

The reasons for power systems grounding (systems grounding and equipment grounding) are to
improve the overall reliability and safety of AC power systems. There are several situations that
should be analyzed to fully understand how these grounding systems work together to achieve
this goal.

4.3.1. Lightning and Transients

AC lines are often exposed to lightning strikes. In the case of a grounded system, the energy
from these lightning strikes can be drained to earth through the ground connection as shown in
Figure 18. If this ground connection did not exist, arcing from the conductors to nearby earth
members would be the only way for this energy to leave the power system. Similarly, when
switching large inductive loads on AC power systems arcing can also occur. Again, connections
to earth help reduce this possibility.

4.3.2. Faults to Ground

In a completely floating power system, a short to ground anywhere in the system does not
cause an excessive current to flow. However, in a system that already has a grounded neutral,
in the event that the phase conductor becomes shorted to ground, a large current will flow and
the circuit protecting device will trip as shown in Figure 19. This serves several purposes.
Because the circuit protection device trips, the short to ground that could include metal parts
that human beings could come in contact with, does not occur for any period of time as the
circuit protective device is normally trip in well under a second. Without the grounded neutral,
this short to steel could exist for a long period of time and be potentially dangerous to human
beings. In the case where the neutral becomes grounded a second time, this does not pose any

4.3.3. Double Phase

If a fault to ground or structural steel occurs in a system with no grounding, a protection device
will not operate and the fault will go unnoticed. When a second fault occurs in another phase,
the short from phase to phase means both phases will be lost at one time and a full line to line
(phase to phase) voltage will appear across the fault with large currents resulting.

4.3.4. Fault to Ground in Multi-Phase System

If one phase faults to ground in a system with no grounding, the ground reference causes the
other phase or phases to rise above the ground potential by the full line to line potential as
shown in Figure 20. This is an increase of 100% in residential systems and about 73% in 3-
phase systems. Most insulations can withstand these high voltages, however, they can break
down it they are old or in poor condition.

4.3.5. System to System Short

If an ungrounded system short has one conductor short to another system then it will now be
referenced to that system. Hence it would be possible for 120 V circuit to have its potential
raised several thousand volts should it short to a high voltage system as shown in Figure 21. If
the system is grounded, circuit protection devices will be blown immediately upon the system to
system short.

4.4. The National Electrical Code

In the United States, The National Electrical Code, published by the National Fire Prevention
Association, is the document used by all designers and inspectors of electrical power systems. It
specifies in a rigorous manner how both system and equipment grounding will be executed. In
addition to this is stipulates all other aspects of power systems that are important from a safety
standpoint. The most recent version of The National Electrical Code was issued in 1993. It can
be ordered by calling the toll free number 1-800-344-3555. A very helpful book in explaining
The National Electrical Code is the National Electrical Code Handbook that provides additional
explanation and illustrations.
In Canada, the presiding code is The Canadian Electrical Code. The most recent edition was
published in 1994 and a handbook version of this is also available. It is published by The
Canadian Standards Association in Rexdale, Ontario.

5. Implementing Building Electrical Wiring - A/C and Ground
5.1. Star A/C and Ground

In chapter 2 we discussed the theory and main issues surrounding technical grounding systems.
In this section we will discuss the specifics on how a system can be installed that meets these
requirements with a minimum of compromises.
The basic connections for technical, system and equipment grounding are shown in Figure 22.
The bottom half of this Figure illustrates the connections that exist in all residential, commercial
and industrial electrical systems with regard to system and equipment grounding. All of the basic
grounding connections are made to the neutral/equipment ground bus. We see that bonded
together are: the equipment ground; the system ground; and the utility ground electrode. The
top half of the Figure illustrates the additional conductors that are put in place to serve the
purposes of technical grounding of the electronic equipment. Note that an additional wire is run
between the system/equipment central ground point and the master technical ground point.

The master technical ground point is of course the centre of the star ground system. From that
point we distribute to the local equipment centres. This would include for example, each control
room in a studio or broadcast facility or, for example, in a theatre might consist of the power
amplifier room, the stage left or right main equipment centre, and the rear house mix position.
The key to integrating the power system with the technical ground system is to note that
wherever there is a sufficiently large amount of electronic equipment to warrant a local or area
ground point there is typically also a requirement to have a power distribution centre, in other
words, an AC distribution panel (breaker panel). Consequently, the main power distribution
centre (breaker panels) will also have a local isolated ground bus.
By implementing the system in this method we run the technical grounding conductors (and
buses) with the phase and neutral conductors. This is a critical point that is specified in most
electrical codes. (Remember, electrical codes require that the ground conductors be run with the
phase and neutral conductors that they service.) Figure 23 illustrates the result of this approach.
The Figure shows a system consisting of a sub-distribution panel and area or local branch
panels. These area panels then feed the electronic equipment. In a larger system there might be
several levels of sub distribution panels. Alternatively in a smaller system, the sub-distribution
panel may not exist and the area technical panel may in fact also be the main panel for the
building. It is only in larger facilities or systems where a completely separate set of panels is

Technical Power

It should be noted that often where technical grounding systems are being installed there is also
a requirement for what can be referred to as technical power. In other words, because of the
sensitive electronic equipment that is being used, a clean source of power is also desired in
addition to a clean ground. Clean power requires that there are no large equipment loads that
generate electrical noise on the power line. For example, air conditioning equipment, large
motors that stop and start regularly, welding or other heavy industrial equipment, or dimmed
lighting loads- all of which create transients and noise spikes.
Another requirement of technical power systems is often that they be uninterruptible. In other
words, they are battery backed such that in the event of a power failure or a brown out that the
system is capable of maintaining the line voltage and current at least long enough to allow the
computer and other systems to be properly such down without, for example, a loss of memory
and programming.
As we enter the age of computer controlled audio systems we will become more and more like
the computer industry where inclusion of a UPS in system design is standard practice.
One logical way of organizing ones thinking about technical ground systems is to realize that all
the technical ground terminations occur in only a few places. These are described in the
service entrance - at this point the technical ground system connects to the equipment
ground, the system ground and the ground electrode system for the building.
sub panel - this is the central power and technical ground distribution point for the
system. There can only be one of these in any technical grounding system.
area - there will be one of these for each main equipment centre in the building. These
panels may be 20 or 30 feet apart in a large complex with many intensive equipment
centres such as control rooms or maybe hundreds of feet apart, a large facility such as a
theatre or stadium that has many remote stations for equipment.
branch circuits - these are the circuits that are actually powering the electronic
equipment via their power cords that contain the "U" or equipment ground conductor.
This of course is how the equipment receives its technical ground connection.
It is only necessary to get the ground connections correct at each one of these points to obtain a
star isolated ground system. Obviously other issues have to be addressed such as conductor size
and routing and these are discussed below.

5.2. Conductors Technical Determination

The following table suggests conductor sizes to be used in implementing the technical ground
systems. This table originally appeared in [1].
Technical Ground Conductor Sizes in AWG (square
(Suggested Only)
Medium Dynamic
Range (60 to 80 dB)
High Dynamic
Range (>80 dB)
Conductor Out From
Low Dynamic
Range (< 60
Ground electrode to main
6 (13.30) 2 (33.63) 00 (67.45)
Main bus to Local bus 10 (5.261) 8 (8.366) 6 (13.30) 4 (21.18) 0 (53.48)
Local bus to single
unit/rack or receptacles
14 (2.081) 12 (3.309) 12 (3.309)
10 (5.261)
Local bus to multiple
units/racks or major
14 (2.081) 12 (3.309) 10 (5.261) 8 (8.366) 4 (21.18)
Maximum resistance
(ohms) for any cable
0.5 0.1 0.001 0.001 0.0001
In all cases the ground conductor must be suitably rated for the overcurrent device of its
associated power conductors. Safety and Code Requirements

The following table gives the minimum conductor sizes required from a safety stand point.
Minimum Equipment Ground Conductor Sizes
( based on National Electrical Code table 250-95, "Minimum Size
Equipment Ground Conductors for Grounding Raceway and Equipment")
Rating or Setting of Automatic
Overcurrent Device in Circuit Ahead
of Equipment, Not Exceeding (A)
Copper Wire AWG
Aluminum or Copperclad
Aluminum Wire AWG
(square millimeters)
15 14 (2.081) 12 (3.309)
20 12 (3.309) 10 (5.261)
30 10 (5.261) 8 (8.366)
40 10 (5.261) 8 (8.366)
60 10 (5.261) 8 (8.366)
100 8 (8.366) 6 (13.30)
200 6 (13.30) 4 (21.18)
5.3. Conductor Termination

manner that will ensure a low resistance connection over a long period of time. There are
several factors that can affect the long term reliability of these connections.
Galvanic corrosion occurs when dissimilar metals are in contact and exposed to humidity in an
atmosphere of ionized salt content. This can be a problem in areas near the ocean or near heavy
industry. The further apart the two metals are on the electromotive series chart the greater
the reaction. The effect of the reaction is to reduce the contact area and consequently
connection integrity. Most corrosion problems occurs with aluminum that should only be put in
contact with aluminum, solder dipped copper, tin plated brass and copper or tin plated aluminum
with no undercoat. Also to be avoided is silver or gold plated copper in contact with solder
dipped copper. Table XX gives the results of galvanic corrosion.
Creep is another factor that can affect contact integrity. It is defined as a dimensional change
with time of a material underload. In other words, certain materials will continue to deform as
long as a pressure is applied. The most important example to this here is the case of aluminum
wire that after many years of being under pressure will eventually become loose. Special crimps
and materials must be used to control this effect. As aluminum wire is never recommended for
grounding purposes creep should not be a concern.
Oxidation occurs when materials combine with oxygen. Oxides themselves are non conductive
and hence make contacts of poor conductive quality. Material such as gold, palladium and
rhodium do not oxidize easily and hence make good contact materials. However, they are quite
expensive. Copper oxidizes quite easily; however, when it is used for electrical contacts, the
high voltages used in most power contacts are able to clean the area. This occurs by arching
across the oxide. So while it might seem that copper contacts are perfectly reliable because they
never fail in 120 volt circuits, they are not reliable in very low voltage circuits such as grounding
circuits. There may only be one or two volts of ground noise and these voltages are unable to
clean the contact. Another way of cleaning contacts on AC terminations, of course, is to de-
desert and insert the plug. This causes a wiping action that rubs the oxides off the surfaces.
Obviously, over a long period of time an oxide can build up and it then becomes necessary to
remove and insert the plug. It is for this reason that very high quality AC receptacles such as
"hospital grade" should be used. Typically these will have higher contact pressures that will
prevent the oxide from building up on the contacting surfaces.

5.4. Separation and Routing

The physical separation of cables has a significant effect on their interaction with each other. The
effects of the separation of parallel wires are governed by the 3 dB per doubling of distance rule
and this applies to both electric and magnetic fields. For example, when spacing cables from one
unit of distance to 2, 4, 8 or 16 there is 3 dB less coupling per step. Once the small initial
separation has been achieved much greater separations are needed for further improvement.
When routing cables, electromagnetic compatibility can be obtained free of charge by simply
taking care of how they are routed. It is recommended that technical ground conductors should
not be routed near any other high powered ground conductors in the building, for example, main
feeders servicing other non technical equipment such as motors, dimmed lights and other
industrial equipment. These lines may contain high transient fields due to the switched AC lines.
Further, routings should be kept well away from motors and transformers that generate
significant electric and magnetic fields. Routing and separation are forms of electromagnetic
control that is almost free of charge.

6. Implementing Electronic Systems Wiring - Signal Cables
6.1. Shields

In Section 5 we discussed how the technical ground system is delivered to the equipment via the
AC outlets in the system, using the equipment ground contact (3rd prong) of the equipment
power cord. With this ground system now in place, it is necessary to implement the remaining
measures to ground the cable shields and other elements of the audio and video systems. This
section discusses this problem.
In the last couple of years there have been a number of interesting developments in the area of
cables and cable shields. Most of these ideas are contained in the reference work published by
Neil Muncy in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society in a paper entitled Noise
Susceptibility in Analogue and Digital Signal Processing Systems [2]. In this paper, Mr. Muncy
exhaustively evaluates the "cause - and - effect relationship between a popular and widely
employed equipment design practice and electrical noise problems in audio systems". In
presenting these ideas Mr. Muncy goes back to first principles and discusses all aspects of the
EMI problems related to cables, cable shields and their termination. Readers interested in this
topic are urged to review this paper. Many of the ideas presented in the following are found
One of the most interesting developments is that the current that flows in the shield of a cable
are not particularly important with regard to the induction of noise into signal wiring and circuit
inputs. To understand this we must realize that when a ground loop is created, because a shield
is terminated at both ends, that current in this ground loop flow through the shield and through
the ground conductors that form part of the technical ground system. In the past, it has
generally been thought that the current in the shield induces electromagnetic interference in the
signal conductors contained within and that the current in the ground conductors also created
noise as this was modulating the ground reference of the equipment. Mr. Muncy has done tests
that indicate that for most modern cables the noise that is induced into the signal conductors of
a cable due to shield current is insignificant, at least for those systems that have less than 90 dB
of dynamic range. This means that ground loops that are created by shields do most of their
damage due to the current that they create in the other technical ground conductors that form
part of the loop. This is an important point, particularly, in light of the fact, that the shield of a
cable is relatively less important with regard to EMI, than, say the twisting of the conductors
within. (Note that the telephone company operates with unshielded twisted pair cables with
great effectiveness and that there are other advocates for the use of unshielded cable.) Given
this, then, it is extremely important that in implementing shield grounding schemes that we do
not introduce ground loops due to these schemes. As the shield grounding seems to be of
limited importance, the last thing we want to do is to create additional problems because of its
existence. Therefore, one of the main criterias in developing shield grounding techniques and
termination methods is that they avoid ground loops.
In the case of coaxial cable, the shield serves several purposes. The first being to provide a
transmission line of constant and specific characteristic impedance - usually 75 ohms. The
second being to shield the signal conductor within and the third to provide the return current
path for this signal cable. This system obviously creates ground loops at every turn as a shield is
normally terminated (to ground) at both ends in order for there to be constant characteristic
impedance and a signal return path. Video systems today are fairly resistant to low frequency
hum often associated with these types of ground loops and there are a number of techniques
used to overcome problems associated with these ground loops when they do occur. This,
however, does nothing for the associated audio equipment that may be operating nearby to the
video equipment and effected by the ground loops created. A technique for dealing with this
problem, segregating equipment, will be discussed later.
A helpful idea to keep in mind when analyzing the problems of shield grounding schemes to
shielded twisted pair is to remember that the connections of the shield in a twisted pair of cable
have little to do with, in most cases, the connections of the signal conductors within. Depending
on the format of the audio interconnect, be it balanced or unbalanced or transformer or
electronic, there are different ways to terminate the signal wires. These, however, have nothing
to do the method used for terminating the shield. These are two distinct problems and can be
analyzed and resolved separately.
With the notion that ground loops are problematic due to the current that they create in ground
conductors and given that ground conductors will be shared by certain pieces of equipment in an
equipment cluster, then a ground loop created by one piece of equipment may in fact have an
impact on the noise of another piece of equipment. Due to this, it is often difficult to track down
noise problems associated with ground loops. For this reason it is absolutely paramount that
every precaution be taken at the wiring stage to eliminate the possibility of any shield becoming
inadvertently grounded, be it grounded to the connector shell, the conduit system or the
technical ground system. For this reason neat and professional wiring practices are critical to the
success of an audio installation. It has been my experience that it takes several years of full
time wiring practice for an installer to develop the necessary skills and understanding to provide
reliable and fail safe wiring.

6.1.1. Fixed Layout Systems

Fixed layout systems are defined here as those that are permanently wired and have no built-in
ability to be re-patched or reconfigured, usually by the use of a jackfield or some other patching
arrangement. In the case of fixed layout systems the task is fairly straightforward with regard to
shield connections.
The rule for grounding shields is to ground the cable shield at one end only. This is often called
the OEO rule. There have been in the literature over the years many recommendations on
whether to ground at the input or the output. This author recommends grounding at the output
as a general rule. This is for the simple reason that outputs are never looped together and thus
we avoid the possibility of ground loops that could thus be created. Inputs are often driven in
parallel, particularly in voltage source systems, and this would require exceptions to the rule if
grounding were done here.
In the case of unbalanced signal connections, such as single ended hi-fi audio connections or
video cable connections, both of which commonly use coaxial cable, the shield also forms the
return conductor for the single signal conductor. In this case, obviously, the shield cannot be
lifted and a ground loop is necessarily formed.

6.1.2. Flexible Layout Systems

Flexible layout systems are defined here as those systems that make use of jackfields or other
patching means to allow reconfiguration of the system. In practice, the use of patching greatly
complicates the shield grounding scheme. The reason for this is shown in Figure 24. This figure
illustrates a pair of outputs normaled to a pair of inputs. No ground loop exists until a patchcord
is in place between one of the outputs and an input. Then, as shown by the dotted line, a ground
loop is formed due to the way the shield grounding was handled at the jacks. In this case, it was
carried through the jacks; however, there are many ways of implementing grounding schemes
through jacks that will cause ground loops. Any proposed shield grounding schemes should be
drawn out and analyzed.

Note, that if the jacks are treated as a piece of equipment, where the shields are either
grounded or lifted, the loop is avoided as shown in Figure 24B. This is the technique that is
recommended and illustrated in Figure 25.

There are a number of differing techniques and approaches to shield grounding where jackfields
are involved and only one is presented here.

6.2. Other Considerations

6.2.1. Segregating Equipment

With the problem associated with coaxial video connections and the ground loops that are
thereby created it is often appropriate to segregate the equipment into separate racks and to
provide individual isolated ground conductors to these racks from the main AC distribution panel.
By doing this the ground loops created by the video system are isolated, as much as possible,
from the more sensitive audio system. This idea can be taken one step further and segregating
other systems that are perhaps less sensitive such as intercom or signaling systems and locating
this equipment in other racks as well. Consequently in a facility you may have racks containing
exclusively audio equipment, other racks containing video equipment and other racks containing
intercom and/or control equipment. Each of these three rack systems would be free standing on
its own isolating base and fed from power with dedicated technical ground conductors from the
local power distribution point. Obviously, as we enter the digital age the differences between all
of these types of signals diminish as they all become bit streams. However, the sensitivity of
digital signals to EMI problems associated with ground loops is at least as critical if not more
critical than analogue systems.

6.2.2. Grouping Grounds

As discussed earlier, the loop area of a ground loop will determine the extent of the current that
may be induced into it by nearby magnetic fields. If the ground wires associated with equipment
in a rack are grouped together and run parallel, then the loop area will be minimized. These
ground wires could be twisted together thus eliminating the loop area of this portion of the
circuit to zero.

6.2.3. Long Runs or High EMI

In the case of very long runs such as used in theme parks or large sports facilities or where
there are very high EMI fields, such as in the case of nearby RF transmitters, it may be
preferable to not terminate the cable shields to the electronic equipment at all, but to terminate
them at an interim terminal block that has its own dedicated ground conductor back to the local
ground bus. This avoids the possibility of the "Pin 1" problem.

6.3. Shield Termination

The following rules and comments may be helpful with regard to the use of cable shields.
1. Terminate the grounded end of a shielded cable with an insulating sleeve over the
jacket termination and a piece of tubing over the drain wire as shown in Figure 26. This
is to prevent the possibility of the shield becoming inadvertently shorted to another
circuit or shield or ground.
2. The shield must be completely insulated and not become grounded or shorted to
another cable. This is another reason for always terminating the cable with an insulating
sleeve as discussed in item 1.
3. In the case of very long cables, for example, over 1000 feet, and/or in very high EMI
areas, it may be desirable to break the shield and ground it in two pieces separately.
This is to reduce the length of the shield.
4. When terminating shielded cables always keep the unshielded portion as short as
possible as shown in Figure 26. The unshielded portion should normally be less than 1
in length.
5. Never terminate the shield of a balanced audio line at both ends.
6. As an alternative to breaking very long shields into pieces it is possible to use a
capacitor as one end of a shielded cable to ground a shield. In other words, one end of
the cable is grounded normally with a direct connection to ground and the other end of
the shield is grounded via a capacitor. This provides high frequency grounding without
introducing a DC ground loop. In areas of extreme EMI, this technique may also be
helpful on shorter cables.
7. Always avoid or minimize unnecessary breaks in shielded cables, such as at junction
boxes, and always maintain shield continuity and isolation from ground, through all
boxes or multi pin connectors, unless the system design documentation shows
8. Use shielded cables that have continuous conductive path around the circumference.
This is not the case in some cheaper cables in which the coil wraps around the cable and
lays the Mylar insulation against the aluminum foil. Generally a fold in the foil is needed
to ensure conduction at the overlap. Also the drain wire should lie against the foil side of
the shield making electrical contact. The number of wraps of this shield around the
centre conductors should also be investigated. Observation will show that cables vary
significantly in this regard. Obviously, the more overwrap, the better the expected
shielding is.
9. Multi connector, shielded, twisted pair cable should have an insulated shield and drain
wire for each twisted pair of wires.
10. Shielded cable may also be used to contain EMI signals. For example, in the case of
relay switching or digital control, the shield will help contain the signals and prevent
cross-talk into other analogue cables.
11. Be aware that when a cable specification states that there is 100% shielding, that this is
an indication of the physical coverage of the shield and not the shielding effectiveness of
the shield. In other words, a shield with 98% coverage has 2% open are in the coverage
of the shield. This is often the case with braided shields, but never the case with foil

7. Equipment Wiring - Internal to Electronic Equipment
7.1. The "Pin 1 Problem"

The "Pin 1 Problem", refers to a means of EMI pickup in audio equipment related to connections
to Pin 1 - the ground pin - of an XLR connector. The reference work on this subject is [2] by Neil
Muncy of Toronto, Ontario. Pin 1 of an XLR connector, of course, is the pin used for the cable
shield connection. In general, the "Pin 1 Problem", refers to the connection of shields to audio
equipment and how connector contact "Pin 1" is internally grounded. In the case of 1/4 inch
jacks this would correspond to the sleeve of the jack.
The "Pin 1 Problem" manifests itself as noise induced into the circuitry of audio and video
equipment that then appears on its outputs. In brief, the problem occurs when the circuit
grounds are shared with the input and output connector shield grounds. When this occurs,
common impedance coupling, as discussed earlier, causes the electrical noise picked up in the
shield to be transferred to the electronic circuits. One way of visualizing this is that the grounds
used for shields should be thought of as sewer pipes while the grounds used for audio circuitry
should be thought of as fresh water pipes. Keeping these two apart has obvious advantages.
An interesting aspect of the "Pin 1 Problem" is that a piece of equipment which measures
flawlessly on the test bench may, when installed on site, be quite noisy. This is due to the fact
that once all the shields are connected from the many microphone lines and line inputs and line
outputs, of say an audio console, the Pin 1 Problem then manifests itself. Consequently, noise
specifications of most audio equipment are quite meaningless. The Pin 1 Problem is very
common in much of todays audio equipment, in everything from large mixing consoles to one
third octave equalizers.
While the "Pin 1 Problem" is entirely preventable by good electronic design, it is prevalent.
Unfortunately as system designers we often use certain pieces of equipment that may exhibit
the "Pin 1 Problem" or we may not be aware of which equipment suffers from Pin 1 problems.
This becomes a major source of EMI in many audio systems.
One way to minimize the Pin 1 Problem is to not connect any of the shields to Pin 1 at the audio
equipment, but rather to ground the shields to some perhaps intermediary terminal strip near
the audio equipment. This approach applies to twisted shield pair cable and requires a fully
engineered approach to the design and documentation.
In short, the Pin 1 Problem is important to audio system designers and builders. This element of
grounding can be addressed and result in the largest overall improvement in system noise.
Fortunately, there is a way to test for the "Pin 1 Problem" as discussed in the next section.

7.2. Testing for the "Pin 1 Problem"

The hummer test was described in [5] presented by John Windt of Culver City, California, at the
fall AES conference in 1994 in San Francisco. The hummer test determines whether a piece of
audio equipment is sensitive to noise being injected on the Pin 1 or shield termination points of
the audio inputs and outputs. The way the test is performed is to take an electrical signal, in this
case a 60 Hz signal, and inject it into the ground system via various combinations of input and
output Pin 1s and also the chassis. While this is being done, the output of the equipment is being
monitored with suitable equipment. Any change in the noise level on the output of the
equipment will be a result solely of the noise being injected.
Obviously there are many shield terminations on any piece of equipment, particularly a console
for example. Consequently there are a large number of potential paths that should be tested, for
example, Pin 1 of an input and Pin 1 of each of the outputs of the console, Pin 1 of the inputs
and the chassis of the console, Pin 1 of an input and Pin 1 of other inputs to the console, Pin 1 of
an output and Pin 1 of another output of a console. Each of these is a potential path of noise and
depending on how the grounding has been implemented in the console these will have varying
effects on the overall output noise on the console.
Monitoring the output noise is obviously a critical element of this test. The simplest form of test
equipment would be a volt meter or alternatively a good loudspeaker monitor system with high
gain allowing one to hear the noise floor of the equipment.

7.2.1. The Hummer
Figure 27, which was taken from [5], shows the circuit diagram for the hummer. The hummer
consists simply of a 110 VAC to 6/12/18 or 24 volt transformer and a current limiting resister.
The output of the transformer is terminated in alligator clips allowing it to be terminated as
required. Author, John Windt has suggested a number of adapters that will make use of the
hummer simple and effective and these are shown in Figure 28, also taken from reference [5].

The fact that various equipment can function differently with regard to the noise it generates
depending on its internal wiring and whether it suffers from the Pin 1 Problem may explain why,
what seemed to work on one project with regard to grounding does not work on another.

As mentioned earlier it is important to note that one possible solution to a piece of equipment
that has the Pin 1 Problem is to simply not connect anything to Pin 1 and to ground the incoming
shields separately via a terminal block to some other technical ground point in the system, such
as the ground block in the rack. However, it must be noted that in the case of microphones, the
phantom power returns on the Pin 1 and by not connecting the shield to the console directly, but
to an interim ground point, the phantom power returns through the ground system. This is
illustrated in Figure 29. It has been noted on at least one installation of mine that this situation
caused microphone oscillation.

8. Case Study - Getting the Installation Right
8.1. Power and Ground Systems at The Hamilton Place Theatre

8.1.1. Introduction

Hamilton Place is the main performing arts facility for the City of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada. It
consists of an art gallery, a studio theatre and a main auditorium entitled The Great Hall that
seats 2,191 people. The facility was built in 1972. Recently, Operations Manager, Jerry van den
Heuvel and Soundman, Don Stewart, undertook renovations of the sound system. Engineering
Harmonics, the author's firm, was engaged to design and manage these renovations. The
renovations included upgrading the mix position, the microphone, line, loudspeaker and video
cabling systems, the programme sound and page system and the intercom system. Since its
inception The Great Hall had suffered from EMI and problems associated with shortcomings in
the power and ground distribution to the audio equipment. In investigating the existing power
and ground system, it was decided that the existing layout of the power distribution was
inappropriate and that a new ground up solution would be required.

8.1.2. The Overall Concept

The layout of the theatre is shown in Figure 8-1. The mix location is located in the centre of the
auditorium. Below this position is an equipment room that contains a substantial amount of
electronic equipment and the central patch for the theatre. On both stage left and stage right at
one level up from the stage are two equipment rack locations containing the power amplifiers,
crossovers and equalizers for the stage left and stage right house loudspeaker systems. On one
level above this, on stage right is an additional amplifier rack for the central cluster, amplifiers,
crossovers and equalizers. At the back of the auditorium is a small booth that is used for a
number of purposes including slide projection for subtitles for opera, recordings and mixing
small events. Hence, the main equipment centres for this theatre are on stage left, stage right,
centre auditorium and rear auditorium. From a power and a ground distribution point, it was
logical to locate distribution panels at or near each of these positions. The layout of the system
is shown in Figure 8-2.
With the locations of the main distribution panels determined, a position fairly central to these
panels needed to be selected. In addition, as this distribution point would be powered from the
service entrance of the building - required in order to obtain a clean source of power and ground
- we wanted this position handy to the service entrance as well. After much hunting around in
the building the piano storage room was selected as the position that represented the best
compromise. This position is one level below stage near the stage left proscenium wall. This of
course meant that this panel was closer to the stage left distribution panel than the stage right
distribution panel. However, it was decided that this compromise would have to be accepted.
The main service entrance of the building is essentially below the up stage left wall making it
fairly close to the piano storage room.
Don and Jerry also wanted disconnects stage left and stage right for the use of touring sound
companies. It was decided to locate these on the up stage right wall and the down stage left
wall. These, of course, are powered to the main central distribution panel in the piano storage
To power loose equipment, a number of outlets are located around the stage area as shown in
Figure 8-3. These included the orchestra pit, the stage left and stage right proscenium walls on
both the house and stage sides. Additional outlets were provided at the house left rear wall for
the purpose of touring sound companies and in the rear booth control room. All of these AC
outlets use an isolated ground four conductor twist-lock plug. The four conductor twist lock
comprises two 30 amp phase conductors, one neutral conductor and one ground conductor. As
part of the system we specified a number of portable distribution boxes that contain circuit
breakers for splitting the 30 amp circuit into two 15 amp circuits as shown in Figure 8-4. This
provides a total of four 15 amp circuits in each distribution box.
To execute this project, Engineering Harmonics retained the services of Weinstein, Taylor and
Associates Inc. of Toronto. Fred Weinstein is a professional engineer experienced in the design
of power systems. He was responsible for sizing of the conductors, selecting the transformer and
sizing and selecting all the circuit protection devices. We worked closely with him to coordinate
the requirements of the technical grounding system and the electrical engineering aspects of the
As part of our approach to technical power and grounding system documentation we provide
detailed drawings, to the wiring level, for our installations. In the following sections the drawings
that were used for this project are presented and discussed. Experience has shown us that this
level of detail is required to ensure that the installation of the isolated ground system is done

8.1.3. At the Service Entrance

At the service entrance the electrical engineer specified a number of circuit protection devices
and splitters. In addition, a step down isolation transformer was provided. This transformer
contains a Faraday shield that was grounded to the main technical ground point in the service
entrance. This 112.5 kVA transformer feeds the main distribution panel AP1 in the piano storage
area. The wiring at the service entrance is shown in detail A for the central equipment. Note,
that at the transformer the Faraday shield, the transformer case (equipment ground), the
neutral and the ground electrode connection are all connected together. The transformer
ground, then, feeds the splitter panel following the transformer. So the transformer constitutes
the common bonding point for all of the grounds of the system and from the splitter out the
isolated ground begins. Earth Electrodes

On this project we elected to not install additional ground electrodes. It was decided that as we
were in the main service entrance of the building that a good connection to earth would be
available and that we would bond to this point. We felt that this would probably be sufficient and
if it was not it would be possible to, at a later date, install additional ground electrodes in this

8.1.4. At the Panel Boards

The wiring at the panel boards is shown in Figure 8-5 and Figures 8-6a/b, showing typical sub
panel wiring methods. As discussed in previous sections of this paper, the isolated ground
feeding the panel passes through the panel to a separate box located below the panel that
contains the isolated technical ground bar. Then the devices that are fed from this panel have
isolated grounds that come off the panel and leave with these circuits as illustrated in the detail.
The wiring methods of a panel or a sub panel are the same.

8.1.5. At the Racks and large Technical Units

Figure 8-7 illustrates the wiring methods at the equipment racks. Note that each outlet is wired
to an isolated ground bar located in the rack and that the isolated ground bar is also bonded to
the rack with a removable jumper. This removable jumper is important to allow for testing of the
system. The isolated ground bar then is connected through an isolated ground conductor back to
the panel with the phase and neutral conductors of the AC outlets. The division of labour is
clearly shown on the drawing. Normally we specify a terminal box be located within a few feet of
the equipment rack but not touching it. Then, the run from the terminal box to the racks is done
in either PVC conduit or rubberize cable.
Also note in this detail the great care that has been taken to ensure that the equipment rack is
isolated from all other conductive elements of the building. It sits on a non conductive base or
plinth and all incoming conduits and tray for signal cables are separated from the rack by a
minimum of 100 mm (4").
Note that in this scheme the entire rack is grounded by a single ground conductor. This means
that any ground loops that result in the rack due to ground loops between various pieces of
equipment will be small and necessarily contained within the rack. It is our experience that in
most cases these ground loops between the equipment within the rack will not cause significant
problems. On this project the ground conductor feeding the rack was an 8 AWG conductor and
was about 15 feet from the distribution panel board.

8.1.6. At the Wall Outlets

Figure 8-8 shows typical wall receptacle wiring. The isolated ground conductor simply comes into
the box and terminates to the isolated ground terminal of the duplex or twist lock outlet. In
some cases it may be required to run an additional uninsulated ground conductor for the
purposes of grounding the electrical box that the duplex receptacle is mounted in. Remember,
that the electrical box is not part of the technical grounding system; however, the code requires
that it be grounded. Normally where metallic conduit is used to run the wires it will be sufficient
to allow the conduit to provide the ground to the box. This is not the case where flexible
armoured cable is used. In this case, an uninsulated ground conductor must be used to ground
the box. We have come across a number of installations where, even when conduit is used, this
uninsulated ground conductor is specified by the electrical engineer. Obviously, this system will
be safer if the uninsulated ground conductor is provided and the conduit is relied upon to ensure
that the box is properly grounded.
One detail that was not used on the Hamilton Place project but which we have recently put in to
our designs, addresses the situation where several duplex outlets are provided in one location
more than 30 feet from a distribution panel. For example, along the front wall of a control room
or on the sides of a stage or in a studio. In this case we have the problem that a large amount of
equipment will be powered by two separate circuits with two separate grounds. In the event that
there are ground loops between the equipment, the loop area of the ground loop will be large.
For this reason, we require that where the duplex outlets are further than 30 from the
distribution panel that a single heavy ground conductor be run for the purposes of grounding
each of the duplexes. The details specifying this is shown in Figure 8-9.

8.1.7. Conductor Sizes

The sizing of the isolated ground conductors from the service entrance to the main distribution
panel and then to each of the sub panels is shown on our isolated ground branch circuit diagram
Figure 8-2a. The choice of the size of these conductors is based on both the electrical
engineering requirements and the technical ground requirements.

8.1.8. Conductor Termination

On this project the Weidmuller Terminations Limited product was specified but in the end not
used. Specified was SSCH System, part number 34890. The ground bus terminals for the SSCH
System have part Weidmuller part numbers ZB4/ZB10/ZB16/ZB35 and AK95 and the ground
bus support for the SSCH is part number SH-1. This system is very flexible and allows for
termination of all wire gauges used on this project in the distribution panels. In the main
distribution panel AP1 the contractor provided a copper ground bar mounted on isolators.

8.1.9. Separation and Routing

Regarding separation and routing the specification states:
at no time are the conduits of different systems to be combined. New AC power conduits
not to be run within 500 mm of any existing signal level (microphone, line, intercom,
video etc.) conduits, where runs are parallel and over 2000 mm in length.
Microphone, line and video conduits will not be run within 400 mm of any existing AC
conduit or feeders where the runs are parallel and over 2000 mm in length.
Loudspeaker, control and intercom conduits will not be run within 200 mm of any
existing AC conduit or feeders where the runs are parallel and over 2000 mm in length.
Also on this project it was necessary to run a power conduit from stage left to stage right in
order to service the stage right power panel. Consequently, this specification contained a clause
as follows:
"Conduits not to be run parallel to the stage floor or within 1800 mm of it and for a distance
greater than 200 mm, runs parallel to the stage floor and within 1800 mm of it are permitted
where rigid conduit is used and where the run is less than 2000 mm."

8.1.10. Testing

The specification contained several clauses regarding the testing of the ground system. These
are as follows.
1. Test all circuits at the terminations for correct phase, neutral and ground wiring.
2. With the systems power down, and the single bonding/earthing point removed the
isolated ground will be insulated (floating) from the building ground. The Electrical
Contractor to confirm this and to make any corrections should a short to ground be
3. With the systems powered down the bonding/earthing point removed on the neutral, it
will be insulated, floating from the ground. Electrical Contractor to confirm this and
make any necessary corrections should a short be found.

Also included in the testing and commissioning section were the following paragraphs.
1. The Electrical Contractor to coordinate the systems inspection by Ontario Hydro and
provide all required assistance and equipment during the inspection.
2. The Electrical Contractor to confirm that the system is installed as specified, has been
inspected and approved by Ontario Hydro and submit a letter to the owner confirming

9. Bibliography
[1] Giddings, P. 1990. Audio Systems Design and Installation, Indianapolis: Howard W. Sams.
[2] Muncy, N. A. 1994. "Noise Susceptibility in Analog + Digital Signal Processing Systems".
Presented at the 97th AES Convention, San Francisco, J. Audio Eng. Soc., June 1995.
[3] Macatee, S. R. 1994. "Considerations In Grounding and Shielding Audio Devices". Presented
at the 97th AES Convention, San Francisco, J. Audio Eng. Soc., June 1995.
[4] Whitlock, B. 1994. "Balanced Lines in Audio Systems - Fact, Fiction, and Transformers".
Presented at the 97th AES Convention, San Francisco, J. Audio Eng. Soc., June 1995.
[5] Windt, J. 1994. "An Easily Implemented Procedure for Identifying Potential ElectroMagnetic
Compatibility Problems in New Equipment and Existing Systems - The Hummer Test". Presented
at the 97th AES Convention, San Francisco, J. Audio Eng. Soc., June 1995.
[6] Perkins, C. 1994. "Automated Test & Measurement of Common Impedance Coupling In Audio
System Shield Terminations". Presented at the 97th AES Convention, San Francisco, J. Audio
Eng. Soc., June 1995.
[7] Morrison, R. and Lewis, W. H. 1990. Grounding and Shielding in Facilities, New York: Wiley
[8] Giddings, P. 1989. "An Introduction to Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) and
Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) for Audio System Designers", J. Audio Eng. Soc., Vol. 37,
No. 7/8.
[9] Burdick, A. H. 1986. A Clean Audio Installation Guide, North Syracuse, N.Y.: Benchmark
Media Systems, Inc.
[10] Davis, C., and Davis, D. 1985. "Grounding and Shielding Workshop," Tech Topics, Vol. 12,
No. 10. San Juan Capistrano: Syn Aud Con.
[11] Morrison, R. 1977. Grounding and Shielding Techniques in Instrumentation, 2nd ed., New
York: Wiley Interscience.
Contains interesting information.
[12] Violette, N., and White, D. 1987. Electromagnetic Compatibility Handbook, New York: Van
Nostrand Reinhold.
[13] Atkinson, C., and Giddings, P., June 1995. Grounding Systems and Their Implementation.
J. Audio Eng. Soc.
[14] Kaufmann, R. H., 1954. Some Fundamentals of Equipment Grounding Circuit Design,
AIEE Transactions, November, pp. 227-232.
[15] Ott, Henry W. 1988. Noise Reduction Techniques in Electronic Systems, Second Edition,
John Wiley and Sons.
[16] Morrison, Ralph, 1986. Grounding and Shielding Techniques in Instrumentation, Third
Edition, John Wiley and Sons.
[17] IEEE, 1982. IEEE Guide for the Installation of Electrical Equipment to Minimize Electrical
Noise Inputs to Controllers from External Sources. IEEE Standard 518- 1982, New York, IEEE