Step 1: What is Voltage? What is a Voltage Converter?
What is Voltage?
Just as water needs pressure to move through your faucet, so electricity needs force to let it flow from the wall outlet to your device. This electrical force is called voltage*, which is measured in volts* (which is often abbreviated to “V”).
Depending on where you are in the world, different levels of line voltage are used:
- In North America and most of the northern parts of South America, voltage levels range from 110V to 120V. American products are typically made for this lower range of voltage.
- In Europe, Africa, Asia, and most of the southern parts of South America, meanwhile, the standard voltage range is higher - 220V to 240V. Products in these regions are typically made for this higher range of voltage.
- In Japan standard line voltage is 100V. Japanese products for the domestic market are typically made for 100V.
When do I Need a Voltage Converter, and Why?
If you were to plug a North American electrical* device - such as a blender - into a European wall without a voltage converter*, the blender would become damaged within seconds; the force of power entering the device would overwhelm it.
To remedy this, you need to power your device through a voltage converter* that “steps up*” or “steps down*” to the amount of voltage used.
Some devices - such as most laptops, iPads, cameras, and phones - are “dual voltage*”, meaning that they can adjust to the amount of voltage coming from the wall by themselves. If you’re traveling to a foreign country with a dual voltage* electronic device, you will only need a travel adapter*, not a voltage converter*. For more on this, proceed to Step 2.
Step 2: Do I Need a Voltage Converter or a Travel Adapter?
When to Use a Travel Adapter
Not all equipment needs a voltage converter to be imported or taken abroad.
Different parts of the world use different electrical plugs - 13 different plugs in all. A travel adapter (also known as a plug adapter) is a pocket-sized, inexpensive device that changes the kind of plug your electronic equipment needs in order to fit into a wall socket.
Travel adapters work with “dual voltage*” devices (like most cameras, laptops, and phones), meaning that they can accept both 110V and 220V, and between countries that have similar voltage, as between the EU and UK.
TIP: The easiest way to make sure that you will be able to plug in your device no matter where you are is to purchase a universal travel adapter*, which will work for all plug types.
To help you better visualize the different kinds of plugs around the world, here is a diagram of the world’s plugs:
When to use a Voltage Converter
Many devices are built to accept only single input voltage* (110V or 220V). If you have equipment that specifies a voltage input that is different than what is supplied in your local country (or country you are traveling to), then you will need to buy a voltage converter*.
Voltage converters* are heavier and more expensive than travel adapters*, and need to be bought according to the proper wattage* of the equipment you will be using it with. For more on how to find out the wattage of your device, go to STEP 3.
How do I Know if my Device is Single Voltage or Dual Voltage?
Typically, devices such as most laptops, phones, and tablets that convert AC to DC volts with their own power supply cable will accept both 110 volt and 220 volt input.
To make sure your device is dual voltage, look for a series of numbers and letters indicating the kind of Voltage* (“V), Wattage* (“W”), Hertz* (“Hz”), and Amps* your device uses alongside other product information, like where your device was made.
If you see a description that reads as: “100/240V (V=voltage) or 110~220V AC”, then your device is dual voltage*, and won’t require a voltage converter* to be charged. All you need to do now is purchase a travel adapter*, and you’re one step closer to your destination!
- George is American and he is going to Paris for the first time, and would like to take his iPhone and his digital camera with him on his travels. He checked the back of his devices, and saw that they are both dual voltage*. When George arrives in Europe, he will need to charge his devices through a travel adapter*. If George has decided to go to the UK (which has a different kind of plug than in the EU) after his trip to Paris, he should buy a universal travel adapter*, which will let him transition between these two countries without needing two different travel adapters.
- Emma is moving from Minneapolis to Berlin, and wants to take some of her favourite kitchen appliances with her, which will be too expensive to replace in Europe. She checks the back of each device, and discovers that they are single voltage. Emma needs a voltage converter to convert the European 220-240volts down to the 110-120 volts accepted by her American appliances.
Note: If you’re ever unsure of which converter to choose, consult your device’s user manual or contact its manufacturer.
Caution: Not all electrical equipment and electronics are compatible with a transformer or converter. Converters and Transformers do not change the frequency (Hz) of the electricity. European 220-240 volt countries normally use 50Hz, while American 100-120 volt countries normally use 60Hz. Most modern equipment can operate on 50Hz or 60Hz (dual frequency) but some sensitive equipment requires a single Hz (either 50 or 60). Please always consult your user guide or contact the manufacturer of your equipment to determine the suitability of your device with a Voltage Converter.
Step 3: What Size of Voltage Converter Should I Buy?
The kind of voltage converter you need depends on the devices or pieces of equipment you need to power. In order to determine the correct converter, you’ll need to consider 3 things:
If volts measure the pressure with which energy is being released, watts* (“W”) measure how much energy is being released per second. The wattage* of your device will be written on its back or underside, along with all the other information you need to decide on the best voltage converter to power it through.
In order for your device to work properly in the long run, it’s important to buy a voltage converter with at least twice the watt capacity as your devices. But, for products that need a rush of energy when they are first turned on, like televisions, the wattage on your voltage convertershould be at least three times the watt capacity of your device.
You can run multiple devices with one voltage converter, as long as the total wattage of your devices does not exceed the wattage of your voltage converter (or voltage transformer).
Tip: If your device doesn’t specify its wattage, you can easily calculate it using its amps and voltage. Simply multiply the Amps* by Volts* (W = A x V). For example: A USA product that runs on AC 110 volts and has a rating of 1.5 Amps can be estimated using 165 Watts. 110V x 1.5A = 165W
Step Up or Step Down
For single voltage* devices, you will need to either step up* voltage, from 110V to 220V, or step down* voltage, from 220V to 110V.
If you are moving between Europe and North America, a “step up/step down*” voltage converter will let you transition effortlessly between continents.
- If you want to use a North American or Japanese 110V electrical device within Europe, Africa, Australia, or much of Asia, you will need to “step down*” from 220V.
- If you want to use a European 220-240V device in North America and parts of South America, you will need to “step up*” from 110V.
Toroidal or Laminated Core
Converter Shop supplies Toroidal Core (Bronson AVT and HE Series) and Laminated Core (VT Series) voltage converters*. We recommend Toroidal Core (Bronson AVT and HE Series) for music and studio sound applications and in noise sensitive environments.
<pImportant: Voltage Converters* do not convert the Frequency (Hertz, Hz) of the electric current (eg. 60Hz in North America to 50Hz in Germany). For most devices this will not pose a problem, because they will be compatible on both 50 Hz and 60 Hz. Even some devices that specify either 50 or 60 Hz may still run safely and efficiently on both, but for some equipment this can cause changes in running performance or damage to the equipment. These include, but are not limited to the following : analog clocks, electric typewriters, large home appliances, microwaves, motorized equipment, power tools ,TVs, and record players. If you have any doubt about the compatibility of your device with a voltage converter, please contact the device manufacturer.
Voltage Converter/Voltage Transformer
A voltage converter (also known as a power converter or a voltage transformer ) is an electric power conversion device used to change the electrical current of the power source. A very common use for Voltage Converters is to lower the voltage from 220 volts to 110 volts or raise the voltage from 110 volts up to 220 volts.
Travel adapter/Plug adapter
Travel adapters/Plug adapters change the plug form on your electrical cord so that it can fit into sockets in foreign countries.
Amperes & Amps (A)
Amperes or Amps (often written as “A”) measure the amount of electrical current flow running through a wire.
Wattage & Watts (W)
Wattage or Watts (often written as “W”) measures the amount of energy that passes through a wire per second. Watts can be calculated by multiplying voltage by amps.
Voltage & Volts (V)
Voltage or Volts (often written as “V”) measures the pressure of an electrical current.
A single voltage device will use either 110V or 220V, not both. Check the back of your device in order to find out whether it is single or dual voltage.
A dual voltage device can be used on either a 110V or 220V range. Check the back of your device in order to find out whether it is single or dual voltage. If you see “100/240V” or “110~220V AC”, your device is dual voltage.
Alternating Current (AC)
An alternative current (often written as “AC”) is an electrical current that continually moves in “back and forth” cycle (which is then measures in Hertz, or “Hz”).
Step Up/Step Down
Step Up and Step Down refer to the conversion of electrical pressure (voltage). Some transformers will only either "step up" (Bronson++ HE-U Series) or "step down" (Bronson++ HE-D Series) the voltage whereas others will "step up" as well as "step down" the voltage (Bronson++ VT and AVT Series).