Please help me not burn down my new apartment in Singapore
December 26, 2012 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Who makes reliable, well manufactured step down transformers?

I am in the process of relocating to Singapore from the US and I am in need of step down transformers. Understanding that cheap or poorly manufactured electrical components such as this can lead to all manner of misery (and fire), I want to ensure I am purchasing something well manufactured. What brands have you used and liked?

Alternatively, what qualities should I look for in one that would be considered well manufactured/quality?

As a bonus question, is there an issue with plugging a US power strip into the output of a step down transformer provided its big enough to handle (with overhead) all of the devices plugged in to it?
posted by zennoshinjou to Technology (8 answers total)
The US uses 110V @60Hz - if anything, you need a step-up transformer to convert to what I assume is Singapore's 220V, but most devices made in the last few years are stamped with 110-220V, and will happily operate at either voltage. Check all of your devices. When I travel to India or Europe, I don't bother with a transformer - I just use plug adapters.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:07 AM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, devices like timers and clocks commonly measure the line voltage frequency in order to measure time - if Singapore uses 50Hz, they may not keep time correctly.

In short, you should probably just plan to buy adapters and wall warts and dongles whilst in the USA.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:08 AM on December 26, 2012

I think it's the opposite; since the power comes out of the wall at 220, I would need to step it down to 110 in order to use my US electronics in Singapore.
posted by zennoshinjou at 8:15 AM on December 26, 2012

Yes, TheNewWazoo has it backwards - he must have read your question as moving to the USA from Singapore rather than the other way around.

Anyway, my first answer is the same as TheNewWazoo - first, figure out what devices you plan on powering and if they even need a transformer. In a previous overseas living situation, I ended up finding that I only needed a transformer for a printer I had and a TV.

To be honest, I have never bothered with particular brands for transformers, I have just used the cheapest ones I could find that did not look shady. They are not particularly complex devices. I have no evidence for supporting this belief, but I've also never had a problem with them over ~8 years of using them.

It is not a good idea to use a surge protector with a step-down transformer that is used with a non-polarized plug like the "Europlug" two prong plugs that are common in Singapore. However, a non-protected power strip is perfectly fine. It is likely you will find it is necessary, as all transformers I have seen have only one, or maybe two, outlets.
posted by saeculorum at 8:28 AM on December 26, 2012

Is there any reason why the units highly rated on Amazon won't do?
posted by wongcorgi at 9:30 AM on December 26, 2012

You're going to get anecdotal info unless you take them apart and know what you're looking for. Cost usually correlates to quality (not always.) UL/CSA/VDE ratings come with test and design analysis inherent in the product. Look for the rating agencies and if you see those marks, you are in quality territory. (There is a big difference between "UL approved" and "UL Approved Power Cord". The latter is just the cord.)

As far as quality is concerned, commodities like these are going to differ internally by very little. Form, finish, function are the usual things most reviewers would rate. VA rating, isolation voltage( hi-potential testing or hi-pot), ground leads, quality of internal wiring, internal spacing of conductors, wiring insulation and plug characteristics would be some issues where quality differs, but I think the Amazon type reviews are going to be centered around 1) does it work? 2) is it cheap? 3) is is pretty? 4) is it durable?

None of these relate to 'is it good?'

Get some to take with you and aim for mid-range pricing from non-fly-by-night vendors and you're probably OK. (That's what I'd do.)
posted by FauxScot at 9:59 AM on December 26, 2012

These generally have a good rep here in Australia, where this often comes up due to much cheaper appliance in the states.

More broadly, think twice about this. A decent step-down transformer is almost the size of a toaster. Kinda bulky to be having around on the bench etc - especially in tiny singapore apartments. You should find many of your appliances are okay - the ones that aren't, just buy new ones. Appliances are cheap.
posted by smoke at 1:10 PM on December 26, 2012

My advice on this is that the best thing you can do is buy a transformer rated at 50Hz - i.e. be wary of anything made in the U.S. [but read the specs to be certain].

A transformer rated for 60Hz operation will work, but will run much hotter than one rated for 50Hz.

Other than that, perform triage on your electrical stuff:

1) Devices with universal power supplies [read the label & look for 100-240V~]. Or stuff with an easily replaceable plugpack. You just need a plug adapter for these.

2) High-drain appliances like hair-dryers, toasters etc [again read the label & look for anything with a wattage over ~500W]. This stuff you should replace. [*]

3) Anything else you can run off a transformer provided the transformer wattage is greater than the load you put on it.

Yes, plugging a U.S. style power strip into the output of your transformer is fine.

[*] You could run this stuff off a transformer, but a suitably-rated transformer will be very heavy & expensive.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:08 PM on December 30, 2012

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