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Product Review - Panamax Max 2000 Surge Protector/Line Conditioner - April, 1999

Colin Miller

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Panamax Max 2000 10 Outlet Programmable Surge Protector/Line Conditioner

Line Voltage 120 VAC, 50/60 Hz  Rated to 15 amps (1800 watts)

EMI/RFI Filtration 99.7% Effective from 100 kHz to 1 MHz

Size: 3 3/4"H x17"W x 7 1/3"D

Weight: 11.6 Pounds

MSRP: $849 USA, $15 for optional rack mount kit

Panamax Corporation 150 Mitchel Blvd San Rafael, CA 94903; Phone 1-800-472-5555; E-Mail pr@panamax.com; Web http://www.panamax.com.

My father's eyebrows arched and proceeded to take part in some strange acrobatics. I had just asked him whether or not he would like to see an $850 power strip. After the eyebrow exercise, he shook his head like a wet dog and repeated the gesture, following up with, "What? $850 for a power strip?  That's @#$%ing ridiculous!" I explained, "Well, this one has a brain."

When I first discovered the Max 2000, I thought, "Now that's nifty." After learning the price, I muttered, "It had better be."  It is. Not only does the Max 2000 provide a bunch of outlets, RF/EMI filtering, surge protection with a guarantee (lifetime equipment replacement), but a computer as well. The front has an LED display and IR receiver in addition to four buttons which include a master switch and three for menu navigation. Ears for rack mounting are available for $15.

The rear sports a total of ten outlets. Of these, the two next to the power cord and 15 amp resetable breaker are unswitched, capable of sensing current draw, and labeled Current Sense A & Current Sense B respectively. Panamax 2000 Rear PanelDirectly to the right, Outlet 1 & Outlet 2 can be controlled individually, as can the three outlet banks which have two outlets each to their name. The term bank refers to the fact that each of the two outlets of the bank act as one in terms of switching, as if wired in parallel to the switch. Further, down the line, an IR output shares space with a single phone and three coax loop-through ports, in addition to jacks for wire to be fit with supplied plugs. These jacks accommodate the Voltage Sense In, 12 Volt out, ground, and two, 2-way relays. The whole arrangement allows control of and response to equipment that operates by such means. Count on me to elucidate the obvious.

There's also an Allpath Module Connection, which doesn't do anything on the standard unit, but accommodates additional protection modules should the need arise.

Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs) provide the brunt of the surge protection, clamping anything higher than 200 volts, translating roughly to 140 volts RMS.  MOVs get a lot of flak in high-performance tweak audio, but they're relatively inexpensive, and they work.  If they don't, and your equipment fails because of it, Panamax will buy you new stuff. I've yet to see such a device fail (though some have given their lives in the line of fire).  MOVs, according to a friend who's background is in quantum physics (what do they know about electricity anyway) do add a little noise to the AC line. I don't know how significant that noise is, as even simple resistors, and wire for that matter, have thermal noise unless cooled to absolute zero. When you consider that this very small amount of noise is not in the signal path, it becomes even less worrisome. If you compare the magnitude to say, the noise a Microwave cranks back on the line, it almost seems silly. .However, the Max 2000, like many of their products, incorporates a balanced second order filter, comprised of a choke coil and a parallel cap after the MOVs, significantly reducing high frequency noise on the AC line. All in all, the arrangement offers more good than possible harm.

The most interesting aspects of this product, and the only ones that justify the retail price, are in programming functions.

Setup

I found the whole procedure quite pleasant. After taking the manual to the bathroom for 15 minutes, and since losing it, we were ready to fall right in.

Upon insertion of the power cord into a live AC outlet, the LED display reports on the suitability of the ground and polarity. Should the Max 2000 deem either unsuitable, it will inform the user of such and state that operation under these circumstances will void the warranty. In this case, I strongly recommend fixing the outlet, because if something goes wrong, you're the one who's burnt, especially if you're standing in a puddle of puppy urine at the time you lay hands on a live chassis.

The menu buttons navigate up, down, and select. When the LED displays an up arrow, the up button will tier back to the previous menu. Otherwise, both up and down scroll through the currently selected menu, and the middle selects the next menu, the function to edit, or the confirmation of that choice.

The first section is the Configure Menu. The user can set the Overvoltage level anywhere from 128-140 volts. Should the line voltage exceed the selected value, the Max 2000 will disconnect from the power line.  Likewise, the user may set the Undervoltage level anywhere between 90-110 volts, which will cause the same thing to happen in the case of a brown out. I chose a minimum of 100 volts, and a maximum of 130, and it never turned off.

Display Brightness may be set 0-3, providing four levels of illumination. The display mode may be kept Active, which keeps it lit always, or put into Sleep Mode, which dims during periods of inactivity (the Max 2000's inactivity, not mine).

Triggers are then set. A trigger to the Max 2000 is used to set off programming sequences.

Current Sense A & B are configured separately, but function identically. If not enabled, they're both just unswitched outlets. If enabled, Max 2000 measures the current draw of the equipment in standby/off and on conditions. If the difference is sufficient to detect, it uses the change of power requirements of that component, such as a CD player, preamp or TV, as a trigger. If not, it disables the current sense feature. Once enabled as a trigger, it can be given a name other than Current Sense A or B. Choices include Audio, Video, Audio/Video, VCR, TV, Laser Disc, DVD, CD Player, Sound Processor, Receiver, Preamp, Cassette, and Projector.

The Master Switch can be used as a simple On/Off for the whole array, a specific trigger, or disabled.

Voltage Sense can be set up in the same way as the current sense outlets, except of course that it doesn't sense current draw, but voltage present at the input.

Lock Settings allows the person who sets the Max 2000 to keep other people from messing with it. In order to lock or unlock, the user most prove worthiness by pressing a secret sequence of buttons.

Restore Default restores the original settings that come from the factory.

View Stats allows the user to see the minimum voltage and maximum voltage since the last time the stats were cleared, as well as the Software version.  During my testing of the unit, the AC line voltage varied anywhere from 104 -124 volts. It usually stays between 117-122 volts, but when a couple of large power amps kick on with a microwave and refrigerator already online, the current draw dunks the AC voltage substantially.

Programming the Outlets and Relays is different than most systems which execute macros. Instead of assigning a sequence of commands to a trigger, we assign triggers to commands, and every command has a different delay.  Because of this, the programmer must lay out the desired events ahead of time.  Commands can respond up to four minutes after the trigger. They can also respond to more than one trigger at a time. Essentially, the user tells the command, such as turning power on to an outlet, whether or not to respond to certain trigger, and how long to wait before responding. Only one delay time is possible per command.  The outlets and relays are pretty much the same in this regard. The IR commands are learned through the front receiver, and then individually assigned to triggers in the same manner, but also include a variable that will repeat the function up to ten times. IR commands may be labeled Power, Vol Up, Vol Down, Mute, TV/VCR, Input, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, Stop, Enter, and Play. That doesn't mean that other IR commands can't be used, only that the display won't show an accurate description of the function.

I used the Max 2000 at work, turning on amplifiers in sequence, and at home I utilized the menu, learning IR commands so that when I turned on either my laserdisc player or a VCR, the TV would power up. As cool as that is, it's only a taste of what the Max 2000 can really dish up.

After scratching up a piece of paper with a pen for about half an hour, I worked out some useful sequences for a system containing an overhead projector, a motorized screen, motorized shades, a VCR, DSS, Cassette, Minidisk, CD player, DVD player, surround processor/preamp, 5 channel power amplifier, and powered subwoofer. The configuration required running jumpers between the relays, the 12 volt output, and the Voltage Sense input. It also requires an outboard IR connecting block (available from Xantech) and a bunch of IR emitters to attach to the surround processor, the DVD player, and the CD player. It also requires a couple of floor or table lamps, as well as a simple power strip to extend the number of outlets.

The Beauty of Laziness

The master switch remains a master switch in the sense that it turns everything on, in case you actually want to do things manually. I probably wouldn't use it often, just because the other options have so much to offer in terms of cool factor.

The fun part comes when you power on the CD player. The Max 2000 then sends a command to the preamp to power up and out of standby. It also powers up the cassette and minidisk in case of recording needs. Then it turns on the power amp, turns on the subwoofer, switches the preamp input to CD, opens the CD player's tray, waits 20 seconds, and then closes the tray, and plays (you think you are overweight and lazy now).

Turning on the DVD player also turns on the preamp and sets the input to DVD, but leaves the cassette and minidisk off. The power amp and subwoofer come on one after another, and the tray pops open, ready for a disc. It doesn't close after twenty seconds, though, but rather waits for the projector to power up, the motorized screen to drop, and the motorized shades to block extraneous light from the room. About 20 seconds or so after that completion, it pulls the tray back in, kills the lights, and brings you to the Menu. If you don't do it yourself after choosing your options, it will start playing the disc a minute afterwards, in the case that you had to go to the bathroom or fetch popcorn, so that your guests could begin enjoying the theater.

And the Survey SAYS!!!!.....

Cool Monkey. Whether or not the Max 2000 beats out the competition doesn't really matter because it has none. There are many semi-automation products on the market, from a macro-capable learning remote to full-blown home automation systems with touch screens. Some remotes can execute macros, but none can control the power state of components that lack specific power on and power off IR commands, leaving an enormous potential for components to get out of sync should one of them miss an IR command left to bounce around the room, or if an eager finger "helps" the system by powering up a component. Any automation system which can directly control the power state of components is far more expensive than the Max 2000. Even touch screens that may cost a few thousand dollars with very basic programming slip up from time to time in that regard. When the Max 2000 says turn off, it's off. No question about it. Even so, none of these other products provide AC line filtration or surge protection. There are many AC surge protectors/line conditioners on the market for less or more than the Max 2000. Many of the better ones are manufactured by Panamax as well, and most of them render excellent service in that regard. I haven't seen any that approach the programmable flexibility and functionality of the Max 2000. If this product included 16 separate IR commands from an external source as triggers (probably requiring separate triggers to toggle on/off) they'd have an even bigger chunk of the market locked.  Even as is, it's not only in a class by itself, it's the only one who showed up for graduation.  The Max 2000 is, by far, the smartest power strip I've ever met. I feel more sophisticated for having made its acquaintance.

Colin Miller


© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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