Are Home Theatre Power Managers Worth It?

The only people who think they don’t need a power manager are those who have never had to deal with dirty electricity, lightning surges, or power outages. Power managers are useful and convenient devices that can be very beneficial to your home theater system. In this article, we will talk about power managers, discuss their purpose, compare them to other similar devices (like surge protectors, power regenerators, UPS units, etc.), analyze the benefits of using power managers, and present you with our selection of best home theater power managers. Let’s start with the basics.


What is a Home Theater Power Manager?

Home theater power manager (aka home theater power conditioner) is a more or less complex device that regulates AC power distribution, provides you with surge protection, and performs filtration of dirty power (reduces or eliminates noise). Depending on the complexity (and price), it can also come with some additional features like sequential system power ON/OFF, over/under-voltage protection, etc. 

Roles of a Home Theatre Power Manager

The role of a home theater power manager in a home theater system can be divided into two parts. First, it is supposed to improve the performance of your home theater system by improving the quality of electricity, by distributing the power properly, and by eliminating the noise. Second, it is supposed to protect all of your equipment from power surges and prolong the lifespan of your equipment. 

Additionally, they provide you with a much cleaner and better-organized environment. All the cables are hidden and connected to the back of your power manager. Instead of having multiple power strips lying around the room, you will have just one device, and all of your equipment will be connected to your power manager.

Do I Need a Home Theater Power Manager?

Very few people don’t need it at all. Depending on the quality of the electrical installations in your home, you may need it just for protection. But you may also need it for improved performance. 

If you’re living in a place with a high density of lightning strikes, or if you are dealing with frequent power surges, a home theater power manager is not an accessory – it’s a necessity. And even if the power surges occur rarely, it’s good to have a home theater power conditioner… Just in case.

Dirty power is not so uncommon these days. The term refers to various anomalies in power quality. Some of the most common anomalies are frequency/voltage variations and power surges. Dirty power could affect the performance of your audio equipment and, more importantly, it could even cause malfunction and damage your equipment beyond repair. If you are experiencing these issues in your home, you most definitely need a power manager/conditioner.

Another cause of dirty power is the so-called normal mode noise, which is a low-level signal that travels along with the original power signal. In some cases (if not filtered out), you can even hear this noise through your speakers. This kind of noise can be introduced by other equipment connected to the same line. So, if your speakers produce some kind of popping noise or hum whenever you turn on the light, or when someone turns on the hairdryer, you’re dealing with dirty power. Home theater power manager could filter that noise out and improve the performance of your home theater. With a power conditioner, you’ll get cleaner power and, consequently, cleaner sound.

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So, to conclude, we think that adding a home theater power manager to your system can be beneficial. And not in just one way. However, not all people are fans of power conditioners. Some people are strongly against using them for audio systems (like home theater and stereo systems). Let’s see why.

Why Do Some Audiophiles Advocate Against Power Conditioners?

Even though they don’t deny that power conditioners can protect your equipment, many audiophiles question their effect on the overall performance of your audio setup. They argue that power conditioners can reduce or eliminate the noise (dirty power), but they can also remove some of the sound they are not supposed to. As a result, the audio reproduction loses some dynamics and becomes lifeless. Paul McGowan from PS Audio says that most power conditioners tend to ‘’rob the music of its life and bleach the sound’’. So, what do they suggest?

Paul McGowan, naturally, suggests using one of PS Audio’s power regenerators. We’re not denying that their power regenerators are great, but they are also quite expensive. Some of them are much more expensive than the average power conditioner. 

But what to do if you can’t afford such an expensive device? Is there some other solution? Well, there’s one thing many audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts do. They install a dedicated line (or rather pay a professional electrician to do that) and add an outlet that’s going to be used for your audio equipment only. 

Most of the power outlets in your (and any other) home in the US share power with refrigerators, routers, microwaves, lightbulbs, and many other appliances. All these appliances can introduce noise and affect the performance of your home theater system. By adding a dedicated line for your home theater (or just for your amplifier/AVR) can eliminate that noise. That way, you will get much cleaner power and cleaner sound without adding a power conditioner, and you won’t compromise the performance. Depending on the complexity of the job, adding a new dedicated line may cost you anywhere from $200 to $1000. 

The problem with a dedicated line is that, even though it can eliminate the noise and increase the efficiency of the power supply, it can’t protect your equipment from power surges or from under and overvoltages. For that, you still need at least a surge protector (preferably a power manager).

The Difference Between a Power Conditioner and a Surge Protector

Surge protectors and power managers/conditioners have some features in common but are not the same devices. 

Surge protectors, as the name implies, protect your equipment from surges. That’s pretty much all they do. Surge protectors usually use a semiconductor called MOV (Metal Oxide Varistor) and gas discharge arrestors. Thanks to these components, surge protectors can divert excess energy from your equipment to the grounding wires. The problem with surge protectors is that your equipment never gets disconnected from the circuit. In other words, your equipment relies on the surge protector to divert as much energy as possible. But what happens if a very high voltage event occurs (like a lightning)? Your surge protector may absorb too much energy, it could explode, and it could kill your equipment in the process. All that because surge protectors can’t disconnect your equipment when a high-voltage event happens.

Surge Protector vs Power Manager

Most power managers, on the other hand, use the technology called EVS or Extreme Voltage Shutdown. The EVS has a mechanical relay, and it physically disconnects your equipment when a high-voltage event is detected. EVS acts very quickly and doesn’t even sacrifice the power manager. So, power managers, just like surge protectors, provide protection against surges, but in a different, some would say safer way. 

Besides that, power managers have other purposes. They have filters that can remove the noise and deliver cleaner power to your equipment, which will result in a cleaner sound. Furthermore, some power managers will protect your equipment from the under-voltage event – when the voltage drops below 80 or 85V, it will shut down the unit and protect your equipment from too much current. Also, home theater power managers may have better specs than surge protectors (lower clamping voltages, lower response times).

To conclude, power managers or power conditioners are more complex devices. They offer more protection than surge protectors and also have some additional features and purposes.

Do Home Theater Power Managers Reduce Noise?

As discussed in the previous sections, power managers are not only used to protect your equipment from surges. That’s an important part of their job, but they also have fitters that are supposed to ‘’purify’’ dirty power and eliminate (or at least reduce) the noise.

Also, by plugging all of your equipment into one power manager, you may get rid of a ground loop and, as you may know, ground loops are one of the most common sources of hum/noise in our homes.

So, yeah. Power managers can eliminate noise. That’s one of their main purposes.

How Much Should I Spend on a Home Theater Power Manager?

The price of home theater power managers and power conditioners varies a lot. Budget units are priced around $100-$150. Some cheap units under $50 are advertised as power conditioners, but they are actually just surge protectors. 

If you want a well-performing power conditioner that filters the noise and protects your equipment, you should spend at least $300. If that’s too much for you, buy something cheaper – any protection is better than no protection. Have in mind that cheaper power conditioners will provide the protection you need, but their noise filtration capabilities won’t be great. If you don’t have any problems with dirty power, buying a cheaper unit is a perfectly viable option.

The prices of high-end units for professional use can reach $5,000 or more, but you don’t really have to spend that much. You can get a great-performing conditioner that will protect all of your home theater equipment and isolate most of the noise for $500-$1000.


Now that you know the basics, let’s move onto our selection of the best home theater power managers. We did our best to test as many power managers/conditioners as possible and selected the best units for various budgets. Hopefully, you’ll find something that fits your budget. Enjoy!


1. Best Home Theater Power Manager Under $500 – Panamax M5300-PM

Panamax M5300-PM

Panamax is, along with Furman and APC, one of the most reputable names when it comes to power management devices (power strips, surge protectors, power conditioners, UPS units, etc.). There are three series of Panamax power managers/conditioners – PRO series, PM series (designed for high-end home theater systems), and MR series (rack-mountable units).

Like all Panamax power managers, M5300-PM has three main functions – filtration (noise elimination), isolation, and power regulation. 

The central portion of the front panel is occupied by two digital meters that monitor voltage and amperage. On the left end, there’s a power button with 5 LED indicators for 5 independent power banks. On the right end, there’s one convenience outlet, one USB charging port, and one Ethernet port for connecting your gaming console.

On the back, you have 10 wall outlets arranged in 5 independent power banks. Each bank is isolated from the others, which prevents dirty power created by an AV component from contaminating the power supply of adjacent components (reduced cross-contamination between connected devices). 4 of those 10 outlets, as well as the convenience outlet on the front, are always-on, while the rest of the outlets are switchable. Bank-5 outlets are high-current and are designed for equipment with larger current demands (like AVRs, amplifiers, and subwoofers). 

Besides outlets, the rear panel also houses 3 coax input/output connections, as well as Ethernet and phone ports.

Every outlet features surge protection and patented auto over/under voltage reset protection – they will shut down if there’s no enough power.

M5300-PM will also provide you with a Level 4 filtration and power cleaning, which will eliminate most of the noise and provide you with the best possible audio and video quality. 

Advantages

  • 11 outlets (5 always-on, 6 switchable), 3 coax connections, LAN/phone ports
  • 5 independent/isolated power banks for reduced cross-component contamination
  • One dedicated high-current bank (two outlets) for connecting more demanding equipment
  • Convenience outlet and gaming Ethernet port on the front
  • Level 4 isolation and power cleaning
  • Constant voltage and amperage monitoring
  • Surge protection and under/over voltage protection (UL-certified)

 

Disadvantages

  • Lacks voltage regulation (you have to buy more expensive M5400-PM if you need this feature)

 


2. Best Home Theater Power Manager Under $350 – APC H15

APC H15

APC, which is now a part of Schneider Electric, has been famous for its UPS units and other power solutions. It’s a trusted manufacturer, and it’s one of our go-to brands when it comes to best home theater power managers. APC’s H15 will provide you with great power regulation and protection. On paper, this unit gives you even more than the previously reviewed Panamax M5300-PM. It offers noise filtering with isolated power banks, voltage regulation, and surge protection. The best thing about it is that it’s significantly cheaper than M5300-PM.

The design of the APC H15 is pretty basic, but the build is great. This thing is built like a tank. The control panel is pretty straightforward. There’s a two-line display in the center of the front panel. It’s surrounded by three buttons (power, setup, and select) and a bunch of indicator lights (filtering, line boost, delayed on, switched on, overload, line trim, etc.).

On the rear panel, there’re 12 outlets, arranged in 4 banks with different labels. Under the ‘digital filter’ label, you have 6 outlets (for a CD player, DVD player, etc.). The rest of the outlets are arranged in three separate banks – 2 outlets with ‘video filter’ label (for TV and VCR), 2 outlets with ‘analog filter’ label (preamp, tuner/aux), and 2 outlets labeled as ‘delayed’. These two are designed for the most demanding devices in your system (subwoofer and amp/AVR). Each bank is isolated from others, which minimizes cross-contamination.

Besides the outlets, you have one coax input and two outputs for the cable TV and modem, as well as one coax input and one output for SAT TV or antenna. Then, you have one phone input and two outputs. There’re no Ethernet ports.

In the right corner of the rear panel, there’s a system ground terminal, which allows you to tie all grounding wires together and eliminate ground loops. Then, there’s a 12V DC trigger IN/OUT and a circuit break button.

By pressing the select button, you can shift between different displays (different information). You can see the power that your equipment is drawing and the percentage of power that you have left. You can also see the output voltage and amperage, as well as input voltage and frequency.

APC H15 does everything the product description claims. It provides great protection against surges, filters the power, prevents cross-component contamination, and regulates the voltage. It also allows you to monitor voltage and available power, so you can always know how much power you have left. If you are looking for the best power manager under $350, APC H15 is a perfect choice.

Advantages

  • Affordable price
  • Great build quality
  • 12 outlets arranged in 4 isolated banks
  • Reduced cross-contamination
  • Phone line inputs/outputs and coax inputs/outputs
  • Real-time voltage and power monitoring
  • APC H15 is UL-certified
  • Superb noise filtering (one of the best in its price range)

 

Disadvantages

  • Lacks convenience outlet on the front panel
  • Lacks Ethernet ports
  • The outputs on the back are a bit too close to each other, which can be a problem if your equipment has large wall warts

 


3. Best Home Theater Power Manager Under $800 – Furman Elite-15 PF i

Furman Elite-15 PF i

Furman’s Elite series is also a perfect choice for your home theater equipment. You should know that there are two sub-series of Furman Elite power conditioners – PF and DM. The main difference between the two is that the first one features Furman’s Power Factor technology and because of that feature, PF power conditioners are pricier than DM conditioners. Another difference is that PF conditioners don’t have displays with voltage/current meters, while DM conditioners have displays.

Elite-15 PF is a simple-looking but very rugged unit. The front panel is rather clean. You have the power button on the right end and one convenience outlet on the left end. The front panel also houses two retractable LED lamps, which is one of Furman’s trademarks. Then, there’s a central LED power indicator, as well as ‘extreme voltage’ and ‘remote turn-on’ indicators.

On the rear panel, there are 12 isolated-ground spec-grade outlets. Six of those 12 are always-on, and the other 6 are switchable. Four outlets are linearly filtered, four are linearly filtered but with an additional ultrasonic filtration (outlets designed for video components), and four are power-corrected outlets designed for amplifiers, subwoofers, and AVRs (two of those 4 are always-on, and two are switchable with a delay). Those four amplifier outlets feature Furman’s Power Factor technology. Thanks to this technology, Elite-15 PF can store 3A of continuous charge (up to 45A peak), and supply it to your amp when the power demands are extreme. Theoretically, this is supposed to help your amp reach the levels of performance that were previously impossible to reach.

Besides the outlets, Elite-15 PF features 3 coax inputs/outputs and phone ports (IN/OUT x1). And there’s a 12V trigger IN/OUT for remote control (for switching and delayed turn-on).

Furman’s linear filtration technology does a great job when it comes to noise elimination. For protection, you have Furman’s Series Multistage Protection (not MOVs like cheaper surge protectors). This technology manages to suppress voltage surges and smooth the spikes. It also prevents ground contamination and doesn’t sacrifice itself in case of extreme conditions. The unit is certified by Intertek.

Advantages

  • Solid build
  • Retractable LED lights 
  • Convenience outlet on the front panel
  • 12 outlets on the rear panel – 6 always on and 6 switchable
  • 4 outlets are designed for amplifiers/subwoofers – they feature Furman’s Power Factor Technology
  • Two amplifier outlets support delayed turn-on
  • Coax IN/OUT x3, telephone IN/OUT x1
  • Linear filtration technology
  • Series Multistage Protection
  • The unit is certified by Intertek (NRTL certified by OSHA)

 

Disadvantages

  • The unit lacks display – you can’t monitor voltage/current levels

 


This concludes our selection of the best home theater power managers. We hope this article helped you understand why power managers are a good investment and why you should have one. For more info, read the FAQ section. Below, you can find short answers to the most common questions about power managers and power conditioners. 


FAQs

How long do power managers last?

Higher-end home theater power managers come with at least a 3-year warranty (sometimes even 5), but that doesn’t mean you have to buy the new one after the warranty expires. Depending on how frequent and how big power surges are in your area or in your home, your power manager may last a decade or even more.

Can you plug a power conditioner into a surge protector?

Technically, you can daisy-chain surge protector and power conditioner, but that seems a bit redundant since most power conditioners already have surge protection. If you have too many devices, then you can use this combo and plug your power conditioner into a surge protector, but be careful. Try not to exceed the max power your wall outlet can provide. Ideally, you will have your power conditioner and your surge protector connected to two different wall outlets, and those two wall outlets will be on two separate lines (separate breakers). 

Do power strips reduce power?

Power strips consume a minimal, almost negligible amount of power. So, it’s safe to say that power strips don’t have any significant effect on power.

What is the best home theater power manager to buy?

If you want a good power manager that does everything we talked about, be prepared to pay more than $150. Many high-end power managers (Furman, Panamax) cost well over $500. If you are looking for suggestions, check out our selection of the best home theater power managers.

Can I plug all of my studio components into a power conditioner?

Yes, you can. And you probably should if you’re experiencing some noise issues and you can’t detect the source of the noise. But before you buy a power conditioner, check if some of the appliances in your home/studio are causing this noise. A refrigerator is one of the common appliances that cause noise on audio equipment. Try unplugging it and see if the noise is still there. Do the same thing with other appliances. If that solves your issue, then you may not need a power conditioner. You can just buy a surge protector for some basic protection and save some money.

Will a power conditioner stop the ground loop?

Some high-end power conditioners may also solve your issues with ground loops. But there’s also a chance that buying a power conditioner won’t eliminate the ground loop noise. It would be a good idea to try to find the device/connection that is the source of the loop and try to fix it. That could be a much cheaper solution than buying a power conditioner that may or may not solve your issue. 

For example, coax cables (used for modems and cable TV) is a common source of ground loop issues and you can solve this issue easily by adding a ground loop isolator (aka isolation transformer). That will cost you less than 20 bucks and will solve all of your noise issues.

Can you daisy-chain power conditioners?

Under certain circumstances, daisy-chaining two power conditioners is possible, but we still don’t recommend doing that. In fact, it would be best if you connect two different power conditioners to two different wall outlets connected to different lines (breakers).

If you still want to connect two power conditioners together (presumably to get more outlets), you will have to consider your current power draw and the equipment you already have connected to the first conditioner. In short, think about the load you’re putting on only one wall outlet. If the load is too big, use two separate wall outlets on two separate lines. If it’s just digital equipment that doesn’t require a lot of power, then you can probably daisy-chain two power conditioners. But we still don’t recommend doing so.

Is UPS the same thing as a power conditioner?

No. UPS and power conditioner are not the same things. UPS stands for Uninterruptable Power Supply. This is a device that has a backup battery providing you with a few additional minutes when an outage occurs, allowing you to turn off your equipment. A power conditioner, on the other hand, is a device that protects your equipment, filters the power, and distributes the power to your equipment. 

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