Table of Contents
- What is a Home Theater Power Manager?
- Do I Need a Home Theater Power Manager?
- Why Do Some Audiophiles Advocate Against Power Conditioners?
- The Difference Between a Power Conditioner and a Surge Protector
- Do Home Theater Power Managers Reduce Noise?
- How Much Should I Spend on a Home Theater Power Manager?
- Best Under $500 – Panamax MR5100
- Best Under $350 – Monster HTS 3600 MKII
- Best for Audiophiles – AudioQuest Niagara 1200
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.
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.
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!
Best Under $500 – Panamax MR5100
There are a few brands that we always recommend to our readers. When it comes to home theater power managers, the brands we like the most are Panamax, Furman, APC, Monster Power, and AudioQuest. Various other manufacturers (Pyle, Monoprice, etc.) also make decent power managers, but if you are looking for the best possible performance and protection, stick to the brands we’ve just mentioned. The first unit on our list comes from Panamax. It’s a rack-mountable unit coming from the MR series and called MR5100. Besides the MR series, Panamax also has a line designed specifically for home theaters (PM), and a line designed for professional use (PRO series).
MR5100 is a compact and very clean-looking unit. The front panel has a simple and user-friendly layout. On the left end, there’s a power button and three LED indicators for three separate power banks. In the middle, there’s a nice display for voltage monitoring. On the right end, there’s one convenience outlet and one USB port for charging phones and other devices.
On the display, there are also two indicators (lightning bolt and outlet). The lightning bolt indicator will light up in case of undervoltage/overvoltage, and the unit will be turned off automatically (and will be turned on when the voltage returns to safe levels). The outlet indicator is the line fault indicator. It lights up when short circuit failures are detected.
Most of the rear panel is occupied by the outlets. There are 10 outlets, arranged in three isolated power banks. One of the purposes of isolated power banks is to prevent cross-contamination – if one of the connected components creates dirty power, it won’t contaminate the power supply of other components.
Bank 1 houses 4 outlets (+ 1 on the front). These outlets are always on (UNSWITCHED). Bank 2 houses two outlets. These outlets are SWITCHED (can be turned on/off). Bank 3 houses 4 outlets. These four are high-current delayed SWITCHED outlets. They are designed for the most demanding equipment (AVRs, amplifiers, subwoofers). They can be turned on/off, but with a delay (2-3sec). The idea behind the switched delay is to prevent the circuit breaker from overloading and protect your equipment.
All 11 outlets (10 on the back and 1 on the front) are filtered (LiFT filtration technology used by Panamax and Furman). All the outlets feature surge protection, too.
The unit also houses coaxial inputs/outputs (2 IN and 2 OUT), LAN inputs/outputs (1 IN and 1 OUT), and phone inputs/outputs (1 IN and 1 OUT). It can protect from surges all the equipment you connect to those ports.
On the left end of the rear panel, there’s a ground lug and a fuse circuit breaker. Surprisingly, there’s no DC trigger.
Panamax MR5100 has the max current rating of 15A (1800W). It can dissipate up to 2,025 Joules, and its clamping response time is lower than 1ns.
The unit provides good protection and impressive noise filtration. The only real downside is the lack of a 12V DC trigger.
Best Under $350 – Monster HTS 3600 MKII
The next device on our list of best home theater power managers comes from a well-known manufacturer. It’s HTS 3600 MKII home theater power center from Monster Power. Unfortunately, Monster Power doesn’t make this unit anymore (it’s been discontinued), but you can still find a few new ones and a bunch of used ones at relatively affordable prices. Monster Power is known and has been criticized for its overpriced products, but this unit is not that expensive (although it was quite pricey when it was introduced). Now, it’s pretty much priced the same as other units (Panamax, Furman, APC) offering similar performance and features.
HTS 3600 MK II is built like a tank. The chassis is made of metal. The front panel looks clean and well-organized. There’s a simple display in the center showing the current draw and voltage. To switch between the current and voltage, you just have to press the button under the display. On the right end, there’re three buttons (dimmer, on, and off). On the left end, there’s a series of LED indicators (clean power, protection, abnormal voltage, etc.). On the top panel, you can see the schematics of the circuitries.
As always, all the interesting stuff is located on the rear panel. You have ten color-coded outlets – 4 purple, 2 light-brown, 2 grey, and 2 dark-brown. These color-coded sections are designed for different types of devices, and each represents an independent power bank, completely isolated from the others (which also prevents cross-contamination). Moreover, each power bank has a special kind of filter. Next to each outlet, there’s a label telling what devices to connect to those outlets.
The first four purple outlets are paired with circuitry that reduces/eliminates interference to your digital equipment (CD, DVD, cable/satellite box, VCR).
The next two light-brown outlets are designed for your TV/projector and VCR. They have a special video filter circuit that is supposed to reduce/eliminate interference to your video equipment.
These six outlets are UNSWITCHED – they are always on.
The following two outlets (the grey ones) are designed for your processor and receiver. They have a special analog audio filter that is supposed to reduce/eliminate interference to your audio equipment.
These two grey outlets are SWITCHED – they can be turned on/off.
Finally, the last two outlets are designed for the most demanding equipment (like amps, preamps, subwoofers, and AVRs) and have a special high-current audio filter.
The last two outlets are SWITCHED/TIMED – they can be turned on/off, but with a delay (2-3sec) to prevent the circuit breaker from overloading and protect your equipment.
Besides the outlets, you have three coax inputs and three outputs (for TV/cable, satellite box, antenna), as well as one phone line input and two outputs.
Finally, there are two triggers – AC and DC. They allow you to turn on the unit automatically when you turn on some other piece of equipment (like an AVR) connected to your power center.
Monster Power HTS 3600 MK II has the max current rating of 15A (1800W). It can dissipate up to 6,500 Joules, and its clamping response time is lower than 1ns.
HTS 3600 MK II can resolve all kinds of noise and cable reception issues. It cleans the power, reduces the noise floor, and protects your equipment from power surges and other dirty-power-related issues. If you manage to get it for less than $350, HTS 3600 MK II, is an excellent purchase.
Best for Audiophiles – AudioQuest Niagara 1200
If you’ve read the introduction, you know what audiophiles think about power conditioners and power managers. AudioQuest is one of the rare brands that audiophiles actually like. Maybe not all audiophiles, but there’s still a bunch of them praising AudioQuest cables and other equipment made by this manufacturer. Niagara 1200 is, by all means, a premium power conditioner. It looks and feels premium, and it performs like a premium device. Let’s see what’s so special about it.
Niagara 1200 is built like a tank and it looks and feels like a piece of high-end equipment. The design is minimalistic and simple, but still very attractive and elegant. It looks super-clean. On the right panel, there’s a power switch, two indicators (extreme voltage and power), and a 15A fuse circuit breaker.
On the back, there are 7 outlets – two high-current outlets (for connecting amps, powered speakers, subwoofers), and 5 linear-filtered outlets for connecting PCs, streamers, DVD/Blu-ray players, TVs, etc. This unit is primarily designed for audio systems, but it can be used for home theater systems, too.
All 7 outlets feature AudioQuest’s Ground Noise-Dissipation System, and they are all equipped with ultra-linear filtering capacitors.
The unit will protect your equipment from surges (non-sacrificial surge protection) and from over/undervoltage. All the inlets/outlets come from AudioQuest’s high-quality low-z silver/beryllium NRZ series.
Niagara 1200 delivers super-quiet performance with an extremely low noise floor. Some audiophiles argued that it brings greater clarity to the system and improves resolution. Some have even said that it improves dynamics. All this is, naturally, based on the subjective feeling of the reviewers, so there’s no guarantee that you will hear that kind of improvement. What we can tell you is that it practically eliminates all the noise, and it doesn’t color the sound. That’s exactly what a power conditioner is supposed to do, and we are perfectly happy with it. We didn’t notice any improvements when it comes to dynamics and resolution.
Niagara 1200 has no current and voltage monitors (no display), which could be considered a downside. It also doesn’t come with a cable – you are supposed to buy it separately, and it’s recommended to get AudioQuest’s NRG Z3 cable (priced around $350). Finally, it has no coax or phone/LAN inputs and outputs, so it can’t deliver full protection to your audio/video system (that’s why we said it’s made primarily for audio systems). Also, it doesn’t have a 12V DC trigger.
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.
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.
Hello, my name is James Longman.
I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.
Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.
I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.