So you recently built a home theatre with expensive equipment, and you’re wondering if you need a home theatre power manager to keep your electronics safe.
Is it necessary? Will it make a difference in audio quality? The price for power conditioners can range from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand and even more. Is it REALLY worth the investment?
There is a lot of contradictory information out there about home power managers. Some people say they’re a must-have for any home theatre or audiophile, while others say they’re a waste of money and a scam. Who should you believe?
When you’re done reading this guide you’ll know exactly what a power manager is, how it works, whether or not you need one, some great power managers I recommend, and some alternatives.
To begin, it’s important to understand that the term “power manager” and “power conditioner” are the same, and are used interchangeably.
Ok, let’s dive in.
What is a Home Theatre Power Manager?
A home theatre power manager is a device that offers a variety of electrical protection features.
Most home theatre power managers actually provide surge protection, noise filtration, and even automatic voltage regulators. In some cases, a power manager can improve the audio quality.
On the surface, these devices look like a set-top box or a Blu-ray player, they’re designed to be mounted on a rack and have multiple outlets on the rear panel.
The outlets are usually isolated from one another and labeled for a specific use, such as high-voltage devices, power amps, and others.
The front panel of the power manager usually has a small screen to show the current voltage and a few other features depending on the model. Most models include a power switch too, which will cut off power to all the outlets.
On the other hand, high-end power conditioners are large and bulky, often weighing 50 lbs or more, making them pretty inconvenient for many home theatres. Not to mention they’re also very expensive, costing upwards of $5,000.
There are even some power conditioners that cost $9,000 or more! Some of these power conditioners can cost more than all your home theatre equipment combined.
What Does a Power Manager Do?
The purpose of a power manager is to not only keep your electronics safe, but to also make sure only clean energy is entering the devices.
Power conditioners are usually used in audio-related setups because audio is more sensitive to noise and interference.
If you have a home recording studio or an amplifier, a power manager could offer improvements.
What is Noise in Electricity?
One of the main causes of noise in electricity is actually from other electronics connected to the same circuit in your home.
Most modern electronics convert AC from the mains to DC using switching power supplies that quickly convert AC electricity but also send noise back into the circuit.
The noise can also be introduced from your neighbors, weather, radio waves, EMFs, and many other factors.
What is Dirty Electricity?
Dirty electricity is another term used for electricity that is unreliable, or has a lot of noise. There are a lot of factors to consider, such as micro-surges, signal interference, damage to the power grid, line noise, and many others.
Dirty energy can also create electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that can interfere with electronics.
The term dirty electricity was invented by Samuel Milham MD, who wrote a book about it called Dirty Electricity: Electrification and the Diseases of Civilization.
The book attempts to discover the link between electromagnetic fields and a variety of diseases. Nowadays the term is also used to describe electricity that has a lot of noise in it.
However, there are no definitive studies that prove low-level electromagnetic fields can damage your health. There is evidence that large levels of EMFs can cause some damage, but it is very unlikely that you will be exposed to such levels.
Nevertheless, whether it’s for your peace of mind or your electronics, it’s worth learning about how to clean the electricity in your home.
Power conditioners can filter out most of these pollutants from the electricity before it feeds into your devices.
Remember, there are companies that will try to scare you into buying their products, claiming you’ll get sick if you don’t use a certain EMF filter. Don’t be scared.
There’s no clear evidence that consumer electronics can damage your health.
What are EMFs?
EMF stands for Electromagnetic Field.
Every electrical device creates a small electromagnetic field, and the theory is that constant exposure to electromagnetic fields can damage your health.
It’s unclear if that claim is true, but there are lots of people who swear by it.
Needless to say, if you’re concerned about electromagnetic fields, you can buy an EMF meter and check the levels in your home.
Power conditioners have built-in EMF filters, so using one will help reduce the EMF levels too.
Do You Need a Home Theatre Power Manager?
A power manager is really not necessary for home theatres unless you’re hearing noise or interference from the speakers.
Most people will connect their home theatre to a power manager for cable management, electrical protection, and to reduce power line noise.
For a lot of electronics, a power manager is not needed because modern devices have built-in power supplies and chips that regulate power; a slight change in voltage won’t normally create any problems.
In other words, most of your equipment will work just fine when connected straight to an outlet.
PCs have power supplies that have power filtering and other voltage regulating features, so a power conditioner is not required for computers and other electronics.
It won’t hurt to connect them to a power conditioner, but it might not make that much of a difference.
Does a Power Manager Affect Audio Quality?
When it comes to speakers, there are some power managers that filter too much noise and cut out some of the dynamic range in your audio signals.
If you have the option, I would test the audio quality using a power manager vs using the mains. For some, the audio from the mains power is more dynamic and rich while the power manager is flatter.
However, the results will depend on the power conditioner model you use, and the quality of your mains electricity. If your power line has a lot of noise, a power manager will likely improve the audio quality.
Just looking to improve audio? An expensive power manager probably won’t improve the audio quality of your home theatre.
In fact, they can subtly muffle the dynamic range of your speakers, but it varies depending on a number of factors.
What Are the Benefits of a Home Theatre Power Manager?
Up until now I’ve detailed quite a few reasons you might not need, or want to spend the extra money on a home theatre power manager.
And while it’s true that a power conditioner is not absolutely necessary, it does provide a number of advantages…
Easy Cable Management
The most useful feature of a power conditioner is how much it helps with cable management. Power conditioners are designed to be mounted in a rack and usually have eight outlets.
You can plug multiple devices into a power conditioner and switch them on or off when needed. For instance, you can connect your home theatre speakers, subwoofer, and even TV, into the same power conditioner.
As mentioned before, a power conditioner also has built-in surge protection, so it’s an easy way to keep your electronics safe from electrical surges. The surge protection combined with electricity filters keeps your electronics safe.
Eliminate White Noise in Amps
Another benefit of power conditions is they eliminate noise that amplifiers pick up.
For home studios, a power conditioner is a must-have. If you hear a whine or static coming from your amp, chances are a power conditioner will clean that up.
The reason for that is amplifiers don’t know what signals they’re amplifying and they can often amplify the wrong signals.
Cleaning up the noise in your power line will reduce the chances of your amplifier picking up the noise.
Protects Your Electronics
As mentioned earlier, power conditioners have a variety of electrical protection features, the most important of which is surge protection.
Having your devices connected to a power manager reduces the risk of electrical damage and prolongs their lifetime.
In fact, most people buy power conditioners just for the protection features. It’s definitely a good idea if you live in an area that is prone to surges.
It’s particularly useful for devices that are permanently turned on.
The 3 Best Home Theatre Power Managers
As mentioned before, there are many different power conditioners, with a wide variety of prices and features. Navigating the world of home theatre power managers is challenging and overwhelming.
To make it easier for you, I narrowed down the list to some of the top recommended power conditioners.
Of course, the best product for you will depend on your budget and needs, but these should point you in the right direction.
1 – Niagara 5000 Power Manager (High End)
The Niagara 5000 is the third product in Audio Quest’s Niagara power conditioner series. The latest model is the Niagara 7000, but that’s version is double the cost of the 5000 (and the 5000 is expensive!).
My first impression of the Niagara 5000 is it’s a beefy unit, weighs 38 lbs, and is almost as large as some PC cases. Having said that, it does an incredible job at filtering out power line noise. It was one of the only power conditioners that rated below 30 with power line noise meters.
The rear panel has four high current outlets, and another eight ultra-linear outlets, each of which is isolated from one another. As for protection, it has built-in surge suppression that has been tested with 6000V/3000 Amp surges. The downside is it’s quite expensive.
However other power conditioners in the Niagara series offer similar performance at a cheaper price, such as the Niagara 1200 or the Niagara 3000.
2 – Panamax M5400 Power Manager (Mid-range)
The Panamax M5400 is a good mid-range power manager that offers a wide range of features.
For one, it has offers Level 4 power line noise filtration which significantly reduces power line noise. The front panel has an LCD screen that shows useful information such as the current amps drawn from the unit and the voltage.
Another cool feature is voltage regulation. The voltage regulation feature allows the power conditioner to supplement power to guarantee a stable flow.
It has 10 outlets, all of which are separated by banks, preventing one outlet from spreading noise to others. It also includes an ethernet and USB port, both of which are surge protected. The surge protection is rated at 2125 joules.
The Panamax M5400 is a good choice for people who have a budget of around $1000. There are cheaper models too, such as the Panamax M5300-PM, which do not include voltage regulation. The M5300-PM is another good mid-range option.
3 – Furman PL-8C Power Manager (Budget)
Furman is well known for creating a wide variety of power conditioners and power strips. The PL-8C is one of their entry-level power conditioners. It has most of the features you would expect; noise filtration, surge protection, and even a breaker switch.
The rear panel has a total of eight outlets, the first two are on bank 1, while the remaining are on bank 2, isolating them from one another. The PL-9C only offers basic noise and RF filtration because it is an entry-level product.
However, the surge protection and cable management features are great. I really like the breaker switch on the front panel that you can use to shut down all connected devices. If you want an entry-level, budget-friendly power conditioner, this one is worth a look.
A bonus tip: If you don’t have the budget for a brand-new power conditioner, you can consider buying one second-hand. Power conditioners are very durable and will last for a very long time without any issues.
Alternative Ways to Eliminate Noise in Audio Equipment
What if you hear noise in your audio equipment? It usually sounds like a hum or static.
There could be many different reasons why audio equipment can pick up noise and you will have to narrow it down with some tests.
Here are some practical fixes you can try before buying a power conditioner.
Connect Your Home Theatre to the Same Circuit
In most cases, each area of your home belongs to a specific electrical circuit that connects to your power box.
If wall outlets are near each other, or in the same room or wall, they’re most likely on the same circuit.
A quick tip is to make sure all of your home theatre equipment is plugged into wall outlets that are a part of the same electrical circuit.
The reason for that is to eliminate interference caused by other electronics that are connected to the same circuit.
The easiest and cheapest test would be to check if other devices are creating interference, such as routers, phones, and other devices.
Try unplugging any nearby devices and see if that fixes the issue. When phones receive calls or text messages, it also creates interference in your speakers.
Consider Installing a Dedicated Circuit Line
If you’re a homeowner, you could consider hiring an electrician to install a dedicated circuit for your home theatre.
A dedicated circuit is a single wired connection from your power box that is designed to be used by one appliance.
If your home theatre is on the same circuit as other devices with other appliances, it’s not unusual for the volume of the speakers to drop when another device in your home is switched on.
With a dedicated circuit line, the line won’t be disturbed by other electronics, and the performance of your home theatre will be better.
The price for a dedicated circuit line will vary depending on the difficulty and electrician you hire but it’s usually not prohibitively expensive.
It can make a big improvement on audio quality and most audiophiles recommend investing in one.
Of course, in apartment buildings, that’s another story. Not every apartment has its own power box, it’s often shared with neighbors, which could be a problem.
Make Sure Outlets are Properly Grounded
Another easy way to check for the source of noise is to test if the wall outlet in your home is properly grounded.
Incorrectly grounded power outlets can be very dangerous. If you live in an old building with questionable wiring you might want to check if your wall outlets are grounded.
To test if a socket is grounded, you can either use a multimeter or a receptacle tester. A receptacle tester is easier to use because it plugs directly into the socket and will show you reading along with light codes.
When using a receptacle tester, the light will turn green to indicate a safely grounded socket and red when it is not grounded or dangerous. These tools are very handy and budget-friendly, I highly recommend them for anyone who is experiencing issues with their electricity. I recommend testing all the outlets in your home to make sure they’re all grounded and safe.
If you find a socket that is not grounded, calling an electrician to have them re-wire the socket is a good idea.
You could also attempt it on your own, it’s a fairly simple DIY project, but it could be dangerous. Make sure to shut off the electricity before you remove the socket panel.
FM Radio Wave Interference
What you might not know is that power lines can pick up FM radio waves. Those signals are then carried into your home.
In other words, you could be receiving radio channels through your electricity without even knowing it.
As you can imagine, that can introduce a lot of noise into your circuits.
I suggest using a wideband powerline noise analyzer that has a speaker and testing the sockets in your home.
When the sensitivity is turned up, you might hear radio channels coming from the device. It will also help measure how much noise is in your powerlines.
Power Manager vs Surge Protector
While they might look similar, a power manager is not the same as a surge protector. A power manager filters electricity, removing noise and also includes surge protection. High-end power conditioners can also regulate voltages.
Surge protectors are power strips that protect connected devices from power surges and voltage spikes, and that’s it. They send the extra energy from a spike into a grounding wire to disperse it and prevent it from frying connected electronics.
Surge protectors are very useful and most people should use them. However, surge protectors do not filter electricity; they only offer protection from voltage spikes. In other words, surge protectors only offer one type of electrical damage protection.
For general electronics, a surge protector is more useful than a power manager. It’s also a lot cheaper. If your wall outlet electricity is not dirty, connecting your home theatre system to a surge-protected power strip should be good enough.
A power conditioner offers more protection than a surge protector. Most power conditioners offer two core features: a surge protector and a power line noise filter.
There are also voltage regulators which are high-end power conditioners. Unless stated otherwise, a power conditioner won’t regulate the voltage.
Be careful though, some power strips are advertised as power conditioners. The marketing is misleading and can lead people to believe they’re getting more features than they are.
Make sure to take a close look at the documentation before you buy a power conditioner.
The Bottom Line
To summarize, the world of power conditioners can be tricky and complicated. Whether you need one or not completely depends on your setup, and your budget.
I personally recommend buying a mid-level one for peace of mind when it comes to protecting your equipment. But it’s not a necessity!
What’s your opinion of home theatre power managers? Do you own one? Let me know in the comments below!