Equipment Review No. 3 - July-Aug. 2003
Panamax MAX 4400 AV Surge Protector
SRP: $ 299
Line Voltage: 120V, 50/60Hz
Maximum Current Rating: 20A
Ul 1449 Surge Suppression Rating: 330V
Initial Clamping Level: 200V Peak, 141V RMS
Response Time: <1ns
Joule Rating: 1650 Joules
Peak Impulse Current: 52,000A
EMI/RFI Noise Filtration: 50dB (100KHz - 1 MHz)
Catastrophic Surge Circuit, Thermal Fusing & Over/Under Voltage Protection
Over-voltage shutoff threshold: 147V +-8
Under-voltage shutoff threshold: 84V +-6
DC Trigger = 3.5mm mini-plug, 5-30V DC, bi-directional, current requirement: >10mA
1690 Corporate Circle
Petaluma, CA 94954
San Rafael, CA 94903
Most high end audio and HT systems today make use of some sort of AC line treatment. The improvement in system sonics can range from very subtle to completely amazing depending on your equipment sensitivities and on the general quality of the AC power provided at your wall outlets. But most of these line treatment black boxes lack plain old surge protection in case a dangerous peak voltage is supplied at your AC outlet that could blow out your equipment. Those who live in urban and/or industrial areas or in those parts of the country subject to frequent thunderstorms with lightning have even more vital need for some sort of surge protection. Or if they provide such protection, they do it in a manner that impedes sudden draws of current for big climaxes and peaks, thus starving amps for power when most needed.
Most of us have such protection on our computers because we have heard how expensive surge damage can be in their case, but most of the protection devices designed for computer compromise the sonics when used with audio gear. I remember many years ago using briefly an early surge protector for audio made by the former Diskwasher people. A while after installing it I began to feel my system was sounding awfully dull and dead, so I pulled it out of the chain to test. What a difference! Everything came back again with clarity and life. I moved it to the AC of my electric typewriter.
Panamax is the consumer electronics industrys leading maker of power conditioning and protection products and has been doing that for 25 years now. It lists a wide range of units for every conceivable need, including a newly-introduced Pro series especially for the custom home system installer. The UL Lab has passed new more stringent surge protector requirements which go into effect in November, and Panamax products already meet these requirements.
ON THE 4400
The MAX 4400 is designed with capacitive noise filtration that allows the maximum of clean, filtered current to reach amplifiers but without current-limiting components that could damage sonic performance. If and when the amperage rating for the 4400 is exceeded, the circuit breaker in the 4400 completely disconnects AC power from your equipment.
Hookup is simple. You plug the 4400 into a properly grounded 3-wire AC outlet, turn it on, then plug your various components AC cords into it. You hve a choice of either standard black finish or metallic grey. On the rear of the unit are eight AC sockets. Four are unswitched - always-on - and the other four are switched - either by the button on the front of the unit or by a 12-volt trigger output from an audio/HT component with that feature. Another feature found on the rear of the unit is a turn-on delay switch which can provide a 10-second delay on the four switched outlets. This would protect your speakers as well as your ears if you have a preamp of any type which emits a pop or other noise when turned on. You could plug your amps into the triggered outlets so that they are turned on ten seconds later. There is also a mini-plug jack for the trigger input, a ground lug, and the 20 amp circuit breaker which pops out in case of protection being activated and can be simply pushed back in to reset.
There is additionally a ninth convenience outlet on the front panel of the unit which is also always-on. Four small LEDs in a row on the front tell the user, first: that the switched outlets are on, next: that the DC trigger is active, third: that the AC wall outlet is properly grounded, and last is lit only in case an unsafe voltage has been reached and the power has been disconnected from the equipment. The first three LEDs are green and the fourth is red.
I hooked up the 4400 to my dedicated 20 amp AC circuit especially for all my equipment except my five front channel amps. After breaking in for a week I tested my system sonics both with it in the circuit and with it out, using several of my test CDs and SACDs. Later I switched the 4400 to the other dedicated 20 amp circuit especially for my amps. In neither case was there the slightest modification of sound quality with the surge protector active, even in major symphonic climaxes such as in a Mahler Symphony. When hitting pause on a disc player and turning up the preamps volume level all the way, there was a very slight hum which also did not change a bit whether or not the 4400 was in or out of the circuit. So I would heartily recommend the Panamax unit if you have no AC conditioning at all at this point or if you have an AC treatment unit which lacks surge protection.
- John Sunier