Over the past several years I’ve had the opportunity to work on northern power transmission line construction projects. While I’ve always had a hobby interest in radio, audio and electronics, I really did not know much about power transmission and distribution until my involvement with these projects. As an audio enthusiast I’m sure you can imagine my shock and surprise when I realized that the power delivered to my audio system will often travel several hundreds of kilometers along conductors comprised primarily of aluminum and steel while being bombarded by all sorts of electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI) along the journey. This fact may have you questioning the value of that expensive one meter power cord, but the importance of power filtering should be clearly apparent. Add to these, other power-related problems such as surges and spikes, brownouts and local interference (caused by household appliances and fluorescent lights on the same circuit), it should be quite apparent that some level of power management is a requirement for all audio and video setups.

When I think of power management I’m looking for protection and performance improvements for my equipment. As a minimum, I am a firm believer that all audio and video equipment should be using some level of surge protection. Power surges and spikes can damage just about any sort of electronic equipment, with digital televisions and computers being particularly prone to damage. Naturally, protection of our often expensive A/V equipment is important, but what if we want more and better protection as well as improved performance – what sort of power management solution do you need? Everyone will benefit from having protection from power surges and spikes as well as EMI and RFI filtering. But in addition to these common power problems, you may also suffer from problems such as fluctuating mains voltages, brownouts, DC offset on the AC mains or the need for electrical isolation on shared circuits. I’m not aware of any single piece of equipment that will address all the typical power issues. In many homes A/V components share the circuit with other household electronics. If you are hearing clicks and pops or seeing interference bars on your display when appliances or lights turn on or off, you likely need electrical isolation from the circuit. A small amount of DC offset on your AC mains can cause mechanical vibration and excess heat in power transformers, in particular with toroidal transformers. Electrical isolation will help this problem, but ideally the DC should be stripped before the transformer. You will know if you suffer from brownouts which show up as dim or flickering lights or the sudden shutdown of computers and digital TVs. These sudden shut down events can potentially damage electronic equipment and a power bar will not provide any protection in this situation. If you suffer from brownouts (which will typically occur when power is in peak demand) you will want a voltage regulator to step-up the voltage when it is sagging. A voltage regulator will also work the other way if the voltage is too high. Since most power amplifier stages are unregulated, regulated mains power means that the amplifier will operate closer to the design voltage (120V) and also at peak performance.

Until recently my power management system has consisted of a power bar to provide some power surge / spike protection in conjunction with a large E-I core isolation transformer to block any DC that may be present on the line and to also provide electrical isolation from the circuit which in my case is shared. In going through the above common power related problems I was looking to improve my power management system by adding and increasing protection and maintaining optimal performance of my A/V setups. In particular I was looking to add RFI and EMI filtering, over-voltage and under-voltage protection and voltage regulation. With those requirements in mind, I came across the Panamax M5400-PM Home Theater Power Management System which promised to offer all that and more. The Panamax M5400-PM retails for $729. That price may seem a little high to some but when you consider the level of protection that will be provided and that there is sufficient capacity to use the M5400-PM with a modest powered home theater system and a 2-channel audio system.

The Panamax M5400-PM comes equipped with many key features. Its patent pending Automatic Over & Under Voltage Protection (AVM) is constantly monitoring the AC line voltage for conditions such as momentary under-voltage events (brownouts) and power spikes. If the M5400-PM senses a voltage lower than about 90V or greater than about 140V, it will quickly disconnect power to your equipment to protect it from possible damage. When the voltage is between about 90V and 140V the voltage is regulated. The operation is quite simple: the AVM monitors the AC line voltage and controls relays that direct the power to various taps on a Plitron branded autotransformer (aka Variac or autoformer). I tested the AVM and voltage regulator features by feeding the incoming power through a Variac, a device which allows the incoming voltage to be dialed down. Between about 97V to 115V the M5400-PM maintained the output voltage to within 5V of 120V. What really impressed me was how quickly power was cut to the equipment outlets when I simulated a brownout. With the combined AVM and voltage regulation features the M5400-PM is capable of providing exceptional protection of your precious audio and video components. In addition to the power protection, the M5400-PM provides up to 80dB of EMI and RFI noise filtration. Without filtration, contaminated power can be the source of problems like loss of picture detail, dull colors, visual artifacts, hiss and hum. Noise isolation is provided between all the outlet banks – this means that noise generated by a component plugged into any of the M5400-PM’s outlets cannot contaminate the power of the other connected components.

The black M5400-PM will blend in with many home theater components. The front panel has indicators for the outlet banks and a digital display that can show the incoming and outgoing voltage or current consumption. There are five illumination settings from very low to very bright which are set with the display button. A power button, regulated power outlet, USB charging port and LAN port round out the aluminum front panel. The chassis is made of steel, measuring 17″ wide x 12.75″ deep x 3.5″ high and weighs about 18 pounds. The underside is marked with a sticker that identifies the unit as US designed and Chinese manufactured. Also included with the packaging were Ethernet, telephone and coaxial cables, and a rack mount kit.

The rear panel offers a suite of five power banks, each with two good quality outlets that firmly held plugs in place. Two of the power banks and the front outlet are always on and the remaining banks can be switched using the front power button. One bank is rated at 15A and the remaining banks are rated at 12A. The 15A bank has a five second turn on delay to protect against turn-on thumps – this is where you will want to plug in big power amps and large subwoofers. The circuit breaker located on the rear panel is rated at 15 amps (1800W). The supplied 10 foot IEC power cord is thick (marked 14 Gauge) and shielded. The IEC power cord is held firmly in place by a removable metal cage. There is also a series of protected connectors: three pairs of coaxial (satellite, cable, antenna); two LAN (Blu-ray, HTPC, game console); and one phone (satellite, cable box). The rear panel is rounded out with a 12V trigger that can be used to activate or deactivate the switched power banks.

In my setup, a large isolation transformer fed power to the M5400-PM which supplied filtered and regulated power to my home theatre and my 2-channel audio system (both in the same room). The home theatre consisted of a 32″ LCD TV (125W; a 50″ plasma would be about 500W), 5.1 receiver (500W), subwoofer (200W) and the source is a universal player (35W) that is shared with the 2-channel setup. The 2-channel system consisted of a turntable (15W), the shared universal player, DAC (15W), preamp (240W), two 25W PP tube monoblock amps (320W). Even with all these components there were three free outlets. The total power rating was not exceeded as the home theatre and 2-channel systems are never operated together.

In the span of about one month the M5400-PM saw one brownout event. Prior to having the M5400-PM installed a brownout event would have shut down the TV and occasionally also the receiver and universal player. Not having to nervously check if the TV would restart after the brownout event was a welcome change. In terms of performance improvement, I did notice that the picture quality improved on a few analogue cable channels. Other performance improvements were much harder to notice. The reason for this is because typically the improvements result in the elimination of random and often rare visual artifacts and so they are difficult to identify.

Unless you are suffering from some of the power related problems previously described, performance improvements will be subtle and in that regard the value can be measured by how much you value the features and peace of mind that the Panamax M5400-PM offers. If you’re like me and have a few thousand dollars invested in your A/V equipment, adding a component like the Panamax M5400-PM is a no brainer. It will not only provide a power to your components, it will prolong their lifespan and in the worst of cases save them from catastrophic damage. Suddenly its $729 price tag seems very reasonable.


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Panamax M5400-PM
Price: $729 CAD

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