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Power to the People!

Monster Power to the People

Clean Power, for Clean Performance

By Jim Bray

Note: TechnoFILE's sample for this column was provided by K&W Audio of Calgary, Alberta.

Your home may be afflicted with an electrical problem that could prevent you from getting the most from your electronic equipment.

It’s called “Dirty power,” and it can cause noise, interference, and other AC (alternating current) power “pollution.” Almost anything electrical can cause it, from cordless phones and computers to police broadcasts and, so they say, neighborhood deep freezes.

All these electrical gadgets generate electromagnetic interference and radio frequency noise and this – as far as your home theater is concerned – can “dumb down” the performance of your expensive electronics.

Someone figured all this out, naturally, and now you can buy “power conditioners” designed to scrub your electricity and protect your equipment from spikes and other problems that can either degrade your system’s performance or fry it outright.

Many of these gadgets look suspiciously like power bars, those multi-socketed beasties familiar to just about anyone who has more than two electronic components in one room. There are power bars, however, and there are POWER BARS!

A company that’s making an excellent name for its “power conditioners” is Monster, of “Monster Cable” fame. Monster makes a line of “PowerCenters” that range from being “power bars on steroids” to actual components that fit in your audio/video stand with the rest of your stuff.

The latter will probably seem excessive to most consumers, so I split the difference and tried the “Reference PowerCenter” HTS2000, a $200 unit that provides a single source of clean power and protection for all your home theater sources. This is a BIG power bar, but it’s also fully loaded and very heavy duty.

The HTS2000 comes with 12 AC inputs, six of which are unswitched, that handle everything from heavy duty equipment like TV’s and power amps to lower current components like VCR’s. The inputs are all color coded and well labeled, so it’s easy to tell which plug should go where. Monster even includes color coded labels for your components’ power cords.

The unit also comes with connections for your phone line (meant primarily for use with WebTV or pay-per-view systems such as those offered by digital satellite services) and three sets of coaxial hookups for your cable TV/satellite dish/antenna.

A “Ground OK” indicator lights up if the HTS2000 figures your home's wiring has at least that part right (many don’t, apparently) and the whole unit (except for the unswitched sockets) can be controlled by a power switch on the top panel.

The HTS2000 plugs into your wall socket via an eight-foot “Monster PowerLine 200 cable” that terminates in a 24 karat gold three prong outlet. The unit carries a 1300 joule rating for protection against power surges and spikes, and Monster seems so confident that it offers a warranty on equipment connected to it.

When I first plugged in my power amplifier I was shocked to notice a really bad hum start to emanate from my components. Plugging in the preamp made it worse, so I hastily unplugged both and started over.

Alas, the buzz returned, but this time I pressed on bravely until all the various toys in my home theater were connected to the HTS2000. Strangely, and fortunately, the hum went away after a couple of minutes and has never returned. Apparenty, this was caused by a "ground loop" that, as I connected other components, was corrected.

I don’t know if this is a funny thing about using the Monster bar, or whether my home wiring is a particular disaster (We bought our house second hand, and it appears to have been erected in about twenty minutes by a crew of chimpanzees) but it was very disconcerting. I’ve always suspected my wiring, because even when every component except the power amplifier is turned off, there’s a slight hum in the speakers. It isn’t much (you have to put your ear near the speakers to hear it – so I don’t!), but it’s there.

Unfortunately, the HTS2000 didn’t correct this problem, which is too bad.

On the other hand, I had another problem that the HTS2000 appears to have corrected nicely: after a particularly heavy evening of home theater use the power amp sometimes developed a major hum – but not since I hooked in the HTS2000!

I don’t know if my audio and video quality have increased since the HTS2000, but the whole shebang seems more stable, and I like having proper hookups for all my components.

To me, that’s worth the price of admission.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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Updated May 13, 2006