Power protection buying guide
What's the best way to protect your gear?
Our headphone guy Jeff Miller has helped Crutchfield customers for over a decade. We often see him testing out new headphones — you'll find his firsthand take on many product pages. He also stays connected to the brave new world of voice control.
More from Jeff Miller
Just how important is power protection? Crutchfield's J Stoll found out first-hand. Read what happened to his home.
Plugging your audio and video gear into unprotected power outlets is risky. Lightning is the obvious danger. However, smaller power surges, spikes, and sags occur daily. They, too, can damage your gear. In this guide, I'll help you choose the best surge protector for your setup or situation.
Surge protector vs power strip
The first thing you should know? There is a big difference between a generic power strip and the genuine surge protectors that we offer. I took apart a cheap, no-name power strip and the Panamax SP8-AV to give you a side-by-side visual:
Inexpensive power strips (left) offer little or no protection. Genuine surge protectors (right) include heavy-duty parts that absorb or derail excess voltage.
Types of surge protectors
We separate our power protection units into these main categories:
- Long block of protected outlets.
- Lets you connect several components to one AC outlet.
- Space-saving surge protector that sits over an existing wall outlet.
- Provides protection in tight spots where you can't fit a strip.
- Replaces a regular wall outlet and adds surge protection or suppression.
- Installation by a licensed electrician recommended.
- Larger units that provide a higher level of protection.
- Many offer power filtration for optimal audio and video performance.
You get a higher level of protection from power protection components like the solidly-constructed Furman Elite-15 PFi.
Another threat to your gear: Dirty power
You may never suffer the gut-punch of a catastrophic electrical spike or surge. But your unprotected gear is susceptible to more gradual wear and tear. "Dirty power" comes from electricity's long trek through our power grid to your home or office.
Our aging power grid was built for keeping the lights on — not delivering pristine sound.
Power sags and inconsistencies can also originate from HVAC units, large appliances, or other factors under your own roof. I recently learned from an electrician that my home's wiring was outdated. (It's an older home that had been grandfathered — it met standards last used in the 1970s!)
Today's TV and stereo equipment needs steady, clean power to perform its best. Just think of all the sophisticated circuitry and processing inside the latest 4K TVs or Dolby Atmos receivers. For the best picture and sound, you’ll want power protection that not only diverts harmful spikes and surges, but also cleans up dirty power.
Power line conditioning can clean things up
Power line conditioners help drown out Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI).
EMI and RFI can seep into your system and cause havoc. You may find yourself rebooting your gear more often, or notice a drop in performance. EMI and RFI can even shorten the lifespan of your gear.
These readings from Panamax show how erratic and messy AC line noise can get (left), and how a power line conditioner can clean things up(right).
RFI results from radio waves generated by radio stations, cell phone towers, and other places. Your home's electrical circuitry can act as a crude antenna that sends RF signals through your system's power cords and into your gear — sometimes heard as clicks and pops.
EMI originates from items like refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, or washing machine and add a low hum to your otherwise pure sound. Ever notice the lights flicker when you cut on a hair dryer? Imagine what that is doing to your sensitive electronics.
You’ve probably invested a lot into your gear. If the idea is to maximize the sound and/or video performance, you simply don't want to skimp when it comes to line conditioning.
The rack-mountable SurgeX SEQ practically eliminates line noise and interference that degrades sound and picture quality.
What do you need to protect?
Make a home theater "checklist"
First, count the number of components that need protection. The average modern system might have the following placed in a central location:
- Cable or satellite box
- Streaming device (like a Roku or AppleTV®)
- Receiver or sound bar
- Blu-ray player
- Game console
- CD player, turntable, or other audio component
- Powered subwoofer
For this system, you need a power protection unit with at least eight outlets. It’s good idea to have a few more, just in case you add something to your system later on.
The AudioQuest Niagara 5000 includes 12 hospital-grade AC outlets, divided into six isolated banks to prevent noise created by one component from affecting other gear.
Have you blocked all surge pathways?
Power surges can travel through your cable or satellite TV lines and your home network cables, too. Look for surge protectors with protected inputs for these types of connections. Don’t forget that you’ll need extra coaxial and Ethernet cables to complete the hookup.
Are your modem and Wi-Fi® router protected?
More and more modern appliances and A/V gear rely on your network. For everything from Smart TVs to home automation, you need a solid Wi-Fi and internet infrastructure.
But what happens when a power surge takes out your modem or router? Even if you rent them from your internet provider, you still have to wait on a service call or parts to ship. Meanwhile, you have no network — no working from home. No music through your Sonos® system. No binge-watching shows on Netflix®.
If you keep your modem and router safe, you can restore your internet — and your life — much faster.
What about your Sub?
Subwoofers are often placed in a separate area from the rest of your components. Rather than leave them hanging out to dry, you’ll want to make sure you have an extra surge protector.
You can use a traditional strip-style surge protector, but if you don’t need several outlets for other gear, use a space-saving surge protector like the Panamax MD2 (Pictured below).
Is your TV wall-mounted?
In-wall or on-wall surge protectors work best for wall-mounted televisions. It's a matter of space, but also aesthetics. You want your TV to look clean and uncluttered on your wall.
Some space-saving surge protectors, like the Sanus SA-206, are designed to be hidden behind wall-mounted TVs.
Do you use a Projector?
A ceiling-mounted projector will need its own dedicated surge protector. In-wall, or in this case "in-ceiling," surge protectors like the Panamax MIW Power-Pro PFP work best for this setup.
Safely charge your smartphones and tablets
Let's face it — we all live on our phones these days. It would be a disaster if something happened to it. Get a surge protector with built-in USB connections to protect your device as it charges.
The Panamax Power360 P360 cradles and safely charges your phone, takes up little space, and offers protected AC power outlets — I use two at my house.
Keep your home office running
Traditional desktop computers often don't have back-up power. A surge protector with an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) keeps your computer going long enough for you to shut it down properly. You also buy some time to save any unfinished work.
Do you have Sonos or other wireless speakers?
Not every room or home is built to handle a large sound system. Single wireless home speakers are popular because of their convenience and size. A wireless speaker should always plug in to a protected outlet, whether you keep it in one place, or move it from room to room.
Keep that in mind if you have wireless surround sound speakers.
Protect your outdoor speakers
Outdoor speakers spend their days in the elements. It's important to not only keep them protected, but also your gear inside that plugs into the same electrical system.
The Panamax MOD-SPKP plug-in module connects to your inside surge protector. It has eight screw terminals for your speaker wires. (Or, if you have a home security system, you can also use some of the terminals for those wires.)
We can help you choose
Our expert Advisors know the gear inside and out. Your Advisor can send specific Crutchfield pages to your screen, saving you a lot of browsing time. You'll get a shopping cart loaded up with everything you need.
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Low-profile wall-mountable surge protector