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[SOUNDSTAGE!]Home Theater
Equipment Review

August 1999

Brick Wall Series Mode 8R15AUD Surge Suppressor

Many people seem to make the same mistake when buying an audio/video system. They start by budgeting less than enough money to cover the cost of the main electronic components and the speakers. Why? Instead of viewing high-quality audio and video as an investment that enriches lives, people see them as an expense whose cost should be minimized as much as possible. Besides that, sometimes they are wary that salespeople will try to sell them something they don't need. Undoubtedly this happens from time to time with unscrupulous sellers, but many times people end up not getting all the right equipment they do need when a good retailer is trying to put the best possible system together for them. When push comes to shove and the purchase gets made, buyers either have to pony up some additional money to cover the complete cost of the system, or, if they are shrewd negotiators, they will drive the salesperson down in price until the store meets the consumer's budget. Of course, the latter depends on whether or not there's enough margin in the products purchased to do so.

However, in either case, crucial components that make up a complete system get left out, or in worse cases, extremely low-priced goods are purchased and diminish the value and performance of the entire system. How many people end up using lamp cord for wire because there was not even enough money left over for basic audio/video cabling? And take surge suppressors. How many buyers factor in quality protection for their systems? More often than not they use nothing or plug all the gear into a $30 power strip that they hope does the trick? If they only knew.

When I'm laying down money on some quality audio and video components I want them protected, plain and simple. I don't trust the power coming from my walls to always be perfect. High-voltage spikes that completely blow out components may be rare in most modern cities, but they do occur, and I've witnessed the effects. Furthermore, smaller power fluctuations are not that uncommon. In fact, you may have had one in the time it took you to read this far into the review. You may not have noticed it, but your equipment may have.

Minor fluctuations in power do damage to a component too. It's sort of like boxing. A punch can be delivered like a missile, rendering the opponent unconscious in a split second. Similarly, a moderate punch thrown continuously over time can do similar damage and be just as catastrophic in the end.

Features SnapShot!
Model: Brick Wall Series Mode 8R15AUD Surge Suppressor
List price: $299 USD

Weight: 5.25 lbs.
Finish: Black
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor

Features

  • Six switched grounded receptacles
  • Two non-switched grounded receptacles
  • Self-test indicator light
  • Magnetic shielding steel cabinet
  • Right-angle plug

I live in an extremely good apartment building with a good supply of power. Complete power loss is extremely rare. Still, it has happened, and a couple years ago when an ice storm devastated this part of the country the power was knocked out many times. Worse yet, in between those times it fluctuated like a see-saw.

It was at that point that I decided protection was not just desirable, it was a must. I never got the Brick Wall unit I'm discussing here with the intention of reviewing it. Instead, I bought two of them to add a level of protection to both of my systems that would give me peace of mind. When I received and installed the Brick Wall units into these systems, I decided then to write about them because I feel the inclusion of high-quality surge protection is vitally important and can actually reduce future expenses by having to replace burned-out gear. Just the other night we had a humdinger of a lightning storm whip through the neighborhood, and I was glad that I have these Brick Wall suppressors.

Description

For my home-theater system I bought the $299 8R15AUD model that has plenty of outlets for all my components. There is also an 8R15 that has the identical configuration and is priced $50 lower. The "AUD" suffix refers to audio, and 8R15AUD has some specific features just for that. The main difference is the inclusion of isolated receptacles. This, according to the manufacturer, eliminates crosstalk between receptacles where, say, dirty digital components muck up the sound of the other components. The 8R15AUD also features improved EMI/RFI shielding. Brick Wall makes many other devices with features like rack mounting and power ratings up to 20 amps. It's a good idea to call them or check their website to see what all your options are and to make sure to get the exact model for your needs. The warranty period on all Brick Wall units is a lengthy 10 years.

The 8R15AUD measures 4" high by 4" deep by just over 8" wide. With a total of eight outlets, the 8R15AUD is more than adequate for plugging in my Nakamichi AV-10 surround-sound receiver, Sony television, Kenwood DVD player and Sony VCR. I usually plug my laptop computer into it too so I can write reviews while listening to music or watching movies. Six of the outlets are controlled by an on/off switch mounted on the side. Two additional outlets are always live for devices that should never be turned off. Other than a reset switch and a 14-gauge cord that plugs into the wall, there is not much more to the exterior of the unit except for the red self-test light on the front indicating proper function.

The 8R15AUD worked perfectly in my system and has all the features I need. Still, there are a few things that this Brick Wall suppressor does not do that some audio/video users may want. It does not have spike protection for a 75-ohm cable connector like devices from, say, Panamax. This would add protection for your TV or VCR or whatever you plug your coaxial cable into. Furthermore, although it has switched and unswitched outlets, it does not have timed outlets. Some have a need for a timed power-on sequence -- for when certain components need power before others. This did not affect me, but it could affect some. As well, the Brick Wall unit does nothing to prevent voltage sags. However, this is not really its fault since no units of this type do. Many people mistake power-line conditioners and surge suppressors for power generators. Products like the Brick Wall units can reduce the problems of incoming power, but they cannot generate their own power to make up for low voltage. You have to pay much, much more for something that actually generates power, and the use of them is very rare at this time.

The Brick Wall approach

The Brick Wall units are unique in that they use a proprietary method of surge suppression that, according to the company, beats the pants off MOVs (metal-oxide varistors). In fact, Brick Wall's website promises to "put the fear of God in you" on the topic of power protection with things you may not have realized about power surges. This is not necessarily intended to discount other products on the market that use MOVs because their makers may have other priorities in mind. For example, some of the audiophile-type power conditioners we see are designed specifically to improve the quality of the power and hence the resultant sound from your audio system or video image from your monitor. Surge suppression, then, becomes of secondary importance and many times MOVs are implemented for this need. This isn't to say MOVs don't work; they do, but there are some limitations to them.

It was Pete Goudreau, our engineer-at-large, who turned me on to the Brick Wall products and their approach to surge suppression. His March 1999 SoundStage! article entitled "AC Line Conditioners: Friend or Foe?" described MOVs as follows:

MOVs are typically placed across line-to-earth, neutral-to-earth, and/or line-to-neutral and act to clamp a surge voltage, whether differential or common mode, to safe levels. They are, however, sacrificial elements. That means they wear out and in fact can fail catastrophically in some rare instances. They also don't sharply limit voltage since they depend on an impedance in series with the surge source to limit the peak surge current and thus, through their resistance, the resultant peak surge let-through voltage. This impedance is very often only the line itself or some small inductance in an associated line filter.

They'll still protect connected equipment from damage, to a degree that is largely dependent upon the specific circuit design, but it is possible for their energy-dissipation rating to degrade over time if subjected to a large number of lower-level surges. It is often wise to replace this type of suppressor at regular intervals or after a power failure or two for this exact reason. Of course, if they didn't work as advertised, a company that offers a guarantee against equipment damage wouldn't stay in business long, would it?

Brick Wall puts surge suppression as the first priority and developed a unique way to do it. If it happens to improve other things in your system, so be it. If it doesn't, that's not really the point because Brick Wall products serve mainly to protect. The company didn't produce this technology for just the audio and video industries; it is used for things like computers too. A full description of how the units work is available from the company and also on their website. Pete describes the approach in his article as:

…a clever design that removes the sacrificial element and the potential for wearing out, or that of catastrophic failure, while providing significantly better surge protection than MOVs. Pretty clever actually -- wish I'd thought of it. Basically, it's a "simple" LC filter that rapidly lowers its natural frequency in response to an input peak voltage above a designed threshold.

Pete was impressed by the Brick Wall unit's protection circuitry, and what's more, he found that cascading the Brick Wall in front of some audiophile power conditioners can give you outstanding power protection along with the enhancements a good conditioner can provide.

It just so happens that I have an Audio Power Industries (API) Power Wedge as well as a Blue Circle Power Line Pillow. Both of these conditioners improve the sound of my audio system to a noticeable degree, and they both use MOVs for protection. They're fine components that offer excellent value and performance for audio and video. I still use them, but now I place them after my Brick Wall unit. The total combination gives satisfaction and improved quality to my audio and video system.

If you don't have another conditioner to use with your Brick Wall unit, don't fret. Remember, getting your system protected is a top priority. Besides, there is a side benefit to the Brick Wall units that I discovered when I first started using them. I was pleasantly surprised to note that when I put the 8R15AUD in my system without any other filters, I detected a slightly quieter background, and this improved dynamics and resolution a notch. As well, the picture on my monitor was a tiny bit clearer and had improved color. The differences, I must point out, were very subtle, but most definitely a welcome benefit.

Conclusion

The Brick Wall 8R15AUD suppressor sits quietly tucked away in my system, but its importance should not be underestimated. Plug it in, turn it on and you may just forget about it -- but that's really the idea. I didn't buy the Brick Wall 8R15AUD for the sonic or visual enhancement that it might bestow. In this case, protection for components that cost me thousands of dollars was the top priority. For $300, the 8R15AUD seems like a darn good deal since I don't trust cheap power bars whatsoever. Their level of sophistication is often minimal and may not be adequate to keep your components from frying. Besides, my guess is that the cost of a suppressor like this one from Brick Wall will be offset by the number of additional years my equipment may last.

Whatever you do, don't make the same mistake many people make. Factor in everything for a complete audio or home-theater system and make sure high-quality protection is part of that. The peace of mind is worth it.

...Doug Schneider
das@soundstage.com

Price: $299 USD.
Warranty: Ten years part and labor.

Manufacturer Contact:
Brick Wall Division, Price Wheeler Corporation
2630 First Avenue
Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: (619) 544-8390
Fax: (619) 236-9273

Website: www.brickwall.com


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