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By Darius Van Rhuehl
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
Usually, when something seems too good to be true, it is. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, and I’ve found the Phonic MAX 1600 to be one. Where else can you get up to 900W of power in a versatile, rackspace-saving, easily affordable package?
Taking the MAX 1600 out of the box revealed a solidly built, aesthetically pleasing design. Taking up only two rackspaces, the unit is quite substantial but doesn’t have the boat-anchor heft that makes you want to leave your rack at home. The front panel displays an on/off switch with a blue LED power indicator, a peak LED that turns red when the input signal is too high, signal-level LEDs on each channel that allow you to monitor input signals above -30dBu, and two rotary gain controls. The gain controls have a smooth, solid feel and are detented for easily recallable, accurate settings.
Versatility was the order of the day when Phonic engineers set out to design the MAX. To cover all the I/O bases, it has 1/4" and XLR inputs that can accept balanced or unbalanced signals (for unbalanced XLR, make sure to connect pins 1 and 3), but I recommend going balanced for optimal noise-free operation in a venue—especially if you need long cable runs. On the output side, MAX offers Speakon-type and binding post connectors, which pretty much cover any type of speaker cable you have in mind. To prevent ground loops, MAX 1600 comes with a Ground/Floating switch (or ground lifter), which allows you to ground the unit or "float" it if necessary. In normal practice, you would keep the unit grounded, but if you rely on other devices for grounding, the floating position would be preferable.
There’s a fairly simple formula for power amps: more watts = more $. And the more power, the heavier the unit. Not so with the Phonic MAX 1600, which weighs 32 lb. and pumps out up to 900W. To power your speakers, you get three operating modes: stereo, parallel, and bridge. Stereo mode operates as you would expect with each channel’s input going directly to its output and providing continuous average output power of 280W per channel at eight ohms, 450W per channel at four ohms. In parallel mode, a mono signal from channel 1 is sent to both output channels with each channel’s volume knob controlling its output level. In bridge mode, the signal is taken from channel 1 with the output power of both channels combined into channel 1’s output, which provides 900W of continuous average power. A back-panel three-position switch sets the operating mode.
Phonic MAX 1600 Power Amplifier
Going to max power can be dangerous if you’re piloting a jumbo jet. However, in live music, max power is what we want—provided it doesn’t cause a flameout mid-flight. Phonic’s experienced engineers understand that crashing and burning during a show is never an option, so they built in a number of professional features to protect your MAX should you feel the need to run it at its rated 900W in bridged mono. For starters, there’s a variable-speed fan that runs at its power-saving slower speed when everything is cool or kicks into high gear should things heat up. Say you’re playing a hot set under hot lights on a hot stage in a hot club in front of a dance floor filled with hotties (I’m talking really hot), and the fan alone just can’t cut it, a protective circuit will man up to take the heat, shutting down the system before damage can occur. (As a side note, any power amp is more susceptible to overheating in bridged mono mode.)
Heat protection alone doesn’t cover all the possibilities for power amp problems. Speakers are another concern. They can short circuit, which causes the amp to work too hard and eventually burn itself out. If this occurs, the unit will cut off output current to the speakers. Direct current (DC) entering the connection between power amp and speaker can damage speaker drivers and cones. To prevent this, an output DC offset circuit cuts output current when it senses DC current. But that’s not all that can damage your speakers. Frequencies below 10Hz (which we can’t hear) carry a lot of energy that can be harmful to many speakers. But the MAX 1600 has got your back with a subsonic filter that helps eliminate frequencies that are potentially damaging. And finally, a power on/off muting circuit provides a two- to three-second delay before MAX sends out a signal. During this time, the entire system is muted to protect against damaging speaker thumps. There you have it, a power amp that not only looks out for itself but your speakers too. And it doesn’t stop there. To give you a noise-free performance, MAX also keeps RF (Radio Frequency) interference out of your music by filtering signals above 200kHz.
To test the unit, I talked a club-owning friend of mine into substituting it for his more expensive unit. The amp stayed in place for a month and provided enough power to fill a 450-seat club with sound every night—and no one could hear a difference between the Phonic and the more expensive power amp.
If you’re looking for a reliable power amp that can crank out enough watts to rock the house without rocking your wallet, you can’t go wrong with the MAX 1600. In fact, my club-owner friend wished he’d known about the MAX 1600 before he put in his sound system—that way he could have had great sound and spent the extra money on club decor.