Component Reviews, Part 2 of 4
Published on April 1, 2004
Zektor MAS3 Multichannel
Insertion Loss (0-100K – 0 dB
Adjacent Channel Crosstalk at 20K – less than -104 dB
Unselected Channel Crosstalk at 20K – less than -104 dB
Power Consumption: less than 5W
Size: 17” W x 6.5” D x 1.75”H
Warranty: One Year
12675 Danielson Court, Suite 401
Poway, CA 92064
Many of us are into both of the new hi-res disc formats and have separate dedicated players for each of them. Some of us even have three players – perhaps both single play and changer SACD decks or the third player being a much-tweaked CD-only player which still sounds better on standard CDs than either of our new-format players. While the universal players are improving steadily, some of us have found that those we could afford don’t necessarily sound quite as good as our dedicated players. The problem is that almost none of the multichannel processors and receivers have more than a single six-channel analog feed-thru for a multichannel player. So some sort of switching or constant unplugging and plugging-in is required.
I used three $15 Radio Shack passive AV switches in tandem for this purpose; I later figured out I could have gotten by with just two, using the video switching on each for two more channels. The problem was I had to get up each time I wanted to switch players, hold the lightweight boxes from being pushed to the back of the shelf when I pushed on the three buttons. Comparisons of the few discs released on both formats were very difficult to carry out. And the Shack doesn’t have those cheapo switch boxes any more.
Enter the Zektor switches; they also have two other models designed for switching HDTV component video and digital audio. The MAS3 is designed specifically for switching two or three multichannel analog-output disc players, and therefore is right up AUDIOPHILE AUDITION’S alley! Hookup is very straightforward. I used a pair of the excellent Harmonic Technology color-coded six-channel cables going from my Sony multichannel SACD changer and my Toshiba DVD-A player. An older six-channel color-coded cable ran from the output jacks of the Zektor to the 6-channel analog inputs on my Sunfire processor. Power is from a wall-wart unit, which I had to mount further away from the equipment rack to avoid a buzz that was picked up.
The front of the unit is machined aluminum with an attractive finish, and the case is steel and very solid. It has (from left to right across) the power switch, a window for the remote control signal, and three large buttons with LEDs above them. You can simply press any one of the three buttons to manually switch the unit to that selected player. If the power is turned off, pressing any one of the buttons will switch the power back on and change to the input you have selected. The manual calls them Channels 1, 2 & 3, which seems a bit of an odd designation. The 18 RCA jacks on the back are all gold-plated, and the Zektor uses a passive switching design, with gold-plated relay contacts for low noise and low crosstalk. The three LEDs can be set for bright, dim or auto mode. The latter option automatically dims the LEDs after a selection is made, to be less distracting in a dark home theater environment. Optional rack mount ears are available for the unit.
The MAS3 is not supplied with a remote – a good choice since it won’t add to your remote glut. The IR receiver built into the unit is designed to work with an existing remote control. Almost any IR remote should work with it using codes already in the library. It can also learn new codes from remote buttons you choose for it. 90% of the user manual is devoted to programming a remote control to operate the MAS3. It first glance it seems very complicated. The first section on programming lists remote procedures for four products – none of which I had. The next section lists the remote codes for eight different manufacturers – also none of which I had. There’s also a section on Searching for a Component Code in Your Remote. I worked my way to the Learning New Remote Codes section next. It begins with setting your MAS3 to standby mode using a small button on the rear panel.
I selected the remote for my Sony 775 changer, and decided to use some buttons that were not normally used for operation of the player: Level, Clear and Enter. After each button is pushed – while pointing the remote at the MAS3 – there is a beep and the IR indicator blinks to indicate the code has been received. Although I had started out in high dudgeon over the confusion setting up the remote, in very short order I had three buttons programmed to turn on the MAS3, switch between the three “channels,” and to dim the LEDs when finished. In addition, I later found that the buttons marked 1, 2 and 3 on the numerical keyboard at the top of the Sony remote selected their respective channels automatically. I hadn’t programmed them but that’s useful because I don’t use those buttons to select tracks remotely anyway.
It was very satisfying to be able to remotely switch between my two multichannel players without getting up, and to use the same remote that controlled one of the two players. I haven’t yet taught my supposedly universal Sunfire remote any of the other remote codes, and so have quite a collection of remotes. It’s hard to believe that until a year or so ago everything in my system was get-up-to-operate except the disc players themselves and the TV. Now I even have my turntable at hand to the left end of my love seat and if I stretch I can at least set the stylus down or lift it at the end without getting up, if not remove the clamp and turn the disc over . The only manual switching left is between tape and moving coil inputs (since they are one and the same on the Sunfire processor) and four tape sources switched into the tape input.
However, in my pursuit of being a nearly complete couch potato I found a small fly in the ointment: I discovered notable differences in channel levels between my two multichannel players. Namely the center and surround channels were much lower level from my Toshiba DVD-A player than from my Sony SACD player. I had to raise the center channel six or seven dB and the surrounds about 4 dB, using the Radio Shack digital level meter and the Chesky test tones for the DVD-A plus the Telarc test tones for the SACD. There is no level adjustment in either the Toshiba or the Sony. There was also a difference of one or two dB between the left and right main front channels vs. my two-channel SACD and CD player – with the right being slightly lower. Fortunately my Parasound five-channel amp has individual small pots on each channel, so I could trim the main two channels that way. I tried different cables, and switching to “channels” 2 and 3 instead of 1 & 2, but the differences remained. I also went back to the Shack stack of manual switches and found that there were still differences, though not quite as drastic. Of course the levels can be adjusted remotely at the AV processor, but that eliminates instant switching at identical levels on all channels measured by the digital meter. So A/B-ing of the same album in both hi-res formats (for example the new Dr. Chesky Surround Show) for comparison becomes dicey.
Surely with different players there would be different results, and perhaps you would be fortunate enough to have closely matched levels from both of your players. But even with my little problem the remote switching was a delight to use and both programmed and operated perfectly. If you don’t expect to invest in a universal disc player or in one of the extremely high end processors with two switched analog multichannel inputs anytime soon, and don’t mind paying more than for an entry level hi-res player in order to have the advantage of remote switching, then the MAS3 is your baby! And it adds a bunch of nice red and green LEDs to your equipment rack or shelves.
– John Sunier