‘Wall-Wart’ Removal: mPATHX Offers an Efficient Answer
Gregory Menas is typical of many musicians with a home studio. He wants great, noise-free recordings. And in the early 1990s, a simple desire to eliminate some audible hum planted the seed that would lead to the founding of new company, one that launched a de facto war on the bane of many musicians everywhere: the ubiquitous “wall-wart.”
“If you’re a pro or a hobbyist, a recording musician at any level, a FOH guy or gal, you’re frustrated by these wall-warts,” he says. “I myself have been writing music since I was seven, and when I built my own studio and put in digital processors, many with these wall-wart power supply cords, I started picking up hum.” By process of elimination, he figured out the hum was coming from the warts.
That’s where most would have just shrugged and lived with it. Menas didn’t. “I was like, ‘what can I do about this?’”
mPATHX is the name of Menas’ new company, one that is in the process of marketing its patent-pending technology after years of research and development. The technology will be available for OEM applications and as a rackmount unit, the “SmartRack,” which will be out by the end of the year.
The goal is to “revolutionize the way the world uses power and transmits data,” he states. The technology will enable electronic and electrical devices to receive power and exchange data over a single physical connection. It will greatly reduce electrical noise, heat, waste, and cost.
While Menas enters the MI business world as an inspired musician trying to solve a common problem first and foremost, he also brings considerable business experience too. Since the 1980s he’s advanced his entrepreneurial skills, developing and leading several companies including Interex, a computer accessory and peripheral company he founded in 1982. In 1996, he sold his interest in that company, which at that point had $25 million in annual sales. He was president of the industrial engineering firm Marche, and then president and CEO of SWT, an intellectual property innovator.
mPATHX is co-founded by Brent Miller, who is its product development director. Prior to launching this company, Miller ran his own contract design business for consumer electronics, motor sports, commercial furniture, and interior architecture.
“Initially we envisioned two worlds – an mPATHX-enabled world, and a non-mPATHX enabled world,” Menas explains. It’s a two-pronged approach. The company is introducing the concept to manufacturers hoping they adopt the technology and build it into their products. For those that don’t, there is the SmartRack, a 19″ 1RU computer-controlled AC/DC power distribution unit. It will deliver both AC and the different DC voltages required by digital instruments like keyboards, pro audio products, and other electrical/electronic devices in and outside the rack. It is fully programmable with upgradeable firmware and software.
“It uses a heck of a lot less energy, you’ll be able to program the amount of power into each channel – so if you need 15 volts for your keyboard, and 16-1/2 for your Apple computer, you can dial it in,” Menas notes. The savings in electricity will appeal to many.
“As it stands now, most of these wall-warts waste 38% to 50% in electricity each,” he continues. “What we do is replace the entire device with a higher-quality two-conductor wire system. We hope manufacturers adopt the technology, which will facilitate communication via power supply and the connected device. In a post-mPATHX world, the musician would only grab a cable, plug in the product, and the product would then know just how many volts – 9, 15, 21, whatever – it needs to run on. And we get rid of the noise, the heat – and even suppress the surges.”
Musical instrument retailers themselves are a prime candidate for the racks, he adds, pointing out that the savings to a retailer for in-store displays would be $20 to $50 per year for every wall-wart eliminated.
“I love this technology,” says an exuberant Menas. “Once I realized what a problem these warts are, the ideal of getting rid of them was important. We needed a simple solution.”
|What is a ‘Wall-Wart’?
The slang term “wall-wart” is named for a certain kind of AC/DC transformers. These “warts” are over-sized AC plugs used to convert AC to DC electricity and then provide it to charge/operate DC powered devices.Why do warts even exist? Most believe they’re a bad solution to a very real problem.
Think of the electrical outlet working as a fire hydrant-type conduit for electricity: power pours out at 120 volts AC. The problem is many digital products require far less DC-type electricity. A digital piano might require only 15 volts, for example.
So these warts (also called “bricks”) are there to convert 120 volts of AC to much smaller DC voltages. In the process a tremendous amounts of energy may be wasted – by some reports an estimated 58 billion kilowatts in the U.S. in one year alone. Also, they create unwanted noise and heat problems. Some warts even burn energy when the devices they power are not even turned on. Overall, they waste an estimated $20 to $50 per wart per year according to Consumer Reports.
The problem has become better known since President George W. Bush referred to such devices as “energy vampires” in 2001. Currently there is legislation being looked at in a number of states, including California, to reduce the level of waste caused by these devices.
In addition to this energy efficiency problem and the excess noise they create, musicians dislike their bulky size, and the fact that their considerable weight can cause the unit to fall out of a socket, or cover up an adjacent wall socket and thus prevent its use.