Most reviews don’t need to start with a history lesson, but this one does. For those who remember the days of tube-based amplifiers, keeping them cool wasn’t just sensible but vital. The reason? Heat isn’t good for electronics, which need to stay relatively cool in order to function correctly over a long term basis. Too much heat=problems that range from affecting audio signals to literally destroying the circuit boards.
Today there doesn’t seem much of that going on — until you hear about the new iPad being too “hot.” Then everybody starts getting excited like the idea of “heat” is something unheard of. Want another example of the lack of concern? Look at Sony’s Blu-ray players — specifically the S580 from last year which had a fan and the replacement 590 that doesn’t (both reviewed elsewhere). Having the fan made sense with one model, now it doesn’t. So who is right or wrong about this issue? Or even cares?
The fact is that you should care, at least as far as your home theater setup goes. Mobile devices are one thing but an amplifier is another. As is any home theater/related component, or grouping of them, that has been shoved into a too-tight cabinet or tightly fitting shelf where the free flow of air is less than ideal. Pretty much any component you have in your home theater generates some heat and, given the right opportunity, can be damaged by it. That’s not even taking into consideration there being a device directly above being the recipient of the heat (quick science lesson — hot air rises). Just because you feel relatively comfortable when using your home theater doesn’t mean you should assume the same for the stuff providing you with what’s being seen and heard.
So short of sticking a fan in a corner and having it blow constantly — because most devices that go into “standby” continue to generate heat — what option is there? Active Thermal Management, is what. These guys provide methods to keep components cool by moving the air around for you. And for most of us, that doesn’t mean installing blower fans and running hoses, but having a means to push that heated air away from the components so that the air flow can keep things at a reasonable temperature.
Which is why I’m pleased to have their new Cool-slim Component Cooler on hand. My Yamaha amplifier does a great job at giving me 120+ watts of blasting power as it sits below the projection screen in the living room (on a tiered low slung rack system), but it’s more than warm to the touch by the time the first movie has played (not to mention being left on pretty much most of the day for watching the news). And the dust that gathers on the grill at the top isn’t helping either — nor is wiping it that great a solution since then the shmutz falls inside more often than not.
But Cool-slim can do the job — heck, looking at it I can see how it’s going to go about doing what it does. You’ve got basically an 11-inch square enclosure that “sits” on top of the component that you want to keep from overheating (that you place it over the hottest part seems obvious). Slim it is too, barely 2-inches high so not exactly noticeable. And if you want it to be even more of a shortie, remove the screws to take off the bottom feet to do even more of a height reduction.
Now in this day of components having gone far past rocket science, it’s easy enough to see how simple Cool-slim is to operate. Obviously the four internal fans are designed to run on/off automatically (or why bother?) and a PC circuit board inside handles the decision as to when the fans should start spinning. Aiding in that decision is a small external probe that “reads” the temperature. Enough said about the “how” then.
And because of the way it works, even if the component isn’t vented at the top, like most Blu-ray players these days aren’t, it’s still going to make a difference by pulling the air from around and creating circulation where there was none.
So lets try it out in two scenarios; the first will be with the amplifier. I turn the amp on and use it religiously for about two hours and then place a thermometer against the top. Yikes — it’s reading over 100 degrees F!
So I take the Active Thermal Management Cool-slim Component Cooler and put strips of the included weatherstripping tape on the bottom where the vents for the fans are (so that there’s a seal to ensure that the air being pulled is coming only from the amp’s top and not from the sides). I plug the power supply into the appropriate back socket on the Cool-slim, and then into a power outlet, which starts the fans going. I then insert the thermal probe into its socket nearby as well (had the top of the amp been cool, the probe would have shut the fans down). The probe gets placed on the top of the amp where the heat seems most evident and then the Cool-slim goes on over it and the top of the amp like the cover it is. I continue to use the amp, but after about 10 minutes I raise the Cool-slim and get a temperature read again. This time the temperature is dropping. And as an added benefit, the dust isn’t going down into the grills, but up and away.
So now I’ll turn the amp off. A couple of minutes later the fan’s stop — meaning the temperature has dropped below the point where the probe tells the Cool-slim to start her engines (about or just a notch or two below 90 degrees or so it seems). So I can see how the Cool-slim works when it’s situated on top of a heated surface where the hot air can rise directly up against it.
For the second test, I’ll remove the tape from beneath the Cool-slim and place it on top of my Dish Network’s satellite receiver (no vents/grilles at the top). The Dish Network receiver is active on its own throughout the day, due to the inclusion of a digital recorder/hard drive. The Cool-slim turned itself on/off during the course of the day as needed — obviously my not having a cooling system working for my home theater is an issue I’ll be addressing moving forward.
Bottom line: A solid construction and simplistic procedure makes the Cool-slim Component Cooler a helpful accessory for home theater use. At a retail cost of about $220 (depending on where you get it from), the Cool-slim does something that you might have never thought you’d need — but you’d be wrong.
- Unattended operation
- Quiet fans
- Removable feet
- Cost may be discouraging to some
- Probe wire could be shorter
- Can’t cool a component in a sealed enclosure
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.