We review the latest fishkeeping products on the shelves.
“There is nothing on the market that compares to the Matsuko Switch Boxes,” the MD of Matsuko declares on his website. I’m going to agree. If there’s anything else like these units out there, then I’ve not seen one, says Nathan Hill.
I want to start at the most superficial level. Matsuko’s switch boxes look superb. I’m used to outdoor boxes that look like something from the Cold War era — the kind of oppressive off-white box with rubberised switches that Soviets would use to eject themselves out of a spy plane. Outdoor electrical controls have long emphasised function without form. But then, why make them pretty? It’s not like the old guard had much in the way of competition. In later years, dull grey blobs had hazy lights attached, so you could at least squint out at night and see if you’d remembered to turn things back on, but nobody was trying to win the avant-garde audience over. Matsuko’s offerings look more like games consoles than pasty boxes of depression. They even have shapes as symbols on programming buttons, a-la Playstation. A combination of grey and red plastic acts as the housing, with a lit screen on the front, and light bars indicating whichever channels are running at the time. As long as it doesn’t bleach in the sun, I’d be happy having this thing lashed to the side of my house or shed.
Programming the box
The model I have is the Switch Box Timer and Pumpguard (more on that later), which comes with five timed, programmable outputs.
Programming is, as always, fiddly. Such is the nature of programmable objects in a world where we’ve come to expect Smartphone simplicity and touch screens. Here you need to be old school, scrolling menus and setting times. If you could work around the early ‘dumbphones’ like the old Nokia housebrick designs, you’ll already have something of an idea of what to expect.
On the screen, you can designate each of the five outputs to different tasks, out of a menu options of pump, air pump, heater, filter, UV, light, feeder and the ever helpful ‘aux’. It certainly beats permanent marker or ticker tape stuck to switches. Each line can be programmed to come on/off at up to five intervals over 24 hours.
As a brief but important note (to avoid frustration), once you’ve set all your programs, don’t switch the box off and walk away. Though there’s a double layer capacitor inbuilt (which stores energy to remember all your settings in the event of a powercut), it takes a while to charge. If you set your programs, turn everything off and then come back a few days later expecting them to still be there, you’ll be disappointed.
At the bottom of the screen you have a clock and date indication (you need to input these during set up) as well as two power consumption readings. The first is the consumption of just line one, displayed as watts. The second is the combined output of lines one-through-five.
The Matsuko Switch Box can cope with a total output of up to 3000W over the five lines, but note that it is restricted to 1500W on an individual line (and with the caveat that suitable cable is used). You’re not being short-changed there — putting it into perspective, 1500W will power a twohorsepower pump (for those who need 25,000 lph flow at 10m head). Unless you’re running a small lake, it’s unlikely that 1500W of consumption is going to be needed on one line.
Line 1 is where the Pumpguard feature comes in to play. This is a novel concept built in to the switch box, and is touted as a ‘smart technology’ to monitor how your pump should behave. In a nutshell, the Pumpguard feature ‘learns’ how the pump it is powering behaves, when it is first fired up. For around 20 minutes after it is switched on, the Matsuko box runs the pump on line 1 at different power outputs, while it familiarises itself with how the pump runs.
Once it has the pump figured out, it goes into monitoring mode, looking for any unusual behaviour. The thinking behind this is to catch any pumps that keep stopping and starting from burning themselves out. If a pump starts behaving
erratically, the Pumpguard feature will kick in to run the pump at a lower intensity, to see if that stops a repeat failure. If the pump still insists on cutting out, the Pumpguard eventually turns it off altogether, so it can’t burn out. It then beeps, pops up a red LED, and prints ‘fail’ on the screen for you to action when you pass the box next.
Getting into the box
Opening the Switch Box is easy, once you work it out. On the underside, you need to insert a screwdriver (or key, or pointed stick), move a catch half a centimetre sideways, and then the cover pops up. On the downside, it doesn’t stay in that position, and herein is where it gets a little fiddly.
Connecting up cables is easy-ish. If you’ve got big hands, or if you’re plagued with the age-old human ailment of only having two of them, it requires some juggling and improvised propping. There’s precious little unscrewing to be done (in fact, tools don’t feature large at all in the wiring up stage), and instead of using PCB terminal blocks that require screwing, Matsuko uses click-push connectors. However, they’re stubborn little chaps, and you need something thin and sturdy to hold them back as you insert the cable (and hold the unit open).
Once finished, seal the unit closed with a locking screw (supplied) and use the provided blanking caps to close off any spare ports, and you have something weatherproof to rating IP56 — it won’t withstand dunking, but an accidental blast with a powerful hose isn’t getting inside it.
The chief concern I could level at the Matsuko is that it is pricey when compared to an ugly old ‘basic’ switch box. While I can pick up some primitive, no-frills, five-way outdoor lumps for £40 to £50, the Matsuko has an asking price of almost £190. Agreed, you are getting a lot of controllability for your money, and the Pumpguard feature alone could easily save you more than the difference in burnt-out pumps, but whether you can justify the price is a judgement call you’ll need to make yourself.
From my position, if I’m going to spend weeks rendering my perfect pond, investing in top-tier, graphite-shafted pumps, esoteric UVS and filters straight out of a sci-fi movie, I’d go the extra mile and have a Matsuko powering it. If you’re looking for something to turn the pond light on under the ceramic frog fountain, in a 200 l goldfish pool, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.
My only other worry would be that with increased complexity comes an increased chance of failure, but that’s the same for any device that goes above and beyond a basic standard, and I think it’s a negligible risk.
In a nutshell, the Pumpguard feature ‘learns’ how the pump it is powering behaves, when it is first fired up.
Smart, modern looks are among the features that set this apart from the usual dull grey boxes.