Gear guide

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Welcome -

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.

Pump­guard fea­ture

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.

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