What Inexpensive Dimmer Pack Should I Buy? – Learn Stage Lighting .com

What Inexpensive Dimmer Pack Should I Buy?

Many churches are the proud owners of inexpensive dimmer packs to dim their incandescent stage lights.  These 4-channel units are very popular among churches, and there are a wide variety of models and manufacturers to choose from.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen the worst of these packs fail in churches and I’ve also seen the best of these packs in all their glory years later.  I want to show you what you need to look for in a inexpensive dimmer pack, and how to find a winner for your church.

If you look out into the lighting world, you see a TON of advertising and products aimed at churches.

I get a lot of questions and visitors to this website asking about specific pieces of equipment for church use, and let’s face it- churches have a lot of questions about what equipment they should buy!

I remember when I was new to the world of lighting, and I figured that a dimmer was a dimmer was a dimmer.  As if they were all the same!

Fast forward a few years, and I recently consulted with a church that was blowing fuses because they did not realize that their dimmers were not rated for the current pulled by their lights.

 What do I need to look for in an Inexpensive Dimmer Pack?

There are a few “spec sheet items” that you need to consider when looking at your lights and the dimmer pack:

  • Wattage or Amperage per Channel and Pack: You need to compare the total power per channel to the power you lights take up.  Many packs are limited to 5A(600w) or 10A(1200w) per channel, and 15A(1800W) or 20A(2400w) per pack.  You need to figure out how many lights you have to plug into the dimmer, and if they will overload the pack, which is both a fire hazard and a good way to blow fuses and/or destroy a pack!
  • Number of Channels: How many different control channels does the dimmer have?  1, 4 and 6 are popular numbers for small dimmers.
  • Number of Fuses/Breakers: Is there a fuse or breaker on each channel?  A good pack should have this, or else you will destroy your pack if you hook up too many lights.
  • Is it DMX, Microplex or other control?: Check to see if your lighting system matches the control type of the pack.  Though many different standards of control use the same XLR plug, they are NOT compatible.
  • What do the reviews look like?: Does the unit really work well in the real world, or does it fail easily?  The reviews will tell you people’s honest opinions!
  • Is the manufacturer trusted?: Though there are many, many cheap-o packs imported from Asia, I really suggest going with a manufacturer that has been around for awhile, and therefore put some thought into the R&D and warranty.  I can’t tell you the numer of sub-$100 packs I’ve seen die really, really early in their life.

What Models of Dimmers Provide Great Value?

This guide wouldn’t be complete without some real-world suggestions.  While you get what you pay for with dimmers, there are many quality, value-minded dimmers that fit the church budget.  I don’t ever want to recommend something that isn’t built well to my readers, and this is no exception.

  • Leviton D4DMX-MD5 – My favorite dimmer pack, this unit is rated for 20A(2400w) total/10A(1200w) per channel.  This allows you a little more flexibility in patching and you can use lamps brighter than 600w!  It also has both DMX and microplex inputs/outputs.  It also has breakers on each channel, so no fuses are blown if you accidentally overload a channel!
  • Elation DP-DMX 20L – This pack comes in a close second, with 20A total and 5A per channel, and only DMX input and output.  This pack has fuses instead of breakers, but they are easily accessible, so I suggest it!
  • Elation DP-415 – This unit is on rated for 15 amps(1800w) total, 5 amps per channel, but is still a good unit, and a great price!  The fuses aren’t super-accessible, as you have to take the unit apart to get to them.

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  • John A. Gulow says:

    I have 4, 500-watt, incandescent bulbs mounted inside vintage Altman PAR64 cans, that I want to set up in 2 pairs, 2 per side. No DMX whatsoever. I only need the lights to do 3 simple alternating patterns- L1+R4, L2+R3, and L1&L2 + R3&R4. What do I need? I’m brand new to lighting, and all the articles I’m reading seem to be leading me toward DMX, which I don’t think I need. Can I use a vintage dimmer pack? Where would one go to find such a thing? What vintage brands are recommended?

    • David says:

      Hi John,

      While there are “retro” Non-DMX dimmers, these days it’s usually cheapest to go with DMX.

      However, if you come across any working Microplex or Analog triggered dimmers, you can totally use them as well – just pay close attention to the maximum power ratings of each channel and the whole dimmer, and you’ll be great!

      If it’s a vintage dimmer and it still works reliably – it’s a good unit! There are many old brands, and many of them are good!

      Thanks!
      -David

  • Tim says:

    Please excuse my ignorance… Can a dimmer pack be controlled by a simple On/Off switch, in addition to DMX?

    My church just put in a handful of stage lights that are DMX controlled. I would like the stage lighting operator to be able too control/dim the house lights also, and adding a DMX dimmer seems like the way to provide that functionality.

    However, for times when a lighting operator is not around, I would like to have a simple light switch on the wall so anyone (such as a janitor) can turn the lights On & Off.

    Perhaps the controller could be connected to switched power, provided the channels could be set to default to On when power is applied, if individual switched control for each channel is not a method for operating the controller.

    Basically, my question boils down to “how does the janitor easily turn the lights On/Off” where a DMX controller has been added.

    Thanks.

  • Julius says:

    Hey David

    I’m looking to buy a dimmer that I will be taking on the road. I need it to be rugged enough to endure rough handling and sometimes unstable mains supply like on a generator

    I’d like a 6 channel 10amp per breaker type.

    What would you suggest?

    Thanks

    • David says:

      Hey Julius,
      I don’t know where you live in the world, so power ratings and available gear may be different. Most dimmer packs are rated for a maximum of 15 or 20amps across all channels, so if you’re asking for a total of 60 amps in one dimmer pack, you’re not going to find it – you’ll want to look at dimmer racks from your local dealer!
      Thanks!
      -David


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