Understanding “usable power”

Bloged in Blogs for Newbies by Steve Deckert Saturday March 14, 2009

When you’re ready to adventure into the mystery of lower power amplifiers and their appeal, you hope your research quenches your biggest fear - that less power will be less stimulating.

The first concern is; will it get loud enough followed by what type of bass performance will it have. After all it’s a bit much to think a 50 to 250 watt system could ever be completely replaced by a 5 watt amplifier…

Assuming you don’t feel like taking someone’s word for it, the best thing you can do is arm yourself with a better understanding of what real power and dynamics are.

We need to start with understanding the volume control. In any given system you will slowly raise the volume control to a certain point and stop. That becomes your desired listening level. So, what made you stop rotating at that exact point? Why not a click or two before that spot, or perhaps a few notches past that spot?

The answer is largely about frequency balance and detail. If you don’t turn the volume up high enough, the music lacks body and weight - it sounds a bit thin, perhaps dry. Inner detail is also harder to distinguish as the volume is not high enough to properly project it. On the other hand if you turn the volume up too high, the sound starts getting worse, not better. This is due to distortions in the amplifier, speakers, and or room acoustics, usually a little of each.

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