Huge power wasn’t a “thing” when I got started with car audio in the mid-late 90s. My family owned a retail store in small town North Dakota and good sounding vehicles were a draw. The good equipment was expensive and people bought it eagerly. Beginning in 2002 I took a break from car audio and completely shifted my focus on cars to the performance scene. For the first time I tried drag racing and dyno testing. Audio equipment was a burden to slow me down. It had to go and I wasn’t working in the electronics business.
I re-entered the world of car audio in 2010 by going back to my family’s store, and it was really obvious that something had changed about amplifiers. Generally they were cheaper, more powerful for the same money, and everywhere I looked I saw 1,000W or more for bass. Turning to Google to learn, I discovered the online forum scene had changed and the “SQ” world of outboard digital signal processing with individual speaker equalization, Time Alignment and so much more was revealed. This technology wasn’t new in 2010, just new to me. It was new to me to have a separate amplifier channel for tweeters and mids, as before I had used passive crossovers for that.
The Internet SQ crowd was debating amplifier headroom to answer the question of “How much power is needed for the best sound quality?”. No longer was it cool to have 35W x 4. If you wanted a really “ballsy” SQ system it seemed like you ought to multiply that by 10-20X. POWER! DYNAMICS! MORE HEADROOM! If that snare drum snap doesn’t make me blink it must mean my amp is too small, right?
If we can’t turn it up loud and keep it there reliably then what is the point?
Aren’t there consequences to greatly exceeding the manufacturers’ power rating recommendations? Yes! Why do people disregard the power handling numbers in their quest for the ultimate in sound quality? As this is about potential damage to speakers versus amplifier power ratings, and not the evolution in audio equipment technology or price per watt of power I’ll next share an excerpt from an article I found.
Bigger AmplifiersRod Elliott, Elliott Sound Products
A persistent myth in the audio industry is that clipping damages tweeters, so you should use a bigger amp to ensure more headroom so the amp won’t clip. This claim is simply bollocks! Take the 100W amp described above, and replace with an amp big enough to prevent clipping … even with the additional 12dB input signal as shown in Figure 7. Since a 100W amp was just below clipping with an average output of 16W, if we add 12dB that takes the peak amp power to 1.6kW (near enough) and the average power will be 254W.
The article is required reading if you want to master mobile audio system design. Bookmark it to save it for later studying. Let’s focus on the last statement, “the average power will be 254W“. If we choose amplifiers large enough to meet a goal of never clipping on our music, a likely consequence is melted speakers. The electrical system burden increases. The complexity of the system installation increases rapidly.
Stop focusing on huge power for sound quality. There are many more important matters to focus our efforts on to increase our enjoyment of listening to music through our mobile audio systems.
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