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Author Topic: Understanding wattage for the amps  (Read 3593 times)

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Offline BJK

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Understanding wattage for the amps
« on: March 14, 2017, 12:38:04 PM »
Sorry for the complete newbie question, but trying to get the hang of how wattage works with amps + speakers.

Take the sprout integrated amp from ps audio
Let's just use that as the "consumer reference" that you see fairly ubiquitously in all the standard consumer channels (Sorry, I told you, I'm a newbie, still trying to get my bearings).

Consumer integrated amp: 50w (4ohms) per channel.
Quicksand: 8w (4ohms) per channel.

That's like a huge difference! I have to be missing some key insight, no?

Here are the stats for my tiny listening room (ahem, living room in my tiny apartment):
Distance: 3 meters
Speakers: Dali Zensor 1 bookshelf 86.5db sensitivity. (6ohms impedance)

If I'm targeting  say 80db for regular listening, that means I need 4watts?

So A-- am I covered with say the quicksand?
And B-- WTF is up with 50w for an entry level integrated amp?






Offline fullheadofnothing

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2017, 01:17:19 PM »
If you want to get 80dB out of a speaker that will put out 86dB from 1W, then you would need 0.25W.

4W into an 86dB speaker would make 92dB (at 1 meter).
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Online Paul Joppa

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2017, 03:48:54 PM »
Simplistic summary:

1) Most ordinary solid-state amps put out more than enough power for most ordinary speakers.

2) SET amps need high efficiency speakers to attain the loudness most audiophiles want.

Over the years, I have tried to gather enough data to make those vague rules more specific.  It is complicated (isn't everything?!) by the notion of headroom. Loudness is measured typically as a short-term average, over something like 1/4 second. But the instantaneous peak power, for example hitting a drum, or the initial impulse of a guitar or piano, is much greater. For well-recorded music, the initial impulses are about 25 times more power than the peak you see on the loudness meter. That's about 14dB headroom. So if you listen at a level that gives measured peaks of 82dB, you need an instantaneous peak of 96dB if you do not want to hear clipping distortion. I chose 82dB because that is typical of the level used by recording engineers. Movies typically need 6dB (four times as much, i.e. 102dB). The THX standard for movie theaters calls for peak levels of 102dB per channel, which is consistent with the recording engineer levels. Some 20 years ago, I gathered a bunch of speaker reviews from Stereophile, which give a minimum-power rating and the speaker sensitivity. I got the same number (102dB peaks) again. So I think that 102dB peaks is enough for most audiophiles, most of the time, and 96dB peaks are enough for the average audiophile. These numbers are somewhat affected by room acoustics (size and absorption), and more strongly affected by your personal preferences and choice of music.

Amplifier power is most usefully expressed in dB, which can be added to the speaker sensitivity to get the peak level. Here's a short table:

1 watt = 0dB
2 watts = 3dB
4 watts = 6dB
8 watts = 9dB
16 watts = 12dB
32 watts = 15dB
64 watts = 18dB

So for example an 86dB speaker needs 10 to 40 watts to obtain undistorted peaks of 96 to 102dB.

These rules are quite flexible, of course. I have two systems in my own home, the music system has 101dB speakers with 8-watt amplifiers (110dB peaks) and the movie system in another room has 89dB speaker with a 2-watt amp (92dB peaks). Both are quite satisfactory to us, for the sounds we listen to.

I know that is a lot to take in, and it's still over-simplified, but I hope that is at least some help!
Paul Joppa

Offline johnsonad

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2017, 04:02:25 PM »
Thank you for that explanation Paul!
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Offline BJK

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2017, 03:04:14 PM »
Yes, indeed. Thanks very much. That is helpful!

Is there a reason the amp kits have pretty low wattage? Is it dramatically  more difficult/expensive to pull off, say 15-25 watts?

Sounds like I can squeeze out to 92 peak with 4 watts and be pretty happy. Again, just trying to get my head around the large difference between the consumer solid state wattage and the tubes.

Thanks again!

Online Paul Joppa

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2017, 07:29:28 PM »
Understand, there are many more issues - I wanted to cover the basics first.

* Yes, greater power is possible but less practical. Cost is nearly proportional to power, and finding suitable tubes becomes difficult. When Doc B needed 32 watts for his sweet midrange, he bridged together four 8-watts amps, as the best available option. Higher power might become practical - we have some ideas - but it will almost certainly involve some compromises.

* SETs overload very gracefully. For many people, clipping the top 6dB or so is barely noticeable. That's probably why some say "tube watts are bigger," usually by 6dB (four times the power). This is highly dependent on what your music is and what your ears are like - nobody can predict what you hear with any reasonable accuracy in this area.

* I can't emphasize enough that personal taste is a huge factor. So is the presence of others , family or neighbors.
Paul Joppa

Offline troplin

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2017, 02:07:08 AM »
One point that wasn't addressed is the distance to your speakers.
All those values are at 1m distance, and generally (not accounting for reflections), the SPL (sound pressure level) decrease 6db each time you double the distance. i.e. 20 * log(distance)

That means at 3m (as you have written), you already lose almost 10db.

But I've said, this is without reflections and of course there are reflections indoors. I don't know how much they influence this number.
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Offline Doc B.

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #7 on: March 17, 2017, 07:41:11 AM »
But I've said, this is without reflections and of course there are reflections indoors. I don't know how much they influence this number.

Bigly. Because we generally listen in the middle between near field and far field. In the near field in room your formula more or less works. But once you get to a distance where the reverberant field has influence things don't drop off that fast. And 3M distance in a room is in that range where the reverberant field is usually getting pretty dominant, particularly in the midrange and bass regions. If you take measurements near and far you can see this effect, but you can experience it just by standing 1M from a speaker playing and moving away from it. At first the loudness will drop off pretty fast, but at some distance the drop off gets much slower. The treble will usually continue to drop a bit with distance but the mid and bass will stay fairly constant.
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Offline Surge

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2024, 12:22:27 PM »
Super old thread but I’m not seeing some important points:
- you need at least 105dB peaks to recreate a live concert. That’s 85db + 20 headroom, which is the Dolby theater standard. Art Dudley once mentioned that a symphony will exceed 105dB, from row J, so 105 is a minimum.

Even with >100dB efficient speakers, you need considerable power, depending on seating distance.

Using a really available online calc, the 86dB speaker at 3m seating distance needs 715W!! But 86dB is a very INefficient speaker.
Room interactions don’t make that much of a difference, especially since your room should be acoustically treated, especially if small (which is when interactions will make more of a difference).
http://www.mh-audio.nl/Calculators/REAP.html

Many people get this wrong, and it’s why they hear distortion during peaks at even moderate listening levels. Certainly my first system suffered from this! I still remember when: on Star Wars during the imperial fighter flyover scene at the start.


Offline Paul Birkeland

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2024, 05:11:06 PM »
so 105 is a minimum.
You would very likely get a visit from the local police department hitting 105db on your home system. 
Paul "PB" Birkeland

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Offline Doc B.

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2024, 07:21:36 AM »
Bear in mind that I have a rep as a fairly high level listener. Yet I feel one should separate realistic listening levels from "live listening levels" dogma like this. We understand this dogma and have always said that to party you should consider 102dB peaks. But for the 99% of the time most of us are listening to music at average levels of around 82dB or less. In our home theater (in consideration of your reference to a movie soundtrack, which is not particularly the application our gear is intended for) we have 94dB sensitive mains running from 9wpc 300B amps. So clean 103db peaks are possible. We have two subs that can easily rattle the windows and make you a little nauseous and the surround channels can keep up with the aforementioned channels. But if I run the system at that level it is exhausting after about 5 minutes. So, yes, if you are building a system to impress other audiophiles or to promote a youtube channel perhaps you should consider something around 102-105 dB peaks. But if you are building a music listening system for extended listening sessions that requirement can maybe come down to more like 97-99 dB peaks.

If, rather than peak dB, you really want to demonstrate a sustained high dB barrage of movie soundtrack I highly recommend Dunkirk. I initially saw it in an IMAX theater calibrated to what had to be damaging sound levels and wanted to puke afterwards. I can get pretty close to that level in our home theater, where it has the same effect.
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Offline Paul Birkeland

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Re: Understanding wattage for the amps
« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2024, 07:39:57 AM »
But if you are building a music listening system for extended listening sessions that requirement can maybe come down to more like 97-99 dB peaks.
Along with this recommendation, also consider that these SET amps clip pretty softly, so a brief peak at 16W in a Kaiju in the speech range may not be particularly audible. 
Paul "PB" Birkeland

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