UNCERTAINTY: More power = worse sound … or does it?

Howard Popeck ...

irst encountered this phenomena as a retailer in 1976, and off and off subsequently. Or, more accurately, I first encountered my own incorrect belief re this quite early on. As I learned more about how to achieve meaningful demonstrations for my customers, after a timely intervention, I came to realise I was only partly correct.

To cut a long story short, on behalf of myself (and why not?) and showroom visitors, I mounted a sound pressure meter on a tripod at head-height. Then, using a preamp with a digital readout of the volume setting, the power amps in question were listened to in a standard a/b configuration at whatever volume the customer felt was comfortable – ALWAYS at the same sound pressure level.

Under these circumstances, on many occasions, the supposed agility of the lower powered power amp or, if you prefer, the supposed lack of agility of the larger unit was shown – on most but not every comparison, was shown to be an illusion.

This was irrespective of source, speakers and rooms – providing everything was listened to at the same spl at head-height.

There were, and still other, other consequences as a result of this technique, but time precludes me from going into this here other than to say that, again using the spl meter, with the preamp set for a LOW volume, the difference in both bass agility and bass heft were immediately apparent.

In conclusion, as the ‘facts’ changed, then so did my opinion re low power being axiomatically preferable to high power. Thank you.

One thought on “UNCERTAINTY: More power = worse sound … or does it?

  1. I’ve always been intrigued by this phenomenon. As a ‘preference’ (hankering, maybe) my gut reaction is that the way to go is highly efficient speakers with a relatively low-powered amplifier. The amplifier can be made very low noise, and will have ‘relatively’ little work to do to move the cone, the ‘amplification’ also being helped by the (probably) horn attached to the driver. But equally (or perhaps differently) a good modestly-powered system (15-20 watts, reasonably efficient speakers) can sound spectacular, but somehow I’ve usually found high power systems and ‘power hungry’ speakers more fatiguing to listen to. I suppose, given all the other variables, our ears are not equally sensitive to the whole audio spectrum at low(er) volumes, so even though a loudspeaker might be working on a ‘level playing field’, our ears are not. Perhaps that’s why I prefer my music replay to be at a ‘reasonably real-world’ level, accepting that I’ll never fit an orchestra (or a modest chamber ensemble) into my modest listening room.

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