While I disagree with the notion of the more the better, I don’t think a high powered amplifier can hurt a speaker as long as the listening volumes are within reason and the capabilities of the speaker’s drivers. General recommendation is to spend the budget on “quality” watts rather than quantity.
57 responses Add your response
While it is true that you can use 20,000 Watts on a 20 Watt speaker, the real question is of personal listening experience. There is no absolute guarantee that more power will be better, and sometimes the noise levels are significantly worse.
There are three areas where I think it is valuable to compare:
I suggest listening to modest powered amps with your speakers between Ayre, Pass, Luxman and D’Agostino. I think among them you’ll find a real sweet spot for yourself.
One issue is the gain of the amp. The gain needs to match with the gain of the pre-amp and the efficiency of the speakers. If you have a high gain pre-amp and a high gain amp and high efficiency speakers, you may end up with the volume control being in the very beginning of its range, which can be a problem. If you are only using the lowest 10% of the volume control, you do not have much control.
Many traditional high power amps are class AB, which means they are class A in the low end of the range and class B at higher outputs. Many people find class A to have a better sound that class B. So, where the amps changes from class A to class B can be important. A high output amp may have more class A range, but that depends on the design of the amp.
One of the reasons for high power, is to coup with low efficiency speakers with difficult phase angles. With easy to drive speakers, the high power may be wasted. But also look at the current the amp provides. High power with no reserve does not help with difficult to drive speakers. An amp in that range should double down into 4 ohms and again to 2 ohms.
One disadvantage of high power is that it makes it much more possible to accidentally blow out your speakers.
So, yes their can be disadvantages to high power amps.
$75K for amps and $20K for speakers seems like a mismatch. I would suggest listening to some lower priced options also.
Go with as much clean power as you can afford. Your speakers are $20,000, so a good preamp and amp are in order. I had a pair of Sonus faber Cremonas, rated at 270 watts and 4 ohms, mated to a pair of Classe monoblocks rated at 600 watts into 4 ohms. I was never ever concerned with blowing the speakers - my eardrums are another story.
i recently listened to a pair of Sonus faber Nova iii’s connected to various amps, most with output over the Nova’s rated input. All sounded glorious. At ear shredding levels, I think the Mac was putting out 50-60 watts.
Ive also listened to speakers connected to amps that are near the bottom of the recommended speaker power input, and the sound at higher volumes was not satisfying.
All of the amps that I auditioned wher in the $15000 range.
bring your favourite music, a decibel meter, and have a listen at concert levels.
fundsgone62 - Sonus Faber Cremonas are hard speakers to drive. I agree they require a lot of power (actually a lot of current) to drive them due to their phase angle at low frequencies. I tried multiple amps on them and ended up with Mark Levinson 432 with 400 watts per channel. However, other speakers can be much easier to drive. It depends so much on the design of the speakers.
Speaking of NASA, they put up a satellite many years ago with the goal of measuring very fine variations of the background radiation that permeates the universe. One interesting little tidbit that I recall is that the radiation had a frequency of several hundred or thousands of light years, now frozen for all eternity. Someone was playing some monstrously large bass back in the mists of time.
sorry for going off topic.
One interesting little tidbit that I recall is that the radiation had a frequency of several hundred or thousands of light years, now frozen for all eternity.
>>>Light years is a distance not a frequency but I know what you mean. Good point as cosmic background radiation is Exhibit A for the Big Bang.
Most of the amps I really like are low in power. This is the case with both solid state and tube gear. I particularly like low-powered tube amps. Of course, the speakers to match with such amps must be high in efficiency and must present a reasonably easy. I also find that some high powered amps sound a bit lifeless if they are idling along at low output so it might be better to not go with really high powered amps if they are to be coupled to higher efficiency speakers/
There is also the possibility of high powered amps damaging a speaker because of a loud pop or other transient noise or someone accidentally cranking the volume. Speakers that are higher in efficiency tend to be capable of taking only modest levels of power before being damaged.
So far, my favorite 2 amps have been 45wpc & 35wpc. One SS(45wpc) & one tube @35wpc. The Tube amp replaced a 250wpc SS CJ 2500A. However, the speakers (Silverline) are 93.5db sensitivity. I don't know if that answers the question. But I definitely know that higher wattage does not equal better sound.
There is MORE danger to a speaker from an UNDER powered amplifier than the other way round. This is because an under powered amplifier will CLIP and destroy a speaker if the amp does not have any DC protection circuit. You can obviously destroy a speaker from VASTLY overpowering it but your ears will catch that long before that happens and will force you to turn the volume down whereas during clipping, by the time your ears hear it, it may be too late.
A good rule of thumb... Your amp should be probably at least twice as powerful as your speaker rating to avoid clipping.
Then, when you have that perfect ratio of 2:1, and only then, shall you listen to Army of Mushroom, by Infected Mushroom, at full volume. Only then. To do otherwise would surely result in your drivers melting into magma, your cabinets splintering into kindling, and your amp exploding in a mushroom cloud of oxidized metal.
Otherwise, it’s a really fun CD.
Interesting, how many children is the dealer trying to put through grad school? On the serious side, I blew out a 10 inch ESS AMT4 driver with a 50 wpc Acoustic Research integrated in 1974. As most others have stated already, an underpowered amp can lead to serious speaker issues. OTH I have blown up several amps in my later 20's due to volume and alcohol ingestion, the speakers were ESS towers and did not suffer damage.
I bought a Digital Amp Co 4800a last year, 200 wpc. Was so impressed that recently a DAC Maraschino on ebay, that was purchased,is even better. Tried a lot of US amps in the 200 watt league. The JBL Synthesis was nice, the Acurus was a slight improvement. DAC amps let everything come thru, much better than the above. Clarity, soundstage, detail, image, depth, soundstage were much better. Yes it is a class D, if you have not heard them, give them a try. Their max amp is priced at $6900. The 4800a developed a loud hum, it was the toroidal transformer, tightened it down but still loud enough to hear. DAC owner Tommy O'Brien offered a fix, that would upgrade it to Mega Maraschino with a linear power supply, at an affordable price. Any of high power cherries will give your 75k amps a run.
I run Magnepan speakers, none of the previous amps I used had the absolute silent background, nor detail that the DAC amps have brought out, especially on classical music. All of the above is in my opinion. Good luck in your search for sonic happiness. Jerry
It is not how fast you go but how you go fast. You want to go as fast as you can as good as you can. Get the goodest, biggest amp you can afford. There is no such thing as too much power. The more head room the better. Distortion kills more speakers than power. There is nothing more dangerous than a dull tool.
The issue with very high power amps and damaging speakers is not from sustained listening but from a sudden burst, which can happen by accident with a bad setting. For example, you can have mute on somewhere back in the chain and try to turn the power up to listen. Then you realize that mute is on so you take it off and bam - 500 watts into your speakers. It also can happen when you have a wrong input and turn up to the volume. When you change back to the correct input the same thing can happen. These type of accidents do happen and, with high powered amps, it can be a problem. It only has to happen once.
Of course constant clipping is also a problem, but with a $75K amp, it is probably not going to clip very often.
@fundsgon My speakers aren’t too hard to drive, SF Elipsa SE. currently mating with VTL tube amp ST-150, 120wpc. Since I’m now in a bigger room 15’x20’, I need more powerful amp.Bea Lam from VTL suggested between MB-450 (425wpc, $25k) and S-400 (300wpc, $25k)My Local stealership suggested me the more powerful, more expensive, the better which is their flag ship mono block Siegfried (650wpc, $75k).. I knew something wasn’t right. First I don’t have $75k. Second, I ain’t paying $75k
Side note: I’ve been eyeing on The next model up from mine, the S-200 (200wpc, $12k) very nice unit but they tend to skip it for the higher ones.
Any VTL owners want to chime in?
More power isn’t better. Better quality design and build is better. My Kyocera MOSFET from the 1980’s is rated at 50 watts/channel, with 125 watts/channel on demand. It will push my speakers well beyond the pain threshold with no distortion. Sorry, but I think most of the stuff they make today is overrated junk. Invest in some good vintage gear.
Not sure about the SE, but the Elipsas have a somewhat demanding low end. They drop to 2.5 ohms around 100 Hz and have a large phase angle around 70 Hz according to the Stereophile review. So, even though they are rated at 91 dB, they may need an amp with significant current to deal with the low end. The SE has a new crossover, so it may have quite different measurements.
I doubt you would hear much difference between 400 watts ad 650 watts, although design differences can also cause different sounds.
I would ask you dealer for some loaners. At those prices, I would definitely want to listen to the options.
The rating of Watts can sometimes be misleading. A Krell monoblock may be rated at 100 watts -a cheap amplifier might also be rated at 100 watts. The distance between them may be huge in sound levels. Try to arrange listening sessions with loaned equipment in your own home. If you are spending a large sum of money it needs to suit your environment.
I was using my VAC PA 80 80 set in triode mode putting out 35 watts per side. My pre amp is the ARC LS15 They were driving my speakers that have built in powered sub woofers. I have on order a pair of Maggie's 0.7 speakers. I decided to buy a used amp that would have more power to drive the Maggie's as they like power. I found and bought ( for less that a decent set of speaker wires) a Spectron class D amp. I've spent days listening to CD's that I've owned from the eighties that I know inside out. They have never sounded so dynamic, energetic, amazing inner detail, and a wide sound stage I've never heard before. I'm just amazed on what I'm hearing that I've never heard before. So if high wattage produces what I'm hearing, give me more!!
John Ulrick produced the first commercially available Class D power amplifier in 1974.Specifications
If you like VTL then their suggestions are probably very suitable for you. Go with the S-400 if you can afford it (it looked like the S-400 ref II costs about $33k).
I don't think you should worry too much about having too much power but on the other hand it might not play much louder with 200W instead of 120W. Try something at home and see what you think.
If you want to try something else I heard an Absolare integrated that was fantastic. I think it has 150W so it would not be much more powerful but might sound different than your VTL.
There is an old review on the SE version on Tone Audio https://www.tonepublications.com/review/sonus-faber-elipsa-se/
He used 15 different amps with them from 35 watt tube monoblocks to 200.5 Pass monoblocks.
What you asked is a little complicated, if you are considering tubes. Important considerations are things like peak power. Peak power is one way of saying how much headroom you have in an amplifier. If you don't have enough peak power the dynamics of the music will be dull. A tube amp with about 50 watts average power is likely to have sufficient peak power for most speakers. However, I have heard 12 watt amps with sufficient peak power for a speaker of average efficiency.
I would suspect your average power usage for your equipment during a listening session is less than 12 watts and may be closer to 3 or 4 watts at the speakers.
This adds up to the real questions is what is the power supply capable of delivering to the power components? How clean is the power delivered to the power components? A great tube circuit with a terrible power supply will yield a less than desirable amplifier system.
I would suggest quality watts over big power.
Do you want to know more?
One thing that can occur (perhaps rare, but it's there) with a low power amp driving a 'low power' rated driver is 'heat death'.
One out of 4 speakers, driven at a moderate level (nothing ear wrenching) cooking the voice coil.
Being able to physically touch the backside of the magnets on all 4:
3 were warm to the touch, the 4th was literally Hot.
Since this occurred during a 'DIY test', I wasn't totally shattered by this result...in fact, I'd more or less expected something to happen.
In this way, I know where a weak link is, and can address it.
*L* But I do nasty things to innocent speakers....;)
If I remember correctly for every 3db increase in volume you will need to double your amplifier output power. So with 91db efficient speakers you should be able to get up to 106db peaks with your current amplifier.
As a point of reference I believe that general conversation is around 50 - 60 db and if you are yelling at some one or vice versa, you will be around 85db.
You should be fine with your current amp at low to moderate volume levels. If you are unsure turn the volume up slowly until you hear noticeable distortion. Turn your volume control back a click or two and this will be as loud as you can play your system. If not loud enough then you will need a more powerful amplifier and you will need one in the range of 250 wpc or larger.
Like most dealers, this one would like to make a big sale, but advising to buy a $75k amp is probably not the best advice. Such an amp might be marginally superior to a $15k amp, but one would be spending a premium of 60,000 to possibly get a small improvement.
More power or wattage is generally better than less, because of the dynamic swings in various types of music. A drum beat may need 15 db of extra volume to be adequately represented at the listening position, which translates to 5 times the wattage level. So if one's amp is running at 5 watts, then 160 watts will be needed, and more if the speakers have an impedance dip at the specific frequency.
I've run 100 watt speakers with 300 watt amps with no problem. But you have to determine not to go past a safe volume or else over drive the speakers. As others have said, it's easier to damage speakers by under powering them.
For most situations, 300 watts is plenty. But the speakers in question may be able to handle far more. Going a hundred or 2 above their power rating would be safe for the most part.
I am more familiar with the Stradivari. I have helped with the setup of three systems using that speaker. The Elipsa looks like a slightly smaller version of the Stradivari. The Stradivari did not require high power to sound good. I don't expect that the Elipsa needs really high power to sound good and it probably cannot absorb as much power and deliver quite the same volume level as the Stradivari. I have not heard many speakers that really "need" more than 100 watts, and I doubt that the Elipsa would be one of those kinds of speakers.
There are tradeoffs involved in any choice of amplifier. The higher the output, the more output devices run in parallel are needed and the sound does suffer in some ways from this design choice. I find this particularly the case with tube amps; and with a lot of manufacturer's lines, I prefer their lower power and cheaper amps when the speakers are appropriately efficient.
I am not saying that a high-powered tube amp is not appropriate; it is just that you should not automatically rule out amps that are in the power range of your current amps under the impression that it is more power that is needed for improved sound. While you expressed a preference for tube amps, if you do find that more power is what is needed, you should consider solid state amps. Some solid state amps are quite decent where a bit more power is the requirement (e.g., look at Ayre amps).
I listed them all up on my last response including wattage and price. They are all within the brand VTL. Happy to share again as below:
. Speakers SonusFaber Elipsa SE
. current amp VTL ST-150, 120wpc, $6000
. VTL S-200, 200wpc, $12k
. VTL S-400, 300wpc, $25k
. VTL mb-450, 425wpc, $25k
. VTL Seifried, 650wpc, $75k
I found a good video on youtube titled," What is Clipping?? Understanding Amplifier Clipping & Clipped Signals".
Though this is pertaining to car audio, the video showing sinusoidal wave forms on an oscilloscope, and what a driver does when it's driven by a clipped sinusoidal wave is a good educational tool.
This information is irrespective of the actual quality of the signal being fed into the loudspeakers. If your salesman had said, "There aren't many limits to the quality and output power of an amplifier that are not addressed by your budget", I'd have to agree.
However, I would say that the amplifier isn't nearly the most significant area on which to divide your budget. Source, loudspeakers and room treatment/design are in my mind more important to the overall sound of a system. Of course, amplifiers, interconnects and power are all important, however how to divide the money you invest seems a little skewed in the price of the amplifier the local dealer is offering you.