Watts, and clarity.


Is it still true that all other things equal in a stereo system, that watts do more to clarify sound quality, than watts to to increase decibel output?, or has newer technology changed this? I used to hear that it takes ten times the watts to double the decibel output "all other things in the stereo system being equal". This was back in the 80’s that I heard this. I also remember hearing that it took 24, 400 watt power amps to reproduce the sound of scissors snapping without cutting of the sound wave on an oscilloscope. Is this true?
rickytickytwo
I have no idea about the scissors but can tell you watts now a function of the amp they are being produced by.  A tube amp generally produces fewer watts but it's sound depends on the output transformer's bandwidth or some technical speak. So your typical SS amp may  benefit from a lot of watts  , but I have heard it said that Nelson Pass says "If the first watt isn't any good whats the use of the rest of them"
The answer is always "It Depends".
Decibel is indeed a logarithmic scale, you can read more about it on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decibel
The minimal amount of output watts to be able to hear music at a reasonable listening level depends on the efficiency and sensitivity of your speakers.
The amount of output watts that your power amplifier will output at any given input voltage depends on its gain.
The input voltage to the amp depends on your source and the gain of your preamp.
If you are exposed to levels of >85 decibels for an extended period of time, you are at risk of permanent hearing loss.
Practically, most speakers will produce 85db with only a few watts...
My previous system had Zu Druids which have 101db sensitivity, and I drove them with 1.5 watt SET tube amp and I rarely needed to turn the dial to full volume, that also depends on the source gain.
The benefits many people attribute to having over-powered, hundreds of watts is headroom and dynamic range. That means a powerful amplifier can play a larger range of volumes, and won’t struggle with a loud kick-drum or organ note, as it is far from its limit. Of course, you have to take into account that the input voltage needs not clip as well for that to happen.
Bottom line - follow your speaker manufacturer recommendation, and as a rule of thumb, you will be better off with more power than with less, as clipping of amplifiers, especially solid state is very annoying to the ear and can damage the speakers.
HTH

PS: watch this video by Paul McGowen - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSac09svJuc
I have yet to see a credible proof of the scissor argument.

And it all kind of depends. I don't think absolute wattage matters so much as output impedance and your speakers.

ESLs are among the most challenging, but some dynamic speakers are really tough too. Some speakers which are rather easy to drive don't require as much muscle and would do almost as well with several modest integrated amps now on the market.

IMHO, for small living rooms, with 86 dB+ speakers, 100 Watts per channel is all you will really ever use, and the quality of the amp will matter much more than the watts.

What IS true is that to double the effective volume, you must multiply the power by 10x. So, buying a 200 Watt amplifier isn't all that in terms of clarity or performance. In fact, it will only be 3dB louder.

The Parasound Halo A23's are great examples of modest power (100 W/ch I think, maybe 120? ) with reasonably low output impedance and quite reasonable, slightly warm sounding amps. I recommend them as a starting point for your listening.

erik_squires
"
I have yet to see a credible proof of the scissor argument."

You and you're "credible proofs" are so funny always demanding, insisting, and requiring that others deliver to you upon your sole, unilateral, and arbitrary demand "proof" supported by scientific data that you accept or reject at your singular discretion while you insist that lack of credible proof reflects "snake oil" "cons" and other such nonsense. Why don't you go do some testing on you're own and then you will have your answers. 
The math hasn't changes since the 80's.  You should gain 3db every time you double your wattage.  The "perceived" volume will double with an increase of 10db.
Speakers rated at 90db at 1 watt, will put out 93 at 2 watts, 96db at 4 watts, 99db at 8 watts and so on...
There's a lot of arguments out there about 1 watt at 1 meter and how that isn't accurate but it is consistent even though most people do not listen at 1 meter.
Personally, I'm more worried about dynamic headroom.  When you overstress an amp, that will reduce musicality.  Just my 2 cents.
@elevick Good point! 

Among lower priced amps, NAD often touted plenty of dynamic headroom as one of the reasons theirs sounded better than others with comparable power output.

Back to the musicality aspect of the OP's question, IMHE, better parts quality and circuit design have plenty to do with increased clarity. Once you have enough clean power to drive the given speaker to the desired volume, then the devil's in the details and you have to trust your ears. 
Even the simple equation:  X squared = 4 has more than one correct answer! Of course, in online forums, the response containing more than one negative is usually most provocative. ;-) Cheers,
Spencer

"I have yet to see a credible proof of the scissor argument."

Hi clearthink, let me walk you through this with a little more context, especially for those who have no idea what we are talking about.

As I recall, some amplifier vendor claimed that you needed super amounts of power to reproduce the sound of scissors snipping without distortion, which is what I believe the OP alluded to. I believe that based on this the originator claimed 300 Watts was the absolute minimum audiophiles should have.

What I meant to say, without writing a page about it, is that no one has verified this claim. It was 1 vendor making 1 very technical and, if true, easy to prove claim that has become legend. It is not up to me to verify someone else’s proof, and justify their sales pitch.

Because this is from a single vendor, making a rather novel claim, I can’t treat it with a lot of credibility. If I had made this "discovery" believe me that I’d have a paper in the AES journal by now!

Also, note the exact phrasing I used "I have yet to see..." meaning, show me otherwise. I never claimed I knew all of it.

You and you’re "credible proofs" are so funny always demanding, insisting, and requiring that others deliver to you upon your sole, unilateral, and arbitrary demand "proof" supported by scientific data that you accept or reject at your singular discretion

You are unhappy that my standard for credibility is higher than 1 sales pitch? Just how low do you think our standards should really be? Or are you unhappy that this 1 sales pitch got amplified to the point where it has become audiophile lore? Are you unhappy that I mentioned to the OP that this is in fact 1 person’s sales pitch, without validation? Should I have let the OP go on his merry journey buying amps without this information?

We should all have the luxury of enjoying our music and equipment aesthetically without the need to rely on false or unproven claims. If lore comes up that can’t stand up to scrutiny, it should be pointed out.


while you insist that lack of credible proof reflects "snake oil" "cons" and other such nonsense. Why don’t you go do some testing on you’re own and then you will have your answers.

Please show me where I have made this exact argument. Or even where I make an allusion to this. Nowhere in my original reply to the OP do I use these words or make those claims. In fact, the best way to refute me would have been to post a link to an article from a reputable source, and say "Erik, you didn’t see this, here you go..."
And no, I’m not the fascist you claim. To summarize I say :

  • You referenced a legend I have no verification of, and which may not be accurate
  • I think 100 watts is a good amount
  • I recommend an amp to start with

Reading my original reply, I think I’m a pretty swell guy. :)


Best,

E

Watts don't clarify sound quality, they just make poor quality sound louder if it's a cheap high powered amp.

Design and parts quality clarify sound. People don't pay big bucks for ARC just because of the name. If ARC delivered AMP's with SS Rotel sound, and ARC prices, they would go out of business in a jiff.

Some people can hear, some people can not; if you are one of those who thinks a powerful mid fi amp sounds as good as a less powered high end amp, then by all means exclude the expensive amp from your shopping list.
Orpheus10, 
Well stated. Power will not adequately substitute  for a lack of needed quality. If it were simply about increased power then every manufacturer would just produce 1000 watt amplifiers and the  "clarity"  issue is resolved.
Charles 
Sorry for not being clearer about the source of the "scissors" snap. I got this from a video on Youtube called "Miss Hologram". I would cut and paste it for you but I am on my Mom's computer and she has an easy set up because she is not tech savvy. I actually cannot copy and paste with it. Anyway at about 6:06 into the video Bob Carver discusses his friend that did the testing. WARNING, the video is extremely corny, it was the early 80's after all and this was when he was drumming up business for his second company, Carver Corp. 

As far as amps go, I already have some Carver m-4 t's that sound great as long as the impedance of the speakers does not dip below 4 ohms.
Thanks for the responses, although judging the context there are some who may not understand "all other things in a stereo system being equal."

Let me second that Eric is a pretty swell guy. I think @clearthink confused him with someone else or someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Coffee time. ☕️

All the best,
Nonoise
Anyway at about 6:06 into the video Bob Carver discusses his friend that did the testing.

So a video of Bob Carver in the 1980's saying he heard from some guy .... :)

Credible claims tend to be reproduced, especially when they end up in selling bigger, more expensive equipment. On top of that, we have our own experience, and that of many other audiophiles here. If power were the limiting factor for accuracy I think we'd hear more of it.

Based on age, lack of detailed description of the experiment, and lack of corroboration of a very easy to duplicate claim this claim does not pass my smell test.

As with all things in science and engineering, I leave the door open to more research.

Best,
E
Some guy. Are you kidding? Bob Carver is a genius and do you think he would actually make that crap  up? Are you kidding? Yes credibility is important and you would think someone with critical thinking skills would understand the pitfalls of bullshit. I have personally heard 1000 watts per side and it was surreal. It was just an Onkyo Super Integra power amp with two homemade 18" subwoofers with passive crossovers, and a pair of 9 Kappas from Infinity. Nothing has ever compared. It was so clean that You could have a conversation without raising your voice. I was just wondering if new technology had made a difference. I guess I should ask Paul from PS audio and not people here.

Anyone else curious how clearthink talks in real life?
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Some guy. Are you kidding? Bob Carver is a genius and do you think he would actually make that crap up?


I'm saying that a video from the 1980's about Bob Carver saying he heard about some dude is a ridiculous way to buy an amp.

E


Nelson Pass and others, along with myself feel the "First Watt" is most important. With high efficiency speakers you may not even need more than a watt for normal volumes.  That said, if the first watt sounds like crap who cares about the other 99?   
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Nelson Pass and others, along with myself feel the "First Watt" is most important. With high efficiency speakers you may not even need more than a watt for normal volumes. That said, if the first watt sounds like crap who cares about the other 99?  

Steve Deckert belongs in the "First Watt" contingent and has been saying "If the first watt sucks, why continue?" for years. 
FWIW - Sensai Pass attributes "the first watt is the most important watt" comment to Dick Olsher.

From NP’s introduction to his First Watt company...
http://www.firstwatt.com/

"Dick Olsher famously remarked that 'The first watt is the most important watt.' This sentiment has also been expressed by others as “Who cares what an amplifier sounds like at 500 watts if it sounds like crap at one watt?” With this in mind, I created First Watt in 1998 as a "kitchen-table" effort, exploring unusual low power amplifiers with an emphasis on sound quality."


[email protected] He chimes in out of nowhere with nothing but abrasive, demeaning, over the top insults and accusations seldom based in reality and adds nothing of substance to any discussion. Which poses the question: What circumstances in his life caused him to be such a tool?
Just to be clear, I am not talking about the prof....