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Understanding amplifier power ratings

There are different methods for measuring the power ratings for amplifiers and speakers. And different measuring methids give different values so it is vital to understand the difference between theosedifferent power ratings to be able to make at least some comaparisionf between different power ratings. This article is collection of information posted to rec.audio.tech newsgroup at July 1996. The information is compiled from Usenet newsgroup rec.audio.pro articles written by Norbert Hahn, Dick Pierce and Earl K.

RMS power

To make it short, an RMS power value is directly related to perceivable energy (acoustical, heat, light - or what else applies).

"RMS" is really a rather meaningless figure, when measuring power. R.M.S. is useful for measuring the "power-producing equivalent" voltage. Thus 10 Volts RMS will produce the same power into a given impedance that 10 Volts DC would produce (onto a resistance) Any waveform of 10 V R.M.S.will produce the same power into that impedance. This is because it's the root of the mean of all the average squared voltages to which Norbert Hahn referred in the prior post. It is if little meaning to compute the mean of squares of all the power values in a wave.

RMS, when applied to power measurements, has come to mean "sine-wave power." A 100 Watt "RMS" amplifier can produce a 100 Watt sine-wave into its load. With music, the total actual power would be less. With a square-wave, it would be more.

DIN power

The DIN 45000 defines different methods to measure power, depending on the device under test. Well, this is what I remember from reading the DIN some 25 years ago.

For home applicances there are three different numbers for power: Continous power, Peak power and power bandwidth; the latter does not apply for speakers.

Power measurement of an amp requires that the amp is properly terminated by Ohmic resistances of nominal value both at input and output. The continous power is measured when the amp is supplied by its normal power supply. It must then be able to deliver the rated power at 1 kHz for at least 10 minutes while the maximum THD does not exceed 1 %. To measure the peak power the normal power supply is replaced by a regulated power supply and the time for delivering the power is reduced. Thus, higher values for peak power are obtained. You may skip measuring the peak power by simply multiplying the continuous power by 1.1.

The power bandwidth is defined as the bw for which 1/2 of the rated continous power can be obtained.

Actually, DIN 45 500, CNF 97-330, EIA RS-426 and the encompassing IEC 268-5 specify not pink noise, but pink noise filtered by a filter that provides sinificant attenuation in the low and high frequency region of the spectrum to more closely model the long-term spectral distribution of music. Pink noise itself does not accomplish this

PMPO (Peak Music Power)

So called "music power". This power figure tells the power which the amplifier can maximally supply in some conditions. PMPO rating gives the highest measuring value, but this info is quite useless, because there is no exact standard how PMPO power should be measured.

The reason for this power rating was to show the max capability of equippment for recreating strong musical tansients like kettle drums and the like. Similar thing (music power rating) was used in the sixties, and I think it assumed a square wave that swung the whole supply range of the output stage. This alone gives them a factor of two over a clean sine wave note. But the ugliest thing they did was to assume that the high power lasted such a short period of time that the power supply caps would hold the voltages steady without any drooping. In the real world, an under powered PS could be hidden by this ruse and the PMPO might be a factor of 10 or more higher than what could be sustained on a nice instrumental performance.

Forget what adverts say about peak power or other "power terms" because they are not standardized and anyway comparable between equipments. Just look for "RMS continuous Power" or other reliable power rating (like DIN power).

Speaker power ratings

The nominal power for speakers is defined quite differently: The continous power is measured by pink noise rather than a sinousoidal signal and it is applied for 24 hours. Bandwidth of the noise is as required/specified by the speaker. Thus the nominal power is applicable to both a single chassis/driver and complete box. And the THD is not the limiting factor: It is replaced by the term that the speaker should by no means be damaged. Rhe requirement is that the speaker meet the manufacturers performance sapecification after the power cycle.

The maximum power is defined for woofers and boxes only. It is measured by applying sinusoidal signals of 250 Hz and lower such that the speaker is neither damaged nor produces unwanted output.

The AES/ANSI spec provides for two power measurements: thermal power, as you describe above, and excursion limiting, which is determined by either the hard mechanical limits afforded by the suspension, or the difference between the length of the voice coil and the length of the magnetic gap.

Other amplifier specifications

Speaker impedance the amplifier is designed to drive

Many amps manufactured these days are rated only for 8-ohm-and-above loads, and not for 4-ohm loads. This is done largely as a cost savings by the manufacturer. Amps which are capable of driving 4-ohm loads to the same output voltage require heftier power supplies, heatsinks, and (often) output-stage transistors: they'll be delivering twice as much current into the load, and will be dissipating roughly twice as much heat within their output stages.

If a manufacturer chooses to quote a power rating at 4 ohms in their advertising, the amp must be capable of delivering this much power after a 'warmup' period of operation at 1/3 power (which level actually dissipates _more_ heat in the output stage than full-power operation).

In order to save money during manufacture, manufacturers often use skimpier power supplies, heatsinks, and output stages - and as a result, the amps may have a 4-ohm power rating which is _less_ than the 8-ohm rating. This is somewhat embarrassing for the manufacturer to advertise - and, so, they often do not quote a 4-ohm power rating at all, and state that the amp is designed to be used only with loads of 8 ohms or above.

With many such amplifiers, you can drive a 4-ohm load safely, as long as you don't try to drive it too hard. If you drive a low-Z load to too high a volume, one of several things may happen: the amp may begin to "clip" (sounds very harsh and distorted, may damage the tweeters), or may overheat and shut itself down, or may overheat and burn up (all the magic blue smoke leaks out).

Methods for making 4 ohm speaker to appear as 8 ohm

Dampling factor

The output impedance of an amp should be extremely low. If it's .8 Ohms, then an 8-Ohm speaker has a damping factor of 10. If it's .08, then the amplifier provides a damping factor of 100, etc. Don't confuse the actual output (source) impedance with the load impedance that is recommended for the amp (4-Ohms, 8-Ohms, etc).

The idea is that if the speaker is 8 Ohms, and the amplifier has a source impedance of .08 Ohms, then the amplifier "damps" the motion of the cone by a "factor" of 100. In reality, the true damping that the cone "sees" is determined by many things, part of which is the damping limitation imposed by the resistance of the voice coil, usually around 5 Ohms or so for an 8-Ohm speaker. You can see that if the speaker has 5 Ohms of resistance, the internal (source) impedance of the amplifier (.08 Ohms for a damping factor of only 100) doesn't add much to the total resistance in the voice coil circuit, hence has very little effect on total damping. So any modest change in the amplifier damping factor correlates to virtually no change in total damping.

A speaker designer shoots for a certain damping (same as 1/Q) to achieve a certain desired type of low-frequency rolloff. The assumption is that the source impedance of the amplifier is 0 Ohms. If the source impedance is .08 Ohms (damping factor of 100), very little error is introduced into the system. Higher damping factors are getting into diminishing returns in terms of the total damping. In practice we want a certain, relatively low damping figure for the whole speaker system, (1.414 for a maximally flat bass response).

What is amplifier "bridging" or "monoblocking"?

When you're told a stereo power amplifier can be bridged, that means that it has a provision (by some internal or external switch or jumper) to use its two channels together to make one mono amplifier with 3 to 4 times the power of each channel. This is also called "Monoblocking" and "Mono Bridging".

Bridging typical HIFI amplifier involves connecting one side of the speaker to the output of one channel and the other side of the speaker to the output of the other channel. The channels are then configured to deliver the same output signal, but with one output the inverse of the other. The beauty of bridging is that it can apply twice the voltage to the speaker. Since power is equal to voltage squared divided by speaker impedance, combining two amplifiers into one can give four (not two) times the power.

In practice, you don't always get 4 times as much power. This is because driving bridging makes one 8 ohm speaker appear like two 4 ohm speakers, one per channel. In other words, when you bridge, you get twice the voltage on the speaker, so the speakers draw twice the current from the amp.

Another interesting consequence of bridging is that the amplifier damping factor is cut in half when you bridge. Generally, if you use an 8 ohm speaker, and the amplifier is a good amp for driving 4 ohm speakers, it will behave well bridging.

Also consider amplifier output protection. Amps with simple power supply rail fusing are best for bridging. Amps that rely on output current limiting circuits to limit output current are likely to activate prematurely in bridge mode, and virtually every current limit circuit adds significant distortion when it kicks in. Remember bridging makes an 8 ohm load look like 4 ohms, a 4 ohm load look like 2 ohms, etc.

If your amplifier does not have built-in bridging option built in you can use an additional stage to invert the signal for one channel but drives the other channel directly.