Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Power to the People

The power output of your stereo system is vital. In other words, the more watts per channel your stereo receiver delivers, the more distortion your system will produce. To understand why, let’s review the basics: Audio information is taken from your source component such as a CD player, AM/FM tuner, turntable, or DAT player and sent through an amplifier. The amplifier takes this low-level signal and boosts it up with more juice so that the woofers and the tweeters inside your speakers move enough air for your ears to hear the soundwaves. The process of turning the sound from a 1-volt weenie signal to a magnificent mass of air that will make you jump up and dance is often considered to be the most vital and the most difficult task of any stereo system. One of the main issues is the compatibility between one’s receiver and one’s speakers. Most receivers don’t really have gobs and gobs of power, but many types of speakers demand a lot of power because they have a design that makes them relatively inefficient. So it’s a constant fight between receiver and speaker which results in wimpy and distorted sound. Now, this might not happen all of the time. In fact, 85% of the time you might have perfectly fine sound because you listen at low levels. The problems arise when you crank it. Even if you listen at medium levels, you will get some distortion if you underpower your speakers. That’s because music is dynamic. It changes from soft to loud and back again, often rather abruptly. This is especially true in jazz and classical music. The tune could be cruisin’ along at a medium dynamic level and, wham! Elvin Jones could smack the bass drum or Vic Firth could beat a timpani in a fortissimo passage. Your amp will have a difficult time finding the power reserve to produce that whack and your amp will clip. Clipping is an annoying form of distortion that occurs when an amp runs out of power and temporarily shuts down. Not a good thing. And more than any other frequency, bass sounds demand the most power to reproduce.

The Powered Subwoofer

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published