Improving loudspeaker sound quality may get you thinking about upgrading your amplifier! Guest contributor Ira Segall of Worldwide Stereo examines the details.
Whether you’re listening to music or watching a movie, we can all agree on one thing: For most audiophiles, the sound quality matters. However, where do you start when it comes to boosting the sonic performance of your loudspeakers; or full system in general?
It may be time to upgrade your amplifier (or choose and A/V receiver) that will help you experience better sonics. By considering factors like the brand, class, gain setting, and other influences on sound quality, you can make an informed decision. Discover some things to consider below.
Put simply, an amplifier is a device that increases the amplitude (hence the name) of electrical signals, primarily when it comes to sound reproduction. All amplifiers work by taking an input signal from a source and creating a larger copy of that signal before sending it to the speakers.
As most of our readers will know, amplifiers are powered by electricity — they either use a battery or are plugged into the wall. Electricity gets sent to the amplifier’s internal power supply. From here, it gets converted from an alternating current (which flows in multiple directions) to a direct current that flows in one direction. That current gets sent to a transistor, (or in some cases a vacuum tube).
The transistor acts like a valve. It decides the amount of current flowing through the circuit at a given time (it makes that decision based on the size of the input signal from the amplifier’s source). A larger signal means the transistor will allow more current to flow, resulting in greater sound amplification.
The last component is the volume control. It determines how much of a current gets passed through the speakers.
Amplifier issues can contribute to poor sound quality in an otherwise fine system, whether in your home theater (or anywhere else where you’re using an amp). Here are some specific ways that your amplifier could be interfering with your sound:
Like most other devices (especially electronics), the amplifier brand has an impact on how well it works and how good your sound is. A popular brand like Luxman or Sony will likely produce better sound than a lesser-known brand yet most audiophile amplifiers can and do produce much better results than even the aforementioned brands above.
All amplifiers come in different classes. Among linear designs, they are divided into classes A, B, AB, and C. Switching designs come in two classes: D and E.
Class A is considered the least efficient but offers the highest sound accuracy. Class B is more efficient but may come with more distortion whereas Class AB combines the best features of A and B, providing power efficiency and high-quality sound.
Class D has a higher efficiency and a smaller footprint, and many of today’s Class D amplifiers can take on some of the best Class A/B units quite gracefully. Class E, which is seldom used for quality audio applications offers even higher efficiency.
Other factors — besides those directly related to your amplifier — could also influence your sound quality. The following are some of the most well-known ones to consider:
Your speakers and amplifier work best in a room with a good balance of sound absorption and reflection.
Too many hard objects and surfaces (wood floors, glass windows, etc.) can create too much high-frequency sound reflection. Conversely, too many soft surfaces (thick curtains, thick carpeting, etc.) can absorb too many mid to high frequencies, exhibiting a dead-sounding room. Finding the right balance of soft furnishings (absorption) and diffusion on primary reflection points can offer amazing results in an otherwise average listening room.
The bigger the room, the more powerful an amplifier obviously must be to proficiently fill it. If your home theater room or your 2-channel listening room is on the large side, you had better make sure that your amplifier has enough power and headroom to do an appropriate job. Do not forget how important the sound of your room is influenced by proper room treatment, acoustically.
A humid environment will always have more moisture in the air. When the air in a room is humid, sound has to travel through two mediums: air and water (instead of air alone). High humidity could contribute to sound distortion because it slows down the speed at which sound waves travel.
If you’re on the fence about investing in a new amplifier, these guidelines can help. Ask yourself these questions before you make a final decision:
Maybe you’ve tried every adjustment you know and evaluated your room for issues that affect your sound (like acoustics) but are still dealing with certain kinds of distortion. In that case, it is likely time for you to upgrade to a new amplifier.
Choose the Right Amplifier
If you fail to choose the most suitable amplifier for your space and needs, you could damage your speakers or worsen the sound quality of your full system. Below are some of the most important factors to keep in mind when shopping for an amp:
In many cases, a Class A or Class AB amplifier will, arguably, provide the best sound caliber. However, while offering the finest sound available, a Class A amplifier will be less efficient and provide more heat (and cost more dollars) than a Class A/B or D.
Make sure you choose an amplifier that works with your existing speakers (unless you want to invest in an entirely new system). Remember that impedance and power are inversely related. Amplifiers increase their output as impedance decreases.
With this in mind, it may not always (?) make sense to buy the most powerful amp you can find. although unless your loudspeakers are quite insensitive, a powerful amplifier may be just what your speakers need while taking into account their impedance and sensitivity.
Upgrading your amplifier can lead to significant improvements in your overall sound quality and allow you to get more out of your entire sound system.
If you’re just about fed up with the current quality of your system, these guidelines, in part, will help you upgrade to the best amplifier your ears can assess according to your personal needs as well as your disposable income, whatever that may be. Hopefully, a good dealer demonstration will add to the requirements for your newest amplifier upgrade.
Ira Segall is the Senior Product Specialist of
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