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Re: Please explain impedance matching for amps&cabs

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Posted by Mark Lippman ( on October 01, 2003 at 07:34:48:

In Reply to: Re: Please explain impedance matching for amps&cabs posted by RUSure on June 03, 2002 at 22:05:23:

: : : : : : Hi-
: : : : : : I really don't understand the relationship between amplifier wattage and cabinet impedance. Can some explain or recommend a site that explains this from the ground up. Honestly, whoever has the time, can you just break it down for me- a full exegesis? And there are others like me out there, so please post to the message board. Thanks! schmoo

: : : : : Most sites get pretty technical, so I'll take a shot at it in simpler terms at the sacrifice of some deeper analyses.

: : : : : First, tube amps (not preamps, but true tube amplifiers) are different. They use transformers to couple the amp's output to the speakers. The output transformers usually have a tap (a spot in the wire winding) for 4 and 8, and possibly 16 ohm loads, so the output wattage is relatively consistent.

: : : : : Solid state amps don't use transformers, and the speaker load is directly coupled to the output stage -- just like on the input side, the speakers and the instrument actually become part of the circuit, which affects how the system performs-- which accounts for the different wattage ratings at different impedances.

: : : : : These amps are generally rated at the most common impedances, 4 and 8 ohms, and the difference in the output voltage is affected by the load (impedance) that the speaker(s) present. They'll also usually indicate a minimum impedance, because an impedance lower than the specified rating will make the output stage work harder (hotter) than it is spec'd for, and the stress can fry components. So it's important to observe the minimum impedance spec.

: : : : : Does that help?

: : : : In addition to Bob's explanations:
: : : : Impedance is important in the amp-speaker relationship for power transfer.
: : : : Maximum power transfer occurs when the load impedance equals the amp output impedance.
: : : : Usually, amp's specs sheets give the power rating at various load impedances.
: : : : It is also good to know that a speaker cab impedance is not constant. It varies according to frequency.
: : : : So a 8 ohms cab may have a 50 ohms real impedance at another frequency.
: : : : (I think that in practice, the impedance is maximum at the cab's resonance frequency)
: : : : When the cab impedance raises, the amp's output power decreases.

: : : Let me add to the above by saying: amps don't have impeadences, cabinets do. When an amp's specs give its power (say 200 watts) at X ohms (say 8 ohms) it means the amp puts out 200 watts when presented with an 8 ohm load. The idea is similar to the word "impeadance:" higher ohms (impeadance) "impeade" (reduce) your amp's power. So, for an amp which is rated at 200 watts at 8 ohms and 300 watts at 4 ohms, an 8 ohm cabinet lets your amp put out 200 watts while a 4 ohm cabinet lets your amp put out 300 watts. Get it? (If you don't its not your fault because amp companies like to confuse things by using the 4 ohm or 2 ohm rating to advertise the cabinet. i.e. the Acoustic Image Clarus is advertsied at 300 watts. But, when driving an 8 ohm load, it only puts out a paltry 120 watts or so. It is "allowed" to put out its full 300 watts only when driving a 2 ohm load (now how many of you Clarus owners have 2 ohm speakers or carry around two 4 ohm cabinets?!?))

: : : Now, the next idea comes up when you combine two 8 ohm cabinets and you get 4 ohms, two 4 ohm cabinets and you get 2 ohms. Don't worry about why, just remember it.

: : : Next, cabinets have rated power maximums. Say my 8 ohm cabinet can handle 200 watts. If my amp puts out 200 watts at 8 ohms, we're in business. But what happens if I plug in two cabinets each rated at 8 ohms and 200 watts maximum. Now I have a 4 ohm load allowing my amp to put out 300 watts. But don't worry, the two cabinets equally share the 300 watts (150 each) well below their rated maximums of 200 watts each.

: : : Make sense?

: : : Cheers,

: : Dude,

: : Everything you have heard so far is true. But let me put it in layman terms for you. First, most amps, tube or solid state, will look at a variety of cabinet loads (impedence) without freaking out to badly. The cabinet load or impedence functions a bit like a potato in your tail pipe. A 2 ohm load is a little potato and lets a lot through whereas a 16 ohm load is a big potato and won't let as much through. While a 2 ohm load allows your amp to produce the most wattage output it also produces the cleanest sound and will run the amp hot because it is pushing all it can. On the other hand a 16 ohm load, or a big potato, restricts the output of the amp to a lower wattage and with more dirt at a lower volume. Also, hard on an amp if not designed for this impedence output. So, in a nutshell you can change the tone and color of your amp sound by the cabinet load (impedence) that you show it. Use this info wisely in the right scenario and you may get the results you want. Used carelessly you will have a blown head or speaker!
: : Hope that helps.

: One guy with potatoes up his tailpipe and another guy who can't spell impedance.

: Choose your advice carefully.

From technician,
I agree that you should choose your advice carefully. I've been a research technician for over 20 years and have a degree in electronics engineering. Bad spelling does not mean much. It's very important to some anal-retentive individuals but is not a measure of audio system knowledge.

As far as impedance matching lets break it down to electron current flow. An amplifier is designed with the final output device to operate at a particular voltage output which when hooked up to a particular impedance speaker will put out the electron current flow that the amplifier output device is rated at. If you put two speakers in parallel the impedance is cut in half. This is saying that their resistance to electron current flow is cut in half and the pressure or voltage, as it's called in the world of electronics, being applied by the amp does not change because that's what it was designed to do. If the pressure is still the same and the resistance or impedance is half the electron current flow is double. It's like putting a pipe twice as big in a plumbing job. The water pressure is still the same but you will have allot more water flowing through it. This electron current flow causes heat. If you push twice the electrons through the output device of the stereo it will heat up a great deal more then it's rated for possibly burning it out. If you attempt to run two speakers in parallel each having the same volume as one speaker would have, you must be using twice the power from your amp. Run at high volume your amp will over heat. You can run two speakers in parallel but never turn up the volume more than half way or you're at risk of blowing your amp. Now if you put two speakers in series you have twice the resistance or impedance. At the same voltage output on your amp you will get only half the electron current flow. So your amplifier power output capability is cut in half and since you have two speakers on the one output they share the power that's available. You have just cut the output in half again. If you had a 100-watt per channel, you now only get 25 watts per speaker at max output but you will not blow the amp. You can do this one safely. There are several types of amp designs for outputs and you can get into clipping of the peaks of the audio signal reducing the quality of sound but this gets pretty technical. I think I've covered the important things. If you want the best quality, performance and maximum power from your amp, always impedance match.

Hope this helps

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