Speaker Watts, Sound Quality, and Loudness Explained

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Speaker Watts, Sound Quality, and Loudness Explained

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Everyone wants great, high-quality sound from their audio system. Usually people want a sound that fills the room and has a deep bass, a clear treble, and a rich middle range. The sound quality should not deteriorate when you crank up the volume, and you certainly don’t want insane vibrations, static hiss, or smoke to come out of the speakers!

In your quest for quality sound, speaker watts are one figure to understand and consider. Other important values are the speakers’ sensitivity and total harmonic distortion (THD). This article will help you interpret the manufacturer’s specifications to understand what a sound system will deliver.

Loudness and Power Explained

Decibels are a measure of loudness. This number is important when choosing speakers, especially if you like to listen at a high volume. Something to remember about decibels: For every 10 decibel increase, the noise is twice as loud, so small increases in decibel levels mean big impact on your ears.

Power in Watts (W): A watt is a measure of electrical power. As an amplifier processes sound, the output is measured in watts. All speakers have a maximum number of watts that they can cope with and the manufacturer will tell you what this is. Make sure that the amp you use does not put out more power than your speakers can handle, or the speakers could be damaged.

Usually, manufacturers provide two power figures for both amplifiers and loudspeakers:

For amplifiers:

RMS = the power an amplifier can put out over a long period
Peak = the power an amplifier can put out in short bursts.
For speakers:

Nominal power= what a speaker can handle long term without being damaged
Peak power= what a speaker can handle in short bursts without being damaged
Very good speakers are more sensitive than mid-quality speakers and can deliver a lot of sound with only a little power from the amplifier. Mid-priced speakers need more power to provide the same volume.

Speaker sensitivity is expressed in terms of the number of decibels (dB) of sound pressure level (SPL) per watt of amplifier power measured at one meter from the speaker. To simplify this, manufacturers usually drop the SPL/W/M and just say dB.

Most speaker sensitivities are in the 85 to 91 dB range, so anything less than 85dB is not so hot.
How Do Watts Translate Into Decibels?

Watts / Decibels
2 / 93
4 / 96
8 / 99
16 / 102
32 / 105
64 / 108
128 / 111
256 / 114
512 / 117
1,024 / 120

Numbers are for reasonably sensitive speakers, about one meter away. Look for speakers that can handle between 85 dBs and 110 dBs. Anything more than this will destroy your hearing. For mid-price home speakers, 120 watts is about the most you should.

For comparison . . .
If you like really loud music, look for speakers that can deliver between 85 and 110 dBs. A loud rock concert is about 120 dBs.
Judging Speaker Sound Quality

Shopping for speakers, look for these figures as well.

Total Harmonic Distortion: TDH is a measure of how faithfully speakers translate what is on a disc or hard drive into sound. The lower the figure, the less distortion, so lower numbers are better. Usually values between 0.05% and 0.08% THD mean a quality "clean" system, but any figure below 0.1% THD is pretty good.

Speaker Impedance: This number tells you how much current a speaker will draw. Eight ohms is standard. Four ohms is very good but usually a lot more expensive. If you are buying four-ohms speakers you will need a very good amplifier to get the most out of them.

Headroom: This figure is a measure of what a system can deliver in short bursts. A large headroom figure is important if you have a home cinema system and want to get a jolt from the explosions in action movies.
Bron: spinditty.com - 18-11-2015

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