Ask the Attic: wattage & power

We’re often asked about the wattage or WPC (watts-per-channel) of amplifiers and AV receivers, usually when someone is looking to get into a new home system of some kind. Each brand and manufacturer seem to speak in a slightly different language when describing how many watts their amplifier puts out. Add to the mix the armchair ‘expert’ online adding their opinion, and things can get quite confusing pretty quickly.

One of the benefits in choosing to take your hifi journey with an independent specialist shop like ours is developing a relationship with our team. We help you sort through the din of those online voices and bring clarity to your decision-making. You invest in us, and we invest in you. Along the way we stumble across a few gems and when we do we’re happy to share them.

Brands and manufacturers like to put their best perceived foot forward with WPC (watts-per-channel) and it can be a little tricky to get to the truth of the matter, especially with surround sound or multi-channel receivers. One of the first things to do is pay attention to the stated power ratings. Is the claim for one channel driven, two channels driven, or all channels? And is this for a sustained period of time, or a brief moment? Also, it’s important to look at how this is measured. Is it 1kHz, or 20Hz to 20kHz?

There are many questions and even more answers. Through it all you’ll want to be comparing apples to apples when looking at different brands and models.

Multi-Channel versus Two-Channel

For your surround sound system, it’s key to note that not all channels require the same power distributed at the same time. The soundtrack might focus on the front two channels while the surround uses less power for ambient sounds, but then those same surround channels might need more power for a big explosion or crash.

Continuous Power

There’s a big difference between continuous power and peak power. Simply stating an amplifier has output of 100 WPC doesn’t necessarily mean it can achieve that for any sustained length of time. Be sure to check how the WPC are being measured and presented; “peak” or “maximum power” are not fair or accurate measures when an amplifier isn’t always operating at those levels.

What’s Relevant For You

Any number of factors can be considered when looking at power in amplifiers and receivers, and all of them may or may not apply to your particular situation. Then there’s distortion, speaker selection, impedance matching, what your source(s) is/are, and each carries as much or little nuance as you’re prepared to investigate. That’s where speaking with a trusted source is key to determining the right fit for you, right now.

If you’re looking at amplifiers for a home stereo or home theatre and have questions, we can help. Contact us to book a meet & greet, make an appointment in-store to review some options, or schedule an in-home consultation. Our team can help you find new ways to love your music (and movies).

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