How much difference can an amp make?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jonathan Lofgren, Nov 2, 2001.

  1. Jonathan Lofgren

    Jonathan Lofgren Stunt Coordinator

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    Hi,
    I was just wondering how much difference an amp can make in sound quality. I was reading a review on an amp and the reviewer said the amp gave good mid-bass punch. Is this possible? Isn't an amplifier just a power source so shouldn't most amps sound about the same? Also, I've heard people say that getting more power for their speakers made them sing. It seems like this would only apply if they have inefficient speakers/a lack of power or if they listen at high levels. If they're not using the full power of their current amplifier, how would having more power not in use help the sound? I also realize that a cheap $200 receiver isn't going to sound as good as a $5000 separate amplifier, but it seems like most amplifiers in similar categories should use about the same components and should sound about the same.
    I'm still new to all of this home theater stuff and this could be a stupid/obvious question. Any and all help is appreciated. Thanks
     
  2. Jake T

    Jake T Stunt Coordinator

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    Jonathan,
    I'm still fairly new to this too, but if your amp has more power, it will run your speakers easier. Meaning less volume to get louder sound. (Any audiophile is welcome to correct me on that,like I said, I'm still new)
    I have low sensitive speakers (Dynaudio Audience 122's...6 ohm, 87d sensitivity) and when I put my Onkyo 696 up all the way It was loud, but not deafining. Therefore, I beleive my receiver does not have enough power to truly drive these speakers.
    Anyhow, to answer your question, it makes a HUGE difference. The more clean power, the better the sound
    [​IMG]
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  3. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Clean power in terms of large power supplies with low total harmonic distortion (THD) is one ingredient of a quality amp. However there are other design elements that influence the sound quality. The overall quality of parts used and the layout inside (short path lengths, for example) should be considered. The better amps and receivers are designed to reduce interference between digital and analog or audio and video circuitry. Again, this comes back to producing a clean, accurate signal to the speakers. In talking about A/V receivers, the quality of the DACs and internal decoders will certainly influence the sound quality.
    This may sound crude, but a good way, initially, to evaluate the quality of an amp is by weight. Weight of an amp is usually influenced most by the size of the power supply. If the amp is heavy as a result of a large power supply, that is a good place to start. I realize that this is a generalization, but it is something to consider.
    When you start looking at the better amps out there, you will often find toroidal power supplies. Also, with higher-end amps, you will find separate power supplies for each channel. All of this can improve the sound quality. This too is a generalization, but is worth bearing in mind.
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  4. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    Simply put not all amps sound the same. There are some major differences in design topology, power supplys, parts quality and on and on. Its not just about adding more power (watts) to a speaker either since a reasonably well designed 100 per channel power amp will sound better then a 100 watt receiver most of the time. Receviers amps have to spare space with noisey other parts like the tuner and pre amps etc, they also have to spare the power with those components where stand alone power amps do not.
    When people say that their sound improved when adding a power amp it often suggests that the receivers amps did not have enough current to properly control the drivers, it may have been clipping or just being driven into a high noise state. As an example I have magnepan 1.4's as mains which are a constant 4 ohm load so they do best when supplied with high current power. Anywho I was using a HK 5800 5 channel power amp to drive these and my other speakers and everything seemed ok. There was one problem though in that even though I had set them to small in the receivers set up I could bottom out the panels with some music tracks. Now the HK amps was benched at 150 watts into 4 ohms when only two channels were being used (ie in stereo) so I should have been getting enough power but when I added a different amp the bottoming problem went away. The new amp was a Musical Fidelity (Dr.Thomas limited edition) amp that uses a class A topology and is only rated at around 120 watts into 8 ohms but even though its not much more powerful then the HK when looking simply at watts it does not bottom the panels out which leads me to believe that the HK was clipping.
    Anyway if you're still reading this and haven't nodded off yet my point is that amps do sound different and those differences stem from a variety of reasons. Adding more clean power will always improve the sound.
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  5. Gregg Loewen

    Gregg Loewen Video Standards Instructor, THX Ltd.
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  6. Kevin. W

    Kevin. W Screenwriter

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    Jonathan,
    In a previous post I provided a link to pictures of the inside of my Denon 1801 and Rotel RMB-1066 AMP. You can find that link below. Why a AMP can make a difference I don't know. Maybe its just the fact that its designed to do one thing. Produce Power for the speakers. Unlike a reciever that is designed to do many things. And unless you have adequate shielding within the reciever you are going to get interference. Plus the power unit of the reciever has to do more than just power the speakers. It feeds the processor, Tuner, Pre-amp, etc, etc all of which can zap it of juice when its needed during an intense scene in a movie. If you look at the pictures I provided you will see that the Denon has a small power supply and only 2-10000uF capacitors to store the juice. The Rotel has a Torodial Power supply and 6-6800uf. One thing you can't see on the pictures is the output devices attached to the heatsinks. The ones on the Rotel are twice as large as those of the Denon. All this adds upto more juice, better soundstage, detail/clarity in an AMP. Don't get me wrong I love the sound my Denon puts out but what I hear now coming out of my speakers(Paradigm Mini Monitors: Sensitivity 89db) is juice amazing.
    Kevin
    http://ca.photos.yahoo.com/ht_addict
    [Edited last by Kevin. W on November 03, 2001 at 05:26 PM]
     
  7. Darrel McBane

    Darrel McBane Second Unit

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    I went from a Sony 30ES ( [email protected] ) to a Rotel 1095 ( [email protected] )( http://www.rotel.com/products/rmb1095.htm ) and the difference was HUGE as Gregg says in his post.
    I've since added a Rotel 1090 ( [email protected] ) ( http://www.rotel.com/products/rb1090.htm ) to power my main speakers. And the difference wasn't Huge, but very, very noticeable. Details in music especially, are brought forward and a tonal richness not equaled from the 1090 or the Sony 30ES. I moved away from the Sony receiver to a dedicated Preamp/Processor. And that made a HUGE difference also.
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  8. LarrySkelly

    LarrySkelly Stunt Coordinator

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    Amplifiers make a very large difference. I've heard my speakers with a $20K Krell amp, a $2K Acurus amp, and my $1K Marantz SR8000 receiver. They're ML reQuests, which are particularly demanding to drive electrostatics.
    Most music sounds fine with the Marantz. I have a lot of respect for that receiver, and its power output. I'm continually driving the ML's and 4 ohm surrounds to the limit for HT. Never a problem. Most people would think it sounds fantastic.
    But when I sit down for some serious listening to music, I know that oft times there's a little bit missing. The ML's are very quick and very detailed speakers. Some music sounds very good, acoustic jazz is an example. But when the music gets very complex, and is very demanding, the detail blurs together. I have standard discs I use for auditioning speakers and amps, so I have a pretty good reading on what the sound should be.
    I think its a law of diminishing returns with amps. A few thousand dollars will get your very good sound. After that the improvements are much smaller and the price increases larger.
    And some amps, tubes especially sound warmer. Some are known to sound bright. I think a good analogy is fluorescent light bulbs. A cool white 50W fluorescent tube provides the same light as a warm white 50W tube. The cool white light is cold, clinical, and a bit irritating. The warm white feels much more natural and friendly.
    Its much the same with amps.
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  9. TerryC

    TerryC Stunt Coordinator

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    It all depends how loud you listen to your system. As long as the amps aren't being pushed into clipping territory blind testing HAS proven otherwise, as in golden ears even have a hard time discerning any difference. [​IMG]
    [Edited last by TerryC on November 03, 2001 at 11:08 AM]
     
  10. Bhagi Katbamna

    Bhagi Katbamna Supporting Actor

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    Well, get ready for another 10 page post. [​IMG]
    Amps can make a difference depending on how difficult a load your speakers are and how loudly you listen to. I currently use a Cinepro 3K6II and really like it. Before, I was using a Bryston 4B, an Anthem MCA-3, and a Parasound HCA-1500A. I honestly cannot say that I thought one had superior sound compared to another. I like the Cinepro the best because it plays louder than the other amps cleaner.
     
  11. Jonathan Lofgren

    Jonathan Lofgren Stunt Coordinator

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    OK, first off, thanks for the responses. I can understand that better amps will be made with better components, shorter wire lengths, more direct paths, etc. That makes sense. I can also understand that if a receiver and an amp are both quality products and are about the same price the amp should sound better just because it isn't trying to do more things. It makes sense, too, that adding power to a speaker that is underpowered will help it out, BUT it seems like some people just add power because they want to add power and I'm not sure why this would help anything.
    I'll use the following scenario: There are 5 speakers that are fairly sensitive say 95(sorry I don't know how to label sensitivity measurements). I have a nice amp that gives me 170 clean, low THD wpc. I don't listen too loudly and I quite enjoy the sound I'm getting. I can't see how arbitrarily adding 300 wpc monoblocks to the front three speakers, for example, would help anything. It also would seem that you would run into diminishing returns quite rapidly as you increase wattage. I also realize that there are exceptions to most every rule so I'm not looking for the one anecdotal account where someone went from 500 wpc to 1000 wpc and heard amazing increases. I would like to know if there are very many circumstances where, if you're not using you full power anyway, you would gain anything by adding more power. Thanks for reading through my minds less-than-coherent thoughts written down, and again, all help is appreciated.
     
  12. Darrel McBane

    Darrel McBane Second Unit

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    I know very well that my Saturn SC2 will get me from point A to point B in a reasonable time period with acceptable performance. I also know that my dream car the Porsche Boxtser will get me from point A to point B in a reasonable time period and with the performance level not equaled by my Saturn. It is better engineered and has reserve power my Saturn can't even dream about. Effortless acceleration, cornering and handling.
    Power amps IMO are similar in performance. There are some great low power amp that have attributes of some of the big power amps like McIntosh, Krell and Levinson. But the effortless power and performance is what gets people to go for the Big Boys. Not price!
    My Rotel 1090 is Bi-wired to my main Revel F-30 speakers running at [email protected] I don't have to run my system at very loud levels to hear the improvements. But, if I do want to crank my system. It's like the Porsche....and doesn't break a sweat.
    Your mileage may very!
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    [Edited last by Darrel McBane on November 03, 2001 at 04:43 PM]
     
  13. Elbert Lee

    Elbert Lee Supporting Actor

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    I agree that the difference can be HUGE. Of course, if you are running a small sat/sub speaker system, a HIGHER CURRENT amp many not help. I like to use AC CURRENT as a basic reference when comparing amps to each other. THe "Watts" comparison is very misleading as you may note that some receivers that are rated at 100wx5 weighs less than 1/5 of a Proceed 100wx5 amp.
    Much of the "weight" is in the transformer, which in essense, is like a power resevoir. To put simply, every time the amp is heavily "exerted", such as bass-heavy sequences, the resevoir's power supply dips more dramatically, making bass and treble sound strained (Harmonic distortion). A higher current amp is able to "refill" the resevoir very quickly thereby giving you "tighter" bass, and cleaner highs.
    This may be construed as a "stiffer" power supply. If you do run a high current separates amp, it is also suggested that you run dedicated AC lines from your fuse box to your HT gear so that you don't share the AC with other electrical sources in your house (appliance, hair dryers, etc.) Auto sound enthusiasts that have high current amps also purchase expensive power stiffeners because a car battery isn't capable of delivering the steady stream of power the amps require.
    Sorry for going of on AC, but I'm a huge believer in CURRENT.
    Elbert
     
  14. Hubert

    Hubert Second Unit

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    Big amps with beefy power supplies make a big difference. Especially at low and loud volumes. Sometimes, listening to quiet scenes with a lot of ambience and at low volumes can reveal more about an amp than listening to it blaring. But in a word, YES. You would immediately know the difference. Especially if you went with an amp that can supply it's full power with low THD, with all channels driven simultaneously. Receivers just can't do that.
     
  15. Bob_M

    Bob_M Stunt Coordinator

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    >Huge!!<
    Someone please define Huge? Last night while listening to some music in 2 channel I turned off my sub. Now that was a "Huge" difference in sound to me especially since my mains are set to small. So can anyone give some scale hear. I don't think I could tell the difference between two different amps at normal listening levels.
    Thanks Bob
    [Edited last by Bob McKinnon on November 03, 2001 at 06:32 PM]
     
  16. Gregg Loewen

    Gregg Loewen Video Standards Instructor, THX Ltd.
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  17. Gregg Loewen

    Gregg Loewen Video Standards Instructor, THX Ltd.
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    In the recent past, I went from a Elite 29 receiver to an Outlaw 750 amp. It was night and day, MUCH more detail and also more head room. It was very obvious and I dont consider myself to be a tweeker.
    I just connected a 350 WPC QSC DCA amp on Thursday. Not night and day this time. Quite actually no difference at all, WHILE LISTENING to 5.1 at reference. HOWEVER, when switching to 2 channel stereo, Boom Boom Boom, this amp rocks!! I could feel (for the first time) the bass coming out of my Paradigm Studio 100s. I didnt bother doing a db measurement, but Im sure I could be heard in the next county. [​IMG]
    So as far as high end amps go, think head room (and boom boom boom) [​IMG]
    Gregg
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  18. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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    quote: Sure:
    Huge = very large[/quote]
    I hereby nominate Gregg Loewen for a Nobel Prize, for being the first person to successfully explain and quantify a previously vague and mistifying concept. "Huge = very large". This elegant equation shall be the cornerstone of scientific progress for centuries to come.
    [​IMG]
    [Edited last by Saurav on November 03, 2001 at 06:47 PM]
     
  19. Gregg Loewen

    Gregg Loewen Video Standards Instructor, THX Ltd.
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  20. TerryC

    TerryC Stunt Coordinator

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    Its very interesting how all the prior participants of blind testing had the very same attitudes and beliefs as some in this thread. They claimed they could hear huge differences between different amps, plain as day and night. Those very same people couldn't with any certainty pick a clear favorite when they were involved in a blind listening test. Makes one wonder????
     

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