When it comes to listening to music, it’s usually a simple process: we power on our audio device, select our favourite song, and let the music take us away. Whether we’re using tiny earbuds or powerful loudspeakers, the essence of sound lies in the basic physics of amplification of electric signals. The power needed to “drive” a speaker depends on various factors, such as the type of speaker, the size and number of speaker drivers, and the volume of playback.

For small speakers like headphones, which only need to transmit sound over very short distances, minimal power is needed making them ideal for use with mobile phones or portable devices. On the other hand, larger speakers like floor-standing tower speakers or massive PA systems need significantly more power to move a greater amount of air and produce higher volumes. Anyone who has used a portable radio, tape deck, CD player, or boom box at high volume knows how quickly they can drain batteries due to the increased power needed for louder sound. Now imagine how many batteries you’d need to power a large tower speaker or subwoofer!

Tip: a LOT more than what’s shown here!

This is why all passive speakers need to be paired with an Amplifier.  AV Receivers or Stereo Amplifiers are often rated in terms of Watts (W), indicating the amount of power they can produce when using 1 or 2 channels (speakers) at a certain volume level, within a specific tolerance for distortion, and within the audible range of human hearing (20 Hz – 20 kHz). The terms “peak,” “RMS,” or “continuous” may also be used to describe amplifier ratings. RMS refers to continuous power handling, while peak power represents the maximum output although this cannot be sustained. When considering an amplifier, it’s more important to pay attention to the RMS rating.

AA Batteries not suitable!

Similarly, different audio speakers have varying power requirements. Some models are modest in their power needs, while others demand more power to function optimally. In smaller, lower quality speakers, if we turn up the gain (volume) too much, the speaker may start crackling, popping, and producing a muddy, clipped sound, which is known as distortion. This indicates that the speaker is overwhelmed by the power being sent to it, potentially causing permanent damage to the speaker coil, the component that carries the electrical current. Plugging a small, lower-capacity speaker into a powerful amplifier can also be disastrous, as it can receive an excessive current and be damaged beyond repair. Conversely, connecting a high-capacity speaker to an underpowered, low-wattage amplifier can result in very poor sound quality. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure that the speakers and amplifier are compatible with each other.

At Hollywood Cinema Store, our team is here to offer expert advice and we can help you make the right choices to maximise the enjoyment of your home audio equipment.