“1500 MEGA KICK ASS WATTS” reads the marketing language for a low-priced car audio amplifier on eBay. Looks like a good deal. More is better, right?
In this case, no. That number is absurd, especially for the price.
Two receivers sit side by side on the shelf of a big box electronics store. They contain the same features, except one boasts double the amplifier power of the other. More watts is better, right?
Actually, in this case, yeah — it probably is.
Meanwhile, a Portland-based audio enthusiast solders the last connection on his DIY directly heated single-ended 300B triode tube amplifier that manages to crank out a measly 2 watts per side. When he flips the switch, the music spills forth from his efficient speakers, loud and deliciously pure. But he needs more watts, right?
In this case, absolutely not.
This is like a moving target. Watt gives?
Whenever an industry makes technological progress in an area that can be understood or appreciated by the general public, marketing departments tend to overemphasize that area’s importance because doing so will provide a leg up on competition in the market, grow the company and further careers.
It’s the way the world works, but the rare individual who learns a little bit about how things are made ends up navigating this consumer maze with grace.
In the ’70s and ’80s, advances were made in audio amplification that resulted in greater and more powerful amplifiers. In a quick contest between speaker company marketing departments and those from the amplifier world, the amplifiers won.
Consumers were drawn to more and more watts as a standard for judging amplifiers, and speaker companies just had to go along and make less and less efficient speakers.
Meanwhile, the understanding of the role of watts in the playback of music got buried under a marketing race to prove to everyone that the most is the best.
This happened. This is why folks tend to think the amp with the most watts sounds the best. In the coming weeks, I plan to lift the veil on how amplifiers work and how you can use this knowledge to set up a system that doesn’t just make music, but sounds so damn good it makes you want to make it make music all the time. Stay tuned.
Grab your top hat and cane
We’re seeing a lot of local album releases lately, featuring some spectacular music. The Railsplitters are starting to distribute their new disc, Masontown and The Lonesome Days both published albums in the last month or so, and two weeks ago, I gushed over Ted Thacker’s new work as The Red Tack. Boulder heartstrings-pullers Monocle Band are the latest to add a record to the local lexicon, and I’m as excited as any of their fans to hear it.
Go catch the new songs live before you and I can take the album back home. The Monocle release party on Friday, Oct. 20, at Planet Bluegrass’ Wildflower Pavilion will be a real hootenanny, and the band’s friends and collaborators on the record will be playing as well. The John Stickley Trio opens the show, if you needed one more reason to mark the calendar.