When buying speakers or an amplifier, you will notice that a lot of the manufacturers advertise the power of the product first and foremost. A wattage rating will normally be in the description of the product.
So, does more power equal better sound? Is this the main metric to choose your musical equipment based on?
It is definitely true that more powerful speakers and amplifiers have the potential for a cleaner sound, especially when playing at high volumes. However, this certainly isn’t the only metric to be on the lookout for, and loads of other factors come into play when choosing your audio equipment.
More power (at least if you are measuring in Wattage) doesn’t necessarily mean more volume. The sensitivity of the amp and speakers should also be considered and other aspects of the design impact things like the frequency response, to give a clean and clear overall sound.
It can be really tempting to take the “turn it up to 11” approach and just go for the most powerful audio equipment you can, but that doesn’t necessarily give you the best results. We cover more of the details on why below. If you are looking to choose to buy a good speaker, there is certainly no harm in getting a high wattage, but there is much more to it than just volume.
Headroom is one of the most important concepts to get to grips with when dealing with pro audio equipment. PA systems, speakers and amps all have a certain “headroom”. They are meant to function at a certain power and audio range, meaning that you don’t put too much stress on the speaker components.
The “headroom” is the capacity above what you need. You will want to have more headroom rather than less. Both the signal level and the output level have headroom.
Another way of looking at it is like the speed at which a car can go. Your car might be able to reach a high speed, but this will put more strain on the parts and it may not perform as well (or as comfortably) in the process.
Headroom is quite abstract to measure, but in general, getting a higher wattage will allow you to ensure that you have the required headroom and aren’t constantly pushing the speakers to their full capacity.
What DOES Mean Better Sound?
If power isn’t the number one priority, then what should you be looking out for? What will cause better sound from your speakers and what should you consider before making a purchase?
Materials are vital, and better materials usually provide a better sound. For example, the cones that help to drive the sound may be made out of a variety of different materials.
They all do the same job of pushing air to create sound waves, but different materials have slightly different properties. Some are rigid, while some flex and can distort. The better the quality of the materials, the less likely it is to sound disappointing.
Better material inputs and outputs can also help sound waves carried as an electrical signal to retain sound quality, in the same way that good quality cables carry sound with more accuracy.
The range of human hearing can be measured in frequencies. Most people can hear from roughly 40 Hz to 20 kHz. This range usually gets smaller as people age and their hearing becomes worse.
A speaker or amplifier should be able to replicate all the frequencies in human hearing. If not, it can be as loud as you like, but something will always be missing.
Have you ever heard an amp or set of speakers where the bass frequencies just seem to go missing altogether? This is likely due to poor frequency response in the design.
Again, this is quite an abstract thing to measure as frequency range can be altered by a number of different factors and the materials and design of the speakers make a difference to which frequencies can be heard.
When is More Power Called For?
5 Watt speakers can sound spectacular when you are listening to music in your home or sitting in your living room. If it becomes time to play in front of a big audience and you need louder speakers then 5 watts is very unlikely to cut it.
You need to consider how big the space is that you need to cover. In a large room, low wattage and low power speakers or amplifiers can really get lost, and the wattage you require from the speakers needs to be higher to allow for louder reproduction of audio.
Similarly, if you are a guitarist and you want to be able to create a large, clean sound then higher wattages can be far better.
“Impedance” – What’s The Difference Between Solid State and Tube Amps?
The way in which amplifiers work, and the fact that they carry signal, means that impedance is an important metric.
For example, a tube amp is likely to be louder than a solid state amp of the same wattage. A 10W tube amp might even be louder than a 50W solid state amp. This is a huge difference.
Solid state amps reduce the power that is available, they have a higher impedance which means less power overall. Impedance can be hard to wrap your head around.
Tube amps don’t experience the same power clipping, and can reproduce 80-90% of their power no matter what guitar is being played and which frequencies they are being asked to reproduce, whether it is being cranked or not.
So, you can see why this means that more power does not always equal better sound. In some situations, more power doesn’t even mean louder sound, let alone better. You need to consider the type of amplifier, impedance rating and much more before taking the plunge and buying an amp or speaker.
Summary – Does More Power Equal Better Sound?
As you can see from the points made above, the power of speakers and amplifiers is just one of the things that need to be considered. Depending upon which type of amp you have, the wattage and power measurement might not even mean more “power” in audio terms (more volume).
So, while the temptation to crank things loud is too much to resist for some musicians, you should know that this doesn’t ultimately always mean a better overall sound and leaving some headroom and considering the frequency response can allow you to get a far superior sound overall. Power can be great if you need a loud sound, but it isn’t the only thing to consider, and in some cases, it is purely a vanity metric.