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I've seen this question asked many times in the past, and it's been answered a fair share before too, so while some of this is repetitive, I wanted to try to make the concept of how this works a bit easier to understand for newbies. You've probably heard the analogy before, but that's because it just plain works. No need to reinvent the wheel with new analogies or complex details here, the goal of this thread is just to make things a bit easier to understand.

First let's examine what "ohms" are. Ohms themselves are a unit of measuring electrical resistance. In Alternating Current (AC) circuits, this is actually impedance, not resistance. Although speakers can have a measurable DC resistance (Re) value, we don't feed them Direct Current unless we want to melt them. Fun, but not very productive. Thus, loudspeakers are AC circuits. You have probably read that your speakers are x ohms, and that's why you're looking at this thread to find out if it'll match with your receiver..

For example, let's examine a popular loudspeaker, the dirt-cheap, Polk Monitor 50 which people buy on Newegg almost everyday even though we tell them to buy $2000 KEFs, Salks, JTR, and Philharmonics so that they can watch the latest episode of What Not To Wear with the highest resolution sound.

The spec sheet of this speaker has three specifications, which pertain to your receiver's ability to drive it.

Power Rating - 20-150W
Nominal Impedance - 8 ohm
Sensitivity - 89db

So what does this tell us? Well, maybe plenty, maybe not. The truth is, there's a lot of information being hidden from us in the above spec sheet. It might be information that has no bearing on the end result, and it could very well be crucial information. I'll get to it in a bit.

First let's realize one thing. There is, if you think about it, no such thing as a nominal impedance. Think of what the word nominal even means. It basically means "This is what we'll name the impedance of this speaker that we're trying to sell, so that people will have an idea of what to expect". But what if that is, a lie? Impedance, will be two things

Frequency Dependent
Temperature Dependent

In this thread, I will not really look at the effect of temperature on impedance (although it can be a problem, especially with the notch filters of certain passive metal-cone speakers, but also in the genera transfer functions of many passive speakers). What you need to know, is that, in the audible passband from 20hz to 20khz, impedance is very likely, to be changing. At 20hz, it might be 50 ohms, at 200hz, it might be 8 ohms, and at 10khz, it might be 3 ohms. So what is the nominal impedance of this speaker? Most likely, you would look at the frequency region, where "most" audio content will have power demands situated. Generally, this is the bass, and lower midrange. Maybe from 50hz to 400hz or so. So I guess you could maybe call the above speaker 8 ohm nominal... right? Maybe, maybe not ;P

A better idea, for us to get a better idea of what's going on, is for manufacturers to not use nominal impedances. They are better off, giving us complex impedance - a Z-chart - here is an example of what the impedance of one 8 ohm nominal speaker looks like:



"But it's close to 5 ohms in that critical power region you just mentioned!"

Yep. Another thing you'll notice in that region, is the graph right underneath - Electrical Phase. It stays pretty close to zero +/-30deg in the power region where the impedance is under 5 ohms which is important. If the phase angle is not crazy, amplifiers can usually "survive" impedance lower than what it might be rated for. At frequencies where the phase angle does start to get a bit difficult, you'll notice that the impedance luckily happens to rise. Low impedances, combined with significant electrical phase angles, can actually result in really unpredictable results in terms of sound as well as driver many amplifiers into oscillation.

So now we've established what the impedance of one "Nominal 8 ohm" loudspeaker, ACTUALLY looks like. What does this have to do with receivers and amplifiers? "My receiver is 6 ohms, not 5 or 8" right?

Wrong. Your receiver, itself, is closer to 0.00002 ohms or something absurdly small like that, unless it's a low feedback tube or 1970s era class D amp. But only silly people called audiophiles use those silly silly things. As for the 6 ohm switch, here is an article on the matter, for you to read after you finish reading what I'm saying. The only real source of impedance in the circuit your amp sees, is your loudspeaker. What it sees, is exactly the above impedance chart, with reference to the spectrum of frequencies being used in the audio content you are actually listening to.

So how does a loudspeaker convert the watts of your receiver to acoustic energy? Not very efficiently!!! It creates heat, which is what the power rating of your loudspeakers is - a way for manufacturers to tell you it was your fault that you wrecked the speaker. It's also barely accurate. You might be able to blow a 200w speaker, with only a 50w amp at the right frequencies and test content, and a 100w speaker, might survive a 400w amp perfectly healthy with the right content and usage. Use it as a guideline, but don't dwell on this spec as much.

What is a bit more useful in determining loudness? The sensitivity spec might helps. it won't tell you what the mechanical limits of the speaker are, but it tells you how much a specific voltage will drive the speaker to what SPL. Some speakers get way louder, with the same voltage, than other speakers might. The Polks above, are rated at 89db sensitive. One thing to be careful about is, units. The Polk specifications, actually give no units. The easiest mistake made, is to confuse efficiency, with sensitivity. An efficiency spec, is given in units of /1w/m while sensitivity is /v/m, usually /2.83v/m. Into 8 ohms, 1w = 2.83v so it might seem negligible, but into 4 ohms, 2w = 2.83v, and into 6 ohms, 1.3w = 2.83v so you can't get confused.

Now we're going to finally get to that analogy. A loudspeaker circuit, is like hundreds of side-by-side water pipes, and an amp (the section of your receiver interacting with the speaker) is like a water pump and river/reservoir. The water pipes, are not all the same diameter - some are very wide (like a low impedance) and some are very narrow (like a high impedance), and it might not have anything to do with the destination. The other end of the pipes, representing the acoustic response, is like a button designed to be pushed in with enough pressure.

Now if you think about the above, the narrowest pipes will most easily push the button down(IE produce higher SPL), right? But unfortunately we're stuck with what we're stuck with, the speaker we purchased.

The widest pipes, can carry the most water - the highest flow rate. Think of that as current.
The pumps are putting pressure on the water to move fast. Think of that as voltage.

So what are watts then? Simple, power (watts) = I (current) x V (voltage) - so the more pressure and the higher the flow rate, the more power the speaker is getting.

The only thing you need to add to the above, because it's an AC circuit, is power factor (phase angles as I mentioned earlier):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_factor

So it's simple right? Get a high current, high voltage amp, and we're set to go? If only! A high current, high voltage amp is NOT cheap. Cheap amps, are NOT high current, and maybe not even high voltage. Current, in electrical terms, is a source of HEAT, and heat needs heatSINKING which costs $$$. To have current, you also need lots of "water" in the reservoir (reserve power). If there's no water to push, it doesn't matter how much pressure (voltage) you can push it with into the pressure sensitive buttons (speakers)!! And a more insensitive speaker, may hit its thermal limitations from too much power, before it even gets loud enough for you, at your listening distance and source material. This is where receivers are a problem. You want all those features, you want it to be cheap and affordable, and you expect its amps to perform. They had to cut costs somewhere, and the onus is on you, or third party measurements and reviews, to figure out where costs were cut. Many cheap receivers that claim higher power, only claim it into an 8 ohm load (and one brand I can think of, claims 100w into a 6 ohm load, which is even less into an 8 ohm load and purely fluff marketing technique). Many cheap receivers have weak preout sections making them incapable of driving most separates amps to full power. Did you get your receiver for its features, or for its amps? I prefer to save features for high end processors, and focus on getting a robust amp section that can put out a nice measured and stable 200w into four ohms.

"my receiver is 100w, so it's high current right"?

Maybe, but probably not. It might say "100w @ 8 ohm". Then when the impedance drops to 4 ohm (IE a frequency where we have a wide pipe), it all of a sudden can't deliver the current and just loses stability. On paper, that 100w amp, should be able to do 200w into 4 ohm, to deliver the same water button push (pressure) into the wide pipe, that it delivered into the narrow pipe. But as soon as you current is limited, your voltage becomes limited, and the SPL of the loudspeaker, is limited by the current reserves. Some 100w amps, might only do 125w into 4 ohms, and thus if you listen loudly enough, it's a bit easier to strain and even shut down that amplifier. Some 80w amps, might do 145w into 4 ohms and so can actually get louder with some speakers! The best amplifiers, are stable down to even 2 ohm loads even factoring in phase angles. And yes, there's 4 ohm nominal speakers whose impedance profiles approximates a load near 2 ohms when you factor in phase angles. The best measurement of amplifiers, in my opinion, is the power cube, which is what Peter Aczel of the Audio Critic does. Check out his measurement of the Parasound Halo A 21 amplifier:



That amp almost puts out the same voltage into 2 ohms with a 60 degree phase angle, that it does into 8 ohms with no phase angle!! Outstanding! It can be yours, for only $2000... for two channels. Not quite the $500 7 channel receiver you were looking at, is it? Looking at the graph above, and how things start sloping heavily from 2 ohm to 1 ohm, begins to represent what many of those receivers do, shifting from 8 ohm to 4 ohm. Where the above graph produces the same power into any phase angle, those entry level receivers will again begin to slope into difficult phase angles as well!!

So what to look for in an amp/speaker combo? tough to say. high sensitivity, high impedance (only to the point where your voltage doesn't become a limiting factor itself, of course) speakers can work well with lesser amps, and high current, high voltage amps can work decently with lower sensitivity, lower impedance speakers(although the low efficiency, means LOTS of heat can be created and there are other drawbacks to that). If you're buying speakers based on how they sound, it's tough to "pick n choose" their electrical behaviour, - although there's certainly some fine High Efficiency Speakers out there. When in doubt, just don't push your system so loud to the point where it's shutting down. Perhaps get an SPL meter, and mess around with an online SPL Calculator (remembering that the speaker's sensitivity should be in units of /2.83v/m and the input watts should be referenced to the max voltage the amp is capable of producing into the speakers' low impedance high output frequencies, converted into watts @ 8 ohm)

If I made any mistakes in the above, feel free to correct me. Hopefully this helped someone. :) :T
 

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Re: Ohms - Do your speaker and receiver fit together?

Great Post and Thread. Could not agree more and think it should be a Sticky.
JJ
 

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Re: Ohms - Do your speaker and receiver fit together?

Great Post and Thread. Could not agree more and think it should be a Sticky.
JJ
I agree fully, a great read. Thanks :T
 

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Re: Ohms - Do your speaker and receiver fit together?

Sticky!

This is exacty the kind of info that I completely understand as I'm reading it, but then 10min later I'm back to being stupid.
I need this kind of stuff readily available and easily accessable.
 

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Re: Ohms - Do your speaker and receiver fit together?

Great post. I used to read stuff like this in Stereo Review back in the 70s and 80s. Kinda missed it. Thanks.
 

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Re: Ohms - Do your speaker and receiver fit together?

Sticky.
 

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Re: Ohms - Do your speaker and receiver fit together?

The issue is that the 100 watt amp is rated at 100 watts into 8 ohms. If you want a lower impedance rating, just lower the amplifier power rating. As an example, in my bedroom I have a bottom of the line Pioneer receiver. It drives a pair of speakers with a 4 ohm nominal impedance that aren't really very sensitive. The receiver isn't even very well ventilated but it still can play the speakers quite loudly without even getting overly warm. Why is this?

The reason is that at realistic listening levels, the amps are putting out about 1 watt on average and about 10 watts on peaks. At appropriate bedroom levels you can cut those numbers in half. The amps are rated at 80 watts into 8 ohms with no 4 ohm rating. 4 Ohms is only a problem at full output power or near that. My 1/2 watt or 1 watt average power consumption doesn't get anywhere near stressing the amplifiers.

So while the OP's post looks to be accurate, it is still important for audio consumers to understand that the fear of low impedances is only worrisome in extreme situations. In a typical home listening room, not so much. The industry continually instills fear, mostly to get people to buy outboard amplifiers. We need to instill confidence where it is appropriate.
 

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Awesome post! For someone new like me this really explained things well. I think it would be helpful to have a database of power cube and Z charts for popular products to give newbies the data they need without having to run tests that may be more difficult. Do such databases exist?
 

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The original article is mostly OK to the point of the power factor link.
After that it pretty much champions the case for needing outboard amplification which I do not generally agree with.
Let's consider that the vast majority of people buying home theater or hifi equipment actually know very little to nothing about electrical and acoustical engineering (actually a lot of forum experts know little to nothing about electrical engineering and acoustical engineering either).
All consumers want to pick a price point, and then pick gear that fits the budget.
Industry simply wants to sell gear and make money at all price points.
The way to make the most money is to sell products that people are satisfied with which means the products work with the other products in the same family.
People should have confidence that in almost all cases an AVR priced at about 1/4 to 1/3 the price of the speaker package will get the job done in fine style.
 

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I'm trying to translate this into determining whether a powered monitor is adequate for reaching reference levels in my listening space.

I am temporarily using some studio monitors (M Audio Studiophile BX8 speakers) behind an AT screen. I'm pretty sure they are not a long term solution, but understanding how capable they are, objectively, in terms of SPL at my listening position 8 feet from them, would help me when I consider the long term solution.

I understand how to calculate the ability of a speaker to play at reference level at a certain distance taking into account sensitivity/efficiency, watts available into a given ohm rating, their power handling, distance, etc. and that this is not 100 precise because room boundaries, etc, can play a role. But it's a ballpark.

But I am less clear about how to do that with a studio monitor. Anyone know? For example, if I am listening to these and finding they start to sound compressed below reference, does that seem unlikely, or plausible.

Here are the specs:

Type:Two-way studio reference
LF Driver: 8-inch magnetically-shield mineral-filled polypropylene curved cone
with high temperature voice coil and damped rubber surround
HF Driver: 1-inch magnetically-shield natural silk dome
Frequency Response: 37Hz - 20kHz
Crossover Frequency: 1.8kHz
LF Amplifier Power: 65W
HF Amplifier Power: 65W
S/N Ratio: >100dB below full output, 20kHz bandwidth
Input Connectors: One XLR balanced input connector; one TRS
balanced/unbalanced input connector
Polarity: Positive signal at + input produces outward low-frequency
cone displacement
Input Impedance: 20k ohms balanced, 10k ohms unbalanced
Input Sensitivity: 85 mV pink noise input produces 90dBA output SPL at 1
meter with volume control at maximum
Acoustic Space Control: 0, -2, -4, dB
High Frequency Control: 0, -2, -4, dB
Mid-range Control: Presence, Flat
Low Cut-off Frequencies: 37Hz, 47Hz, 80Hz
Protection: RF interference, output current limititing, over temperature, turn
on/off transient, subsonic filter, external main fuse
Indicator: Blue power on/off indicator on front panel
Power Requirements: Dual-voltage (selectable by rear-panel switch) for
either 115V/~60Hz, 230V/~50Hz; powered via detachable 3-circuit line cord
Cabinet: vinyl-laminated MDF
Dimension: 380 mm (H) x 250 mm (W) x 300 mm (D)
Weight: 20.32 lb/unit (without packing)

 

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Nathan,
Do the speakers sound good to you?
Do they play loud enough for you?
If yes to both you are in great shape.
I would not get hung up on reference level.
If you just have to know the simplest way to find out is to buy a SPL meter and measure it.
Radio Shack used to sell a couple of them that are good enough for this measurement.
 

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Nathan,
Do the speakers sound good to you?
Do they play loud enough for you?
If yes to both you are in great shape.
I would not get hung up on reference level.
If you just have to know the simplest way to find out is to buy a SPL meter and measure it.
Radio Shack used to sell a couple of them that are good enough for this measurement.
Thanks for the reality check. I agree, that if they sound good to me, that's the ultimate test!

I can measure the SPL. Doing so doesn't help me understand how they are performing very much other than volume. :doh:

In terms of how they sound: At reasonable levels, they are surprisingly good. Nice tone and imaging, and they are EQed well by Audyssey. This would be listening to music at -20 when -20 is based on Audyssey having set 0 to be reference for movies.

However: On peaks they do sound a little congested, and flat. The soundstage depth collapses and the ability to differentiate between instruments becomes difficult. I can get even non peaks on music to sound like that, at -10. (That's really loud for music, as you know, since music is often mixed so close to the top of the range, whereas movies often have 20 db of space above their average for peaks.)

But I don't want to assume the issues I am hearing are because the speakers are reaching their limit. It might be the room, the EQ, the source material, my old ears :devil:

If they were conventional passive speakers I could do that math and see if I am way out of the ballpark for what they can handle, or very much within their range -- and that would help me understand what I might be hearing. Not definitive, of course! :)
 

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However: On peaks they do sound a little congested, and flat. The soundstage depth collapses and the ability to differentiate between instruments becomes difficult.
That is always a good sign of distortion. If you drive them past that it then begins to clip.
 

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That is always a good sign of distortion. If you drive them past that it then begins to clip.
Yeah, that's my working hypothesis :D

But if the math says "hell no, you are not within ten miles of their limits" then I'd begin to think maybe it's the room, or my ears.... which is good to know, since getting more capable transducers and amplification will not fix my room nor my ears....

:spend:
 

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I am not familiar with your speakers so this is just my opinion based on the info you posted.
Considering the cabinet size and driver I would be thinking 37hz is pretty optimistic on the low end and with the crossover at 1.8khz the woofer is covering the area where there is a lot of audio content.
As far as the 65w amplification it is not specified as to peak or rms.
There are also the on speaker frequency filters and current limiter which may (or not) be affecting the sound.
Filters have loss associated with them even in the passband and that robs some power.
There is also not a maximum output number so I do not know how loud the speakers are rated for.
All speakers compress as the volume goes up so you may just be pushing the output limit.
Finally what are you driving the speakers with?
If it is with an AVR using preouts (RCA type) the input impedance of the speakers may be to low, I pulled up the spec sheet on a popular home theater amp and the input impedance was 50k ohms.
10k ohms may (stress may) be drawing current the AVR preouts are not capable of providing.

You have a lot of moving parts, sorry I am not more familiar with this type of setup.
 

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I am not familiar with your speakers so this is just my opinion based on the info you posted.
Considering the cabinet size and driver I would be thinking 37hz is pretty optimistic on the low end and with the crossover at 1.8khz the woofer is covering the area where there is a lot of audio content.
As far as the 65w amplification it is not specified as to peak or rms.
There are also the on speaker frequency filters and current limiter which may (or not) be affecting the sound.
Filters have loss associated with them even in the passband and that robs some power.
There is also not a maximum output number so I do not know how loud the speakers are rated for.
All speakers compress as the volume goes up so you may just be pushing the output limit.
Finally what are you driving the speakers with?
If it is with an AVR using preouts (RCA type) the input impedance of the speakers may be to low, I pulled up the spec sheet on a popular home theater amp and the input impedance was 50k ohms.
10k ohms may (stress may) be drawing current the AVR preouts are not capable of providing.

You have a lot of moving parts, sorry I am not more familiar with this type of setup.
This is quite useful to read. It is like an algebra problem, with too may variables that are not known values -- so it cannot be properly solved. And some of the missing data is still that only the manufacturer, or a serious tester, could determine.

I've got them crossed over at 80hz, but they are built to try to be "full range" which means suboptimal output capability in the 80+ range versus the same gear optimized to ONLY play at 80hz +.

But the real eye opener for me was the impedance mismatch possibly between the RCA outputs on my Denon 4311 and the TSR inputs on the monitors. I completely ignored that as ANOTHER possible problem.

Shortly I'll be replacing the powered monitors with some used passives (Triad Bronze LCR) which should have better output capability and address some of the other mismatches, and then I'll see if I have other things I need to optimize as well.
 
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