How to Select and Match Subs and Bass Amps

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Guitar Amp Settings Presets (and why you should ignore them)

One reason why I created this guide is that I saw how many websites list different guitar amp settings or presets. You will see a lot of websites list guitar amp presets like:

METAL: Drive 10, Bass 10, Mid 1, Treble 7, Vol 8

BLUES: Drive 3, Bass 2, Mid 5, Treble 2, Vol 6

ROCK: Drive 7, Bass 5, Mid 7, Treble 7, Vol 7

The major problem with guitar amp presets is that every guitar amp is different so the presets are useless. If you lined up 10 different guitar amps and set them all with the exact same preset, each one would still sound completely different.

Read the comments on those websites and you will see countless people complaining that they followed the advice and it didn’t give them the tone they wanted.

Even if you have the same amp as the person making the recommendations, your guitar and pedals will change your results.

The goal of this guide is to teach you to use your ears and figure out the right preset for any situation on your own. If you follow the advice in this guide you will never need to look up another guitar amp settings preset again.

The main lesson here is that guitar amp settings presets don’t teach you how to use your guitar amp or how to dial in good tones.

Video

Does more watt mean more bass?

More bass does not necessarily mean better bass. The power is determined by the wattage of the subwoofer in question, where a higher wattage demonstrates a more powerful subwoofer. … Wattage is a rough indicator of how powerful a subwoofer can be, not how it should be played!

3. You dont have either and are looking to get both a sub and amp

For this one you will simply combine steps 1 and 2 from above, but this can be tricky since there are endless possibilities. You may have a certain budget you are shooting for, or you may have a certain brand you definitely want or don’t want to go with. The best thing to do in this situation is listen to other people’s setups and find one that is right for you and go with a similar setup.

You could also just randomly pick something. Say there is a nice name brand sub or amp on sale, so you get it. Then just go to the section above to find out how to pick the other.

Maybe you think a certain power range sounds good, so you randomly pick 500 watts RMS. Then go find a good 500 watt sub and 500 watt amp.

Once again, there are endless possibilities here, so it is best to read the above sections to get the gist of it.

Who Needs a Subwoofer Amplifier?

The short answer is that everyone who wants a subwoofer in their car also needs a subwoofer amplifier. As to whether you need a separate amp for your subwoofer, that depends on the hardware you have and the car audio system that you’re trying to build.

Since everyone wants something a little different from their car audio system, there aren't any wrong answers, but there is a best answer for your situation.

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How To Get The Best Match For Your Speakers or Amplifier

Do you want to know what the most common email we get it? It’s an email that goes “I have X speakers – what’s the best/most perfect amp match for them?” There are some days when we literally get five to ten of these. We’ll tell you like we tell them: there is no one answer. Because here’s the thing about matching speakers and amps. There are thousands and thousands of different products out there. We cannot possibly test them all, so even if we were to name what we thought was a perfect match, there might be one that we haven’t discovered yet. The guiding principle here is very simple: don’t worry too much about it.

No, seriously: it’s not worth your time. As long as you buy a good pair of speakers, and a good amplifier, and make sure that their wattage and impedance ranges are matched as in the example above, you’re going to get good sound. Modern equipment is very forgiving and most of it is very well built. It’s more about finding a sound that you like, rather than finding equipment that matches perfectly. Finding that sound is kind of up to you!

OK – there are some ways in which you can streamline this process. Buying an amplifier and speakers from the same company is usually a good start, as the hard work of making them play nice together most likely has been done for you.

But do you want to know what will make a much bigger difference? Your listening environment. Too often people don’t account for the impact their room will have on their setup, and we don’t want you to do that. So, let’s put these factors into practice.

A large room could require larger speakers or more

A large room could require larger speakers or more powerful amps than you anticipated getting. Where the speakers will be located, as well as where you’ll be seated, are big considerations. Keep in mind that you’ll sacrifice sound quality if your speakers and listening position aren’t planned correctly. We generally recommend spacing speakers one-and-a-half times as far away from you as from each other, angled slightly inward, at the same height, and with the tweeters as even with your ears as possible. And always avoid obstructing your speakers with furniture and placing them in corners or too close to walls (unless the speaker manufacturer advises otherwise).

You should figure out how far you plan to sit from your speakers. Second, get an idea for how loud you want them to sound. These two figures are essential in determining the speaker sensitivity and amp power ranges you need to work within. If you happen to already have a speaker in mind, Crown Audio has a really handy calculator that you can plug distance, desired SPL, and speaker sensitivity figures into to calculate just how much Continuous Power you need out of an amp. Then all you need to check on is if that power rating is within your speaker’s safe operating range.

Obviously, speaker sensitivity plays a bigger role than a lot of people think it might, and you can use this calculator to see how big of an impact it makes. Point being, if you need 200 watts of power to get your 85dB speakers singing at the volume you want from your listening chair that’s three meters away from your speakers, but your speakers are only rated to handle 100 watts of Continuous Power, well, you’re outta luck and you’ve got no synergy. Start looking for a different speaker—or sit a whole lot closer to it.

Impedance Explained:

You don’t need to be Einstein to get this right, but before buying a thing, you do need a vocabulary lesson. These are the key terms used in speaker and amp specs that are critical to your search for good synergy and great sound. First up, Impedance.

Impedance starts with I, just like important. Used in both amp and speaker spec sheets, impedance is a measure of the electrical resistance of your components. It’s measured in ohms and is often represented with the symbol “Ω”—as in 8Ω. This is part of the equation in determining the synergy between your speakers and amp. 

Speakers typically carry ratings between 4 and 8 ohms. Amplifiers generally operate effectively in a specified range: say, 4 to 16 ohms. Check your specs, but when that’s the case, connecting a speaker rated between 4 and 16 ohms will be OK. 

But—and this is where it gets more interesting—you need to be aware that many amps output different wattages into different ohms. (We’ll go into wattage in more detail below—for now, all you need to know is that it’s a measure of power.)

For example, NAD C326BEE stereo integrated amplifier outputs a continuous 50 watts per channel into 4 ohms and 8 ohms, but its Dynamic Power (sometimes called Peak Power, which refers to when it’s being pushed to its max) hits 100 watts into 8 ohms and 150 watts into 4 ohms. Our word of warning here is to take note of your amplifier’s different output ratings and your speaker’s power handling capabilities to ensure you’re on the path to synergy instead of sacrilege.

Generally speaking, it’s fine to connect higher impedance speakers to an amp; what you don’t want to do is plug low impedance speakers, let’s say 4 ohms, into an amp that specifies a minimum 8-ohm limit. To take some math work and guessing out of the equation, a lot of speaker and amp manufacturers are switching over to using “compatible with” ohm ratings, which makes things a lot easier.

Bridging Multichannel Subwoofer Amps

To use a multichannel amp to power a sub, you typically need to bridge two channels, and that doesn't always work with every amp. The important thing to understand is that most amps are stable down to 2 ohms per channel.

If you hook up a load that has less than 2 ohms of impedance, you'll run into trouble. Since nearly all the full-range speakers you can get for your car will have an impedance of 4 ohms, this usually isn't a problem. However, it can be an issue when you throw subwoofers into the mix.

Unlike full-range speakers, car subs don’t all provide 4 ohms of impedance. Subs can have multiple voice coils, which can complicate matters further. For instance, a sub with two 4-ohm voice coils, wired in parallel, provides a 2-ohm load, but those same voice coils wired in a series provide an 8-ohm load. As a result, if you bridge two amp channels, you’ll typically be fine powering a parallel-wired 2-ohm sub, but it’s important to take a look at the numbers first.

Can you put a subwoofer anywhere in Room?

Typically, you position a subwoofer along the front wall of the room. … Many vendors recommend that you place your subwoofer in a corner. This placement reinforces the bass significantly. However, in some rooms, you can get too much reinforcement of your bass in the corner, and you end up with boomy bass.

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Sensitivity Explained

A speaker-specific stat, sensitivity is essentially a measure of how loud a speaker will be in decibels from one meter away when driven by one watt of power (yes, just one watt). Here’s an example. We’ve already mentioned the KEF LS50, so let’s take a second set of speakers – the Audioengine HDP6 (full review here), which we just happen to have lying around our testing room. With one watt of power, the HDP6s will produce a sound pressure level (SPL) of 88dB at a one meter distance—just about perfect for not going deaf during long listening sessions. dB, by the way, stands for decibels – a standard measure of loudness. The human voice is about 60dB during normal conversation.

Why does sensitivity matter? It directly relates to how loud a speaker gets. When distance and power are the same, a lower sensitivity speaker (say, 85dB) would sound quieter than a higher sensitivity speaker (say, 88dB) in the same room and setup. Sensitivity doesn’t make or break a good speaker, but a higher-sensitivity speaker could save you from having to buy a larger amplifier to reach your favorite listening levels (but we’ll get to that later).

Here’s another fun fact about sensitivity: Amplifier power must double to increase a speaker’s SPL by 3dB. So, our HDP6s would need one watt to produce 88dB of sound, two watts to produce 91dB, four watts to produce 94dB, and so on. Conversely, sound falls off fast. Expect a 6dB falloff every time you double your distance from your speakers. And this is why we can’t just pick an amp and speakers with a couple of matching specs and hope for the best.

UsingPedals or Your Amp For Your Gain

A good overdrive/distortion pedal can be a great a
A good overdrive/distortion pedal can be a great alternative to using your amp’s drive

Now that you have experimented with getting a good clean tone and you have a good feel for your amp’s controls, you can turn to a distorted/overdriven tone.

There are two main ways you can get a distortion/overdrive tone: use a pedal or use your amp. The right option for you depends on what gear you have available and what sounds you want to produce. Quite often a person gets frustrated with their amp because they’re unhappy with the distorted tone they’re trying to produce.

Experimenting with using pedals or your amp (or a combination of both) to produce your distorted/overdriven tone is a good starting point when getting the most out of your amp.

Some guitarists are adamant that your drive tone should come from your amp while other guitarists are just as insistent that the best drive tones come from pedals. I suggest that instead of limiting yourself to one way or another, keep your mind open to all options.

One day you might find a pedal or amp that delivers a great tone so don’t restrict yourself for now.

In my Guitar Effects Course, you can hear examples of different ways to create a drive tone. You’ll be able to compare an overdrive from an amp vs a pedal, and you’ll learn how to ‘stack’ your drives for some incredible tones.

Safety First:

Here’s our disclaimer: If you blow up your speakers, or your amp, it’s your fault. Got it? Good.

“You can blow up speakers with virtually any size amp, or you can use them safely with virtually any size amp, depending on how you drive them,” says GoldenEar Technology’s Sandy Goss in an interview with Dennis Burger for Home Theater Review. Offering an example, Goss says he has successfully driven a pair of GoldenEar Triton Two towers (which carry a recommended amplification rating of 20 to 500 watts) with a 22-watt-per-channel tube amp, and even a 6-watts-per-channel amp.

Ask a dozen audio experts about how much amplification a speaker needs given its power handling rating and you’ll get a dozen different opinions. We’ve seen recommendations for 10-percent more Continuous Power over a speaker’s comparable power handling capabilities. We’ve also seen recommendations for doubling a speaker’s Continuous Power rating. These recommendations likely spawn out of the belief that too little power is what damages speakers rather than too much. It actually goes both ways.

There are two very common and unfortunate causes of blown speakers and amps that we want you to avoid at all costs. First is connecting speakers to an amp with a Continuous Power rating that’s way too much for your speakers to handle. What often happens here is that the speaker can’t efficiently dissipate the heat energy from the amp, which then burns up the speaker’s voice coil and suspension, meaning you may as well have lit your hard-earned money on fire instead. 

Second is running an amp that is far too weak for the speakers connected to it. It’s not that the lower power is bad, but it gets bad when you keep cranking up the volume knob in search of a suitable listening level that likely doesn’t exist; instead your amp will start burning itself up because you’re demanding more power than it can create. This causes the amp to overheat and start clipping the signal being sent to the speakers, creating excessive distortion and high frequency energy that can, and likely will, waste your speakers away. Then you’ll have a burnt-up amp and speakers. 

So, let’s not do that.

Our recommendation for the ultimate safeguard against smoking your system is to carefully look at the maximum power handling capabilities of your speakers and amp, and, based on the listening room specs we talked about, choose an amp that outputs the correct Continuous Power for the volume level you seek, and a speaker that can gobble up twice that amount of power. So, if you need 100 watts out of your amp at 8 ohms, pump it into an 8-ohm speaker that can handle 200 watts of Continuous Power. This should give you plenty of headroom for when the impedance drops, causing those Dynamic Power peaks, and a little more room to spread those gooey peanut butter vibes.

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