Stereo Amplifiers

Written by Serena Berger
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Stereo amplifiers are responsible for turning the tiny sound waves which are generated by the mechanics of reading a disc, tape, or record into the big sound waves that come out of your speakers. The ideal is to maintain every aspect and proportion of the wave, making it as much bigger as you want it to be for volume. Your amp needs to do this without sacrificing purity of sound or destroying speakers with a huge blast of current.

There are two basic types of stereo amplifiers: solid state amps and tube amps. Solid state amps are much more common (accounting for about 90 percent of amps in home stereo systems) and people who like them are particularly fond of their strong performance in the lower range. Tube amps are the other 10 percent, and are much more expensive. Purists claim that the bass in solid state amps is louder due to a weakness in the sound production which makes the upper register grainy or too bright, while tube amps preserve the ideal balance of the tones and ranges.

The maximum sustained power output of the amp is one of the most important things you need to consider when choosing your amplifier. The unit of output for amplifiers is the Watt, and amps range from 3 Watts per channel (Wpc) to more than 500 Wpc. What you'll really be concerned with is the measure of Watts RMS, which refers to the continuous amplifier power into the considered load (i.e. speaker), which will be measured in ohms. A so-called "perfect voltage source" (a top quality amp) will double the amount of power if the ohm load decreases from 8 to 6 (two of the most common speaker measures). A lower quality amp can be damaged by its inability to deliver more Wpc to a lower ohm load.

How Quality Stereo Amplifiers Serve Your Music

This perfect voltage source (or the reasonable equivalent which you'll be able to afford for your home stereo) will make you feel as though there are dimensions in the music you're hearing. For example, if you were in a room with an actual orchestra playing, you would be able to tell which instrument was closest to you and which was furthest away. Good stereo amplifiers preserve this sense of space in the sound you hear. They also preserve the crispness, called pace, of the music by making sure that the way you hear sounds is precise; a drum beat, for example, when it's perfectly regular, will start to resonate through your whole body. With a good amp, you will feel its regularity (or intentional irregularities) as a crucial part of the music.

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