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Published by: Arman Ul Nasar on Apr 26, 2013
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While producing sound is a mechanical process, with few exceptions, reproducing sound
requires electronics to amplify the sound from a source, and energize or drive a
loudspeaker to reproduce it. Let’s examine a few basic electronic concepts which may be
helpful in understanding audio systems.

Amperage is similar to the
volume of water in a pipe

Flow: Cu.In./sec.

Voltage is similar to the
pressure behind the the
water pushing it through

Amperage X Voltage
Volume X Pressure= Power (Wattage)

Reproducing sound
requires electronics
to amplify the sound
froma source, and
energize or drive a
loudspeaker to
reproduce it.

This is easily proved through a very simple psycho-acoustical experiment: sit in a chair,
cover your eyes, and have someone serve as a moving sound source by walking around
the room while talking constantly (or ringing a bell or jangling keys). The fact that you can
tell almost exactly where the sound is coming from even when you can’t see the source
proves how sensitive your ear/brain hearing apparatus is to space and time acoustical
cues. Since the direction and timed arrival of sounds changes depending on the ratio of
direct and reflected sound we hear, all these parameters are crucial in determining how
realistically a sound system can reproduce music.

Tech Note: The math behind sound.

Sound reproduction concepts are usually expressed in logarithmic, rather than
linear, terms. An example is the fact that doubling sound volume requires a ten
times increase in power. Another example is found on most commonly-used
frequency response graphs, where the “benchmark” frequencies are double the
value of those preceding them: 62Hz, 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kH, etc. It is
not critical to master the math—just to know that this is why response curves and
power graphs look the way they do.

Power. All audio systems require electrical power to run, as speakers are essentially AC
linear motors (but instead of moving a shaft or object, the speaker moves back and forth,
which imparts pressure on the air in front of it to propagate sound waves).
Power is measured in watts (W) and is expressed in several ways. Peak power is the
maximum power that might be used over any given time interval (usually of a very short
duration), while continuous or RMS (Root-Mean-Square) power is the average power that
is used over the same period. This is why a speaker might be rated as 120 W continuous/
60 W RMS. Incidentally, “Root Mean Square” power is the most mathematically correct
way to express “real-world,” useable average or continuous power.
Current, Voltage and Resistance. Electrical elements might be easier to understand in
terms of plumbing. Current is the rate of electron flow through a conductor. Current is
measured in amperes (A), which is like the volume or amount of water flowing in a pipe.
Voltage (V) is the pressure pushing the electrons along, just like the pressure behind a
water system. Resistance can be anything that slows the flow, such as a blockage in the
pipe, or reducing the diameter of the pipe and consequently reducing the water flow.


Audio System Design and Installation: Fundamentals of Audio Technology

©2005 Leviton Mfg. Co. All rights reserved.

Ohm’s Law. George Ohm didn’t set out to make life miserable for audio installers. Mr.
Ohm is simply the gentleman who first noticed that the amount of voltage and amperage
changed when he used different types and lengths of conductors. In the process, he
figured out the physics at work behind these changes. For example, Ohm found that while
20 V produced 1 A of current in a 1 meter wire, when he doubled the wire length to a 2
meters, the same 20 V source only produced 0.5 A of current. However, when he doubled
the thickness (diameter) of the wire, the same 20 V now produced 4 A of current.
Furthermore, when he changed the wire type from copper to gold, the resistance
increased, but when silver was used, the resistance decreased.
The Ohm, named in his honor, is the measure of resistance that allows one volt to push
one ampere of current through a conductor. Based on this relationship between voltage,
current, and resistance, Mr. Ohm devised a law which stated that in any circuit, current is
directly proportional to voltage and inversely proportional to resistance.
Using Ohm’s Law, several formulas can be derived:

Ohms (resistance)

Voltage / Amperage

Amperage (current)Voltage / Resistance

Voltage (pressure)

Resistance x Amperage

Watts (power)

Voltage x Amperage

Impedance. Resistance in direct current (DC) electrical circuits is relatively simple, but in
alternating current (AC) circuits, resistance gets more complex. This is because various
components react to alternating current (but not to direct current), which further resists or
impedes the current. Therefore, AC resistance is typically referred to as impedance (Z)
(literally, anything that impedes the flow of electricity). Impedance can be defined as “the
total opposition to current flow in any circuit,” regardless of whether the opposition
results from electrical, mechanical, and/or acoustical forces. In fact, in an audio system, all
three forms of impedance are present.

Tech note: Related but not necessarily interchangeable.

Impedance and resistance, while often used interchangeably, are not exactly the
same thing. Electrical resistance refers to the extent to which a material resists
current flow in a direct current (DC) application, expressed as a ratio of a
conductor’s potential difference to current flowing through it. Electrical
impedance refers to all the factors that can oppose (or impede) non-direct or AC
(alternating) current, including capacitance and inductance—it is more complex as
a result.
Acoustical impedance takes into account pressure against a speaker’s diaphragm,
while mechanical impedance addresses the moving parts of a loudspeaker. In
real-world audio systems, this is why calculating system impedance must take
into account speakers, volume controls and cabling. In any electronics system,
matched impedances are a prerequisite of high performance.

Electrical impedance exists in the wiring, volume controls and at the amplifier

itself. Recall that Mr. Ohm became famous for observing that just by changing a

wire’s length or diameter, the resistance changed dramatically. Likewise, in a multi-

room audio system, with potentially a half-dozen volume controls and hundreds of

feet of cabling, electrical impedance becomes a factor.

impedance exists
in a speaker, which,
as a motor, has
moving parts that
must be pushed into
action by the audio


Audio System Design and Installation: Fundamentals of Audio Technology

©2005 Leviton Mfg. Co. All rights reserved.

Both mechanical and electrical impedance exist in the speaker, which, as a motor, has
moving parts that must be pushed into action by the audio signal. The moving parts
naturally “fight back” when the AC electrical signal tells them to get moving. Speaker
impedances quickly add-up in a multi-room system.
Acoustical impedance exists at the interface between the speaker and its environment
(the listening room) – a speaker must work much harder to push a 55-foot bass note into
the air in a room than it does to push a half-inch treble sound.

Leviton understands
that the Contractor’s
Law (Time = Money)
is just as critical to
success as Ohm’s

Why must impedances be matched? In electrical circuits, impedance matching is
essential to maximize power transfer, minimize distortion, and improve performance.
Audio is no exception, which is why amplifiers have nominal impedance ratings. If an
amplifier is connected to a low-impedance load, it can become unstable and even self-
destruct. Likewise, if an amplifier is connected to a high impedance load, it may not be
able to “drive” the speakers adequately. This is why amplifiers and speakers have nominal
impedance ratings – their stated electrical “comfort zone.”
To explain the difference between “nominal” and “minimum” impedances, think of the
speaker as a dynamic (as opposed to resistive) load. The speaker presents a higher
impedance to the amplifier when it is “pumping” sound at some frequencies than at
others; that is, the actual impedance of the speaker will change or “swing” depending on
the frequencies it is reproducing. This is why a speaker might be rated at 8 Ohms
nominal/6 Ohms minimum.
How do impedances add up? It depends on the circuit. In a series circuit – similar to a
“daisy chain” – the speaker impedances simply add. For example, two 8 Ohm speakers
present a total impedance of 16 Ohms (Z1 + Z2 = Z total). However, in a parallel circuit –
the (the type used in star-topology wiring) the calculation involves reciprocals and is more
difficult to use. With two resistances, a simplified formula is: (Z1 X Z2) / (Z1 + Z2) = Z
total. For example, two 8 Ohm speakers in parallel will have 4 Ohm total impedance.
With more than two speakers, we must use another version of the impedance formula,
which involves summing up the reciprocal of each impedance, then taking the reciprocal
of the sum: 1 / Z total = 1 / Z1 + 1 / Z2 + 1 / Z3 …1 / Zn.
Ultimately, you want to ensure that the total speaker impedance stays within the typical
amplifier’s “comfort zone,” which is generally between 4-8 Ohms.

Isn’t there an easier way? Absolutely! Build the audio system around a centralized
impedance-matching distribution device. This is exactly how the Leviton Integrated
Networks audio systems are designed, with speakers, volume controls and distribution
components all matched to ensure perfect impedance matching in systems covering up to
six rooms/zones.












B: Impedence, Magn (Ω)

Loudspeaker parameters

Re 5.50 Ω

fo 50.48 Hz

Qm 2.91

Qc 0.69

Qt 0.56

Zmax 28.580

Impedance curve for a typical in-wall speaker. The speaker’s actual impedance is highly dependent on the frequencies being reproduced.
Note that a speaker’s impedance can vary greatly fromits “nominal” rating.


Audio System Design and Installation: Fundamentals of Audio Technology

©2005 Leviton Mfg. Co. All rights reserved.

Leviton understands that the Contractor’s Law (Time = Money) is just as critical to success
as Ohm’s Law. That is why all Leviton Integrated Networks audio systems are based on
the “No Math Required” principle. Although we took a little time to explore impedance to
help you to understand its role in audio systems, you shouldn’t have to deal with it. The
Leviton solution is engineered for the needs of production building and contracting, as
you would expect from a leader in electrical devices.

Tech Tip: don’t spend valuable time doing the math.

In multi-room audio calculating audio system impedances is time consuming
and error-prone, and a mistake can even result in amplifier damage or system
malfunction. It’s a lot easier to use a centrally-located impedance-matching
device, and there are a number of good ones on the market. Usually an extra
audio component, an impedance-matcher is wired between the amplifier’s
outputs and the volume control/speakers in each room. It presents a stable 8-
Ohms to the amplifier regardless of what’s hooked up on the other side (the
trade-off is sensitivity; the impedance-matcher consumes quite a bit of audio
output power—but amplifier power is relatively cheap). An impedance-matcher
also takes up room as another audio component (Leviton’s System Matching
Module approach eliminates that problem—it mounts right in the structured
cabling enclosure).

Some common electronic terms and components based on these concepts: a resistor
is a device that opposes (but does not completely block) electric current. It does this by
being made of carbon or another material that is only a partial conductor.
Anything that passes current is a conductor. Metals such as silver, copper and aluminum
are good conductors (silver has a resistance of 0.00000001 Ohms, which for practical
purposes is non-existent). Materials like glass and wood are such poor conductors (glass
has a resistance of 1 trillion Ohms!) that they are effectively insulators. Between the
category of good and poor conductors are the semi-conductors, which includes
germanium and silicon.
Semi-conductors include transistors and other solid-state devices. Transistors are used to
amplify voltage or current in audio amplifiers and are sometimes called output devices or
drivers, and – in combinations of millions – as switches in PC’s.
Inductors are simply coils of wire. Inductors have the interesting property of producing a
magnetic field when alternating current is passed through the inductor. Transformers are
related to inductors in that they change the voltage or current level from the source side
to the load side.
Capacitors are commonly found in audio applications. A capacitor stores and releases an
electrical charge at a predetermined rate.
In an amplifier, large storage capacitors and transformers form the power supply, which
delivers the voltage and current (as directed by the output devices) needed to drive the
speakers. In speakers, capacitors (along with inductors and resistors) form part of the
crossover network, a built-in passive circuit that properly assigns the sound to the right
individual drivers.
In conventional volume controls, a special audio-transformer or autoformer is used to
change the sound level without changing the sound (in practice, autoformers tend to filter
some of the low and high frequencies, which is why Leviton uses transformer-free volume
control technology incorporating aero-space grade resistors.

Leviton uses
volume control
aero-space grade


Audio System Design and Installation: Fundamentals of Audio Technology

©2005 Leviton Mfg. Co. All rights reserved.

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