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The Decibel (dB) Scale & Audio Rules 101 17 by Steve Munz last modified January 01, 2013

Contributors: Steve Feinstein , Gene DellaSala McIntosh Power Meter For those looking to gain a deeper understanding of how audio works, whether to make better-informed decisions or simply for the sake of curiosity, it's useful to lay down some ground rules that govern how audio systems behave relating to l oudness and the decibel. One of the most important concepts in audio is the decibel, the unit of measure denoting the ratio of a change in level, whether that level is acoustic Sound Pr essure Level (SPL) or electrical signal level. It s abbreviated dB. As you may or may not be aware, the decibel (dB) scale is a logarithmic system, as opposed to a linear scale. Being aware of the relationships inherent in this scale is impor tant for a variety of reasons, which will hopefully become clear by the time you reach the end of this article. Rule #1: +3dB = 2x the amplifier power; +10dB = 10x the amplifier power Going from 1 watt to 2 watts of amplifier power gains 3dB of additional output; that's a pretty good deal right? Again, going from 2 watts of amplifier power to 4 watts gains an additional 3dB of output. Given the relatively low cost of amp lifier power these days, buying a more powerful amplifier is a no-brainer. So now that we have a basic understanding of the relationship between watts and SPL, let's complicate things a bit: What if there is a significant price differe nce between an 80 watt amplifier and a 100 watt amplifier? Things can get a litt le hazy here. Manufacturers do have their ways of skewing their wattage ratings, so the first thing you need to do is make sure you are comparing apples to appl es. In other words, the amplifier power ratings must be rated under the same con ditions. A manufacturer may choose to rate it the old fashioned way, per the 1974 FTC power amplifier rating requirements, which came into being at that time in order to d o away with all the misleading and vague ratings schemes like IHF Power, Music P ower, IPP Power, etc. The FTC standard required that amplifier manufacturers sta te their output wattage over a specific frequency range (usually 20-20kHz, for m id- and high-end units), at a stated level of % Total Harmonic Distortion (THD), with both channels driven simultaneously, into a stated load impedance (4 or 8 or 16 ohms) after a one-hour preconditioning period at 33% power. It was a great standard. Unfortunately, it was never upgraded to take multi-channel home theat er receivers or powered subwoofers or self-contained computer speakers and docki ng stations into account.