November 24, 2015
If you are in the market for power amplifiers, you have two broad categories to choose from: professional amplifiers or home (consumer) amplifiers. Before you can select which amp is best for you, you need to analyze your needs and preferences. To paint the situation with a broad stroke, we can say pro amps are generally great for sound reinforcement (they project sound over an extensive area), come with a lot more features and are durable. However, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each type:
Pro amplifiers are designed for different needs, whereas home versions are more limited in variability. Pro amps are used by DJs, bands on tour, PA systems and so on. Domestic usage will hardly ever require an amp to drive over 50 speakers in parallel or drive 8,000 watts. Consumer use also is usually limited to one audio source rather than needing to mix multiple sound sources together. A home amp will rarely be able to perform at these advanced levels, and professionals don’t have a real choice as to which category they can select.
Conversely, pro amplifiers can definitely be used at home. They may have a lot more capacity than you need (unless you plan to blow your neighbors away), but the dials can be turned down. Some consumers will not touch home versions even for their house as they feel pro models give them the sound punch they greatly desire for their home theaters.
We are not too sure how many of our readers have ever been behind the curtains after the end of a show, but if you have, you know the abuse professional audio equipment takes during dismantling (and setting up as well for that matter). Certain audio brands have become well-known for their rugged, shock-absorbing pro amps. Pro amplifiers need to be manufactured with better quality parts to withstand all the vibrations, shocks and even temperature extremes they are put through.
Generally, good quality pro models use connectors which can survive many mate/unmated cycles. Thicker sheet metal is used for the chassis, which is devised so it can be secured in a rack. There are pro amplifiers that are produced to endure fog-machine condensation, direct sunshine, rain and salt spray.
The max power available in home amps can’t match up to the max power available in pro amps. More importantly, distributors of consumer amplifiers tend to smudge audio specs more than pro amps, which have advertised specs that are closer to the “real” sound. Home models advertise their power by rating them with a distortion + noise level at 10% THD+N, whereas pro amps are always rated at 1% THD+N and may include ratings at 0.1% to 0.05%, which is closer to the “real” performance with pro-amps.
An advantage consumer amplifiers have over pro amps is they are generally less noisy since their fan doesn’t have to be as powerful to keep the equipment cool. The extra power in pro models necessitates a better (noisier) fan. However, this issue is easily fixed by either placing the amps in an adjacent room (they don’t always need to be physically present in the room where the audio is playing) or by switching out the noisy fans for the silent ones used in powerful computer systems. These fans are much quieter and will soften the unwanted humming sound of a pro amplifier. Besides, the fans in new pro amp equipment already have been improved with some manufacturers installing variable fans that turn on/off or faster/slower, contingent to the conditions of use.
Pro amps are commonly intended to operate at a broad span of signal levels. Some audio equipment works at 30V p-p, whereas smaller mics only have a signal of 2 mV p-p. This may be a large disparity, but pro amps can often handle both extremes, whereas consumer amps have a more limited capacity in handling signal levels.
Overall, pro gear is better designed, more durable, is more powerful, and offers more audio options than consumer models, but there are always exceptions to the rule. There are pro amps that may not make it a year after you have purchased them and home amps which will last you (almost) forever, so you need to figure out what you need and then study the specs of the individual amplifiers to determine which suits you best before proceeding to make a final choice.
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