Whether it’s classic NS-10s, battered old Auratones or something more esoteric, passive speakers require a power amp — here’s how to choose the right one.
Although active and powered monitors now dominate the studio market, their passive cousins can still do the job needed, they’re still being made — we’ve reviewed a few new passive nearfield monitors in the past couple of years — and they still attract their fair share of users. Along with sales of new monitors, there are also countless pairs of passive speakers in use, be they venerable hi-fi KEFs, Missions or B&Ws, battered old NS-10s and Auratones, or more expensive older studio monitors that continue to do sterling service day in and day out. Advice on choosing and using such speakers is accessible enough, but what about the amps that drive them? Whether you’re buying a new set of speakers, you’ve just landed a bargain set of NS-10s, or your current amp has passed to the great electronics graveyard in the sky, just what do you need to know when choosing a new amp?
Apart from one or two reviews in the context of specific passive monitors, we’ve not really covered power-amp options in detail in SOS — this article aims to put that right. My plan is to examine some of the technical requirements for studio power amplifiers, to suggest some likely candidates (from new and pre-loved bargains to extravagant powerhouses), and then to offer a few slightly off-piste suggestions.
Probably the first technical parameter to consider concerning amplification for passive monitors is power: just how powerful should a power amp be? In some respects I may as well ask how long is a piece of string, because there’s a whole bunch of difficult-to-define variables to consider. That said, we can easily do some rough sums and come up with a ball-park number.
The first and most obvious variables are monitor sensitivity and volume preference, and following those are listening distance and room size. I’ll discuss monitor sensitivity first. You’ll most often see sensitivity specified in the form of decibels at 1m for a 2.83V input,...
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