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Tech Tip Of The Day: Power Amplifier Levels

Why do power amps have level controls on them when everyone I know just turns them all the way up?

By PSW Staff October 4, 2010

Provided by Sweetwater.

Q: I work with a band, helping then with their PA, and on the weekend I volunteer with our church tech team.

One thing that’s been driving me up the wall lately is power amps.

Why do power amps have level controls on them?

I mean, everyone I know just turns them all the way up.

A: Some of it is just for convenience, but power amp level controls really can (and often should) be used for level setting.

The level controls of the power amps should be set so you maintain consistent gain staging throughout your system, while allowing ample headroom.

If you need to turn them up all the way to achieve that (as is often the case) then you certainly should.

It’s just not a good practice to turn the power amp level controls all the way up and then operate the previous gain stage — whether it be an EQ, crossover, or your mixer — at only a small fraction of its nominal level.

This seriously degrades your signal-to-noise level and also sets up a potentially dangerous situation.

As always, we welcome input from the PSW community and would love to know your thoughts on proper gain staging. Feel free to let us know in the comments below.

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