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What does it take to build a great amp?

 

New member
Username: Nghisus

Post Number: 7
Registered: Nov-04
What is it that makes certain amps crap, decent, good, or great? It seems between all the messages I've read from different audiophiles, there is a wealth of info on what is a good or bad amp, but not what makes them good. The reason I say this is because if it's the parts, then why not use high quality parts with cheap labor in a foreign country? I hate it when people tell me foreign countries can't compete with American labor skills. That notion is crap and xenophobic. But anyway, if production standards were kept high, with minimal labor costs, as well as high quality parts, then where would the mark up exisits? Optimize the costs of production into a great product. I mean even crappy amps have components that are similar to awesome amps, so where is the division? Get as technical and thorough as you want, it'd be cool to see what people have to say.
 

Gold Member
Username: Glasswolf

NorthWest, Michigan USA

Post Number: 6046
Registered: Dec-03
The reason overseas labor is cheap and unreliable isn't xenophobic, or a reflection of the people themselves.
The reality is overseas labor doesn't have the laws the US does preventing things like child labor, minimum wages, or limits to hours per week.
Thus, going overseas, companies hire sweatshop labor to build the products, and build them as cheaply as possible, which reflects in the quality of the product when you have a 13 year old kid building products he knows nothing about, nor cares much about.
Compare that to skilled laborers in factories like Orion used to have in Tempe, AZ, and there is a big difference in the outcome.

Now, that aside, what makes a good amp is not only good circuit design, but using things like MilSpec components which have much tighter tolerances and wider operating condition parameters but which also cost considerably more. Also, certain portions of the amplifier require rather expensive parts to perform well, such as a power supply rated for a minimum of three times the output of the amplifier's rated power to allow for transient peak demands.
This is a common skimping point in cheap amps.
here's a bit more on amplifier fundamentals I wrote a while back:
http://www.wickedcases.com/caraudio/amplifiers.html

If you have specific questions I'd be glad to help answer them.
On a side note, the US makes a large portion of the best amplifiers on the market, and always has (older Orion, PPI, and RF, Arc, Tru, Brax, USAmps) but I can list a number of non-domestic amplifier companies that are right up there with the US amps, too.
Sinfoni (Italian) Pass Labs (Canadian, home audio) to name tw.
McIntosh is a US made brand, but they are owned now by DMC, Inc in Japan. Parent company to Marantz and Denon.

The short of it is there's nowhere you can skimp on price to build a good amp.
having good engineers to design them costs money.
buying quality milspec components isn't cheap.
having skilled labor to assemble and tune the products isn't cheap either, really and not just anyone off the street will qualify for even assembly line jobs on high end products. There's a company local to me called Amptron. they build electronics for a number of applications, and they interview every employee extensively for the smalles of positions to see what their knowledge is of what they'll be doing, from soldering to component identification.
Beyond that, they train their employees to meet their requirements.
Knowing how to make a good solder joint is vital, and it's not a skill you pick up in five minutes of classroom experience.

 

New member
Username: Nghisus

Post Number: 8
Registered: Nov-04
Wow, I actually got a reply from THE GlassWolf. Much respect, no sarcasm intended at all. As for sweat shop labor is concerned I do not diagree that it doesn't happen. However, my family has huge scale operations in Viet Nam and I can guarantee that nobody is being ill treated. We are not in the electronics buisness however, it is a buiness none the less. Do people get paid less then they do in the U.S.? Sure, of course, but are they slaves? Of course not, we can pay them 2 to 3 times the minimum wage in Viet Nam for unskilled labor and still come out ahead, which we do. As far as skilled labor is concerned, there is an abundance, you would be suprised the number of European PhD's that are available in some of these markets and they work for nothing compared to our standards but for them they're making a killing. The onus is on the employer to treat employees well with fair wages.
But anyway so what we can agree upon the fact that all the parts would cost the same then the only way to save money would be the labor. God, once the dust settles I would love to start up a company like that in Viet Nam. You could take all the American standards and export them. People are capable of doing the work, with the correct training. They're so many EE's, ME's, you name it, just starving for a chance to do something in their field. And I will vouch for their capabilities, schools (elementary to collegiate) in Asian and European countries can be very advanced.
I agree thoroughly that these skills cannot be taught in 5 minutes, however, it is possible to teach. It'd be wise to hire these knowledgable gurus and use them to train and oversee production. Quality does not have to suffer due to a change in location. I'm sure a lot of people would like me to prove you wrong on this one, including yourself, haha.

BACK TO AMPS

I noticed that as being a difference between high and low quality amps was the advertised rating. Low quality wanted peak ads where as high quality like US amps would say 400W but be able to push out around 1000W. You mentioned the transient peak demands, is there also a transient reponse time they look for? And how is distortion minimized? Would an under rated amp damage a sub it was rated for?

Personal Questions
Now that I've probably pissed you off. I bought 4 Infinity Kappa's rated at 90-100 RMS, would it be better to underpower or overpower them? It's hard to find a 4 channel in this RMS range. Also I want to run 2 Alpine SWR 1221D's at 2 ohms, what's the best amp to use? I've looked at US Amps-400, Kicker-600, Xtant-600 monos. Somebody kind of answered this but I'd prefer more advice before proceeding.

Final Kudos
You're the man GlassWolf. You and all these other guys on here with the patience to help people you don't know and put up some of these ignorant 'anonymous' posters. God some of that crap is rediculous!!!!!!!!!
 

AnonyPoster
Unregistered guest
Kiss @ss. :-)
 

Silver Member
Username: Carguy

Post Number: 655
Registered: Nov-04
Hey have you checked out RF/Kicker/Audiobahn A4125HCT? They do make amps that's around 100W rms x 4. I am using A4125HCT. To me at least it's great.
There's a misconception that oversea labour is all slavery. That may have been true in the past, but now it's changing. The problem with most North American (including Canada) is that they link oversea with slavery. Those days are almost over. Sure you night be able to find some, but most companies are changing with their labour practices.
The real reason behind cheaper products coming from overseas is lack of quality materials. You can take any item. For example, metal, most of the good quality are located in North America. So if they make amp's casing, they will be using materials that's available to them, not import it from North America. Same thing applies to almost everything made there. They will use whatever's available to them. If a US manufacturer sends all their quality parts to overseas and have them assembled there, the savings won't be that great. You can't also use "unskilled" as an excuse for poor quality. When it comes to electronics, the factories use highly skilled workers. If you don't believe me, go visit any one of US companies there. They have strict codes and guidelines.
If you also read the label carefully, the ones that says "made in blah blah" are the ones that contain all materials made in that country. The ones that say "Assembled in blah blah" import most of the materials used.
To make it easier to understand, if you take grade A item and give one to North American worker and another one to oversea's worker, they will both produce same quality item. Now if you take grade B and have it assembled in overseas, you can't expect it to be grade A. They just don't have quality raw materials to start with. Why do you think lot of them import basic things as metals/plastic/lumber etc...
Like the old scientists used to say, if you give a dumb monkey a typewriter, eventually it'll start forming sentences.
So I hope people will stop using unskilled labour/slavery/sweat shop as an excuse to link poor quality merchandises.
 

AnonyPoster
Unregistered guest
"So I hope people will stop using unskilled labour/slavery/sweat shop as an excuse to link poor quality merchandises. "
Are you serious?
You really think a 10 year old kid who has been
working 14 hours straight can build an
amp as well as than a trained, experienced 25 year
old who only works 8 hours a day with breaks
every 2 hours?...
 

New member
Username: Nghisus

Post Number: 9
Registered: Nov-04
Well, one of the things is you're providing employment for skilled laborers overseas. I guess it's not so much as the profit margins with my idealogy, but more along the lines of one it can be done and two my family has a lot invested over in Viet Nam, my Dad's been over there for 5 years developing already, and I can assure you not everybody developing businesses in foreign countries all is about the money. Employement in any form will raise the standard of living in that country overtime. Using 'slave' labor is very un-ethical, however, if you're a heartless businessman like what a lot of people assume, it's un-economical. Usually it's a large company investing in these countries, if word got out they were using 'slaves' the backlash politically and economically is evident. Of course a 10 year old couldn't compare to a professional, but who in their right minds, building a QUALITY product would use one? I appreciate the input Isaac, so now we can settle on the quality of the product is dictated not only by the components but mainly by the skill level of the employee, and these skill levels can be found universally if the right venues are persued. And not using handicapped slave children working 97 hours with no water in a poorly lit room turning screws with the exposed bones of their fingertips and the only bass they hear is the rumbling of their empty stomachs. The world's getting a lot smaller, if only people's views got broader to keep up with the pace. The level of thinking that dicates 'not made in the USA' means 'slave made' is senseless, if that was the truth, I wouldn't be wearing a thing I'm wearing right now and carrying my 'made in Brazil' Springfields, typing on my computer, talking on cellphone.....

Example:
Norinco Firearms Model (M1911)
Cheap Price ($300-$350) comparable Colt ($550)
Superior Metal (forged)
Just as good as Colt 1911 (series 80)
Made in China
(I've owned 2 Colts, and fired the Norinoco's trust me)
 

Silver Member
Username: Carguy

Post Number: 662
Registered: Nov-04
Hey AnonyPoster, I'm not saying unskilled 10 year old can build a better amp over a 25 skilled worker in North America. What I am saying is that most North Americans view overseas as locked up slaves working away 24/7. That is not the case. I urge you to check out the US companies operating in overseas. They have very strict rules and guide lines. I used to think like you, but after I've seen the actual factories operating, I no longer do. Don't confuse sweat shops for t-shirts. They are not the same as Pioneer/US Amps company setting up factory there. Unlike t-shirts/jeans, US electronic companys do set up factories with rules and regulations. Any factory caught using so called "slaves/under aged" workers get either fined very heavyly or get their business terminated.
 

Gold Member
Username: Glasswolf

NorthWest, Michigan USA

Post Number: 6051
Registered: Dec-03
ok, I didn't mean to imply that all foreign labor is done in sweat shops by any means. I simply meant that when some companies look to maximize profits they cut corners, and that's one way to do it.. The company that comes to mind is DEI. they love to buy up high end companies like Orion, PPI, a/d/s, and so on, then move everything to say, the Philippines, and for whatever reason, the products just aren't as good after that. Part of it as you mentioned though is because they also cut corners on component quality as well.. build it cheaper and sell it cheaper then rely on your company's "good name." and old school reputation.
You're right though products could be built pretty much anywhere under the right conditions and still be excellent products. The US just has a history of design innovation for electronics that's helped to bolster the reputation of high end US products. Japan for decades would essentially take US ideas and improve on tehm or copy them, but a good portion of the creation and R&D was done stateside.
I grew up partly overseas though in Korea and japan, so I do have a decent exposure to other cultures which helps some in understanding the differences both good and bad for both sides of the coin.

ok, amplifier specs..
"is there also a transient reponse time they look for?"
Slew rate and damping factor are two ways to measure this to an extent.
both are detailed here:
http://www.wickedcases.com/caraudio/ampspecs.html

"And how is distortion minimized? Would an under rated amp damage a sub it was rated for?"

well, minimizing distortion of course depends on it's source. Generally, the more transparent an amplifier is, the better pretty much all of it's specs are going to be. Ideally, you want the amplifier to output a larger amplitude version of the exact same signal it receives at teh input stage.. of course all amplifiers add some coloration to the amplification process, but the amount of that coloration is what you really want to pay attention to, and that's a difficult thing to measure with a single spec or number.

you haven't pissed me off at all really.
This reminds me more of a classroom discussion than most of the threads I read, so I enjoy this sort of stuff.
The Kappas are rated for 100wRMS, which they'll take and be happy with.. but you can run less power. 75wRMS per channel would do fine.
the more power you give them within spec, the better your midbass response is going to be and the more lively the speakers are going to sound.
as for the one question I missed about under-rated amps, there's always a margin in power handling for speakers, but the power handling rating of a driver is a thermal rating, and strictly tells you the amount of heat in watts that the driver's coils can handle without thermal damage.
This isn't at all an indication most times of how much power is mechanically required to reach peak excursion by the driver though, and this is one of the most common mistakes I see when people look to match up speakers and amps. a "1600 watt sub" may really only need 500 watts to reach Xmax. The problem is, very few companies tell you how much power the driver needs mechanically, and that figure will vary based on enclosure too.
Mostly only high end companies like Adire and RE will tell you how much power you really need.. companies like Audiobahn usually settle for giving a peak power handling rating, then kids buy a 12" sub and think it needs 4Kw to reach it's potential.. and 4 alternators later, they usually end up frying the voice coils when their cheap "high power" amplifiers clip and send DC voltage across the subs.

For the kappas, look at the Kicker KX600.4 or 800.4
75x4 and 100x4 respectively, @ 4 ohms
Type R 12" subs take around 300-350wRMS each, so you want an amp rated for ~600wRMS x 1 @ 2 ohms.
Zapco Reference line, or a matching Kicker KX600.1 would do the job nicely without breaking the bank.

In regards to the parts though, the US does have better quality parts in large part, or at least we choose to use them.
An example of this is the company ABIT, who makes motherboards for computers, and got nailed for using cheap knock-off capacitors on their boards using a design that was stolen in corporate espionage and copied improperly, causing catastrophic component failure in a huge portion of their products. They wanted cheaper parts.. they got em. Again, not always what happens, but an example of what happens when you do cut corners to save a few pennies. This isn't an issue of unfair or unethical labor practices where you're abusing people or anything, it's jsut a good example of crappy business practices. What's worse is ABIT charged customers $25 for repairs to the boards they knowingly sold as defective.

Regarding firearms, I have an SKS and a Czech made Mauser 8mm that are decently made, along with a Chinese TT33 Tokerev, and a US made Korean war era Remington M1911A1 that shoots straight as new, but in honesty I still prefer the Sig Sauer P228 I used to carry at work. That was a very nicely made sidearm. I've liked the HK SOCOM and AE Desert Eagle as well.. just didn't have the spare change to pick up either one, and not much time to use them these days if I did. *sigh*
 

New member
Username: Nghisus

Post Number: 10
Registered: Nov-04
Ha ha birds of a feather... Sweet, it's nice to have discussions on message boards rather then shouting matches. I totally agree with State-side innovation, we do the meat of the R&D when it comes to technology. And I also agree with the fact that when companies move over seas they start cutting corners and the product's quality diminishes, happens a lot (vice versa if a company opens a plant in the U.S. quality goes up!). But I think those generalizations will be meaningless in about 10 years. The public demands a better product every year at a lower price every year. Who would ever have thought a CD player would cost $20? Or the geometric growth rate with computer clock speeds and memory capacity? It's just a matter of time before people find that recipe for audio equipment. A harmony between foreign labor and american product standards. Ehh, enough about that.
What do you think about the MTX-6500D? I picked one up to power my amps it looks a little under-rate but I what do you think? Also, I was just considering the kx800.4 looks like the best choice for the price, glad you agree. Also, my factory head unit goes into a factory amp, do you think those wires going into the factory amp are speaker level's or preamps? Do you think the have the same wires going to them as any other amp (ground, power, remote, and 4 channels)? (03 Jag S-type, non-prem audio just to let you know, I wish I still had my SS) So funny I started this just looking for a little more for my factory system, turned into a lil more...
Sig Sauer's are like the Cadillacs of the handgun world so smooth, yet so tempermental.
So do you like the older guns or just have them through proxy? And what the heck are you doing shooting your Remington 1911?!!! haha, I don't like the Desert Eagles myself, it's ok taking the recoil through the elbows intstead of the shoulders but they weigh more then my .454. If I needed a big pistol give me a Thompson Single in .45-70 any day!
What kind of computer you running? My friend helped me build a FX-53 939, 2 WD 70Gb Raptors on raid, 2 160Gb WD on a seperate raid, Radeon X800 Pro, 2x512 Low Lat memory, all on an nforce ultra 3 board and inside an alien super-x case. (It was supposed to be a mild upgrade on my old computer.)
 

Silver Member
Username: Carguy

Post Number: 671
Registered: Nov-04
MTX 6500D is a great amp that's underrated on purpose by the company. They say 500W rms, but you actually get more. You can see the proof on their testing spec sheet. I'd get the optional remote control bass with it though. Some amps actually give you more bass if you have that.
KX800.4 is a great amp, can't go wrong with it.
Most factory HUs and amps still use rca cables.
 

Gold Member
Username: Glasswolf

NorthWest, Michigan USA

Post Number: 6056
Registered: Dec-03
yup that MTX is a very nie amplifier, as long as ya feed it with plenty of good current.
as for the factory head unit, look at www.pac-audio.com and see their product called the OEM-1. This adapts OEM premium systems to allow the addition of aftermarket amplifiers, or even OEM systems to new head units. it's a plug and play solution. you just need two wiring harnesses to go with it also from PAC. One is a T harness to tap into the factory head unit, the other is the RCA out harness.
I just put one in my Jeep last night actually. total cost for adapter and harnesses was around $50.

I inherited the older guns. I have a fairly decent collection. The Remington is "US gov't property" stamped. It was made to be fired, and has been many times. Cleaning it up would actually devalue it as would getting it reparkerized. I have only used it a few times though, mostly to make sure it worked before packing it up.
I like the desert eagle in the smaller sizes like the .357 because it's rolling block recoil absorbsion is fantastic.. hardly any kick at all, which is partly why it's as heavy as it is, but I can keep a bead better on a moving target that way than I can with a lighter, more powerful gun that'll jump all over when it's recoiling.
I'm not a really big guy, so I like using mechanical advantage over brute force given the choice.
as for computers..
http://www.wickedcases.com/casemods/
top one is my usual station.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Nghisus

Post Number: 11
Registered: Nov-04
So now for my next trick... So if I'm running two amps (infinity 7540a, and mtx6500d), should I worry about power consumption? I just picked up the Infinity today, too good a deal (and buying off ebay was getting old!). What do you mean by good clean power GW/Isaac? Proper gauge sizes and what not for the power and ground lines? I heard it's best to run audio lines on one side and power lines on the other. Could you guys recommend a good kit and distribution block and setup? When I was in highschool I ran a crappy sub system, I want to get everthing done well and right the first time now. So who better to ask then guys who know this stuff like I know the weight room, haha.
Thanx for your time guys.

I agree with guns are made to be fired. I can respect a man who can fire his Remy 1911 without cringing. I personally don't fire a weapon unless I've taken apart and put it back togther. I'm actually thinking about getting a Custom Shop S&W next saw one at a gun show, unfluted cylinder, compentsator, made me want to weep...

Hey Isaac thanks for the input I didn't mean for it to seem too much like an A and B conversation, I really do appreciate your help as well.
 

Silver Member
Username: Carguy

Post Number: 673
Registered: Nov-04
Like all power amps, MTX6500D will draw lot of current. So make sure you have plenty to spare. I'm guessing you have HO alternator right? If not, you will surely need it along with cap.
Personally I ran 2 power wires, one for powering my front and centre, and one for the rear and subs. Makes it almost fool proof. Even if one fuse blows, I still have sound.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Nghisus

Post Number: 12
Registered: Nov-04
So here's the list:
4xInfinity Kappa's 100 Rms @ 4 Ohms
2xAlpine SWR 12's 300x2 Rms @ 2 ohms
1xInfinty 7540a 110x4 Rms @ 4 Ohms
1xMTX6500D 500 Rms @ 2 Ohms

Are you sure I need a HO alternator. I don't mind getting one but it'll be hard find one for a Jag, hell, it's hard to find a cold air intake for a Jag that works!! I spoke with one of my friends who used to do a lot of custom installs and he said I probably wouldn't need one. He said if anything the first thing to do if I have problems is get a 'yellow top' battery. He said they come with capacitors or something, not real sure. He said I should get capacitors if the battery dosen't work. My car's an 03 V8 Jag S-type, so if you have any more ideas just holler. Thanks Isaac, I'd appreciate any input GW.
 

Silver Member
Username: Carguy

Post Number: 675
Registered: Nov-04
Hey I don't know why lot of car mechanics are telling people HO alternators are not required. That's like telling a car crash dummy seat belts are not required and using a pillow is good enough.
Sure yellow top battery is nice to have, but if your alternator is not putting out the currents needed, the amp will suck up power from your battery. What happens when your battery is drained? How will you start the car again?
As GlassWolf said many times in his posts, capacitor/yellow top battery will not replace HO alternator. In order for the amp to put out 1000W rms, it has to get power from somewhere. Battery is only a temp power solution, and you know capacitors do not generate power, it just stores energy.
So next time someone tells you battery and cap is good enough, think of the words "moronic mechanics". Don't they need a license to be a car mechanic? It's either they're just buying their deplomas or someone's cheating on their tests.
Go to 4alterstart.com. They will make any custom alternator if required. And in case your car is very rare, you just send in your alternator and they will custom wind it. It'll be better for you to just buy a replacement alternator for your car and send that.
One more thing on MTX6500D, you will probably get close to 700W rms cause with the alternator and cap, the voltage on the amp is around 14v.

 

Gold Member
Username: Glasswolf

NorthWest, Michigan USA

Post Number: 6074
Registered: Dec-03
good clean power means an adequate charging system, and yes, proper power cable sizing.
As for your stock charging system, try it out and see if you have problems with lights dimming.
If your voltage rails sag, then worry about upgrades.

yes always keep your signal lines run away from factory wiring bundles and power lines. Having them parallel and together is a common source of noise introduction. www.knukonceptz.com has all ya need for interconnects and power lines. partsexpress.com and sounddomain.com have anything else for distribution blocks, connectors, etc..

as for an alternator in the Jag, try having one custom built if ya need one.
having mounting brackets fabbed to install a non stock alternator isn't that difficult or costly if a decent metal fab shop does the work. www.4alterstart.com should be able to handle the job.

if you want to read a few articles I wrote on car audio stuff, they may help out in your system design.. here ya go;
http://www.wickedcases.com/tutorials/index.html
 

Bronze Member
Username: Nghisus

Post Number: 14
Registered: Nov-04
Thanks GW. I took a look at the lines running into my factory amp today and well, it's all the lines I figured it would be. 4 channels, remote start, power and ground, sweet huh? I found a wiring id chart on 12volt install. I guess you're right I should wire everything up first before I get crazy with upgrades. I think my alternator is rated at 120 amps. And they do have a 320 Watt optional alpine system for these cars as well as subs that have their own amp in each housing. What do you think about the overdrive pulleys they make for the alternators? I know it's sacraficing horsepower (probably about 1 haha), but does it strain the alternator and is it a good solution if I have problems, it seems nobody likes capacitors with out an HO upgrade. Anyhow, thanks for the reply.

Oh Isaac, my friend's not a mechanic. He just used to do a lot of stereo instllls and tinting and what not. I don't think he was trying to mislead me just judging it by personal experience. My system really isn't that outrageous compared to some of these other guys running 3 MOnster amps pushing a zillion 15's and stuff. I'll probably worry about the alternator thing if it pops up. For now I'll stick to a super clean install with power wires the size of Montana and good grounding spots. Thanks man.
 

Silver Member
Username: Carguy

Post Number: 695
Registered: Nov-04
Hey I wasn't really referring to your friend. More like the ones here that say HO alternators, either don't exist, or it'll screw up your car. I've actually met some of them. They have no idea when it comes to electronics.
 

Gold Member
Username: Glasswolf

NorthWest, Michigan USA

Post Number: 6093
Registered: Dec-03
the overdrive pulleys will work but they do run the alternator hoter than it's designed to go so it can shorten the alternator's life in some cases.
a custom built HO alternator has case venting for cooling, and is wound usually with beefier components (windings and diodes) on the rotor and stators. It's like the difference between spraying a stock motor with NO2, or rebuilding the motor from the ground up for more horsepower.
You see the difference..

 

Bronze Member
Username: Nghisus

Post Number: 15
Registered: Nov-04
Loud and clear. I reckon a ford alternator is a ford alternator, they say a lot of the parts between the lincoln ls and the jaguar are interchangeable, I'm not too worried right now but just in case I'm gonna look around locally to see if anybody knows how to rebuild these things into something better. Thanks GW.

Case in point, previous vehicle, 2001 Camaro SS Convertible, motor poked .30 over, forged rods and pistons, reworked heads, 450 HP, with 100 Shot of Nitrous, 550 HP. Got rid of it, before it got rid of me!!!
 

Bronze Member
Username: Europa1808

Post Number: 12
Registered: Nov-04
For example some older BMW's come with 140 amp alternators from the factory!
 

Silver Member
Username: Carguy

Post Number: 700
Registered: Nov-04
Whoa, I bet the marketing department put a stop to that!
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