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Peak Power vs. RMS Power

Subwoofers and amplifiers are the heart and soul of any car audio system.  From our experience, choosing the right subwoofer(s) and amplifier(s) is crucial when building a high performance car audio system. Deciding on which product to purchase can get tricky if you don’t know the difference between peak power and RMS power. Since peak and RMS power ratings are used to determine the overall performance of your product, you will need to compare the RMS rating of the sub to the RMS rating of an amp. To get the best performance from your subwoofer, it is important to power it with the correct amplifier. Remember, if you provide too much or too little power to the subwoofer, you are at risk of damaging it.

What do the ratings mean?

First, let’s talk about peak power. For car amplifiers, peak power ratings tell you the maximum wattage the amp can deliver in short bursts.  Similarly, a car subwoofer’s peak power ratings indicate the maximum wattage the sub can handle in short burst. Many manufacturers will stress the peak power rating by putting it on their subwoofers and amplifiers, making it seem like they push more wattage than they actually do. In reality, peak power ratings are not a realistic measure of a products true power capability. The peak power ratings should be ignored because this rating is insignificant when trying to match up an amplifier with a subwoofer.

If not peak power, what rating do you look at when trying to match a sub and amp? The RMS power rating is the key figure. A RMS power rating refers to the continuous power produced by the product. And since we are talking about both subwoofers and amplifiers, let’s discuss the difference in the ratings in each item, as well as how to pair them together. The RMS wattage of a subwoofer measures how much power it can handle without suffering any damage or producing distortion. The RMS power rating for an amplifier measures how much power the amp can put out. The closer these numbers are together, the better power output you will have for a sound system. For example, the NVX VCW104 is a 10” Dual 4 ohm subwoofer and two of them match perfectly with the NVX JAD1200.1. The wattages do not need to match exactly, but if the amplifier has more power than your subwoofer, make sure to turn it down if you hear distortion

When deciding on an amplifier, try to find one that is CEA-2006 compliant. This means that it has met specific guidelines for how its power was measured. By having a CEA compliant amp, you know the power ratings are exact and are not over- or (less likely, but possibly) under- rated. Subwoofers and amplifiers should always be compared using the RMS power ratings to guarantee that the right product is chosen for the right application.

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Staff writers at Sonic Electronix are experts in their field. In addition to a complete in-house training program, these experts typically have many years of hands-on experience in their specialty. Some come from car audio installer backgrounds, while others come with extensive retail experience.
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