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Te c h M a d e S i m p l e

GAIN STAGING
Where should I set the level controls on my power amplier? Should I turn them all the way up, in order to get the most power? If power amps were always meant to be turned up full, they wouldnt have level-control knobs. Theres an optimum setting for those knobs in any sound system. Lets explain. Its important to set up your sound system for proper gain staging. That is, each component in the chain should be operating at its nominal 0 level. The power amp should be putting out enough watts for the desired loudness and headroom, but no more. This gives the best compromise between system signalto-noise ratio and headroom Imagine that you are using a mixer, and you set the master faders all the way up. Youll have to set the channel faders low to avoid overloading the mixer. Youll hear some hiss because the extra-high master gain is amplifying the mixer noise. But if you set the master faders to design center (at unity gain, usually about 3/4 up), and raise the channel faders to get a 0 reading on the mixer output meters, that noise will go away -and youll still have headroom. Similarly, if you turn up a power amp all the way, it will make audible any mixer noise or cable hum. And you may have to run the mixer far below its optimum 0 output level to avoid clipping the system. Here is a recommended procedure for setting the gain structure of the mixer and power amplier: 1. Turn down the power amplier level controls all the way. 2. Set the mixer master faders and group faders to design center. 3. Play a program through your mixer. On the loudest part of the program, set the mixer channel faders so the mixer meters peak at 0 maximum. 4. As the program is playing, gradually turn up the amplier level controls to the desired volume. You may have to run the amp at full level if you want really high volume (and your speakers can take it), but at least the mixer will be working at its optimum output level. Note: If you are a contractor setting up a system for a client, you need to consider what the system user will do. Once you leave the system in their hands, they might crank the amps up full to get more level out of their system. When they do this, the system might have audible background hiss, and might clip or burn out speakers. This is an argument for setting the gain structure with the amps open wide. You live with a little hiss in order not to have more gain available to the user. You could insert a compressor/limiter following the mixer to prevent clipping, but the system still will be noisy. Ideally you set the gain structure as suggested, then make the level controls inaccessible. If possible, lock the amps level controls in place or cover the amp with a locked cover that allows airow. The level controls on some Crown ampliers can be locked. So, dont worry if you have to set the power-amp knobs less than wide open. Youre still getting all the power you need, and the system will have adequate headroom and low noise.
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