What speaker sensitivity means and why its so important

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This guide is intended for people who are choosing high power speakers and want to get the highest output of actual sound (measured in dB) and not be a victim of technical marketing that cheap speaker manufacturers sometimes use.

Here's a typical specification for a speaker:

  • 15" bass driver
  • 500w peak power handling
  • Sensitivity: 92dB @ 1w/1m

Here's a specification that looks similar but is far superior:

  • 15" bass driver
  • 500w RMS power handling
  • SPL: 98dB @ 1w/1m

500w sounds fairly impressive but 500w peak is usually around 250w RMS (half the peak) which is a more realistic measure of how much power the speaker can take.

Here's the bit many people don't know about SENSITIVITY (also known as efficiency and SPL or Sound Pressure Level). The second example would only require one quarter (25%) of the power to make the same amount of sound, and furthermore, it can handle around twice as much power, which means the second can make A LOT more noise.

The reason for this is that for every additional 3dB in the sensitivity rating of a speaker, it only requires half the power from the amp to get the same sound level. So you're going to have to run low sensitivity speakers with much more power, which brings you closer to the maximum power handling without going particularly loud.

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