There are a lot of debates about underpowering your speakers. Some say it will cause damages and others state that it is actually beneficial for your speakers. Both are supported with facts and expert opinions in this matter, and they stand by their beliefs with conviction.
The answer to underpowering speakers if it is good or bad is rather complicated and really depends on how the speakers are being used. The user plays a big role in this subject matter as to how you drive your speakers will determine the outcome. I am going to list out the good and the bad of underpowering speakers so that we can have a clearer picture and better understanding.
Underpowering Speakers is preferable
Some experts say that under-powering speakers are preferred if you are able to reach the volume that you want with that amount of power that is. Whenever experts say this, it is usually compared to overpowering your speakers. Giving your speakers too much power will eventually damage or destroy them. When you have too much power, it will generate a lot of heat which then damages the speaker. It will also create too much excursion where the voice coil may smash into the back and become deformed. It could also rip the soft suspension of the cone.
So as you can see, underpowering your speakers can be beneficial and a preferred way, as it can increase the speakers’ lifespan by minimizing wear and tear. This will only work if your listening volume is modest and your playback source doesn’t have too high peaks like when watching a movie. We all know how soft the dialogue can get at times and how loud action scenes can be. When the loud action scenes and explosions come into play in the movie, it will demand more watts to produce these sounds. When there’s not enough power available, that’s when your amp will start clipping.
Underpowering Speakers will cause damage
To be fair, it doesn’t outright damage your speakers with low power. If you’re listening volume level is modest, it will totally be fine. But if you like to get wild and loud at times, and your distance from your speakers is quite far then you should really consider not underpowering your speakers. Especially if your speakers are also being used to watch movies. There are peaks in both music and movies, this is when amps will need to be powerful enough to handle them at your desired loudness, if not the amp will clip. This is the usual scenario when the amplifier will start clipping and it happens quite often.
Just to elaborate more on clipping, when an amplifier is been operated beyond its capabilities, it creates a distorted signal which is “clipping”. This can be heard, like a sound breaking up. If you hear distortions, quickly turn it down as your amplifier has exceeded its power limits. This is one of the most common sources to damage or even destroy your speakers. Clipping will usually damage your speakers’ voice coils, the tweeters typically go first, and replacing them will really cost you.
Solving the Underpowering Speakers Issue
To solve this issue, you should always get “compatible” audio components, in this case, it will be the speakers and amplifiers, that are as closely matched as possible in terms of power ratings and handling. With this combination, your amplifier should not be either underpowering or overpowering your precious speakers.
High Sensitivity Speakers
If your main focus is to get a specific low-power amp model or you are into tube amps or basically because of the budget constraint. You can instead try getting speakers with high sensitivity. These type of speakers requires lesser power to go loud. A reputable brand I can think of right now will be Klipsch. Their Klipsch Heritage Klipschorn Speaker is highly efficient (105 dB 1 watt / 1 meter). If you want a more affordable but still highly rated model, Klipsch Reference R-820F Floorstanding Speaker will be a good choice.
There are also non-mainstream brands you can consider, such as Omega Speaker Systems. Their drivers are highly sensitive which with just a few watts, you will be able to achieve a realistic listening level for most rooms. There are popular with tube amp enthusiasts and are famous for their single full-range driver like the proprietary Omega Alnico HempCone. Another elusive brand will be Spatial Audio Lab, which makes elegant and very slim speakers. They have a few models which have built-in subwoofers that allow the speakers to go as low as 25Hz. All their speakers are highly sensitive too. A few drawbacks will be their prices are on the mid-to-high side (doesn’t hit the 5 digits mark though) and the speakers due to their unique design, require a lot of room to achieve optimal placement to bring out their best sound quality.
Adding a Powered Subwoofer
Do you like listening to bass-heavy music? Do you use your sound system for movies too? Then add an active subwoofer and let it do all the heavy lifting. With a sub, your low-powered amplifier can just focus its capability on the higher frequency. The drawback of this solution is that if you have a space constraint issue then it would be a problem. Not only you will need additional floor space for the subwoofer, but you will also need to find the sweet spot for it and it could be anywhere in the room. If you have restricted floor space, then you wouldn’t be able to get the best placement for your sub thus you won’t get the best performance from it.
I hope the information here is enough for you to make a sound decision on what you should get for your stereo or home theatre sound system set-ups so as to avoid underpowering your speakers. Having additional power as a backup will prevent your amp from clipping. It is always best to have your speaker and amplifiers as closely matched as possible in terms of power ratings and handling.
If due to some reasons, you aren’t able to purchase an amplifier that can closely match the power ratings thus underpowering your speakers. Fear not, you can still use them to enjoy your music but at a modest volume for the time being till you can get a better amp or a pair of highly sensitive speakers.