Amplification can be confusing to a newbie coming from a combo amp. If you are new to amps and cabs, this article should be helpful in explaining what speaker impedance is, and how it works with your amp head. You may also want to read my previous article, “Decoding Graphic Equalizers: Get Past ‘Scooping’ Your Tone”, for some more helpful information on amps.
When we first make this big step to a new rig, there are many questions floating through our mind, because we are presented with countless options. One of many options is how to run an amp through cabinets, and with this impedance, or “Ω” thing means. Furthermore, we run into impedance mis-matching issues when expanding our rigs with new cabinets. This article will explore the relationship between amps and speaker cabinets in regards to impedance, and some things to keep in mind when expanding your rig to multiple cabinets.
Typically, bas cabinets are either 4 Ω or 8 Ω (ohms). When selecting a cabinet to pair with your amp head, always check your amp to figure-out how many watts of power your amp will put-out in different impedance modes. Amps nowadays, generally speaking, are pretty slick and know what impedance to run at when you plug-in your cables, connecting them to the cabinets. In the old-days, there was a switch you would have to use to select which impedance to run your head. Some nostalgic amps still have this feature, but most amps automatically adjust.
When selecting a cabinet, be sure your amp will run at the impedance your cabinet is wired for, and that you will have enough power to achieve the volume you desire. Since different amps put out different power levels for different impedances, also check the cabinet to be sure it can handle the load coming out of your amp at that impedance. This is crucial in that it will ensure you do not over-drive your speakers and cause damage. Many heads will have a “clip” light indicator to let you know when you are pushing too much volume through the speakers, thus in danger of causing the speakers unwanted damage. Many amps will also have a db pad to cut the output by 20 or 15 db. Again, the amps nowadays are pretty slick, and have many features to make our lives easier.
When playing through multiple speaker cabinets, one must remember that this will change the impedance that your amp must compensate for. It’s best to match like cabinets: two 4 Ω or two 8 Ω cabinets. Running cabinets in this fashion from one power amp will give you a 2 Ω or 4 Ω load, respectively. Make sure your amp can handle running at these impedances. When you mix impedances, say an 4 Ω and 8 Ω cabinet together, and you’re running one power amp, this will create an over-all impedance of 2.667 Ω. If you remember how savvy the amps are these days in compensating, the amps do not like this. It sort of “confuses” the amp, and it doesn’t know what impedance it is running through, and will cause your amp to draw power funny. This can not only potentially damage your amp, but also your speakers (your 8 Ω cab may have too much power going through it, since the amp is “running at a quasi-2 Ω load”). This is possible to do, but I don’t know anyone who would ever recommend it.
The exceptions to the above paragraph are those amps that have two power amp sections. These amps aren’t all that common, as they are relatively high-end and are typically purchased by people playing larger venues (when I was playing, I was running a head with two power amps, running through two 8×10 cabinets). You can also “bridge” the two power sections and run the amp as if it were one power amp, or run them in stereo. I’m sure I will explore amp heads in more detail in another article. Until then, remember that you must check your amps AND the cabinets to ensure that they will be compatible in respects to impedance and power levels. Although it is possible, try not to mix impedances when running one power amp. If you follow these simple steps, your amp will live a long, healthy life and give you the best performance it can.