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June 2017 Giveaway

Damping Factor

Technically, the damping factor of a system refers to the ratio of nominal loudspeaker impedance to the total impedance driving it (amplifier and speaker cable). In practice, damping is the ability of the amplifier to control speaker motion once signal has stopped. A high damping factor means that the amplifier’s impedance can absorb the electricity generated by speaker coil motion, stopping the speaker’s vibration.

Other points:

  1. Damping varies with frequency. Some manufacturers publish a damping curve for their amps.
  2. The effects of damping are most apparent at low frequencies, in the range of the woofer’s resonance. Well damped speakers sound “tighter” in the low end. Low damping factors result in mushy or indistinct bass.
  3. Speakers connected in series or parallel will experience the same damping factor from the amp. Impedance determines damping factor, not speaker wiring.
  4. Higher impedance speakers increase system damping factor.
  5. The damping factors you see published as amp specs are for the amp only, not referenced to an entire system. Higher is better, and you’ll often see quite high numbers, 200, 300, even 3000 or higher.
  6. System damping factors over 10 are generally acceptable. The higher the better.
  7. For the tweaky among you, here’s how to calculate a system’s damping factor: First, calculate the output impedance of the amp into, say, an 8 ohm speaker (use the nominal impedance of whatever speaker you are using for your own calculations), and a 100 foot 12 gauge speaker cable. Let’s also say we have an amp with a published damping factor of 3000. Since damping factor is the ratio of speaker impedance to amp output impedance, you can work backwards, dividing 8 by 3000, giving us .0027 ohms amp output impedance. You must also consider the impedance of the speaker cable; 12 gauge wire is in the range of .0016 ohms/foot (cable catalogs sometimes publish this spec). For a 50 foot speaker cable, you’ve got 100 “feet” of impedance (50′ out, 50′ back) giving a total cable impedance of around .16 ohms (note this is much higher than the amp’s impedance – one reason larger speaker wire is better for long runs!). This makes the total output impedance .1627 – pretty low. The system damping factor will then be 8 ohms divided by .1627, resulting in a very good score of 49.

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