Power Amps & Attenuators

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About Power Amps & Attenuators

Power amps and attenuators used to be relatively simple devices. An attenuator made it possible to crank amps at low volumes and power amps were the link between preamps and speakers. Nowadays, with the rapid development of digital technology, power amps and attenuators can have a plethora of applications at home, in the studio and on stage.

The job of a power amp is to drive a speaker. In all guitar amps, there is both a preamp to create the sound and a power amp to create the volume. Stand alone power amps are useful for guitarists who use their pedal board to create their sound and want to run it directly into a speaker rather than a traditional guitar amp.

Attenuators allow you to enjoy the full power of your amplifier - both at its preamp and power amp stages - but intercept the signal before the speaker, so that you have more control of the overall volume. They do this by showing the speaker the correct ‘load’ or resistance. ‘Reactive load’ boxes have different resistances at particular frequencies, accurately replicating a real speaker.

Attenuators often now have the ability to take a ‘line out’ for silent recording. Many even have built-in ‘Impulse Responses’ or ‘IRs’. IRs are digital simulations of both speakers and rooms which enables you to have a natural amp sound without going through a real speaker. This is ideal for quiet home recording and for consistent live sound.

Why Should I Choose a Power Amp or Attenuator?

  • Have greater control of your sound at home and on stagey
  • They can be simple devices or all-in-one tools for amp recording
  • Often equipped with Impulse Responses and line outs
  • Frequently Asked Questions about Power Amps & Attenuators

    Question: Do attenuators affect tone?
    A crucial part of classic guitar tones is how hard the speakers are driving. With an attenuator, you can retain all the beautiful saturation of your preamp and power amp but not the speaker. In this sense, yes attenuators affect tone unfortunately however this might be a necessary evil for having a much more practical recording set up. The Universal Audio OX Amp Top Box includes UA Dynamic Speaker Modelling to try and digitally replicate this tone.
    Question: Can an attenuator damage your amp?
    If you misuse an attenuator, you can absolutely damage your amp. The easiest way to do that is by mismatching the resistance the amp needs to see and the resistance the attenuator is supplying. On the speaker output of every amp there is a label which will tell you the load it requires. These are usually 4O, 8O and 16O. The attenuator will have these settings too. You need to ensure that these match each other.
    Question: Can I use a power amp without a preamp?
    You can use a power amp without a preamp but it’s not going to sound like much. The preamp of a guitar amplifier is where most of the delicious saturation happens. You can overdrive a power amp too but a guitar signal is not strong enough to do this on its own. Where modern guitarists do use power amps on their own is when they use pedal preamps and overdrives to create their signature tone, and simply need a clean power amp to drive a speaker.
    Question: Does a power amp improve sound quality?
    A power amp is what amplifies the signal sufficiently to drive a speaker. In most classic amps it is valve driven and is a major factor in creating signature amp tones. An independent power amp is usually required when using a stand alone preamp, pedalboard or complex wet-dry rig.