Live Sound

The Best Live Sound Power Amps

When you are looking to buy a live power amplifier, you need to make sure you mix the correct amount of wattage with the best features that you will need in your live PA system. It’s not as easy as you think.

With so many features to think about when you are shopping for a power amp, it can be difficult to make sure that you have made the right choice.

Credit: BEHRINGER

Top Pick: Behringer EP2000

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Durable, reliable, and affordable live power amp with great sound quality. Perfect for gigs in medium sized clubs, functions well in church services, public spaces, and with mobile PA systems.

As a musician that has been playing for over thirty years, I know that having the right equipment means reducing a lot of potential frustration when you are playing live. Making sure you won’t have to deal with distortion and lack of power and reliability is often worth paying a few more bucks for a better piece of equipment.

Here are a few tips on what to look for as you shop for your new power amp and a few reviews to help you start your search.

Amps and Speakers

It is best to choose an amp that can give you the power that is equal to two times the rating of the speaker’s program. So, if you have a speaker that has a 350-watt program power rating, you will need a 700-watt amplifier to match it. If you have a pair of speakers, your amplifier needs to be rated at 700 watts per channel.

And you don’t need to worry about transient peaks above the speaker’s power rating as a high-quality speaker will be able to handle them if they happen.

Extra headroom in your amp will help make sure you have no distortion, just clean power straight to your speakers. Headroom is the difference between the maximum level of your amp before it distorts and the normal level at which it operates.

Since you will see a large degree of variation in the dynamic range of music, there will be a lot of distortion if you don’t have enough headroom.

Many amplifiers these days were created to have that additional headroom, so they can produce those transient peaks cleanly when the rated power is exceeded. You want to make sure you choose an amp with a program power rating that is equal to its output power rating.

If you are in a studio, you want an amp that can sustain its peak transient capabilities. This type of amp will require that the amplifier produces up to two to four times what its program power rating is.

If you can’t afford a piece of equipment with that much power, make sure not to force your amplifier into that distortion range as it can damage your speaker and your system.

Impedance

The optimal system performance can be achieved when the speakers total ohm load is matched correctly to the amplifier. Resistance is measured in ohms, and amplifiers are generally built to work with resistance in either 4, 8 or 16 ohms.

The power sent to the speakers is reduced if the total speaker impedance is too high. If the impedance is too low, the power sent to the speakers will be higher, and this can damage your amplifier and overload the speakers.

It is possible to connect several speakers to just one amplifier as long as they are wired correctly and they all together don’t fall below the stated level of resistance.

When you connect several speakers together, they are wired together in a parallel circuit whether it is an amplifier, a speaker enclosure, or a mixer/amplifier. Make sure when you are connecting a parallel circuit you put the enclosures at the same impedance, so it important to divide the impedance by the total number of speakers you are connecting.

Class D Amplifiers

Class D Amplifiers have become the most popular design in the live sound market in the past decade. Previously, Class A and Class AB Amplifiers have led the market, but they are large and heavy and had a tendency to have high heat output and power consumption despite their great sound quality.

Class D Amplifiers are able to give you the same amount of power as the Class A and Class AB design, but they are more efficient and weigh less while still giving you the same amount of sound quality.

Bridged Mode

It is possible to put together a two-channel amplifier to bridge them together to create one load. This enables you to make a large single channel amp out of a two-channel to amp to give you more power. This provides a lot more power to the speaker than what a one channel amp would be able to do on its own.

When an amplifier is working in bridged mode, it can only use speakers that have double the impedance of the amp’s minimum rating load. So, if an amp has 4 ohms in normal running mode, it will need 8 ohms when it is running in bridged mode.

Limiters

Built-in limiters help to maximize the signal level which will help stop distortion as well as any overload when in a signal chain, and sets the volume level at the maximum possible to safeguard in-ear monitors and amplifiers and speakers from distortion. A limiter is a great tool when you want to set a max gain setting and keep signals from surpassing it.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
BEHRINGER EUROPOWER EP2000
tons of power, low-noise operation ideal for gigs in medium-sized clubs, church services, public spaces, and mobile PA systems$249.99
Crown XLS25000
Multiple inputs make it extremely flexible, allowing you the ability to plug in almost anything, anywhere, includes many system setup configurationsOut of stock
Behringer NU6000DSP
state-of-the-art power switching mode give amplifiers serious punch when they are combined with this amplifier technology$363.99
QSC GX5
the perfect amount of power for the most popular speakers used by professionals$399.99
QSC ISA 300 Ti
more durable and affordable than any sound system that is permanently installed$789.99
Yamaha P7000S
Dual-channel amplifier gives you professional-grade power that is lightweightOut of stock
Crown XLS 5000
durable all-steel chassis, forced air fan is efficient and stops too much thermal buildup
Peavey CS4080
Perfect choice for outdoor gigs, plus performances in small clubs and concert halls
Seismic Audio - MBG-4000
MBG amplifiers are a step up providing uncompromising quality while still staying in your budget$279.95

Top Pick: BEHRINGER EUROPOWER EP2000

Credit: BEHRINGER

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The Behringer EP2000 has everything that a musician loves about an amplifier including great sound quality, durability, and reliability. It has tons of power plus low-noise operation that is ideal for gigs in medium sized clubs, church services, public spaces, and mobile PA systems.

The front panel has simple controls that give you all the important signs you need. Independent gain dials are on both channels with clip LEDs that let you know when there is distortion you just need to reduce the gain. Signal LEDs also light up when the input is present.

The back panel has a panel of switches with a variety of options that you can use on both the EP2000 and EP4000. You can get even more out of the amplifier with the clip limiter that keeps it or your speaker system from overdriving. The built-in circuitry senses automatically when it starts to distort reduces the input level to avoid clipping.

Infrasonics or ultra-low-frequency sounds that are due to mic thumps, rickety stage vibrations, and wind noise. They are technically inaudible, but they can cause a large amp power drain that can potentially damage your speakers and give you a muddy bass range sound.

A defeatable low cut filter cuts of frequencies below 50 Hz or 30 Hz that you don’t want. Switches on the same panel allow the amp to work in either bridge or mono mode or in stereo mode. Plus that can be linked to extra power amps when they are switched to parallel mode.

The renowned and reliable Toshiba/Fairchild power transistors, plus the high-current toroidal transformer, give the EP2000 high transient response and reliability. The independent DC and thermal overload protection are found on each of the channels that automatically keep the speakers and the amplifier from any meltdowns. Plus, there are no needs for fuses that can cause headaches in the middle of a gig.

Both inputs and outputs are very flexible including ¼” TRS and XLR inputs, five-way binding posts, and Speakon-compatible outputs. The final parts of the back-to –front cooling include the exhaust fan that is visible through the back panel. Plus, the durable and impact-resistant rackmount chassis makes them great for out on the road.

The Behringer features precision power that monitors performance through signal and clip LEDS, plus compatibility to any source and “touch-proof” binding posts and professional speaker connectors that help to support most speaker wiring systems. Distracting infra-sound frequencies are removed with the adjustable low-frequency filters.

ATR (Accelerated Transient Response) technology is used for superb clarity and punch with switchable limiters that give you the most output without worrying about overload, plus detented gain controls give you precision settings and sensitivity.

A high-current toroidal transformer provides the ultra-high transient response with reliability and a “back-to-front” ventilation system includes an air filter for reliable operation. This durable, impact-resistant live power amp is available for the very affordable price of $250.

Pros:
Good amp, affordable price
Excellent sound production
Cool running and lightweight amp

Cons:
Cooling fan is a little noisy

Other Products to Consider:

Crown XLS25000

Credit: HARMAN

When you are looking for the standard in portable PA systems, the Crown’s XLS Series amplifiers will give you unparalleled performance and technology at an affordable price. Multiple inputs make it extremely flexible allowing you the ability to plug in almost anything, anywhere, plus it includes many system setup configurations.

Superior sound is produced from its switch-mode power supply and integrated crossovers while Peakx™ limiters safeguard your speakers. This lightweight amp, weighing in at only twelve pounds, is easy to set up and is extremely portable, which is great for gigs.

The Crown XLS2500 is one of the more reliable, efficient, and versatile amps on the market. It gives you the options of different levels of Ohms on each channel. It gives you peak performance while providing features like its Integrated PureBand Crossover System to improve your sound quality, all for around $425.

Pros:
No distortion on the high end, good value for the money
Lightweight and doesn’t create a lot of heat
Excellent sound quality

Cons:
Not good for home audio

Behringer NU6000DSP

Credit: BEHRINGER

The Behringer iNUKE Series power amplifiers bundle an immense amount of power into this lightweight design that is ideal for rack mounting. Its revolutionary Class-D technology united with the incredible efficient switch mode makes this high-density, feather-light dynamo will power your system smoothly for a long period of time.

This system has been fine-tuned by Behringer that has selected its transistors carefully with very high slew rates and optimal circuitry, so that the amps will instantly react to even the most powerful electronic bass pulses.

The state-of-the-art power switching mode gives the amplifiers some serious punch when they are combined with this awesome amplifier technology. They also run cooler and have no need for large heat sinks or weighty toroid transformers as they are more efficient than the other conventional designs.

It is simple to operate with control and indicators on the front panel that allow you to see all the important indicators easily. There are positive-detent Gain controls with LEDs that light when a signal is present for all the channels, plus there are clip LEDs that let you know when there is distortion in a signal so you know when to lessen the input signal.

The Behringer NU6000DSP iNuke is very lightweight, but still powerful giving you up to 6,000 watts, plus an included DSP control and a USB interface. It only weighs twelve pounds, but it has a cool-running technology that uses near-zero thermal accumulation for reliability.

It’s very efficient switch-mode power supply gets rid of noise and has a fabulous transient response while using low power.

The Behringer NU6000DSP includes a high-performance DSP and has signal integrity with 24-bit/96 kHz converters, plus a dynamic range that you can trust. Its DSP section gives you great delay, EQ, crossover, and dynamic processing all for around $400.

Pros:
Nice amplifier for the price
Lightweight but loud
Amps are easy to configure

Cons:
Front panel can be hard to figure out

QSC GX5

Credit: QSC, LLC

Professionals that need the most performance out of their amps, plus portability on a restricted budget should check out the QSC GX5 Stereo Power Amplifier. This is the perfect choice with its simple hookup, easy adjustments, great sound quality, dramatic look, and QSC reliability. The GX amplifiers will give you just the perfect amount of power for the most popular speakers that are used by professionals.

Generally, speaker manufacturers suggest using an amplifier that has a power output that is equal to the speaker’s program power rating, or two times what the continuous power rating is. The GX5 supplies maximum possible power to 4 ohm and 8-ohm loads. It also uses a Class H system that is based on the most important elements of the PL Series which pretty much doubles the power with the same weight and size.

The GX5 also has GuardRail protection that gives you the most power while stopping harmful overloads. Whether it high distortion or heavy overheating, the GuardRail will less gain enough to protect the music’s integrity and preserve the speakers without shutdown or high distortion levels.

The Crossover switch lets the GX series split the full-range input. The gain controls on the front panel help to balance the top and sub box, and the GuardRail gives optimal peak power to the top and sub separately providing better dynamic range and musical impact.

The QSC is designed to work with the real-world headroom of 4 and 8 Ohm speaker systems. Its phono input connectors, XLR, and 1/4 TRS work with any source outputs, plus the Speakon combo gets 1/4 (TS) plugs or the Speakon two and four-pole plugs. All of these great features is available for only $400.

Pros:
Lightweight with great sound
Plenty of power for the price
Very reliable and cool running

Cons:
Fan noise is noticeable

QSC ISA 300 Ti

Credit: QSC, LLC

The QSC ISA 300 Ti amplifier protects speakers with its selectable high-pass filters that stop speaker transformer saturation with very little effect on the program material. The ISA Series gives you added circuitry protection that includes RF, DC, thermal overload, infrasonic, and short circuit protection.

You have a lot of versatile loading options with the QSC ISA 300 Ti giving you a comprehensive set of features that make the ISA Series more durable and affordable than any sound system that is permanently installed.

The ISA 300 Ti is a powerful amplifier that can simultaneously amplify a small distributed system and a small distributed system. It can also give you 25-, 70-, 100-volt and low impedance outputs at the same time.

There is a convenient strip connection that is a simple barrier to determine the output mode that lessens the number of amplifier channels you need to power the speakers. The gain controls on the rear panel are tamper resistant with 2dB detents for repeatable and quick settings. Plus, it has XLR and input connectors that are the detachable Euro style.

The ISA 300 Ti also features independent defeatable clip limiters that lessen distortion and indicators on the front panel that include signal, clip, and power. The DataPort V2 is used with the compatible DPV2 signal processing accessories SF-3, LF-3, XC-3, and DSP-3DSP-4 with an external power supply. The ISA 300 Ti is available for around $800.

Pros:
Unique amp
Many ways to configure it
Loud and clear

Cons:
None

Yamaha P7000S

The audio engineers at Yamaha have created the new P-Series Power Amplifiers to perfectly match the popular Club Series loudspeakers. They gave them large power output that works well with the Club Series Speakers power handling capabilities, and they installed YS Processing (Yamaha Speaker Processing) to gives you a signal that is in tune with the loudspeaker’s needs.

The Yamaha P7000S is a dual-channel power amplifier that gives you professional-grade power that is lightweight with Neutrik Speakon, phone plug, both ¼ TRS and XLR inputs, and a five-way binding post outputs.

The P7000S also has sweepable high- and low-pass filters with a variable speed fan, and the exclusive EEEngine technology that gives you superb performance with high efficiency.

If you want a professional-grade power amplifier that can give you a ton of configurations, you need to check out the Yamaha P7000S. The P7000S is available in the $1,200 range.

Pros:
Excellent sound, easy to use
Very portable and powerful
Lightweight with clean sound

Cons:
Can’t remove the handles

Crown XLS 5000

The Crown XLS 5000 power amp gives you four-ohm stereo mode with 1800 watts per channel, plus an overwhelming 5000 watts when in four-ohm bridge-mono mode. This is a durable all-steel chassis with the very reliable XLS 5000 comes with a forced air fan that is not only efficient, but stops too much thermal buildup.

Dual precision-detented rotary level controls appear on the front panel as well as a LED power switch, plus six more LEDS to let you know clip, signal, and fault for every channel.

Two electronically balanced XLR inputs come with the rear panel connections plus Speakon outputs and touch-proof binding post. The Crown XLS 5000 is one of the preferred amplifiers in the music industry that is also affordable. You get 2,500 watts per channel with this all-steel device, plus it can power most live settings efficiently all for an affordable $800 price tag.

Pros:
Great budget amp
Incredible headroom and lots of power
Clean sound and runs cool

Cons:
Electrical can be a bit of a pain if you use it for gigs

Peavey CS4080

The Peavey CS4080 Power Amplifier has some of the loudest and cleanest audio that is available. Peavey is known for its efficiency and great performance, and the CS4080 can give you up to 4,080 watts of power when you are in bridged mono operation. Plus, it has protective features that help you to stop thermal buildup and any damage.

This power amplifier is a popular choice among musicians that is able to give you output in either mono or stereo which both DJs and instrumentalists love. The Peavey CS4080 Power Amplifier is a perfect choice for outdoor gigs plus performances in small clubs and concert halls.

The CS Series is known as a workhouse that is not only reliable, but also has the most popular audio innovations. The exclusive DDT compression, plus its distortion protection keeps circuitry safe from improper loads, shorts, high temperatures, abrupt turn-on levels, and subsonic frequencies.

Toroidal power transistors are included in all CS power amps for increased power and lighter weight. The Peavey CS4080 is available for $1,200.

Pros:
Easy to use, great sound
Good for gigs, lots of power
Clean amp, very solid

Cons:
Pretty heavy amp

Seismic Audio – MBG-4000

If you like the LE series, you will find that the MBG amplifiers are a step up providing uncompromising quality while still staying in your budget. These are very powerful amps are fully capable of pushing a pair of dual 15” speakers or two 18″ subwoofer cabinets.

The front of the amplifier houses the volume controls, maximum level indicator, signal indicator, and power indicator. XLR and ¼” inputs, as well as binding post and Speakon connectors, are found in the back. This affordable power amp is available for around $500.

Pros:
Good quality sound, runs quiet
Lots of power, great value
Nice amplifier, clean sounding

Cons:
On the heavy side

Sources:

Ohm cooking 101: understanding amps, speakers and impedance


https://peavey.com/support/technotes/poweramps/bridgemode.cfm
http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/The_Truth_About_Compressors_and_Limiters

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