Amplifiers & Separates

Can I Use a Professional Amplifier in my Home Theater?


People love a deal. We are no different. But it is easy to look at one or two things and say, “This one is better,” when you don’t really know what you are looking at. This is what happens when people start considering adding a professional amplifier to their home theater setup. They look at the price per channel (which is usually lower for the professional amplifier) and the wattage (which is usually higher for the professional amplifier) and wonder how they are the first ones to discover this great deal. They aren’t. We’ve all gone down this road. So let’s talk about why you should, or should not, add a professional amplifier to your home theater setup.

Power to Price Ratio

We’ve already mentioned this, but the price to power ratio of professional amplifiers tends to be much better than what you find in amplifiers designed for the traditional home theater environment. If you look hard enough, you can find amps that cost a fraction of what a home theater amp would cost for the same wattage. This is true. And if wattage was the only thing we cared about, we’d all have professional amplifiers in our home theaters. But, it isn’t the only metric you should be worried about.

Noise

You can’t always tell by looking at pictures of professional amplifiers but they often have fans. That’s because they are used in professional applications. This usually means they are tucked away in their own room where the noise from a fan isn’t important.

And these fans can be loud.

You can often adjust how or when the fans engage, but you can’t get around the fact that it will occasionally be on. In a professional environment, this isn’t an issue. In a home theater? You don’t want to hear a fan cycling on and off.

Impedance Curves

Professional amplifiers are used by…well…professionals. These people have training and know a lot about what they are buying. When you look at the user manual or cut sheet of a professional amplifier, you are going to see a lot of numbers. These numbers won’t mean much to you. But they will to the professional.

One thing that professionals can do is match the impedance curve of the professional amplifier to the speakers. Making a linear amplifier is expensive. Making a powerful very amplifier that isn’t exactly linear is much cheaper. When you are buying 10 or 20 or 30 amplifiers, you can save some money if you know how to match your amplifier to your speakers. For the home theater enthusiast, having a linear amplifier is imperative. For the professional? They can work around it.

Weird Connections and Controls

Your home theater amplifier will have connections that look very familiar. The back of the pro amp will look very different. While the home theater amp will have inputs, outputs, and a power button, and little else, the professional amplifier will be very different. They’ll have weird speaker connections, screws that are used for controls, and a menu system that requires an engineering degree to manage.

“Boy, this doesn’t look frustrating at all,” said no one ever.

We’re not saying that an enthusiast couldn’t figure it out. We’re just saying you won’t want to.

Plus, they are controls you really don’t need. Individual crossovers for each channel, channel delays, and stuff we’re not sure exactly what it does. Your receiver does most of this for you, and the rest? You really don’t need. But in a professional environment, they are essential.

The Rest of the Specs aren’t So Good

The professional amplifier will usually have worse specifications on nearly every metric. The one that you’ll probably notice immediately is the noise floor. Professional amps don’t need to be as clean as a home theater amplifier. There could be a number of reasons. The speakers might not be as sensitive, the audience is likely sitting too far away to notice, or others. The reality is that the professional amplifier sacrifices performance in most metrics so that they can keep the costs down and the wattage up.

There Are Professional Amplifiers that Can Be Used in the Home

Professional amplifier manufacturers have caught on that home theater enthusiasts have started eying their amps. So they have started offering amplifiers that are more appropriate for the home environment. But when you compare these amps to the other offerings on the market, the “deal” status starts to fall apart. The reality is that a linear, quiet, well-performing, fan-less amplifier isn’t cheap to make.

Conclusion

We know we’ve given you a lot of reasons to steer clear of adding a professional amplifier to your home theater. But, it doesn’t mean you can’t. If your gear is in another room, and the pro amp you’re looking at is relatively linear, you can save some money by buying a professional amp. You just need to be a bit more careful than just grabbing the least expensive, highest wattage professional amplifier and expecting it to work in your home theater where the gear is all six feet away from you.

When you are shopping, pay very close attention to the reviews. Some people will gush all over a product. But take note if people are complaining about a noise floor or fan noise. These are problems that some will not notice but you might. And make sure you buy from somewhere with a good return policy.

Do you rock pro amps in your home theater? Tell us your experiences in the comments below or on our Facebook page.


4 Comments on Can I Use a Professional Amplifier in my Home Theater?

  1. jcr159

    Unless you design speakers for a living…

    stick to pro amps for subs if you can put them in another room… or run away… just run away…

  2. SuperFlyEDSguy

    When I was younger, let’s say in my 20s, I would seek out the most complicated ‘professional’ pieces that I could find if only to make a ‘project’ out of figuring out how to set it up (read: not properly) and subsequently use the damn thing. For some bizarre reason that I can’t for the life of me conjure up, the very thought of this was ‘fun’ to me. The weirder thing is that I am fairly intelligent, but not a nerd per se. I did have a social life, I was in the Navy, and even had friends (most of which were just as dorky as I was). The issue was that when I did decide to kick off a ‘project,’ I would go ‘all in.’ Sometimes I got them to work, other times I did not, and I did get my fair share of electric shocks from a rather wide plethora of sources. That part was not fun, but figuring out how to bridge a wide array of cables that were probably never meant to be tied together was kinda, sorta, well… fun! I loved it when I ‘hit the jackpot’ and heard the sweet sound of sound, just absolutely exponentially louder!

    So, between everything that life threw at me, I really didn’t get much time to mess with audio and electronics once I segued into my 30s. I was working… a lot. I also was in three automobile accidents, two of which were in my 30s, so I needed time to rest, recover, and do my physical therapy. I had two MORE kids. To top it off, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) at age 39. So, not too much time to do anything, but…

    By age 42, I was medically retired as the boatload of EDS-related issues finally caught up with me. I remained very active most of my life, and it spared me from the really bad problems. Just to put this into perspective, I will be turning 43 in a couple of months and I’ve already literally had 10 orthopaedic surgeries AND 2 additional spinal surgeries — and those are just the major ones! So, at first I hated the thought of retiring, but I ended up digging it as I do need a lot of rest, but I also have more family time now than ever. I’m actually passing along this knowledge to my own son. We work on projects together and though I deal with enough pain on a daily basis that would make a ‘normal’ person scream to a doctor for morphine, I learned to function well enough. It may sound crazy, but I don’t mind not leaving my house for weeks on end. Travel is very difficult for me, even light travel, so I simply avoid it.

    The point to all this is that I made a major flip flop somewhere along this timeline. I now like things succinct and despise wasting countless hours on tasks that could be simply avoided. So, when purchasing audio equipment, I do my research, make a plan, and enjoy it when everything comes together smoothly. Yes, I like building things and coding with my kids, but when it comes to the sound that I choose to listen to, I prefer it drama free.

    This article basically reinforced the last twenty something years of my life. Buy good equipment, what you actually need, and maybe leave a bit of room for expansion or upgrades that you may want at a later date. The thing is, Tom is SPOT THE {BLEEP} ON in this article; just as you don’t fix what is not broke, please, please, please take Tom’s advice and ignore the gear marketed for studio use. The quality hardware for home use has come down to some excellent price points as of late — Buy that and actually enjoy it!

    Brilliant article Tom, and a great many thanks for helping me take this proverbial trip down memory lane 🙂

    ~ Jay

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