2002 Amps To See More DSP, Class D

By Amy Gilroy On Dec 17 2001 - 8:00am

Amplifier sales may be down this year, but suppliers are capitalizing on growth niches in the category, including mono Class D amplifiers. In addition suppliers say a new growth segment will emerge next year, in the form of amplifiers using digital, rather than analog signal processing.

Mono Class D amplifiers racked up another banner year and are expected to continue to climb. In 2001, from January to October, amplifiers in general declined 8 percent in dollars, while mono amplifier sales soared by 96 percent, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Class D, a particularly efficient amplifier technology for mono amps, is gaining rapidly, representing about 50 percent of mono amp sales in units and about two-thirds of sales in dollars, suppliers said.

Another trend to watch for this year, is increased use of digital signal processing as prices on DSP chips fall to new levels. With digital processing, amplifiers do not necessarily require DA conversion creating a more direct sound path, resulting in better sound quality, according to suppliers.

Manville Smith, JL Audio VP marketing, explained. "In some respects, DSP is preferable to analog processing. Up until now it was more expensive because the chipsets were expensive but its going to become more common. Also, the engineers who are used to working in analog will become more comfortable with it and the cost may continue to go down below analog."

Chris Dragon, JBL Mobile Systems director of marketing, agrees. "Yes, DSP has gotten cheaper and easier to use, but you still have to know how to work the science. It could be executed as a port on an amp that allows you to plug in a laptop to set up the amp and then unplug the laptop," he said, noting that there are many ways to implement DSP.

Alpine is implementing DSP in two Class D amps debuting at CES next month. Using technology called "AccuClass-D", the amplifiers take an incoming signal and immediately convert it to a digital source. The signal is then run through DSP circuits for time correction, digital equalization, subsonic filters and other processing, according to product promotion manager Todd Van Zandt. Another benefit of digital processing is in multiple amp systems. "Typically an analog amp has switches for changing phase or selecting crossover, but they are not highly accurate so when selecting settings for multiple amplifiers, the levels may not be close. With our system it allows for accuracy between amplifiers," said Van Zandt.

Both new amplifiers come with a remote display, as well as a display on the amplifiers themselves that shows temperature, battery voltage and current consumption of the amplifier, diagnostic settings and set-up information. The remote eight-character display mounts in the front of the car to allow users to make adjustments while listening.

The Alpine AccuClass-D amps include the MRD-M500 mono power amplifier with a maximum 500 watt power output. It is expected to carry a target retail price of $530. The step-down model is the MRD-M300, a 300 watt mono at a target price of $350.

A third amplifier trend this year is the continued push for more power. Here are some of the new amplifier offerings to watch for at CES:

Blaupunkt is debuting a new seven-channel amplifier called the OverDrive OD7500 that delivers 500 watts in a chassis the size of a DIN radio. The amplifier uses TriPath Class T technology that adjusts Class D circuitry to deliver enhanced sound quality in multichannel speakers. The new amp is suited for in-car theater set-ups, as it delivers 50 watts by 4 plus 150 by 2 subwoofer outputs, plus a 20 watt center channel, all into four ohms. It requires a third of the typical heat dissipation area as conventional amplifiers for easier installation and it has both high-level and low-level inputs, according to Blaupunkt. The OverDrive comes in a plastic casing with six different colored lenses. It is expected to carry a suggested retail price of $599.

Noted speaker company, Boston Acoustics, will unveil its first amplifier line at CES with further details to be announced at that time.

JVC is debuting two new amplifier lines under its signatures series. New is the Nikki Sixx line named after the Motley Crue bass guitar player. Available in three models, the line includes one 2-channel and two 4-channel amplifiers with maximum power output of 900, 780 and 560 watts, respectively. Under the Shaun Palmer line, named after the extreme snowboard champion, are two models: the KS-AX4750 2-channel amp and the KS-AX4550 4-channel amp, at 200 watts by 2 and 100 watts by 4, respectively.

Kove Audio is showing a new ZX2000 competition amplifier that uses a low impedance MOSFET design and has two separate power supplies. The ZX 2000 also has a fan built into the heat sink. It is rated at 1000 watts mono into 4 ohms and 500 watts by 2 into 2 ohms.

Lightning Audio's new Strike amplifier line adds more power over last year's series, in smaller chasses. The line of five models includes three 2-channel and two 4-channel models that feature new, more efficient heat sinks. It is also able to accept a new amp accessory called the PowerCell electrolytic capacity module. Aimed at the specialty retailers, the Strike line ranges from the S2.300.2, which is a 75 watt by 2 model at a minimum advertised price of $249.95, to the S2.800.4, which is a four-channel, 60 watt by 2 and 150 watt by 2 unit at $499.95.

Lightning Audio's new PowerCell electrolytic capacitor integrates directly to the amplifier through a docking station. The capacitor "takes juice from the car battery and stores it so when a transient hits, the amplifier draws on that power and has all the voltage necessary," a spokesman said. The unit is expected to carry a $99 street price.

Pioneer is aggressively pushing amplifiers this year, according to VP product planning Keith Burnett. The company has significantly improved its dollar-to-watt ratio in its re-engineered GM-X series in an effort to become more competitive in the amplifier category, he said. The new GM-X line consists of six models, plus one digital mono subwoofer amplifier. It includes two 4-channel and three 2-channel models with maximum power ratings of 200 watts to 760 watts. The line has new MOSFET power supplies, Hi-Volt inputs and new titanium silver and blue cosmetics. The GM-X issue begins shipping in December at suggested prices ranging from $100 to $250.

Also new from Pioneer is a GM-D500M Class D mono subwoofer amplifier with a 1000 watt maximum power output. It will ship in April.

Rockford Fosgate has completely redesigned its line of Punch and Power amplifier lines, adding increased flexibility and more power for the price. The amps retain their cosmetic look, the company said.

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