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Retailers are hoping that the new Consumer Electronics Association's (CEA) 2006 amplifier standard will help improve sales of lower powered 2-channel and 4-channel outboard amps.
Since CEA developed a uniform power-rating scale for amplifiers last year, close to a dozen suppliers have adopted it for their outboard amplifiers and two suppliers have adopted the ratings for their head units. Most key suppliers expect to implement the new standard by next year.
Retailers hope that the lower, more reasonable power ratings on head units will lead to more outboard amplifier sales. The logic here is that inflated power ratings on head units are causing consumers to think they have more overall system power than they actually do.
Mike Cofield, president of Custom Sounds, Austin, Texas, summed up the dilemma on the retail sales floor. "A customer comes in and says 'This radio has 200 watts built-in, so why would I want to buy a 30-watt amplifier.' " In actual RMS power, that amplifier may deliver only 80 watts total.
Cofield added that until the standard is widely adopted in head unit power ratings, "basically, you have a license to lie to the consumer. What's happened is, instead of it becoming a race to see who can develop the best technology, it's been a race to see who can lie the most … It's gotten worse in the last few years, to the point of it being ridiculous," he said.
Car Toys marketing VP, Jim Warren, said the chain is running a promotion to counter this trend. It is using in-store POP to educate consumers about "real power vs. deck power" to promote add-on amplifiers.
According to CEA, amplifier shipments to retailers were down last year from 2.1 million units from 2.2 million units in 2002.
To date, the only head unit suppliers to have adjusted their head unit power ratings to the new CEA standard are Alpine and Rockford Fosgate, but others, including Sony, Panasonic and Pioneer, say they will do so in the future.
Those companies who have adjusted outboard amplifiers ratings, or who intend to do so, include JBL, Infinity, Alpine, Audiovox, Kenwood, MB Quart, Coustic, MTX, Sony, Pioneer, Jensen, Directed, Extant and Rockford Fosgate.
The CEA R6 Engineering Committee published in May 2003 a voluntary standard for advertising and promoting power ratings so that amplifier specs would be reported on a uniform basis. The standard encourages suppliers to advertise power as an RMS rating where watts are measured into a 4-ohm impedance load at 1 percent Total Harmonic Distortion plus noise, at a frequency range (for general purpose amplifiers) of 20Hz to 20,000Hz, according to CEA.