October 1972 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
President Ronald Reagan
once stated that the nine most terrifying words of the English language were, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." I share the sentiment
generally while acknowledging that there are some areas where government oversight
and regulation is needed. Problems arise where the opinions and beliefs of a self-appointed
group of "experts" are allowed to impose subjective standards toward the creation
of objective standards. Such was the case in the 1970s when the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) sought to publish a set of rules by which
high fidelity (hi−fi) stereo equipment manufacturers must publish performance
parameters. The Electronic Industries Association (EIA, now called the Electronics Industries Alliance)
had their own ideas for how equipment specs should be reported. Popular Electronics
magazine published hundreds of product reviews for receivers, recording and playback
devices, power amplifiers, equalizers, speakers, etc., usually as reported by a
testing facility called
Hirsch-Houck Laboratories. what they didn't usually
bother to include in the reports was that the company was bought by Ziff-Davis Publishing
(owner of Popular Electronics) in 1960 - something that was news to me
when I just discovered it on Wikipedia.
The Hi-Fi Power Rating Hassle
Editorial By Milton S. Snitzer, Editor
About a year and a half ago the Federal Trade hearing Commission (FTC) held an
open hearing on hi−fi amplifier power ratings. Their idea was to issue a rule
on how the ratings were to be promoted and advertised. Long overdue, the rule would
be a giant step forward in clearing up the confusion that exists.
We've all seen ads and catalogs giving amplifier power in terms of instantaneous
peak, peak, dynamic, music, IHF, EIA, and continuous or average (incorrectly called
"rms") power. Depending on which power is given, a stereo amplifier with a continuous
power rating of 10 watts per channel could be rated at 20 watts continuous power
(total power of both channels), 30 watts music or dynamic power, 60 watts peak music
power, 80 watts peak power at some lower impedance load (say 4 ohms rather than
8 ohms), or 100 watts peak power with only a single channel driven rather than both
channels. If the distortion is permitted to be 5 percent rather than say 1 percent,
even higher power figures, can be quoted. With this ten to one power ratio possible
and with all the figures describing the same amplifier, it is no wonder that the
consumer is baffled and confused.
What the FTC was proposing is a return to the conservative continuous power per
channel rating, with all channels driven, and at a given load impedance and specified
distortion. They also want the power bandwidth to be expressed by quoting the minimum
power output of the amplifier over the band. Other power ratings could be disclosed
but these would have to be less prominently advertised and promoted.
We are bringing this up now since it was expected that the new FTC rules would
be issued by June in time for the Consumer Electronics Show. Instead Federal Courts
decided that the FTC had exceeded their authority by publishing any such trade regulations.
The FTC is appealing the ruling and they may wind up in the Supreme Court for the
final decision. In the meantime any rules promulgated by the FTC are advisory rather
The EIA, in the meantime, went on record as opposing the disclosure of the amount
of distortion provided it was 5% or less. "For most consumers" they said, "there
will be little or no perceptible improvement in the sound they hear as the total
harmonic distortion is reduced below this point." They would like to see as the
advertised ratings the sum of the output of each channel rather than a per-channel
figure. They also object to the FTC's proposal that the minimum power over the bandwidth
be quoted rather than the maximum power.
We feel sure that some sort of ruling will come out but that it won't be effective
until next June at the earliest. In the meantime we expect to see more and more
manufacturers coming around to the FTC's proposal. As for us, we will continue our
practice, which has never changed, of specifying loads and distortion and of quoting
only the continuous power rating of all the amplifiers we test or that are tested
for us by Hirsch-Houck Labs.
Posted September 12, 2019