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Guitar Amps vs. HiFi Amps

I’ve been thinking about guitar amplifiers lately, and their relationship to hi-fi amplifiers.

The common “knowledge” is that they’re entirely different – with a guitar amplifier being a tone producer (even a “clean” jazz guitar amplifier) and  a hi-fi amplifier being  tone reproducer.

Well, it’s not so simple …

Once you put preamp overdrive/distortion (guitar amps) to the side, there are more similarities than differences – especially in the design approach that separates greatness from mediocrity in either amplifier category

The above video is of guitarist Matthias Waßer – an extremely talented fellow.  In addition to his command of a wide range of musical genres (he’s an excellent gypsy jazz guitarist) is his touch sensitivity on an electric guitar is incredible.

On the music forums, you’ll hear comments about a guitar amplifier’s touch sensitivity – the uncanny ability of an amplifier to convey the subtlety of musician’s technique – his nuances – through the amplifier and into the speaker.

I got to thinking about this in the context of the NiWatt amplfiers, and what it is about great amplifiers in either category that separates them from the pack of “also rans”.

Well, a touch sensitive guitar amplifier equates to an audio amplifier as defined by audiophiles as one with a low noise floor, incredible micro and macro dynamics – an “instrument” that conveys the rhythmic impulses (the leading and trailing edge of the note)  with the same respect paid to the body of the note.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have great tone colors (harmonic complexity).

The common elements of both amplifier categories goes back to good design practices: meticulous power supply design, careful component selection and layout.  A master chef selects the right ingredients for the dish and creates culinary magic that can’t be reproduced by merely following a recipe.

So, when we argue endlessly about accuracy vs. musicality, it’s really a false argument, but that’s a discussion for another day. 

One thing has become clear to me in all of my years in hi-fi is that the vast majority of audio designers wouldn’t know greatness if it grabbed them by the collar and shook them. 

To them, it’s all about “sound”, but the truth of the matter is that this is only the beginning of your design journey.

In both electronic categories, all too many designers will stop short of the finish line, but the finish line is where the (musical) gold is buried.