Can you tell the functional differences between two amplifiers based on the manufacturers’ specifications alone? Possibly not, unless the manufacturer measures and reports according to Common Amplifier Format (CAF) guidelines.
Led by industry professionals like SynAudCon president Pat Brown, CAF is a voluntary reporting format that aims to clarify for integrators and system installers how amplifiers are tested and how they perform under specific, uniform conditions. It’s designed to level the playing field by holding every manufacturer to the same standards.
“The need for CAF arose from the impossibility to accurately deploy and compare amplifiers based on the typical published specs,” said Brown. “There simply isn't enough information there. In amplifier discussions, one-number wattage ratings are thrown around without any validation or understanding as to what they are based on. One manufacturer's 1,000-watt amplifier could be another manufacturer's 500-watt amplifier based on how they are tested.”
CAF arrives on the heels of CLF—or Common Loudspeaker Format—which established similar guidelines for loudspeakers. Manufacturers such as Rane and Bose are currently reporting amplifier specs in CAF, and Crown Audio is preparing to join the fold with its DCi series.
“The goal is to create commonality, so it’s easier for customers to choose something appropriate for what they're trying to install,” said Marc Kellom, senior director of engineering and marketing at Crown Audio. “Someone could put a footnote on specs and change one unit of measure to make it look better. The format is meant to cut through that and say, ‘We're all going to do it the same way and agree that we're going to make the same measurement.’”
For AV integrators, the format holds additional value. Unlike the live sound market where amplifiers and loudspeakers can be pre-engineered to a common configuration, with installed sound, every room presents its own challenges and requirements. CAF can get integrators over the first hurdle of accurately determining, based on uniform specifications, which category of amplifiers and loudspeakers to use.
“At that point,” said Kellom, “the integrator can choose based on whatever other factors are important to them. It should speed things along, so they're not trying to decipher and compare different measurements.”
There is no charge for anyone to use CAF. The format, as well as its methodology and additional information, is available online.
Jim Beaugez, APR, is a writer and accredited communications professional with more than a decade of experience in the MI and pro audio industries. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @JimBeaugez on Twitter.