When setting up my first sound system, I vividly remember looking at the front of the amp, wondering why there was a level control, and then shrugging my shoulders and turning it all the way up.
The more power the better, right?
The thing is, this little knob actually holds the power to give you next-level sound. When it is set correctly, you’ll definitely notice a difference.
Amp level control is like gain.
On your mixer, the most important knob is gain. And understanding how to use this control is foundational to excellent sound.
Not sure how to set gain? Check out this post.
Your amp’s level control is very similar and just as important. It allows you to send a nice, strong signal from your mixer to the amps while regulating how loud it is in your room.
Why not all the way up?
Let’s say you turn your amp’s level all the way up (like I used to). Chances are, you’ll have to bring your mixer’s main fader down to keep things from getting too loud.
This seems like an easy and legitimate fix, but what you are really doing is sending a weaker signal to your amps which in turn degrades the quality of your sound.
How to Set Amp (or Powered Speaker) Level
- Start with the amp level all the way down
- Set your mixer’s main fader to 0 (or U)
- Play a high-energy song through your mixer
- Turn it up until the main output level meter on your mixer is filling up the green, but not hitting yellow/orange
- Slowly turn up your amp (or powered speaker) until it is a bit louder in your room than normal Sunday worship
This will give you a good starting point. Then, you’ll just need to fine-tune with the live band.
Fine-Tuning with the Live Band
First up, be sure to leave your mixer’s main fader at 0, as this is where it should live. Now, take some time to get a good solid mix before moving forward.
As the band is playing, watch the main output level meter on your mixer. The goal is for it to be consistently jumping over that point where the green lights meet the yellow/orange lights.
If you are not hitting in the yellow/orange range, you’ll need to turn down the level on your amp (or powered speaker) and then adjust your mix to bring it back up.
If the level meter is clipping (hitting red), or consistently getting close to clipping, you’ll need to pull your mix down as a whole (by adjusting each channel’s fader, not the main fader) and then turn up the level on your amp to compensate.
Don’t overthink it.
Keep in mind, you’re not building an airplane here. The goal is simply to get a nice, strong signal coming from your mixer and then use the level control on your amp to achieve the desired volume in your room.
Assuming gain for each individual channel is set according to this post, you’ll know you have your amps set correctly if most of your faders are hanging out somewhere between -10dB and 0.