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How to Set Level on Amp (or Powered Speaker)

Kade Young
Kade Young
Chief Audio Guru

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

  1. Start with the amp level all the way down
  2. Set your mixer's main fader to 0 (or U)
  3. Play a high-energy song through your mixer
  4. Turn it up until the main output level meter on your mixer is filling up the green, but not hitting yellow/orange
  5. 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.


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13 comments on “How to Set Level on Amp (or Powered Speaker)”

  1. With today's digital mixers I could debate that you are actually sending a weaker signal to the power amp. Output on a digital mixer should be fairly consistent. Signal degradation might occur in analog sends but who does analog these days 🙂

    1. Hey Tom - thanks for the comment. Would love for you to elaborate on this. In my experience, setting levels on amps is pretty much the same process regardless of if you are using analog or digital. So I am definitely curious as to why you think this information is irrelevant to digital mixing.

  2. Thanks for the article! I do have one question, what would the process be for amps for the stage monitors and subs?

    1. Hey Tony - I'd use the same process with the subs as the mains, just do the mains first and blend in your subs afterwards. On monitors, the only difference would be to use the level meter for your aux/bus send instead of the main level meter.

  3. I use both passive and powered speakers.... No trouble to adjust amp input gain as suggested for powered speakers.
    However, with the passive speakers, the amps get their signals (Bass, Mids, Highs) via DSP. My Peavey VSX26s or 48s require all amp gains to be set the same.... my amps are all x40 (32db). In this case, it is much easier to have the amp gains set on full.

  4. I'd second what Tom says, in MOST cases.

    But the REAL benefit for me is hearing SAFETY: the mixer board can only hit MAX. If the PA level at 100%, the PA could ALSO hit max (1KW, 4kW or what ever it's capable of) or depending on design- 10x max! If instead, the PA level is set just above where you want the loudest part, then you can NEVER get louder than that, regardless of the PA's actual ability or operator error.

    While an 1kW PA may have a nominal sensitivity 1.4V for 1kW, yet the mixer out probably PEAKS at 5 to 10V. If it is set at MAX, the PA may (try to) hit dangerous levels.

    Especially important if somebody accidentally switches a Phantom powered mic or totally screws up feedback. Esp on MONITORS.

  5. Hey Kade, I've been watching your YouTube videos for a while now. I'm always trying to improve the sound system at our church. However, I still haven't been able to make it sound as good as I wish. Today everything seemed great. The sound was loud and there was no issues hearing vocals. However, after we stopped playing music, there was a lot of hissing coming from the main speakers and monitors. I tried to fix this after the church service was over but instead, I ended up with mic distortion and everything sounding funky and bad. I'd love for your help. Thank you!

    1. Hey Johny! Have you set the levels on your amps using the information in this article?

  6. Hey Kade, thanks for these great sound tips.
    We use a Crown 6002 for subs on 1 and left and right full range up top . How do I go about setting the volume ?

    1. Are you using one Crown 6002 for all the speakers, or do you have multiple amps?

    1. To set the volume, you'll simply use the two knobs on the front of the amp. One will control the level of your sub, and the other your mains.

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