The Speaker Guru speaks: Dennis Murphy

Questions for the FTC: Dennis has been gracious enough to do a page on what happens at the FTC in regards to advertising, particularly amplifier ads. If we are lucky, he will do another set of questions on speakers.

1. What do you do for the FTC?
The FTC is the leading consumer protection and antitrust agency in Washington. It has authority over the advertising of virtually all products (except prescription drugs). I'm an economist specializing in food and supplement advertising that contains health claims. I spend most of my time analyzing clinical studies and other medical evidence to determine which advertisements are making unfounded claims, and I conduct research to see whether consumers are taking misleading implied claims from advertisements that might be literally truthful. And I test specific disclosures and disclaimers that might clarify the ads. Finally, I'm in charge of enforcing the FTC's amplifier power output regulation (see below).

2. Does the FTC regulate what can and cannot be advertised as far as power ratings?
Yes and No. The Power Output Rule was passed in 1974, and things have changed a bit since then. Specifically, most amplification equipment sold today is multichannel, not 2-channel stereo. The Rule still regulates how manufacturers must measure the stereo output of their products, and requires specific disclosures concerning impedance, bandwidth, and harmonic distortion in spec sheets. Stereo output must be based on continuous power output with both channels running simultaneously to full rated power. But the Rule doesn't really fit multichannel receivers very well. That's because the rule requires that all ASSOCIATED channels be driven simultaneously during power tests. For a stereo amp, the left and right channels obviously are "associated." And there's only one channel for subwoofers amps, so that's not an issue. But what channels are "associated" for a 5-channel receiver? Is the center associated with the front left and right? Are the rear channels associated with anything? Clarifying these questions would require a full rule making process, which is very expensive and time consuming. As an interim step, we have been waiting to see whether industry members will voluntarily follow a suggested testing procedure issued by their industry trade group (The Consumer Electronics Association). This protocol specifies that only the channel being tested must be run at full power. The other channels must all be operating, but at a reduced power output. We are currently determining industry compliance with this approach, and will decide in the next month or so whether to formally suspend the rule for multichannel receivers, commence a formal rulemaking, or something in between.

3. If the ratings are bogus, what happens?
The Commission does not have any in-house testing facilities. If a competitor complains about a power rating, or I don't think it looks right on its face, we will have the unit tested by a consultant. We get very few complaints, and all of those have been resolved informally. We have never had to actually sue a company for violating the rule.

4. What if the advertising is off-shore or Internet?
Internet advertising is just like any other kind of advertising. If the company is foreign owned with no domestic subsidiary, things are a little more complicated, but this hasn't happened yet.

5. How accurate are most power ratings?
Stereo ratings are very accurate (to the best of our knowledge). Home Theater receiver ratings are "accurate" given the procedure used, which appears in the majority of cases to be continuous power for only one channel driven, with total power expressed as the single-channel power times the number of channels.

6. Is there any way to correlate the different ratings? Any tip-off we can see to know the ratings are bogus?
The industry trade group has, at our request, conducted comparative tests to see how the ratings stack under different power rating methods. They will deliver this information shortly. Currently, the "worst case" scenario should be the single-channel method described above. This is not really "bogus," but for most amp power supplies, it's clearly much lower than would be achieved if all the channels were driven at the same time to full power.

7. Are there any other measurements we should look for?
If a power rating for a multichannel receiver really was taken with all channels operating at full power, the advertisement or spec sheet will probably say so. If the rating is just something like "100 Watts X 6" I would assume only one channel was tested.

8. Do you do anything other than amps? Like what?
Amps take up very little of my time (although that will sure change if we expand the Rule to include multichannel receivers). See #1 for what I really do.

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Copyright: Peter J. Smith 2005 Return to