NY Case Alleges False Advertising of RMS Power

Car audio manufacturers are always trying to outdo one another. Bigger speakers, more powerful amps, better technology; each company is trying to convince consumers where their money is best spent. The temptation to fudge numbers must be great after all, getting consumers to buy your products depends on two main factors; price and performance. This does a disservice to consumers duped into purchasing components that should work correctly, but don’t because of inaccurate ratings.

According to a class-action lawsuit filed in New York in September 2020, Rockville Audio is selling car stereo components that don’t measure up. Numerous complaints claim speakers and subwoofers from Rockville simply can’t reach the power levels the company advertises. Consumers are ending up on the hook with products that fail long before power levels reach the rated RMS points, and Rockville is refusing to honor warranties to replace damaged components.

Lawsuit Alleges Deliberate False Advertising

The suit, filed by Travis Sarafini through the law firm Shepard, Finkleman, Miller, & Shaw was filed on Sept 16, 2020 in New York. The primary allegation is that parent company E-Distributors, Inc. deliberately advertises RMS power levels their components are not capable of reaching. The plaintiff claims that four W10K9D4 10-inch subwoofers rated at 600 watts RMS failed at about 350 watts. Within the one-year warranty period, one of the subwoofers completely failed. The plaintiff reached out to Rockville customer service. Instead of a simple warranty exchange, Rockville declared that the speaker had failed due to “customer misuse,” and refused to replace the defective product.

The plaintiff also installed a set of six W12K9D4 subwoofers. The suit claims the speakers are advertised at 8,000 watts, but product listings from Rockville show a 4,000 watt rating. With these speakers, the plaintiff experienced overheating of the voice coils and failure of the speaker at about 300 watts per channel. Again, Rockville refused to honor the one-year warranty, claiming that the plaintiff abused the speakers and caused the failure.

Individual Claim goes Class-Action

Were it only for this one complaint from a single individual, it would be quite easy to assume the plaintiff did abuse the speakers, causing them to prematurely fail. It could even be reasoned that low-wattage failure of the speakers could be a defect in the product. But, the team of lawyers representing the plaintiff did a little digging online. What they found may not be that shocking to some of you; dozens and dozens of online reviews citing Rockville subwoofers failing well below RMS ratings and consistent refusal by Rockville to replace damaged parts.

Quick Lesson on Class-Action Lawsuits

A class-action lawsuit is a manner in which a law firm can file one court case that represents numerous plaintiffs spread across the country. Rather than handle each complaint as a separate case, the attorney will file the claim as a class-action. When a class-action suit is filed, it relieves the plaintiffs of most of the responsibility. All that is needed is for people who have similar complaints to sign on to the suit. If a settlement or court-ordered award is issued, plaintiffs who signed on to the case will receive a percentage of the total amount after lawyer fees. More numerous plaintiffs in a case tends to lend weight to the allegations and shows a wide-spread problem. Plaintiffs will usually receive smaller payments than individual filings, but stand a much better chance of winning. Class-action lawsuits are also effective at changing business practices, as the cost to defend and settle these suits can be tremendous.

Rockville Products at Issue

The two speakers the plaintiff installed that failed are the 10” W10K9D4 and the 12” W12K9D4 subwoofers. Rockville advertises these speakers online like this:

  • Rockville W10K9D4 10″ 3200w Car Audio Subwoofer Dual 4-Ohm Sub CEA Compliant
  • Rockville W12K9D4 12″ 4000w Car Audio Subwoofer Dual 4-Ohm Sub CEA Compliant

When reading into the product information, it becomes quickly clear that Rockville is advertising a “peak” power rating, not an RMS rating. In fact, these speakers are rated at 800 watts and 1,000 watts RMS respectively. That’s a huge difference from the peak numbers shown in the title of the listing, and it isn’t hard to see how consumers could be misled, thinking they are buying a product capable of tremendous power, when in fact it’s just average.

And then there is the issue brought by the suit: rather than achieving the 800-1,000 watt power handling level that should have been ideal for the speaker, the plaintiff experienced failures with only 300-350 watts. The plaintiff claims that attempts to increase the power level to the subs made the issues with the speakers worse. Eventually, one of the subwoofers distorted enough to bend the frame.

Attorney’s writing on behalf of the class of plaintiff’s stated in the complaint:

“No reasonable consumer expects to purchase an amplifier, speaker, or subwoofer with an RMS rating that is actually half of the RMS rating that is advertised on the Product and with an RMS rating that actually represents the peak power of the Product instead of the continuous power capacity of the Product. The misrepresentation is material to Plaintiff and other purchasers because when they purchased the Products, they reasonably expected that they would be able to operate them with a continuous power level matching the advertised RMS power rating. Had Rockville disclosed the true RMS ratings of the Products, Plaintiff and other purchasers of the Products would not have purchased the Products or would have paid substantially less for them.”

Peak Power, RMS Power, and Why Subs Die

It’s likely that almost everyone who has played around with car audio has been duped at least once by power ratings that are not clearly identified as RMS or peak. Peak power is the maximum amount of power the sub can possibly handle without destroying itself. RMS, which means Real Mean Square is the measure of continuous power a speaker can handle.

There are really two ways to destroy a sub. The first is the obvious way, put in way too much power and let it rip. This is what causes a subwoofer to make slam and bang sounds. Literally, the speaker is beating itself to death. Generally speaking, too small of an amp for a sub isn’t a big deal, it just doesn’t sound very good. The problem comes from too small of an amp being pushed too hard. That’s where clipping happens. Think of clipping like a wave where instead of being smooth rolling peaks and valleys, it is square; straight up, straight across, straight down. That’s how the system is trying to play the music, which results in distortion and overheating. Clipping is essentially double RMS, but the speaker is trying to move maximum distance at light speed. Since that isn’t possible, the speaker gets damaged. A particular problem is when the cone wobbles, jamming the magnet in the voice coil and causing overheating.

Manufacturer’s Defect or Customer Abuse?

The courts in New York will have to interpret the information they have from both parties' attorneys and determine whether the plaintiff caused his speakers to fail, or if Rockville is misleading consumers into thinking their systems can handle way more power than is actually possible. The court case does not include information about the amplifiers the plaintiff is using, nor are any other details provided about the remainder of the system.

What Happens Next?

Class-action lawsuits can drag on for years, and it could be quite a while before any progress is made in resolving the issue. Consumers who have experienced problems with Rockville products not meeting RMS power standards can reach out to the law firm handling the class-action lawsuit.

Warning: Sometimes it’s Buyer Beware

Car audio setups, like any high-performance thing, get less stable the bigger you go. Advertisers are always trying to get you to buy what they sell, and it’s up to consumers to make good purchasing decisions. Before you buy subwoofers, speakers, amplifiers, or a head unit, consider what you want to do with the system, how much you want to spend, and go from there.