Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Battery Life and Radio Volume
Name: Anonymous
Status: Other
Age: 60s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: June 2004

Is the rate at which batteries in a portable radio run down affected by the volume at which the radio is played?

In my opinion, ABSOLUTELY. I haven't designed any radio's / demodulators etc... But my guess is that the speaker and final amplifier are the most "power hoggish" elements of the entire unit.

While camping, I use a power inverter to convert 12.6 Vdc to 120Vac (wall current) so we can listen to the stereo and play CD's etc... Well, the inverter has a LED bar graph meter on it that shows power consumption (via an LED bar graph ammeter). The bar graph clearly moves up 1 or sometimes 2 "bar graph notches" when the stereo volume is turned up.

Great question.
Darin Wagner

Difficult to say. A battery has a certain amount of chemical energy stored in it. This energy is dissipated by the volume, but also by other losses (Ohm's law), the type of receiver, etc. It is difficult to say how the various pathways of energy loss will play out.

Vince Calder

Since energy is conserved, the energy in the sound waves must come from somewhere and the only source of energy is the batteries. However, the electronics could change the dependence of the rate of discharge on the volume by converting more electrical energy to heat at low volume than at high volume. This is a function of the detailed design of the electronics. Nonetheless, I would think that in general high volume runs the batteries down faster than low volume.

It would be interesting to know. If you have access to a battery operated radio and have rechargeable batteries and a charger, you could measure the lifetime of the battery charge at minimum and at maximum volume. You might want to repeat the experiment several times to see if the discharge times are consistent. It would be too expensive to do this experiment with normal batteries, I would think. Furthermore, recharging the same batteries in the same charger would, I believe, generate more reproducible results than using different batteries.

If you do this experiment, I would dearly love to see the results. Thank you in advance.

Best, Dick Plano, Professor of Physics emeritus, Rutgers University

Battery drain does depend on the volume. Some of the power from the batteries is used to tune in the radio station, demodulate the signal, and other things. The rest of the power is used to run the loudspeaker. Playing the radio loudly will run the batteries down faster. I measured the power use of my Walkman. With the volume turned down, power use was 30 milliwatts. At modest listening volume, power was 30 milliwatts. At fairly loud listening volume, power was 38 milliwatts. At full volume, which would be too loud for listening, power was 60 milliwatts.

Bob Erck

Yes. High sound volumes usually use up batteries faster. How much faster, depends on the design of the radio's electronic circuitry. The "background" parts of the circuitry draw the same battery current no matter what sound is played. But the final audio amplifier stage converts DC battery current to AC current in the speakers, which can be up to a few watts, very substantial for a battery. Sometimes the effect is only noticeable for the highest 6dB of the radio's sound volume range. Other times the background circuitry could be so efficient, so miserly, that the top 20-30dB matters, and your battery life is determined primarily by how much sound you choose to hear. And that refers to sound actually produced, not to the setting of the volume control knob. Almost all final amplifier circuits these days are good enough to only draw large battery currents when actually driving the speaker with large sound currents. With switching circuits they could do about a factor of 2 better in battery-to-speaker-current conversion efficiency, and in a few years I suspect they will start doing so.

It's also true that a typical alkaline battery run at maximum output power

will give you about 2x fewer amp-hours than the same battery run at 16x lower currents. High currents do not allow "fuels" and "waste products" to redistribute as fast as they are used or generated, so the electric current must to go farther through "battery gel" to reach the electrode, so extra series resistance is experienced. Rechargeable Nicads, NiMH's, and lead-acids do not experience this.

Jim Swenson

Click here to return to the Engineering Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory