Listening at low volume

Posted by: NJB on 12 January 2019

A possibly stupid question, but it has tweaked my curiosity.  I have been pondering a speaker upgrade for some time.  A mate has thrown me a curveball, in that he knows that I listen at modest volumes, and he says that I am looking at this all wrong.  So, his thinking is that speakers Ďcome on songí at different volume levels.  He says that my Dynaudio Focus 160s might sound great to me, but at a normal listening level of 65dB (I just measured it with an app on my phone) then they are nowhere near clearing their throat.  Thus, any change/upgrade might not show much improvement.  Do people agree with this thinking?  I have found threads citing various speakers that are better at low volumes, and I guess Dynaudio is not the first name to think of (even though I am a fully signed up supporter of their punchy but tuneful sound). I guess my Naim 250.2 can drive a good variety of speakers, and should not be a limitation (unless that has low volume quirks).  

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by Flachead

Quite a timely post for me... I have just bought a Nova and am using B&W 707 S2. Right now Iím listening at quite low levels 25 on the dial and itís great, they are warm, engaging, balanced and importantly are not disturbing the rest of the house. I know they are a limiting factor, as I crank it up you know the Nova is bursting to express itself but the little B&Ws struggle. I have new speakers on the list for 2019, but I think Iím facing a similar quandary. What speakers will work brilliantly at lower volumes but cope with the home alone moments when you really want to rock?

 

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by hifi-dog

Iím listening at 65db according to phone to nova with atc SCM11ís and they are sublime...

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by Bart

I'd look at Devore O's for near-field low volume listening.

What about ESL's -- is that their sweet spot too??

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by TOBYJUG

Hmmm.   That first watt can be more louder on some speakers than others.   When it's said that speakers with a low impedance need more watts to wake up - your already pumping in a fair few to just hear a whisper.   At 86 db, that should be plenty loud from 1 watt.  65 db and your running low on that volume dial.   Although in real world situations in a listening space those numbers are not right. 59 db is a base level of just random noise for me

Having the volume low can be an issue for the pre amp side. The attenuation pot that Naim use has been widely noted for being uneven in balance when used just off its start. Perhaps not for the new series that borrows tech from the nac S1.

Listening at very low volume is important for me.   Yes speakers make a difference.  I have found that the connection cables have been the most effective. Low level detail really needs cables that are super sensitive to low level detail retrieval, and that unfortunately means high definition cables.

 

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by 911gt3r

Hi NJB.

As tobyjug implies you would need a highly sensitive speaker earring towards 90 DB, a nice straight line 8 ohm impedance and a simple crossover I would guess to meaningfully listen at low levels. Naim SL2 speakers were a treat in active mode in that respect. My PMC Fact 12s do nothing much till over and above 8 oíclock on the old volume knob. ATB Peter

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by Ardbeg10y
Flachead posted:

Quite a timely post for me... I have just bought a Nova and am using B&W 707 S2. Right now Iím listening at quite low levels 25 on the dial and itís great, they are warm, engaging, balanced and importantly are not disturbing the rest of the house. I know they are a limiting factor, as I crank it up you know the Nova is bursting to express itself but the little B&Ws struggle. I have new speakers on the list for 2019, but I think Iím facing a similar quandary. What speakers will work brilliantly at lower volumes but cope with the home alone moments when you really want to rock?

I'm not sure if it are the 707's being the limiting factor. They really do good service, but you need loads of power since they are quite inefficient. They also need to be significantly away from any wall and as any loudspeaker, they need at least naca5 as cable.

I had the predecessing cm1's for a long time at the end of a supernait and I was very happy with the pairing.

I agree that they were not that good while listening on lower levels. I think Peter is spot on in his posting.

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by NJB
911gt3r posted:

Hi NJB.

As tobyjug implies you would need a highly sensitive speaker earring towards 90 DB, a nice straight line 8 ohm impedance and a simple crossover I would guess to meaningfully listen at low levels. Naim SL2 speakers were a treat in active mode in that respect. My PMC Fact 12s do nothing much till over and above 8 oíclock on the old volume knob. ATB Peter

Thanks for the feedback but my brain says that I need a low efficiency speaker. Given that I need a 65 dB listening volume, then a low efficiency speaker means that the amplifier has to work harder. That will help the amplifier to get out of any gremlins that lurk in low output territory. 

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by trickydickie

I have always fiund that the source has a great deal to contribute to the quality of low volume listening

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by Huge

Oh dear, this is opening a right can of worms.

Any part of the chain can wreck the performance at low volumes; and you can't tell just by looking at spec sheets!

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by RaceTripper

I am listening to records on my Dynaudio Confidence C2 Platinum and REL R-328s with a 250DR at ~65db (so my wife can fall asleep in the next room for early rise to work tomorrows)  and it sounds fantastic. I don't feel like I'm missing anything in the music.

Posted on: 12 January 2019 by joerand

If you want to improve low volume listening I'd suggest a more powerful amp. Counter intuitive I realize, but try it and (hopefully) you'll understand.  The grip and bottom-end command you get from more watts provides better overall cohesion and tonal balance when the speakers are played quietly. You could also try tubes; less watts is more.

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by Mike Hughes

For low volume listening you need either/or a more powerful amp or highly efficient speakers. I remain absolutely mesmerised by Zu Druid at low volume.

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by Rich 1

I've PMC 20 24's, to my ears using 272 and 250DR lowering the volume just makes you feel like your further away from the action! A not unpleasant effect. Of course cranking up the sound puts you in the thick of the band, orchestra etc. It's a bit like moving from the front to the back of the auditorium. I don't know if other speakers and systems can also give this effect. I auditioned my speakers at normal volume and it wasn't 'till I was playing at low volume that I realised that I can still get exited at low level listening. Rich 

 

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by David S Patterson

Speakers do come on song at different volumes  but  the same speaker will come on song at a different volume in a different room . It's the classic room interaction and you just can't remove it or dismiss it when talking speakers..any speaker. Every system no matter how sensibly priced or expensive will hit its sweet spot somewhere..This whole game is about choosing equipment that has its sweet spot at the level we individually prefer, and imo why many have different opinions on individual devices which are at the end of the day doing a great job

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by David S Patterson

As a further to that, that Is why I feel active systems can be so fantastic. You can tune your system to hit the sheet spot at your prefered level ironing out room interaction,(to a degree) 

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by Iconoclast

It may go against what is preached around here but tone controls and a loudness button are the simplest way to make low volume listening more enjoyable. I want to enjoy my music and I'm beginning to face the reality that the straight wire with gain is nice in theory but not always in practice.

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by benjy

The loss of tone controls is one of the great con jobs of hi end. True, they might not always be advantageous in all situations but most people have to live with not only their speaker of choice but the room interaction which most of us consider to be considerable. Tone controls can definitely help. It may still be a few years off but huge digital correction will be both mainstream and hi end (look at linn).

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by Richard Dane

I don't think when Julian designed his first pre-amp without tone controls it was intended as a "con job".  Quite the opposite in fact. There were very real advantages to not having tone controls.  Julian found that features like switched filters, loudness and tone controls could never improve the quality of the original signal and their inclusion always resulted in lost information. 

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by PeterDF

I have the Monitor Audio Silver 300s and they sound good at low volume, I also donít listen at high volumes. 

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by GraemeH

Tab 10 lovely at low level with 250DR.

G

 

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by RaceTripper

Good riddance to  tone controls. When I had them I could never make anything sound better under any circumstance and ended up keeping them flat. When I got my first Naim system in the 80s (42.5/HC/140) I thought the simplicity (and lack of tone controls) was brilliant.

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by winkyincanada
benjy posted:

The loss of tone controls is one of the great con jobs of hi end. True, they might not always be advantageous in all situations but most people have to live with not only their speaker of choice but the room interaction which most of us consider to be considerable. Tone controls can definitely help. It may still be a few years off but huge digital correction will be both mainstream and hi end (look at linn).

I wouldn't call it a con job, but being able to shape the response is appealing. This thread has prompted me to play around with the digital Eq. in iTunes for my low-level listening. It can just be set flat again for normal listening.

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by David S Patterson

Quality and enjoyment are seperate  How many times have we listened to systems with fantastic dynamics and unreal transparency but just too lean or bright to live with  or the opposite to heavy or boomy a bass. Properly implemented tone adjustment could avoid the constant search for nirvana.

I used to use a Classe pre which had slope tone controls with variable points within frequency range . All in the digital domain admittedly. If Naim embraced some sort of adjustment I bet it would be a hit. But the design team at mo obviously think a step too far in signal degradation . 

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by Iconoclast

I remember the last integrated I owned, prior to owning a Naim, had tone controls and a loudness button. Most of the time I would use it in bypassed mode, sometimes I might increase the bass a tad with certain types of music and when using it for TV or movies I would usually reduce the bass to improve dialogue and avoid too much boom. The first thing I noticed with my Naim amps is that they weren't that great for TV and movies with the exception of the headphone jack which was kind of the opposite. In other words, rather lifeless for music but nice and clean for TV and movies. What does this tell us?

Anyhow at the risk of ruffling feathers I'm tempted, for the benefit of low level listening, to give the Schiit Loki a try. Most reviews are quite positive and not much to lose at $149. The only thing that's holding me back is the cheap wall wart that it comes with and the fact that I'd be introducing yet another box in my deliberately minimalist chain. I'm no longer convinced of the theory of rendering the music as the musician/engineers intended. They were listening to the mix in a studio, through studio monitors/headphones not on my system, in my living room. What's important to me is that I'm enjoying what I'm hearing. Whether that can be achieved through relatively inexpensive gear or expensive Naim gear doesn't really matter. Some of the most uninvolving systems I've heard also happened to be some of the most expensive.

Posted on: 13 January 2019 by benjy

Richard- 

I was not speaking of Julian or naim as to the lack of tone controls. I do think that unless one has an ideal room and set-up some additional control could be useful. Many of us are even restricted to usable listening levels at much of the time and a little boost would be useful. Although I have to admit my old yamaha cr-820 receiver had lots of tone control, I rarely touched them.