Any amps particularly suited for low-level listening? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 03-19-2008, 06:06 AM - Thread Starter
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Hi - I posted this question in the Amp section but was advised to ask the experts here:

Are there any obvious amps or preamp/amp combos that are particularly suited to low-level listening? With "low level", I mean definitely below the natural level of acoustic instruments, such as concert grands, violins, trumpets, etc.

The amplifier I am looking for should have great resolution at lower volume levels. It should still perform well at higher volumes. My budget is about $800, my speakers are Paradigm Monitor 9, and my listening room is about 12'x12'x9'. I realize that room treatment is important, but I wanted to know if there are any specific amp designs that I should be looking at? Should I seek out pure Class-A designs? What about these switching amps, like the Cambridge Audio 840A, that use a Class-A design at lower levels and switch to Class-B at higher levels? Are there any other amps with similar designs?

Thanks so much. Best - MM
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post #2 of 17 Old 03-19-2008, 08:58 AM
 
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You probably don't need to pay for much power. 40 watts or so should be plenty.
I don't know what sort of technical characteristics would make one amp better than another specifically at low volume. More likely that a good amp is a good amp, period.
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post #3 of 17 Old 03-19-2008, 04:13 PM
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MM,

Most amps have problems with distortion (clipping) by wanting the volume LOUD. Find an amp that delivers enough power for your speaker's impedance load at high SPL, and it shouldn't have problems at low.

You mentioned acoustic treatments... they can be very effective.

You may find that for low-level listening, acoustic treatments (even soundproofing) will make the audible difference. If you have 5-10dB ambient/environmental noise already in your listening area, it may become noticeable when playing music at a low enough level.

Good luck,

- Steve O.
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post #4 of 17 Old 03-20-2008, 09:02 PM
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A low noise floor is one factor to consider because the part of the recording detail that is less than that noise floor at low volume, will be left out. You may have to do comparitive listening tests. I like to be able to put my ear up to the tweeter, volume up with no input and hear silence, having to strain my ears to hear any Hissssssssss or Fttttfttfttfttftt. When listening to low volume classical tunes, that hisssssss or rather lack there of makes a huge difference to sound stage presence, IMO.

Class A bias, at least for low levels is a good direction to go as crossover distortion is more noticable at lower volumes.
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post #5 of 17 Old 03-21-2008, 03:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Proto-amp View Post

Class A bias, at least for low levels is a good direction to go as crossover distortion is more noticable at lower volumes.

What exactly do you mean by this?
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post #6 of 17 Old 03-21-2008, 06:31 PM
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Any amplifer with a S/N ratio of 75 db or better will do just fine.
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post #7 of 17 Old 03-22-2008, 06:30 AM
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You might want to get a preamp that has a "loudness" compensation. These used to be common - less so today. Basically the "loudness" compensation boosts bass (and usually trebble) to compensate for the human ear being less sensitive to these frequencies at low volume.

Everything I say here is my opinion. It is not my employers opinion, it is not my wife's opinion, it is not my neighbors opinion, it is My Opinion.
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post #8 of 17 Old 03-22-2008, 08:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scorch123 View Post

MM,You mentioned acoustic treatments... they can be very effective.

You may find that for low-level listening, acoustic treatments (even soundproofing) will make the audible difference. If you have 5-10dB ambient/environmental noise already in your listening area, it may become noticeable when playing music at a low enough level.


Bingo !! Good point Steve, along with the other poster who mentioned quality of ones recording with respect to noise floor , etc , these things would be principle in low level listening enjoyment.

Also, with respect to the other posters comment on "crossover distortion"....I'm guessing he meant "cross notch" distortion( I believe that's waht it's called) as it applies to class A/B amplification with the 'handoff' of the respective half/wave forms.
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post #9 of 17 Old 03-22-2008, 01:56 PM
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For low level listening, the volume control on the preamp is very important. For example, my rotel RC-1070 is not that great for low level listening because the lower end of the volume knob isn't very finely gradated. A slight change in position grants a large change in volume esp. when using the remote.

You may want to look into a preamp that has a very good volume knob. Some use a very nice volume system that has 0.5db fine gradation over most of the range of the preamp. That might be something you want to look into.

Particularly, the NAD M3 and Classe Delta Integrated. Those are expensive, but there are plenty others that may incorporate decent volume control.
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post #10 of 17 Old 03-22-2008, 03:59 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the replies; they are very helpful.

Regarding the Rotel RC-1070 not having such a great volume control knob, that sucks, because I like the Rotel sound (much more so than NAD), and that preamp was exactly what I was looking at. I may have to check out the volume control knob in person.

Thanks, and keep 'em coming. Best - MM
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post #11 of 17 Old 03-22-2008, 08:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xvimbi View Post

Thanks for all the replies; they are very helpful.

Regarding the Rotel RC-1070 not having such a great volume control knob, that sucks, because I like the Rotel sound (much more so than NAD), and that preamp was exactly what I was looking at. I may have to check out the volume control knob in person.

Thanks, and keep 'em coming. Best - MM

Its sufficient, but its not the best. It works better deeper into the rotation of the knob. Beyond that, it is a good preamp. It certainly isnt the next thing on my list of upgrades, maybe 3rd on my list.
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post #12 of 17 Old 03-24-2008, 11:24 PM
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i have had a great experience with my primare integrated i20 amplifier with this situation. for many years the speakers used with it were an old pair of sonus faber grand piano's which are not exactly very easy to make sound full (they have no port and are a fully sealed setup). However, even at very low volumes, they sounded great on the primare amp. They sounded extremely thin on a much more expensive yamaha receiver (surround sound, not a stereo unit, It was about $2000 in 2003) at low levels in comparison.
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post #13 of 17 Old 03-26-2008, 04:56 PM
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I believe Pass Labs makes, or has something to do with, and an amplifier called "First Watt" claiming that is the entire focus of the design - ultimate purity in the range of power most used.

First Watt

Just because there is a knob doesn't mean you should turn it.
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post #14 of 17 Old 03-27-2008, 05:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xvimbi View Post

Are there any obvious amps or preamp/amp combos that are particularly suited to low-level listening? With "low level", I mean definitely below the natural level of acoustic instruments, such as concert grands, violins, trumpets, etc.

I would think that the ability for low level performance would be more of a function of the speakers, not the amp.

I recently set up a new smaller listening room, wanting the option of playing music at all (sane) levels. First tried my Maggie MMGs, but that idea got canned, as they really need some decent output to lite up. My old Thiels are doing a better job for now. I use Studio 60v3s downstairs in a larger HT room, thought about picking up a pair of Studio 20s to try in the new room.

Another idea, which I have read works great for this, for not much $$$ are diy high efficiency BIB (or similar) speakers.

And of course there are always headphones.
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post #15 of 17 Old 03-27-2008, 07:00 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whoaru99 View Post

I believe Pass Labs makes, or has something to do with, and an amplifier called "First Watt" claiming that is the entire focus of the design - ultimate purity in the range of power most used.

First Watt

Yeah, I came across First Watt through some other path. I wasn't aware that there is something like "First Watters" who maintain that the first few watts are the most important, and that one has to make sure that those are clean. I then learned that there are amps that primarily provide "clean voltage", whereas others focus on providing "clean current". I haven't gotten my head around all that yet, but it seems that's where the issues are.

Thinking back, I have never really cranked up the volume on my current receiver (an older Pioneer with 50W per channel) to more than about a third of the dial. I think a high-quality amplifier with anywhere between 5 and 25W per channel would do just fine for me (as well as probably the majority of people out there).

Best - MM
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post #16 of 17 Old 03-27-2008, 07:28 AM
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On mass market receivers, half way on the volume knob is approaching clipping, so you didn't have much reserve power left, once you reached the 1/3rd position. Be careful choosing one of the low wattage amplifiers, you may have been using more power than you think. The most important factor in listening at low levels is room treatment. Also, make sure the preamp/receiver/integrated has a balance control. Many amps don't provided balanced output at extremely low volume. Idealy, you want an amp with a "Loudness" button. Sadly, contour networks are taboo today, but someone in your position will have to compensate for the effects of the Fletcher-Munson curve.
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post #17 of 17 Old 03-27-2008, 12:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FMW View Post

Any amplifer with a S/N ratio of 75 db or better will do just fine.

Any cheap receiver will give you SN of 75 dB. The better preamps and amps will go over 100 dB for SN. In general at low volumes your speakers come into play more than your room, depending on how close you sit, but with a small room acoustics becomes more of an issue, and you have a very small room, so absorbption at the first reflections on the side and both end walls are something to consider. And of course you want speakers with high sensitivity - 90 dB or higher; not sure if yours fit that. $800 will only get you so much, but you could do a lot worse than to look for an Audio Refinement (by YBA) pre, amp, or integrated, such as this:

http://cls.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls....ran&1209489662

Or this:

http://cls.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls....ran&1209098042

"The truth is out there!"
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