Musical detail at low volumes... - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 03:51 AM - Thread Starter
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I would like to know what causes some speakers to sound good at lower volumes and some to be less revealing.

I have great speakers (B&W, Magnepan, etc.) but when it come to very low volume listening, my $50 Altec-Lancing computer speakers have the edge by far. Even at conversation levels, the notes seem to hang in the air in front of my face. My audiophile gear is much better at higher volumes but the little computer speakers definitely dominate the low volume sounds.
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post #2 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 03:59 AM
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I'm sorry that I don't have any of the info you're looking for and I just stopped by to say: that's so weird, to hear the owner of high-end speakers say what you're saying. Only because I'm curious: what kind of amplification do you use on your fancy speakers?

Once again, I am sorry to take a sledgehammer to so small and fragile a nut. -- Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show On Earth
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post #3 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 05:08 AM
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Not an audiophile and in fact, pretty new to the game. However, for me, a good speaker sounds good at both high, and especially low volume. We have all heard speakers that only sound good at mod-high volume...

Set up #1: EMP e5ti, e5Ci, and SLS Q line Audio surrounds, EMP 10i10i sub
Set up #2: Def Tech SM450, CLR2002, SLS Qline surrounds and Klipsch 12wD sub
Set up #3: JBL130, JBL120C and Klipsch synergy sub
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post #4 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 05:24 AM
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It is the same as a Lamborghini driving awful at slow speeds in stop & go traffic. A Corolla does a better job in stop & go ;-)
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post #5 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 05:52 AM - Thread Starter
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Regarding my "good stuff" I have an Outlaw integrated amp driving the speakers. Good cables, etc. When I play this system at medium volume, the dynamics, sound stage, imaging and general immersion into the sounds is much better.

Brands aside, I'm asking what could cause one speaker to sound more detailed at low volumes than another. I've heard people talk about speakers "coming alive" at certain levels.
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post #6 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 06:06 AM
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Good question and I like the two examples you gave. I'm not an audiophile, and not even close, and this has crossed my mind before.

I believe it has to do the sensitivity of the speakers. Some are low and some are high. B&W speakers are known to be power hungry and not sensitive.

Your computer speakers are designed to be personal and right in your face, which I believe where the sensitivity comes into place.
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post #7 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 06:30 AM
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The answer is that low levels of distortion and background noise are probably masking the low-level sounds and preventing them from being audible with the clarity you would desire.

This can come from the source (CD player, turntable, etc.), or it can come from the amplifier. Speakers can't resolve what they don't receive from the amplifier, and the amplifier is limited by what it is fed.

In your case, I would say that you definitely need a better amplifier to get better low-level resolution, but not knowing about the rest of the system it is hard to say much more.

I can definitely recommend the Musical Fidelity M3i as an excellent hi-rez amplifier, and also Creek amplifiers. My experience tells me you would almost certainly see a big improvement with either of those.

The OPPO BDP-95 CD/SACD player has pretty much redefined CD sound; for $1000, it blows away every player under $10,000 (including my $6000 Ayre, which WAS the very best you could buy). I can't recommend it too highly. There are also some fairly good ones for around $500, but it is in a whole different class...by itself.






Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelkingdom View Post

Regarding my "good stuff" I have an Outlaw integrated amp driving the speakers. Good cables, etc. When I play this system at medium volume, the dynamics, sound stage, imaging and general immersion into the sounds is much better.

Brands aside, I'm asking what could cause one speaker to sound more detailed at low volumes than another. I've heard people talk about speakers "coming alive" at certain levels.

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post #8 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 06:33 AM
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First question: How far away are you listening to each speaker you have?
Second question: If more than one meter, has your room been treated with absorbers and diffusers?
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post #9 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 07:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pureiso View Post

First question: How far away are you listening to each speaker you have?
Second question: If more than one meter, has your room been treated with absorbers and diffusers?

That's what I was thinking, you are sitting much closer to the computer speakers so the rooms reflections aren't nearly as big of a factor as they are with your main setup.
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post #10 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 07:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carp View Post

That's what I was thinking, you are sitting much closer to the computer speakers so the rooms reflections aren't nearly as big of a factor as they are with your main setup.

Yeah, you are well within critical listening distance for the PC speakers.

Also, depending on the position of his B&Ws he is likely getting A LOT of reflections/smearing in the room.
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post #11 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 07:34 AM
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But would the room matter less with higher volume?

Same thing for commsysman's amplifier... he's not complaining about low-level detail at the same time as high-level output is coming through, just the same content at lower volume. I don't think his comment applies here.

As for speakers only coming alive at some high level, that has always sounded silly to me. That's saying that the speakers don't have any dynamic range. I listen to a lot of jazz trios at -40 dB on the volume dial; that would be 0.01W peaks on a 100WPC amplifier. Everything sounds amazing and lifelike, with strings plucked right in front of you and voices hanging in the air.

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post #12 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 07:45 AM - Thread Starter
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I gather there is no ceiling on what can be spent an amps but for the purposes of this topic, I'm comparing a very capable integrated amp with an tiny amp that was packed into a $50 2.1 setup.

http://www.amazon.com/Altec-Lansing-...pr_product_top


I sit about three feet from either Altec speaker and the notes just dance in the air. The image is almost tangible.

Regarding my proper setup, the speakers are on stands, away from the walls, 6-7 feet apart, I sit in an equilateral triangle. At listening volumes they are worlds better than the Altecs but at low volumes, detail seems to be less apparent.

I have heard about speakers designed for near field listening. Maybe this?
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post #13 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 07:56 AM
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Another thing to consider is the frequency response. A laid back midrange will need to be much higher in volume to resolve those frequencies. A flatter or even mid-forward sound signature can be appreciated at lower volumes. Your "hi-fi" gear might have a typical saddle curve while your computer speakers might, in fact, be more balanced. For example, my RC-10's require more volume to bring out the mids due to the greater emphasis on lows and highs. Otherwise, vocals sound distant and hazy.
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post #14 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 08:01 AM
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Maybe you are looking for a differently voiced speaker. Some people don't like a laid-back sound because of the high volumes needed due to recessed vocals while others like the surrounding instrumentation better (cymbals, bass, etc.) It's just a preference thing. I prefer a more balanced, uncolored sound for low volume listening. A lot people, on the other hand, like to crank it.
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post #15 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 08:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psgcdn View Post

But would the room matter less with higher volume?

Same thing for commsysman's amplifier... he's not complaining about low-level detail at the same time as high-level output is coming through, just the same content at lower volume. I don't think his comment applies here.

As for speakers only coming alive at some high level, that has always sounded silly to me. That's saying that the speakers don't have any dynamic range. I listen to a lot of jazz trios at -40 dB on the volume dial; that would be 0.01W peaks on a 100WPC amplifier. Everything sounds amazing and lifelike, with strings plucked right in front of you and voices hanging in the air.

The distance and ambient sound would make a huge difference. With turning up the sound, he is just bringing the noise floor up much higher and is likely why it sounds better to him since the lighter sounds now will come above the ambient noise and can be distinguished from the reflections. With lower volumes, much of the dynamics are lost because of the distance, first reflections, etc.

It sounds like he has his speakers out at least 3' from the wall, which is good since the reverb time is longer. But it is likely that the room is playing a lot into the sound at every volume.
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post #16 of 16 Old 04-12-2012, 08:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelkingdom View Post

I gather there is no ceiling on what can be spent an amps but for the purposes of this topic, I'm comparing a very capable integrated amp with an tiny amp that was packed into a $50 2.1 setup.

http://www.amazon.com/Altec-Lansing-...pr_product_top


I sit about three feet from either Altec speaker and the notes just dance in the air. The image is almost tangible.

Regarding my proper setup, the speakers are on stands, away from the walls, 6-7 feet apart, I sit in an equilateral triangle. At listening volumes they are worlds better than the Altecs but at low volumes, detail seems to be less apparent.

I have heard about speakers designed for near field listening. Maybe this?

Most speaker measurements are taken only 1 meter out, so almost all speakers are designed for closefield listening. However, really good designs will take into account off-axis response, vertical and horizontal.

But the likely cause is distance and ambient noise level. Rooms really mess with the FR, and buying better gear generally will not solve the problems.
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