Originally Posted by FOH
You're correct, it does depend on one's needs and priorities. That's why I stated that for H/T in particular, the lack of proper dynamic capability limits one's ability to create an immersive experience, that's free from the inherent limitations of low sensitivity speakers. A very specific quality, in a specific application.
Like many of us here, I've been very fortunate having been exposed to an extremely wide variety of equipment. From every live sound pro audio experience you can imagine, studio sessions, and being an avid home audio enthusiast since the 70s, there are two speaker system qualities that I strongly feel all paramount above all others; flat FR, and dynamic capability.
Others obviously feel differently. But when those two qualities are covered, everything else I value comes much easier. Flat FR is somewhat self explanatory, but dynamic capability can be achieved utilizing differing approaches. Beginning with high sensitivity designs, creates a much more fertile environment in which to work.
Lower excursions retain the driver in a more linear envelope, and keeps many types of distortions down to an acceptable level. Keeping power levels down, keep both types of potential compression, magnetic and thermal, to a level at which their contribution is minimized.
Absolutely. Doing this really well though, is somewhat difficult. One of the better dynamic theaters that hit reference level cleanly and with great ease was all Genelec, and it was like $200K of speakers in a medium-large theater space, with I think like 9 subwoofers.
Running some movies with great dynamics is breathtaking in these kinds of systems, the impact you get from explosions or gunshots is amazing.
But, like I said, doing this and doing it with really good SQ overall does not come cheap.
You mentioned amazing spls that are capable from electrostats. I'm not sure what constitutes amazing, however I do know that stats are anything but linear devices. They do have their place however, it's just not in H/T with the inherent dynamics involved.
My statement was confusing, I was referring particularly to the need for large amps for electrostats, rather than SPL so much. A lot of other designs will walk all over them in terms of max SPL they'll hit, but some of the dynamics and high-frequency clarity you can hit with electrostats can be pretty amazing. Obviously you run into problems with the midrange and bass, but for HF they can be very impressive, just require TONS of amplifier power.
I did a system with some of the biggest Martin Logans and a whole bunch massive B&K mono amps for a guy who loved rock/metal, and that system got LOUD, but did it really cleanly. Martin Logans aren't really my taste, but given his goal and music tastes it made a lot of sense and that was actually the first time I was truly impressed with MLs, but mainly because they were being fed by like a 1000 pounds of amplifiers that I spent all day wrestling into place...
I thank you for the electro-static speaker referance, it truly reminds me of my most memorable benchmark in audio. Electrostats in general, Acoustats specifically are what I credit to my pursuit of high end audio. Salesman sat me down in front of the Acoustats, with an Audio Research front end, properly set up room. He put some Spanish guitar LP on a good turntable, closed the sliding door and he left the room...(loved those HiFi Salons)......... My goodness... Magic! I'd never heard anything like this. Palpable, 3D, left to right, front to back....lovely detailed, yet lushly enveloping. I'll never forget the feeling. So he comes back in the room in about 10 minutes. I was smiling ear to ear, and he asked me what I thought. I couldn't really articulate how I felt, but I asked him to turn it up. He chuckled and said "that's as loud as they'll go". Lessen learned; design compromises. I remember the store, the salesman's name (still in the business, afaik), I remeber all the gear they had in that "A" room, and some of the stuff they had in the "B" room as well.
Right. Sometimes it's all compromises, particularly when you don't have an endless budget.
Anyway I can appreciate your feelings toward stats. But for me, an immersive suspension of disbelief can not be achieved in H/T with stats.
btw, can you elaborate on this statement? wrt sensitivity; Honestly, why for good reason would you disregard sensitivity?
Well, like I said it's not necessarily something everyone is looking for.
Just for example, there are some people who like using mid-sized full-range drivers. That's a horribly insensitive design, you're not going to have really any bass to speak of, and you're not going to be able to hit even moderate SPL very cleanly. But it's also the kind of speaker some folks will like to put on tube amps or the like, and I've heard systems like this truly sing on sparse jazz and things like that. That's not my taste, but that would be someone who is going entirely the other direction on sensitivity and dynamic range capability because of the particular sound they're after. Now, obviously that's also someone who is not at all interested in Home Theater use where such a system would be truly crippled, but preference is like anything, really. It's kind of arbitrary.
For me for instance, my mains are Dynaudios which have a pretty lowish sensitivity of 86dB, and are small stand-mounted 2-way speakers. Which also, btw, have a very low 1st odrer xover point for the tweeter. I'm powering them with a decently robust Denon 5308 flagship, but my goals in speakers were entirely oriented for 2-channel audio and what I like best about my speakers is the imaging and the non-fatiguing HF detail. Lots of other speakers I have heard over the years can hit higher SPL, have way more dynamics, etc and I could have spent similar amounts of money on those, but none of them got the imaging and detail right for me. Dynaudios just tickle my fancy, so to speak.
Now, they also double for theater use (and frankly probably get more use on movies than music anyway) and my HT sounds fantastic. But it doesn't hold a candle dynamics-wise to the Genelec theater I mentioned before. I get pretty good dynamics and I don't have any problems even at loud volume with clipping or serious distortion, but there's definitely compression happening because gunshots and things like that are plenty loud but not BANG IN YOUR FACE like a system with truly impressive dynamics.
I could have achieved that, but that was not my goal because I was oriented more towards what I could achieve sonically for music with imaging and detail which is what I really care about. If I had $80K I could have achieved both with some very high-end dynaudios, still not with amazing sensitivity, but given enough amplifier power the capability to hit very high SPL cleanly.
So it's really just all about goals. And if impressive dynamics is a goal, high sensitivity helps with that. But it's not always a primary goal, and you can still achieve that even with lower-sensitivity speakers if they are powered right and have the ability to hit those SPLs.
My main point is that sensitivity is something that really comes down to the listener's goals and needs. I was aware when I bought my speakers that they were lower in sensitivity, and nominal 4ohm speakers and benefitting from more powerful amps. Didn't really phase me because I was buying them for imaging and detail, not for dynamics. Someone else who might be interested entirely in dynamics might do better to pay more attention to that than I did because they have very different goals.