Listening Levels

andycc72

Active Member
I for one find listening to music at lower volumes nowhere near as satisfying as when played reasonably loud. I know that a lot of us (including me) have to listen at low levels often due to partners, neighbours, etc but for me the music only truly comes alive when played at 75b and above (according to my iPhone app).

My current system is way better then any I have had for listening at lower levels and the voicings on the Lyngdorf 1120 allow me to boost the lower range when listening at lower levels which definitely helps, but it doesn't do it for me in the same way. The Special 40's are wonderful but IMO they at their very best when given some welly, which unfortunately I can't do on a regular basis.

Headphones don't work for me either, it's just not the same experience.

My dream of a listening room has now been postponed as the Mrs wants to move instead of doing the current house up (which included converting the garage into a man cave). The trade off is that nay new house must either have a man cave already in situ or the space to build one. First world problems I do realise :)

Foe me this is the most frustrating part of the hobby, like having a high performance car and only regularly driving it above 60 MPH.

Does anyone actually prefer listening at lower levels and have they built their system around being able to do this? I've read Valve Amps perform better at lower volumes.

It's a slow day at work (from home with system playing at low levels so not to annoy the very highly strung neighbour) ;)
 

larkone

Member
According to the wife that was what detached houses are for. Well she did actually say we cannot buy an attached house because of my music and she got to chose the house :clap:
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
There is physics involved here!

dgfkkjaoagkehlhn.png


At lower levels the bass and treble end of your hearing is less sensitive and as this is where we perceive dynamics and stereo imaging listening at lower levels can seem less satisfying. This is the reason for the loudness button on many amps which boosted the low and high frequency bands for lower volume listening.

More good info here - Interactive Frequency Chart by Independent Recording Network – San Francisco Audiophile Society

Interactive version - Interactive Frequency Chart from Independent Recording Network
 

DT79

Well-known Member
The Special 40's are wonderful but IMO they at their very best when given some welly, which unfortunately I can't do on a regular basis.
Absolutely my experience too.
 

andybebbs

Active Member
Andy I get what your saying and listening at low levels don`t do it for me either i like it load when ever i can with a good bass i can feel.
Get yourself a detached house if you can afford it and sod the neighbours mate :D:laugh::rotfl:
 

acgingersnaps

Well-known Member
Headphones don't work for me either, it's just not the same experience.
I live in a midterraced property, mitigated slightly by the fact that the music room's in a rear extension. As a result I can get to the right volume without worrying the neighbours too much. However, later in the evening that might not be the case and especially if the wife's in bed.
My point being, I felt the same way about headphones, then I got the "right" pair of open backed ones and a good headphone amp. A massively improved experience. Not the same, but not worse. Just different. You can get really involved and, with open backed, still get a decent soundstage and airy, open feeling.
 

andycc72

Active Member
Andy I get what your saying and listening at low levels don`t do it for me either i like it load when ever i can with a good bass i can feel.
Get yourself a detached house if you can afford it and sod the neighbours mate :D:laugh::rotfl:
I can spring to a semi in outer London but the detached is just outside of my budget unfortunately 😉
 

andycc72

Active Member
I live in a midterraced property, mitigated slightly by the fact that the music room's in a rear extension. As a result I can get to the right volume without worrying the neighbours too much. However, later in the evening that might not be the case and especially if the wife's in bed.
My point being, I felt the same way about headphones, then I got the "right" pair of open backed ones and a good headphone amp. A massively improved experience. Not the same, but not worse. Just different. You can get really involved and, with open backed, still get a decent soundstage and airy, open feeling.
I bought and sold two pairs of headphones … some open backed AKG’s which were a tad analytical for my tastes and a pair of Meze 99 Classics which I liked more than the AKG’s but was never using.

I’m sure a decent headphone amp would improve the experience. Maybe something for the future:
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
Does anyone actually prefer listening at lower levels and have they built their system around being able to do this? I've read Valve Amps perform better at lower volumes.

I find my hifi amp is very good at low levels if I am seated in the ideal spot (Yamaha A-S2100). The best for low level is still probably my near field monitoring (left over from my producer/dj days) which manages to make music feel like it has been injected into your head :)

As for prefer - depends what I am doing. There is a certain level below which I find music really helps me to concentrate, but too loud and it distracts. I used to be able to get away with near club levels in my living room without upsetting anyone - small detached house and until recently due to council flogging off land to builders didnt have anyone behind that was close enough to hear it. (I thought we had a planning process in this country? - apparently not...)
 
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Gray3

Active Member
Foe me this is the most frustrating part of the hobby.
...and for me and many others Andy.
This is a discussion I've had on a couple of other hi-fi forums. Naturally, the subject of attached neighbours comes up....and it's a depressingly familiar story.
Those that have had 'the knock', on the door (or wall) know that it can ruin lives - of all those involved.
Believe it or not though, there are some who hold conversations or read books whilst 'listening' to music. WTF is that all about?
I either listen to music, or it's off. People have pointed out to me that their systems sound good at lower levels (and so they should for the price some have paid).

But I ask them the question and I'll ask it here:
Is there anything (decent) that doesn't sound better when louder? (Not talking stupid loud, but at realistic, well above background, level).

Sadly, the full potential of so much kit is rarely (or never) heard.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I bought and sold two pairs of headphones … some open backed AKG’s which were a tad analytical for my tastes and a pair of Meze 99 Classics which I liked more than the AKG’s but was never using.

I’m sure a decent headphone amp would improve the experience. Maybe something for the future:
I prefer listening on my main system with the speakers but I do enjoy the headphone experience, certainly late at night when the wife is in bed. Now I have a completely separate system for headphone listening. Standalone headphone amps do make a big difference.
 

andycc72

Active Member
...and for me and many others Andy.
This is a discussion I've had on a couple of other hi-fi forums. Naturally, the subject of attached neighbours comes up....and it's a depressingly familiar story.
Those that have had 'the knock', on the door (or wall) know that it can ruin lives - of all those involved.
Believe it or not though, there are some who hold conversations or read books whilst 'listening' to music. WTF is that all about?
I either listen to music, or it's off. People have pointed out to me that their systems sound good at lower levels (and so they should for the price some have paid).

But I ask them the question and I'll ask it here:
Is there anything (decent) that doesn't sound better when louder? (Not talking stupid loud, but at realistic, well above background, level).

Sadly, the full potential of so much kit is rarely (or never) heard.
It ALWAYS sounds better louder, without exception.
 

Hixs

Distinguished Member
I live in the middle of nowhere with the closest neighbour around 500m away, so I can go either way.
 

Craig uk

Well-known Member
Whilst I agree louder is better there’s also a lot be said about how well your system performs at low volume IMO. From my experience some passive systems can struggle to sound good at lower levels - they need to be in the sweet spot where the amp & speakers are comfortably working together before they really come on song.

This was quite apparent to me when I started exploring active speakers from Meridian & Linn, I started to enjoy music at very modest volume levels - with my previous passive systems I was always turning up louder & louder because they just didn’t give me the same satisfaction at low levels. I remember hearing 5200SE for the first time at Analogue Seduction, I played a few tracks at low volume to start with, I was hearing stuff that I’d never noticed before at any volume on my passive system - it was a proper eye opener.

I’m in a detached house at the end of a culdesac so I can play as loud as like - which usually occurs after a few beers on a Friday night:D
 

andycc72

Active Member
I live in the middle of nowhere with the closest neighbour around 500m away, so I can go either way.
Superb set-up. Quite envious ….
 

T1berious

Member
The bane of the audiophile, neighbours...

I play music loud enough to enjoy but not so loud the neighbours are writing to the council or informing the nearest MP.

I have discovered a decent (or in my case, entry level) headphone amp and a decent set of cans (or 2) make all the difference if you either have neighbours or fancy some late night listening.

Also handy when SWMBO is in bed and doesn't want loud electronica disturbing her slumber.
 

gava

Active Member
I'm very lucky that even though I'm in London in an apartment the build means I am on the top floor with no neighbours adjoining and thick brick walls so I can play fairly loud - no complaints so far from neighbours in 3 years.

It does mean however that, especially with the windows open, the background ambient is much higher than I would prefer.

My speakers too only really come alive at higher volumes. With classical that's with the average volume around 85dB - mainly I'd say because there are quiet passages at 65-70 and loud at 95-100 in a symphony if the average is 80-85, with rock/pop I probably set the average to around 80dB, and with electronic I love the bass so back at 85-90.

I suspect that active speakers would make a big difference.
 

Yorkshire AV

Active Member
AVForums Sponsor
A quick browse of the thread - I don't see anyone mentioning speaker sensitivity for lower volume listening. The OP refers to valve amps - but generally speaking one has to partner a valve amp with a speaker that's got a higher level of sensitivity for a successful outcome!

For example a 15w tube amp wouldn't be able to drive reasonably a set of bookshelf speakers at 85db or floor standers at 89db sensitivity.

I find the mark of a good system is one that is well balanced - and allows quality playback at less than your average listening volume.

Whenever we're doing demos, I let the customer set the volume. We then slowly wind it back and focus on details/nuances between different configurations. I'd say the average listening level we set is about 87db for two channel and 95 in the cinema department.
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
A quick browse of the thread - I don't see anyone mentioning speaker sensitivity for lower volume listening. The OP refers to valve amps - but generally speaking one has to partner a valve amp with a speaker that's got a higher level of sensitivity for a successful outcome!

For example a 15w tube amp wouldn't be able to drive reasonably a set of bookshelf speakers at 85db or floor standers at 89db sensitivity.

I find the mark of a good system is one that is well balanced - and allows quality playback at less than your average listening volume.

Whenever we're doing demos, I let the customer set the volume. We then slowly wind it back and focus on details/nuances between different configurations. I'd say the average listening level we set is about 87db for two channel and 95 in the cinema department.

Point well made, on other more techie speaker sites it is often suggested that you use high sensitivity speakers (they tend to have lighter cones in the woofers), larger speaker area (greater sound pressure) and high damping factor amps for a more dynamic sound and for listening at lower levels.

Out of interest, the figures you quote for demo volume, how are those measured and at what distance from the speakers. 95dB(assume A weighted average) at the seating position is blooming loud (base on on HSE advice this level gives you under an hour listening before you have a high probability of permanent hearing damage). Even 87dB(A) is very loud (4hrs before damage and in the workplace would have to wear mandated hearing protection for an 8 hour shift), I tend to listen around 70-75dB(A) at my seating position which is a moderate listening level for me.
 
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Yorkshire AV

Active Member
AVForums Sponsor
I should have clarified the above: the numbers above are peak. That's measured at 3m from the LCR's and 1.7m from the sides/surrounds. That's based on REW (UMIK1) through our calibrations. Those figures were then mapped into our control system (i.e. 100% volume peaks at 95dB) though the amps are not at 100%.

On the two channel, listening distance is 2.5 - 3m. Customers choose their seating distance based on their environments.
 

Hixs

Distinguished Member
I'm 105w (measured as high as 136w independently) into 8ohm/91.5db with a dip down to 2.9ohm.

Amp has damping factor of 30

I've never measured the sound level so can only quote volume given via amps display.

0 is reference
+15 is max
-75 is muted/silent

I usually listen around -40/45db but will dip down to -55 for background music.

Distance around 8.5ft
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
@Yorkshire AV that makes sense 95dB peak at the seating position is probably about 75dB average.

@Hixs again that sounds about right, reference is probably around 105-110dB so take 40-45dB off that then you are again around the 75dB mark at seating position.
 

gava

Active Member
Health and Safety A-weighted ratings at dangerous levels (in the 1-5kHz range) are almost impossible to sustain in a living room environment without going mad long before you are in danger of going deaf.

Hearing damage from loud music is common in rock musicians and people who work in clubs & venues, but not easy to achieve on hifi systems - they are simply too loud at volumes that can cause hearing damage. "Listening fatigue" is your body telling you the music is too loud. Also note that even very loud bass well over 100dB is not at all dangerous even for long periods.

I often listen to drum and bass music very loud and if a track suddenly has a lot of treble in it then I am immediately reaching to turn down the volume as it's simply too loud. So my average listening of 85dB SPL from a smartphone meter in the seated position - most of that is bass-weighted, and not dangerous at all.

This is well worth listening to:

 

gava

Active Member
A quick browse of the thread - I don't see anyone mentioning speaker sensitivity for lower volume listening. The OP refers to valve amps - but generally speaking one has to partner a valve amp with a speaker that's got a higher level of sensitivity for a successful outcome!

For example a 15w tube amp wouldn't be able to drive reasonably a set of bookshelf speakers at 85db or floor standers at 89db sensitivity.

I find the mark of a good system is one that is well balanced - and allows quality playback at less than your average listening volume.

Whenever we're doing demos, I let the customer set the volume. We then slowly wind it back and focus on details/nuances between different configurations. I'd say the average listening level we set is about 87db for two channel and 95 in the cinema department.

The Concept 300 speakers you sold me are only 84dB sensitivity, but I'm driving them with a decently powerful amplifier.
  • 8 Ohms Per Channel, Stereo: 220W
  • 4 Ohms Per Channel, Stereo: 400W

They sound fine when played softly, but they really come to life as the volume increases - the clarity and soundstage just expands as big as you want. Sometimes it feels like I control the volume so that the soundstage sounds like what I would expect from the recording. If I'm playing a symphony I push up the volume until it sounds like I'm in a concert hall, if it's an acoustic set I set the volume until it sounds like I'm in a bar, and if it's electronic music I adjust until it sounds like a club.

They are definitely speakers that sometimes need a powerful amplifier to sound at their best.

I was listening to this last night - I've never been to Notre Dame, but I have listened to music in cathedrals and churches, so I adjusted the volume until the space felt vast. The peaks were loud, but the soft subtleties were there too because the volume was right.

1633870457562.png
 

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