My Reference 3A de Capos sound pretty good low volume, nice dynamics.
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My feeling is that this is best achieved by reasonably efficienct speakers and low wattage amps. I have Coincident Super Eclipse (94db/w/m) and 300B-based SETs and listen a lot at low volumes - I'm an apartment dweller.
Obviously you have to avoid speakers that take a bit of welly to get up and go.
I agree with Beavis, I've gone from Vandersteens to Magnepan 3.6r's and both needed at least 85+db spl to sound dynamic with my Classe 400 watt amp.
After listening to speakers with no crossovers with high efficiency along with tube amplification there is no going back.My ears thank me for it.
Check out the Zu Audio speakers as they might do well with the gear you already have.
I see what you mean, Rrog, but you know, if the room is DEAD silent, the level needed for good sound decreases dramatically.
Late at night, when I can hear a single car pass on the main street 3 blocks away, that is when you can hear far into the music. And do so at a level that won't disturb a sleeping person in the next room.......
I think that in generally a speaker that is not laid back and perhaps even forward sound better at low volume. Not to much bass either. If the bass is tipped up or heavy then the highs can sound tipped down and lost at low volume. Also heavy bass tends to wake up neighbors. Mine tend to get angry and have NRA stickers on their car. That combo can ruin a good listening session.
Dealer disclaimer: I am a dealer for Sonist, deHavilland, Esoteric and Kubala-Sosna
I like certain higher efficiency horn systems for very good low level clarity and "jump" (dynamics). But, one has to like horn sound to begin with or find the relatively few such systems that don't have as much of horn coloration or assemble a system from parts.
For more conventional systems I think you should look at something like the Reference 3A (someone mentioned it above), perhaps a classic box-type Spendor (not their floorstanding speakers) or Audionote speakers.
Electrostatic speakers, such as Quads, sound really good at low volume because of their clarity and their speed (good at small dynamic changes). They also have the advantage of being dipole speakers. With dipoles, there is a back wave that is in opposite phase to the front wave. The two waves tend to cancel out at the sides and significantly less energy is put out into the room outside of where the speakers are aimed. When I changed from electrostatic speakers to my current dynamic system (horn midrange, cone woofer, bullet-type tweeter) I was surprised at how much louder was the leakage into other rooms. Magnepans (planar magnetic) are also dipoles, but, they tend to need to be played a little bit louder before the music starts to "jump" so I don't know if they would work for you (but otherwise, they are terrific sounding and not too expensive).
I have Quads (2805) precisely because I live in an apartment where low level detail is much more important than high SPL and deep bass. I think any ESL will do but the newer Quads are a lot easier to use.
Tubes are often recommended but I prefer my Pass Aleph 30 to the two tub amps I have tried. Later versions of this or the XA30 should work nicely.
I just sold a pair of Zu Essence and the first thing I noticed going to my new pair was that they don't have that EFFORTLESS sound that the Essence's had. Retrieval of low-level detail was astonishing with the Essence and I think that is what makes late-night listening (or in my case VERY early morning listening), enjoyable. Yes, they are 97 db/ 12 ohm which makes them very easy to drive. They had so much impact and dynamics at low volumes. I didn't know it until it was gone. Very underrated speaker.
Hey Audiofeil, you are always so careful not to mention products that you carry in order to avoid any appearance of shilling but The Audio Note AN-E speakers are pretty hard to beat with a nice tube setup. I have had several pair of Harbeths in my room and sound very nice but, in my opinion, require a little volume to feel alive. I'm not bashing Harbeth, love em. My pick is the Audio Note speaker.
I have only owned around 6 different high end speakers but the Verity Audio Parsifal Encores which I got a few weeks ago are by far the best for your late night "application". I have the precise same need, since my private listening time is 11pm - 1am when the whole house is asleep. I use 200wpc class a poweramps to drive them.
Wisynet, wow I thought I was pretty familiar with most audio brands and components, but off the top of my head, the "Zu Soul Superfly" might not have been on my short list with say, Proacs, Harbeths and Quads.
Just curious - does anyone have any idea why every time I Google a wackily named audio component that someone is raving about, one of the first hits is invariably www.6moons.com?
Glad to see others are interested in the late night "application" and thank you for replies so far.
Regarding First Watt, this is by Nelson Pass of Pass Labs who is a pretty well known designer.
Audition pairs of the Zu Soul have been requested by three different reviewers who contribute to Stereophile. Also, the Zu Essence was featured on the cover of the Oct 2009 issue of Stereophile. Zu products have been reviewed favorably by Stereophile, Tone, 6moons, Positive Feedback, Soundstage, StereoTimes, and a few others. Perhaps not mainstream, but not unknown.
Sorry if it isn't one of the well known brands, take it or leave it I guess. Would suggest in the future that you add the caveat that you must have heard of it, must have a broad dealer network, no non-mainstream suggestions, etc.
Mentioning brand names will not make sense, as it will be the synergy that would please "your" ears.
I would look into many highly regarded components, known for the above. Need to make sure you have good AC as well. Cables, isolation stands make sense.
For the speakers it depends if you want near field, for which a highly regarded monitor should work. But if you are picky, then a very large speaker with a lot of "surface" area can probably deliver the presense without getting too loud.
Or you can say hell with it and go with headphones, and a good amp. There is a new component out there which will stimulate your speakers/room for you though the headphones, so you can listen at normal volumes, and still get the feel of real stereo.
I have the Carfrae Little Big Horn and my wife says that the sound is louder in the rest of our (150 square meter) house than in my listening seat!!! when I listen at low levels late at night.
I confirm that with all the Lowther back loaded horns that I've heard, there is a strange paradox: full body, clear detail & overall transparency across the other rooms. And this is very annoying ('cause the image is not there any more) so, one may resume that you having a full volume party in your listening seat. -"You are such an unconscious freak"-
I suggest you the following:
VDH "MC SILVER IT Mk III"
Placette "ACTIVE LINE PRE"
Atmasphere "MA-2 Mk 3.1"
A way scaled down version:
Atmasphere "MA-1 Mk3.1"
Transmission Audio "M1i"
Beware for the bright or ringing fault detail and allways look for the maximum clarity, inner calmness & EFFORTLESS (once again)!!! expression.
I agree with Toronto416. I have the Beyerdynamic T1 and the matching A1 headphone amp and that is hard to beat whether playing vinyl or digital at night. No room acoustics to contend with, and can play without worrying about bothering my wife or children. I have a pair of Sennheiser HD650s so my daughter likes to join and listen while doing her homework. Perfect all the way around.