In general, high-efficiency speakers and electrostatics do a better job with low-level resolution and liveliness. Of course, there are exceptions to this generalization.
With high-efficiency speakers, note that you want one that doen't have a thin, bass-shy tonal balance, as this will become even more apparent at low volume levels due to the ear's reduced sensitivity to bass at low levels.
Maggies , even, mmgs, properly driven, are hard to beat at low volume. Even at higher volumes, they will tend to disturb the neighbors less than dynamic designs.
Apogees would be an interesting pick as well.
One of the reasons that I have Quad (2805) is that they sound excellent at low volumes (I live in an apartment). The low-level detail and overall natural sounds is incredible. Maximum sound level could be a limitation, but I don't know how loud you want to play.
Another suggestion is the Linkwitz Orion which I would have picked if ability to play loud was on my list of priorities. Very good low level detail, very deep and natual bass and can play really loud. It is at the high end of your range, but that does include the amps.
"Another suggestion is the Linkwitz Orion which I would have picked if ability to play loud was on my list of priorities."
Ohm Walsh speakers are another option in this case.
dynamics at low volume....arrive without traveling.
Another thing I can offer is that Dynaudios sound very good at low volumes for a conventional dynamic design. Triangles are even better.
I guess having a powerful amp is part of the equation too...
I used to set my Maggies about 4 feet apart, facing each other and lie down between them at 0 dark30. It was like the best headphones I ever had....sound was full/open and perfect.
AudioKinesis, Makes a hi quality loudspeaker in your price range. The design looks to be usable in near field or at low levels. Dukes a great guy to deal with and hes right about hi-med eff designs. Another option is a PHY or large full range driver loudspeaker, no crossovers = easy to drive at low levels, while still sounding full, no need to turn up to get even frequency. I enjoyed stats maggies for many years but dipoles, bi poles designs flood room with SPL sure can sound good at low levels but sound can travel a bit. If low level is to keep from bothering others than maybe not so good. If you just like music played at low levels and don't have others to bother than stats maggies might be worth a listen. With all things. YMMV.
As Duke noted, you're fighting the Fletcher-Munson curve at low volumes.
If you're an apartment dweller going the dynamic "cone" transducer route (assuming a somehat small listening room):
- high efficiency 2 ways
- good small footprint stereo subs designed for music, not ht
- rat shak spl meter
Use the rat shak spl meter to equalize relative volumes of the 2 ways and subs at your preferred listening volume.
I'm not fond of a single sub, as harmonics extend well above 60hz, rendering the subs localizable. If adjacent to your mains, you won't notice if blended well.
It's a bit of a complicated setup, but there's no getting around the reality of how we "hear" at low volumes. It's the loudspeaker paradigm I use, being a low volume listener myself. I have a moderate sized room in a single family home, so can use a 2 way line array for a nice combination of high efficiency and "dynamics" ability.
I've not lived with 'stats, so can't comment on whether they could simplify matters for low volume apartment listening.
That PHY driver has a very warm and rich tonal balance, sounds lovely at low and medium levels, will play loud better than most fullrange drivers, and in a good cabinet it would be an excellent choice in your situation. In my experience with that driver, getting the cabinet right is critical to good tonal balance and good articulation. Johnk makes very very good cabinets. This is a very different direction from Dynaudio and Dali, but imho would better serve in this case.
I was in your position at one point and live in an apt. Look no further than the Gallo's 3.1 ref. Very dynamic, sounds great at low volume and not too big. Had the maggies 12 before and though vocal transparancy sounded amazing, it lacked dynamics.
Well, how big is your apartment? There are probably no better low-level speakers available than the Soundlab electrostatics... :-)
I believe that it has to do with their patented spacing of the cells that make up each panel. Just amazing to listen to at both low and high levels!
My room is mid size, maybe 17 by 12 feet..thanks for all the inputs
Question for Kevinc - Regarding Gallo's 3.1, I've read you need a seperate sub amp, is that true? I have Nu Vista 275 wpc amplifier...
I've owned/own some speakers that do what you are asking
1) Tonian TLM-1 (high sensitivity PHY driver as others have pointed out)
2) Exemplar Horns (very high sensitivity two way)
3) Audio Note ANE/SEC silver (high sensitivity two way)
4) Beauhorn Virtuoso (Very high sensitivity single driver)
5) Lamhorn w/AER MK-1 (Very high sensitivity single driver....soon to be used with Audiokinesis/Duke's swarm sub system)
I really liked all these speakers!!
So to confirm what others are saying the high sensitivity is a key and also getting the right associated equipment.
The two sets of electronics which seem to have consistently worked the best for me at low volumes are Tenor OTL's (which I currently use with the Lamhorns) and DNM ss amps and DNM preamps.
In both cases I found these electronics to be supremely transparent and "fast". In other respects you could not imagine two more different designs.
Branislav, regarding the Gallo's 3.1, no you don't need the sub-amp. There are even a couple of article I read that it hinders the performance. I'm running a Rel Strat III subwoofer but even if it's off, the speakers sounds fine. Your NuVista amp is more than enough especially if you're going to listen to music at low volume. I'm running a Audio Research vs110 Wpc and it's fine. Best is to listen for yourself. For the money, it can't be beat.
Depending on the speaker design, you may be able to remove some of the stuffing/polyfill. This may add more bass at low volumes, but will cause them to be boomy at loud volumes.
I auditioned the Dali Mk II model 400 a while back and compared it to similiarly priced dynaudio, martin logans, mags, focal, b&w, and every other speaker I could find in a 50 mile radius - the Dali made it to my short list. I just don't like the ribbon technology. Another very nice sounding set of speakers were the classic line of Spendor.
One thing you may want to consider is the cabinet construction. What may be of interest - when I auditioned B&W 804s and 803s - the only real difference I noticed was in the sound at low volumes - while I have not bothered to conduct extensive research, my 'gut' feeling was that the cabinet construction made all the difference - particurly since in nearly all other respects the speakers are very similar but there was nearly a 30 pound difference in the weight of the speakers.
I am unfamiliar with the amp you are using. However, the amp does make a difference although less so than the speakers and acoustics. Recently there have been two posts where the persons complained of poor low volume sound and both were using Rotel products. That was my impression also when auditioning speakers driven by Rotel vs other amps. The Rotel had plenty of power, just did not sound good at low volumes. Just something for consideration.
Depending on what music you listen to, the absolute best sounding vocals that I heard in months of auditioning were from a classic spendor driven by a low powered tube amp. If I listened to a lot of vocals I would definitely have that system.
Check out Green Mountain Audio speakers. The Callistos sound excellent at low volumes (specifically, they sound great at the lowest volume possible with an Ayre AX-7e integrated). I would expect the Eos and Eos HD to perform even better.
Glide3. How do you manage to play at low volumes? Which DNM pre amps do you own? Mine had a vicious volume pot (series 3) and as there is one pot per speaker it was really tricky getting it just right with efficient horn speakers.Lovely sound though.
I like to thank Branislav for this thread. I'm somewhat in the same boat - apartment dweller.
Branislav, does you amplifier have decent volume pot so as to fine tune/adjust the volume when playing? The volume pot on my amp is not that great (something I'm looking into)...
For me my Altmann dac and Altmann integrated amplifier (20W @4Ohms) both run off 12v car battery. In addition I have (apart from the digital cable) Synergistic Research cabling with active shielding.
I have minimal acoustic treatments with, in each corner, a Echo Buster Corner (triangle) and a Cathedral Sound Panel. This has helped greatly in that the bass is much better controlled in the room and helped with the echoes.
The above two points leads to a much quieter background and hence I can hear more and be involved at lower volumes.
I'm not saying change your amps or cables. It's just my observations on how I've, by accident, manage to listen at somewhat low volumes and still enjoy my music.
Btw my speakers are Kef 103/4's, 91 db eff, 4Ohms. The room is small (14,5'x 16). I've still to treat 1st reflection points and rear walls. I'm also looking at other speakers, mostly out of curiosity and so thanks to all the suggestions thus far.
Question for Musicnoise (or anybody who knows) - coming back to the comparison you mentioned of b&w 804 and b&w 803, I'm assuming it was the latter one that played better at low volume right?
What you really need is a "loudness" button on your pre-amp. Unfortunately, these are rarely found in "hi-end" pre-amps or integrated amps these days. The reason you need the loudness button: Fletcher-Munson effect and your ears. The human ear is most sensitive to mid-range frequencies. The result is that as the overall volume level decreases, you begin to lose the lower and upper frequencies relative to the midrange. That's why you "lose detail" and bottom end bloom when listening at low volumes.
I'm sure the others here will label me a hi-fi heretic for this suggestion but it really is the only realsitic answer to your situation simply because of the non-liner way the ear responds to sound pressure levels. One can approximate the effect of a loudness circuit using a parametric equalizer. That would be a fall-back solution. You can get good info on this online by Googling "Fletcher Munson Effect".
You're not allowed to say the words "loudness button" on THIS site.
Seriously, if you have one, obviously, try it, it might work.
Otherwise I wouldn't go out of my way to get one. They are usually not very flexible. Some units, like older Yamaha units for example, have variable loudness adjustments at least which is better.
If you think you have the right speakers and matching amplification for the application and still are not satisfied, a pre-amp with more flexible tone controls can help. There is another recent thread on "flexible pre-amps" or something along those lines here that you might take a look at.
Harbeths sound great at low volumes - crytsal clear vocals and warmth. They are used in BBC for drama productions etc - great clarity in the midrange without cranking it and enough bass that it won't sound thin at low levels.
Some of the newer McIntosh MX series Pre/Pros have various loudness, you could check to see if their C series has it also.
Branislav: Yes, I found the 803 to sound better than the 804 at low volumes. I performed the same test at one store twice and once at another store. In each case there was only the time to turn off the amp and swap the speaker cables turn the amp back on and play the same piece. And in each case I went back and forth several times. While this sounds like a good test, keep in mind that I was aware of which speaker I was listening to at all times. Hence, you have only my subjective experience. I noticed a difference, but that difference could have been actual or subconciously influenced by my knowledge of which speaker I was listening to and which speaker was more expensive. Obviously, I, the test subject, would be incapable of discerning whether the percieved difference was real or imagined. That being said, I believe that cabinet construction and its effect on sound is something worth investigating as to your application. You may want to look for a true scientific basis for a difference in sound at low volumes due to a more robust cabinet construction.
What are you using for an AMP? What is your source? What kind of music do you listen to?
I'm going to use Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 275wpc amplifier and Musical Fidelity A5 cd player...Music, well, I do listen to pretty much every different type there is, which doesn't help in narrowing it down...about 803S, I've heard them twice, once I was delighted (with Mac), once disappointed (with ???)...
IMHO a nice tubed SET sounds best at low to mid volume. Thats one of its big advantages, you don't crank the volume to enjoy the sweet spot. I have Cain and Cain Abby's and the sound is phenomenal at low to mid volume. The only music that they don't do well is hard rock and LARGE orchestral, and even then they are nice. I am a big jazz fan and they perfect for that.
Yes, I know of what you speak, as the first DNM pre-amp I had presented this issue. When I got the DNM 3-D six Mr. Morecroft was able to set the gain and VC up with much more usable range....I am one of the few that likes the dual VC as it serves as an excellent balance feature and with the expanded range I had no problems dialing it in at low volumes
I was under the impression that DNM could make this "adjust" to any of their pre amps....ut one would have to confirm this
It seems that most everyone missed the point of my post regarding the Fletcher-Munson effect. The fact is that NO speaker will sound the same at both low volumes and high volumes because of this physiological reason. If a speaker sounds full and detailed at low volumes it will sound bloated and hot at moderate/high volumes. What you are seeking does not exist. Really the only way to make this happen is through equalization (like the infamous "loudness" button I mentioned or through a graphic equalizer/tone controls).
Apologies if this has been addresed before in the thread. I´ve read most of it but perhaps I´ve missed one or two.
-- I´ve been reading in the Audiogon threads that something you can do when in this situation --not being able to go to even moderately high volumes-- is get an attenuator? Apparently it can allow you to turn the volume know past 12?
Right now, I am totally having this problem: I just got a pair of Yamaha NS 200M and I am not even able to go from 7 (zero) to eight in the dial!!
What do you think?