High-efficiency speakers and high-power amps?

I've been wondering what's up with single-driver, high-efficiency speakers, but my current rig is quite the opposite: low-efficiency speakers with high-power amps. Is there any reason why I couldn't -- or shouldn't -- try out a pair of high-efficiency, single-driver speakers, without buying a new amp, just to see what I think? If I were to plug in a pair of, say, Omegas or Zu speakers, would I get a sense of what all the fuss is about by simply keeping the volume turned down low, or would I be missing something unless I were running little 6.7-watt tube amps, or some such?


-- Howard
There'd be no harm but for sure the sound will vary and likely significantly. The amplifier-speaker interaction determines the sound, low power tubes yield a different presentation from high power solid state. Which is better is up to you. With very sensitive/efficient speakers you're often listening to only the first watt of power or just fractions of that single watt. Try it and listen.
I thought I've read here (maybe it was from Duke) that amps with high negative feedback don't behave well with high efficiency speakers. That might be something you should keep in mind. I've played my high efficiency speakers with a few different SS and tube amps. Obviously they really shine with the tubes and that is where the magic is. They were okay with all the solid state amps except for one...a Class D amp which really made the speakers sound bad.
As long as you are careful it will be fine. You don't want to blow the drivers.

But the main reason people use low power amps is because they tend to have less amplifier stages. This can mean a purer the sound.
If you have a push-pull amp (unless its one of ours) the distortion will increase at a certain minimum power level maybe 5 or 10 watts) and then *increase* at power levels below that.

The distortion is audible and obscures low level detail. This will *seem* to make the larger amp seem less detailed, and happens whether it is a tube or transistor amp.

This is why smaller amps are often used on higher efficiency loudspeakers.

SETs and our amps are built in such a way that distortion decreases linearly to zero as power is decreased. This makes such amplifiers a good match when used on high efficiency speakers. You might often be using less than a watt most of the time- and with no distortion (or so little as to be unmeasurable) the result will be greater transparency and 'magic'.

Of course its not really magic, its just physics :)
Let me suggest that you take a different approach and just commit to changing over to a high efficiency system. If you base your results on the sound quality you get from a mismatched system you have gained nothing. Chances are this amplifier will not mate well with whatever high efficiency speakers you are listening to because that is not what it was designed to do.

Over many years of stereo shopping, swapping and fiddling I have come across one fundamental truth in the pervasive quest for great sound. And that truth is.....42 (bad joke - but some will get it). That truth is to find a system that has really really good low level resolution. Put another way, if you play your stereo at fairly low volumes and still hear everything clearly to the point that the music takes you there, you have it.

There may be a wide variety of systems that do this but I have found that the cheapest way to get to this benchmark is through high efficiency speakers.

The best way to start is listen to some high efficiency set-ups, find something you like, then sell your whole system and start to rebuild.

One plus with high efficiency gear is that excellent low power amplifiers are fairly inexpensive compared to their more muscular brethren.

Hope that helps.

As you see Atmasphere made reference to the concept of using 1 watt or often less than 1 watt of power. Just as he said you want to use an amplifier that decreases distortion at these very low power levels. This will result in a sound that's more natural, pure and as a result more realism with less artifacts. These very efficient speakers provide good volume and dynamics with tiny power demands from the amplifier, it's about sonic purity.
What's the motivation for changing?

ITs a pretty safe bet that a change from high to low efficiency speakers, or vice versa, will produce a ripple effect of changes throughout teh system in order to get things tuned in together properly again.

So best to know where your current deficiencies are and what you are shooting before before jumping in too deep.

Of course, if teh goal is to just dabble and listen and learn, then no harm taking it one step at a time, just be prepared to take more as well if needed.

FWIW, I have one pair of fairly efficient/tube amp friendly speakers and various other less efficient and tube amp friendly pair as well.

They all sound similarly very good off my 500 w/ch Class D monoblock amps at all volumes, and similarly good except perhaps at higher listening levels off my 180w/ch TAD Hibachi monoblocks (SS amps designed to perform more like tube amps).

The Higher efficiency, more tube amp friendly pair (Triangle Titus) are the only ones that sound good at moderate to higher volumes off various lower power (20 watt) SS amps I have used at one time or another in the past.

I sold hifi gear in a well known chain years ago. All speakers there always sounded better on more powerful SS amps in any particular line at all volumes. Less power NEVER sounded better. Just a matter of how much was lost at various volumes. I never had a customer move DOWN in a line to a lower power amplifier because it sounded better. They went with smaller amps because they cost less and might still meet their needs mostly. So there you go.

Off course, different lines are of different designs, quality and do sound different at a particular price or power level. So all watts are typically NOT created equal. :^)

Tube amps are a different story. Fewer watts is a much more viable option there with soft clipping and all in many cases. High efficiency speakers get you a lot further in teh tube amp world than they do in the SS realm.

So in summary, high efficiency speakers provide the most VALUE when used with lower power amplifiers, tube or SS.

Not to say they might not work as well or better with bigger amplifiers still, just that the unique value proposition is not as great in that case.

The best amps to use with HE speakers are probably teh ones DESIGNED by the maker to sound best with HE speakers.

These will typically be fewer watts but cost per watt is often much higher. So those watts had BETTER be better ones that get you a lot further, right? :^) Otherwise, why would one pay more for less? HE speakers are needed to enable that.

However one goes about matching things up, its the overall synergy in the end towards meeting individual's expectations that wins.
Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful responses. I asked mostly out of curiosity, not because I'm terribly unhappy with something in my current setup. I guess the best way to proceed would be simply to find a high-efficiency, single-driver system I can listen to.

-- Howard
Single driver speakers are a unique breed with a unique coherence to the sound hard to replicate with multiple drivers, crossovers and the lot. Definitely fertile ground to experiment in with promise of some unique pleasures.

Cain and Cain (no longer in business?) is the line that has always caught my eye and seemed to offer a lot of value, but there are many others out there as well. I've always thought the Abbys to be a most unique looking package, and would own a pair just for that though I'm certain the sound would be an extra bonus. :^)

Good luck!
Hey Map, if you ever end up in my neighborhood, you're welcome to stop by and listen to my Abbys.