Low Level, Nearfield Nirvana?

I recently purchased a pair of highly recommended Genelec powered neafield studio monitors for use with the MIDI output of a Steinway baby grand.

The good news is that it is very enjoyable to have these nearfield monitors on top of the piano, to play and to listen to CDs and the piano and the close proximity means they can be played at low volumes which comes in handy to me as a nocturnal apartment dweller. And I find something very intimate and seductive about listening so closely to the speakers.

The bad news is that to my audiophile ears, they sound like crap and could cut diamonds with their tweeters. Maybe it is just the fact that my sources are being run through a Mackie mixer or with a CD changer but the sound is really very fatiguing. I suppose for $1000.00 I shouldn't expect Jadis and Magneplanar sound....

But it makes me wonder -- do any of your systems -- especially nearfield set ups -- really sound MAGICAL at low volumes?? That would really impress me. And I would love to hear all about it.

Even systems that have sounded wonderful to me often get washed out at volumes already well above ones that maintain good relationships with urban neighbors.

Any secrets for the ultimate late night city (or sleeping spouse/children?) configuration?

Thank you.
Headphones! :-)
Hi CW. I use ProAc Tablette 50 Signatures, which are small mini monitors and very my listening between nearfield and a bit further back. I don't know if there are any secrets to nearfield listening. I'm still learning myself.

In general I prefer sitting back a ways because I like the soundstage pushed back a bit, but there are times when I scoot my rolling listening chair up and have some fun. In nearfield I feel the the soundstage grows in width, and the center locks in much better. Sitting further back, the stage is deeper and I feel overall more relaxed. My speakers are pretty easy to drive, so that helps quite a bit. I noticed with past solid state systems, that at lower volumes, the midrange seemed to get sucked out, but now that I'm using a tube preamp I don't experience this. It may have nothing to do with tube vs. SS, maybe just the gear I was comparing.

Yes, I'm able to lower the volume in nearfield, but I hate being so close to my gear. It's just a matter of personal preference. Many people prefer listening up close and personal. I'm just not one of them. Good luck!
I listen exclusively in the nearfield due to the size of my listening room. I recommend setting your system up along the long side of the wall. This has been very sucessfull in my room and allows the soundstage to open up since the speakers are not as close to the corners/walls. I too listen at lower volume late at night and after changing out many pieces of gear throughout the years I am currently most satisfied with my 45 watt Audio Research VT-50 driving my ProAc 1SC's. Good luck!
Hmmmmmm.......interesting that we have two votes already for Proacs.

Would anyone vote for electrostatics for low volume magic?
I recently heard the new Quads being played through Quad amps and thought they sounded pretty good, if not very punchy.

As mentioned in my other posts, I am a Magneplanar fan and look forward to soon receiving a newly restored pair of Tympani IVs but maggies do sound better cranked up a bit, in my experience...

Any other ideas?
I use two sets of speakers that while both planar, couldn't be more different in their presentation. My heavily modified Maggie MGIIIA's sound wonderfull cranked, with a huge and dimensional soundstage. But for near-field magic and intimacy at lower volumes, I have heard nothing that equals my Stax F-81 electrostatics. Also fabulous soundstage, but much smaller, and arguably more realistic than the Maggies'; with a midrange purity that is approached only by the original Quads in my experience, and fast, fast, fast.

Incidentally, a good friend is also a Timpany IV owner, who has tried a bewildering number of different amplifiers with them. To my ears, the only amps that he has tried that allow the Maggies to not sound hazy and a little veiled at low volumes, have been Jadis monoblocks. Great speakers, nonetheless; and if you want increased transparency at low volumes, I strongly encourage you (if you haven't done so already) to upgrade the crossover caps, and ideally the entire crossover networks. The inprovement in transparency is not subtle.

You might want to try an audiophile speaker instead of the Genelecs, which are considered "professional" monitors. There is a difference between the two. Pro monitors attempt to be very detailed and faithful to the source, where most audiophile speakers attempt to do that same thing in a pleasing way. The monitors are designed for nearfield listening, but they will usually be more clinical sounding. You may also want to try some other brands of pro-monitors. They're a lot like audiophile speakers in the way that they all have different strengths and personalities. The "Genelec Sound" may not be for you. I've seen pro audio sites where people disliked Genelecs, and preferred Audix or Tannoy monitors instead. There are plenty of options.
You might want to try a digital graphic eq. The classic approach for near field is to introduce a 'room curve' which is a 3dB/octave attenuation above 2kHz (some people use 2dB/octave). If they still sound harsh, a reduction at 2kHz (the 'presence' range) might also be necessary. Personally, I wouldn't use Genelecs for near-field monitoring without such an eq.
Try Soliloquy speakers, small musical 2 way that do not need much power and create magic and definition with small input levels...2A3's and 5.0's have been well reviewed.
My suggestion is warm-voiced full-range electrostats. In my experience good electrostats have superb clarity at low volumes, so you can hear everything that's going on. I often listen at 50-60 dB, and I can hear everything that's going on. You want a warm voiced speaker (like the Sound Labs or Original Quads) because the ear has a harder time hearing low frequencies at low volumes. The dipole bass of a full-range electrostat will minimize the amount of bass propagated through walls to bother people; you'll be putting 5 dB less bass out into the environment than with conventional speakers. With tall line-source approximating electrostats like the Sound Labs I sell, the volume falls off more slowly with distance, which would be a slight drawback late at night. The generally point-source approximating Original Quads wouldn't have this problem. The 63's are also a possibility, but the Originals sound sweeter.

So my suggestion for the ultimate late night nirvana speaker would be a pair of Original Quads. To warm them up a bit, shorten the legs so they sit closer to the floor or give them a solid stand to eliminate cancellation between the bottom of the speaker and the floor. And if you want the ultimate in clarity, have Ben Openshaw, aka The Electrostatic Doctor, replace the stock diaphragms with lighter, thinner diaphragms and perhaps even give you dual power supplies, one for the bass panels and one for the treble panel. The only potential disadvantage of the Original Quads in this application is their narrow sweet spot, but for the kind of listening it sounds like you're contemplating that might not be an issue.

Best of luck in your quest!