Low-sensitivity speakers — What's special about them?


I'm building a system for a smaller room (need smaller bookshelves), and I did a bunch of research and some listening. I am attracted both to the Dynaudio Evoke 10's (heard locally) and the Salk Wow1 speakers (ordered and I'm waiting on them for a trial). I have a Rel 328 sub.

Here's the thing — both of those speakers are 84db sensitivity. Several people on this forum and my local dealer have remarked, "You should get a speaker that's easier to drive so you have a wider choice of power and can spend less, too."

That advice — get a more efficient speaker — makes sense to me, but before I just twist with every opinion I come across (I'm a newbie, so I'm pathetically suggestible), I'd like to hear the other side. Viz.,

QUESTION: What is the value in low sensitivity speakers? What do they do for your system or listening experience which make them worth the cost and effort to drive them? Has anyone run the gamut from high to low and wound up with low for a reason?

Your answers to this can help me decide if I should divorce my earlier predilections to low-sensitivity speakers (in other words, throw the Salks and Dyns overboard) and move to a more reasonable partner for a larger variety of amps. Thanks.
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Showing 8 responses by hilde45


I've not bought any power yet. Thanks for the replies. I understand the technical trade offs better, now. If one had the bass covered by a subwoofer, it seems there’s no positive, specifiable, aesthetic reason to prefer low sensitivity speakers. I think that captured every remark so far, no?
@andrew -- I looked long and hard at Ascend Acoustics. They have great deals and what seems like amazing speakers.

@melvinjames The goal for me would be to avoid exactly what you describe by buying enough power. My understanding was that if there’s enough "headroom" then one does *not* have to crank things up to get the response needed for engaging sound. Perhaps I had that wrong, but that’s what I thought I learned in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th8CxTk22pY
The advice to get speakers that I enjoy and then find the amps to match is how I was initially going forward.  It was the warning that I might be boxing myself in that caused me to reconsider the speakers that I had heard and enjoyed. But there are more speakers out there and some of them might be higher efficiency...so there’s no harm in just doing more listening! Of course if some delightful and expensive tube amplifiers really make a big difference to the sound, well, then, it might not hurt to consider that as a potential orienting factor for the speakers! You see how I get turned around and around! Still, it makes sense to start with the speakers. 
@aewarren Can't argue with your logic. For me, the key factor is the most revealing order-of-discovery, if you will.
I get a better sense of speakers by swapping them in and out and keeping the amp constant.
I am not sure if the experienced change would be nearly as great if I kept the speakers constant and swapped out the amps.
This latter factor is difficult because I am not sure which speakers to get yet! I need to choose them first. Then, I'll choose among a few amps for the best component fit/match.
Down the road, I can upgrade/change speakers as long as I have enough power or a fairly flexible kind of power.
@larry5729  I will. I’m glad you think the Salks will be good. I went listening today to some amps... and heard some Spendor A4s and some Elacs S61. They didn’t do much for me, though they sounded good. Looking forward to getting the Salks, someday. I ordered them Jan 9. 
Thanks. I'll try to watch the video. Extended auditions are in order. 
Thanks, unsound. That helps me make a bit more sense of the measurement which the page for the speakers I ordered list. I bought them for the reputation and reviews --and the notion they'd be sized well for my listening room, which was confirmed by the maker. It was only later on that I realized the sensitivity was low. Here are the stats/landing page for that speaker. http://www.salksound.com/model.php?model=WOW1
That aspect @phusis "a live sound imprinting" is significant. Thanks for putting it that way. Another, good metric to judge speakers by; very useful.