Low Volumes

I live in Manhattan and live in a modest-sized studio. I'm currently set up with a Cayin A-50T and Totem Rainmakers. I love the sound they produce, but generally only when I increase the volumes to more than moderate levels. Unfortunately, neighbors (including complaining ones) exist. Is there a speaker/amp combo that would give me much fuller, satisfying sound at lower levels? I had vowed to avoid the "upgrade" bug, but feel this is a valid reason. My budget would be $4k-$5k (for both speaker and amp; each used).

Do I need better speakers? Model 1s crossed my mind. Better amp? A Luxman 505u crossed my mind.

Other components (if they matter): Cardas Crosslink interconnects, entry-level nordost bi-wire, Chordette DAC.
Triangle Titus XS (<$400 used) monitors are perhaps the most articulate speakers I have heard at low volume. I would compare these to Dynaudio monitors that I own that are more like Totem and excel at higher volumes. They are also about 90db efficient and are known to mate well with tube amps.

Magneplanars are another good choice but can be harder to position optimally in tight quarters.
I would think about some classic Quad 57's, 63's or the newer 988/9. A Quad tube amp, or Rogue, Cary 120s would work well, and stay within your budget. That's some great sounding stuff there.

I've had quite a bit of kit through the years, and I'm currently in disbelief of my current system: Cardersound Tybone Vs. 1 (Saburo cabinet with Planet10 EnAbled Fostex FE126E drivers), Cardersound Morgan, and the latest Miniwatt amp (N3). Due to the nature of a single driver covering everything, and the Morgan covering 85hz and below, low level listening is the best I've ever had. Any speaker with a crossover will have a sweet spot where the sound comes together. With the Tybone/Saburo, the sound is complete and organic from a whisper to very loud in my 8' X 14' X 9' room.

I've had horn systems that do loud better than any box/cone speaker, but I've never enjoyed low-level listening through them. I have a little over $1,600 invested in amp and speakers, and it is the most involving system I have had. Doesn't matter what type of music, if there is emotion and nuance involved, this system lays it out. When I want to get loud (Green Day - American Idiot), the drums are in the room, and the soundscape is huge.

There had been a pair of homemade Saburos on Audigon a few weeks back - it's a great secret and nobody had scooped them up ($365?). If music is what you chase, try a great single driver and cabinet...

I have another Agon buddy who is quite enamored with his Omega speakers, and I have spent some great times with Ed's Hornshoppe Horns. I think all of these speakers need bass augmentation to be full-range systems.

Good Listening!
>Do I need better speakers? Model 1s crossed my mind. Better amp? A Luxman 505u crossed my mind.

A digital preamp with a decent loudness control would be ideal. Some form of equalization to increase the bottom end would be a step in the right direction.

The equal loudness contours (SPLs at which different frequencies sound like they have the same volume) vary with level so recordings have a range in which they sound right.

If you want to listen at lower volumes, you're going to be out of luck.
Speakers: yes..
I keep my sound level well below 80dB using a radio Shack SPL meter at seated position. usually down around 72 dB.(one thing if you have complaining neighbors: get a rat shack sound pressure level meter. Then you can argue exactly what you sound level is from the seared position, and REPEAT it for a manager etc to hear it. if your music is not measured, you cannot argue and the other person will always be right)
I live in a senior only over55 apts, and I NEVER want to have any complaints ever. So I keep it quiet at all times.
I have Magnepan 3.6, with Bryston 4B-SST2 and other stuff, an additional VAC standard pre.. The big thing is getting the tonal balance at low volume.
Another thing I just got is a great headphone amp. I have Senn HD800s and the 'Notorious' Singlepower (they expode, they kill!) headamp. Love it, using it right now.
Anyway, planar are THE sort of speaker, because they do not push bass through the walls the same as box speakers. (for the same apparent bass performance) I don't know why.. they just do not. I had B&W 805s and at the same volume the low notes would go through the walls. With the Maggie 3.6 i have now, the lows do not travel through the walls.
The very best would be quads, $10,K new, but the new Magnepan 1.7s at $2,000. new. or Magnepan 3.6s $5K new
Maggies take up a LOT of room. i have mine so I can use the space behind them for stuff. You may not have the room for planar speakers in a studio...
The other thing I would mention is small, or really big. The small box speakers may give you the SPL without the bass. then use a sub to CAREFULLY dial in the bass, which, with almost any self-powered sub you can easily adjust. The big thing is Rock you have to cut the bass to survive noise complaint-free, then for classical chamber, folk or Jazz you can turn up the bass in the sub for realistic lows.
Some really big speakers have the ability to run a low levels with a big sound. Klipshorn come to mind, It's IMO the medium and mid-small that cannot, because they ARE smaller, and are designed to play LOUD, they just do not have the right sort of design to play quiet.
So you need really small that are designed to play softly.. or really big, that do not have the design limitations to play softly.
This does not give you very many items to look at, but i hope it helps.
Also, for low volume use tubes.. at least in the preamp. It will give you a more natural sense when playing at lower levels.
The problem is not your amplifier. I had the same experience with Totem Model Ones. They needed a good amount of volume from my Krell KSA 80B for the sound to become balanced.

When Robert Reina reviewed the Cayin A-50T he reviewed it with Monitor Audio Silver RS6 speakers. He said "the Cayin's midrange reproduction was that of an amplifier able to resolve an extraordinary amount of inner detail". "With every recording I played, the highs were pure, extended, airy and delicate, with no trace of coloration."

This detail is what you are missing with the Totem speakers at low volume.

Maybe you should try the Monitor Audio Silver RS6 speakers. They seem to be a good match with your amp.
I think Leahy may have the right concept. Point sources and line sources decay at a different rate according to distance from the speaker. The 'thump' of the maximum SPL from the speaker (as it produces the thump) being equal, a point source speaker's SPL decay pattern will be faster than a line source's - a point source will see the sound pressure decay according to the inverse square of the distance (-6dB for every doubling of distance), while the line source SPL will decay linearly with distance (-3dB with every doubling of distance). All other things being equal, this should mean electrostats or planars will give better low-level sound than point source speakers from a seating position when compared with a similar SPL at the source.

Personally, I think horns do the low-level thing VERY well, and some of this may be because of their ability to play with a very low noise floor due to efficiency and some of it because their air loading of the sound wave means the standard sound pressure level decay pattern is somewhere between a line source and a point source.
Many horn type systems sound quite good at lower volume levels (they really shine in terms of clarity and dynamic liveliness at all volume levels), and, because they tend to be deficient in low bass response, they can be played a touch louder without bothering the neighbors (bass energy is MUCH more easily transmitted through walls, ceilings and floors). The trouble here is that they tend to be really big in size and many have a distinctively nasal coloration.

Dipole speakers (e.g., Magneplanars, Quad electrostatics) have the advantage of out of phase cancellation of the front and back wave where they interact at the side of the speaker. This means that the soundfield between the speaker can be fairly loud, with less intensity outside of the listening area. I was shocked at how much louder my current horn-based system sounds outside of the listening area when compared to the electrostics they replaced. The problem with dipoles in an apartment is that they really do need to be at least 4-5 ft from the back wall to sound decent.

Some regular dynamic speakers that I think sound pretty good at lower volumes include the classic Spendors (not so much the newer line of floorstanding speakers), Harbeth speakers, the Reynaud Trente speakers and the small tower speakers from Trenner and Friedl.

I would also look at speakers from Audionote (uk). These are designed for corner placement, though the bass can be a bit lumpy to me in that location, so they are very apartment friendly. These are quite lively sounding speakers at lower volume and have the advantage of needing only a modest amount of power.

The first poster mentioned Triangle speakers. I don't know about the specific model mentioned, but, that line really does offer a lot for lower volume listening. They sound very lively and clear without being overbearingly bright (tough trick to pull off).

After you find that pair of speakers that do the trick for you, then you can search for a suitable amplifier. The choice of amp is very much dependent on the speaker to which it will be coupled. Efficient and easy to drive speakers, like the Audionote speakers, have a big advantage because many of the better sounding amps that don't cost a fortune are lower powered amps.

Good luck on your search.

(one thing if you have complaining neighbors: get a rat shack sound pressure level meter. Then you can argue exactly what you sound level is from the seared position, and REPEAT it for a manager etc to hear it. if your music is not measured, you cannot argue and the other person will always be right)

In my limited knowledge of the law,in most noise complaints,the other person is always right(not a concept I believe in,but true).The authorities(super,manager,cops,etc.) could care less about what spl's your system is producing,just that someone complained.The argument will be,sure it's not loud now but it was an hour ago.Now if your building,community,etc. has specific guidelines and states what level constitutes "loud" then you "might" have a leg to stand on.When it is the complainant versus you the complainant will win every time.Just some of my rambling thoughts.
As Larryi suggests, the bass energy is easily transmissible in many cases. In mine, it is not the bass energy which comes through (unless one is right beneath, but my speakers are placed where it is impossible for my neighbors to be under) but piano. YMMV depending on the materials/construction between you and your neighbors Many horns will be deficient in deep bass, but high efficiency bass drivers can do low SPL bass quite well I find, and as long as the bass drivers are high efficiency, integration can be handled well enough.

You might consider bringing your speakers further out into the room. This should help reduce the bass reflections off the walls and help keep them from resonating, like a subwoofer in a car turns the whole car into a big resonating object.

Good luck.

How about a pair Magnepan 1.7 speakers with an Audio Research 100 watt tube amp. I think it would sound great. It would not go loud but that is what you want.
As an apt. dweller and the manager; here's how it goes: Your neighbor shouldn't even be able to know your stereo is on-- after 10pm. Meaning; if they can hear it,it's to loud.This applies to TVs, more often or low priced stereo systems. (There are no audiophiles here.)
I got 94 units and there are many types here. Some can hear a mouse fart,three floors above;(and they will let you know about it.)
I do have a unique advantage. When the apt. next to me is empty I can go over there at 3am and listen.
I have 4x8 panels of "sound board",from Home Depot; lining that wall.--That sucked the life out of the music so I had to add vinyl covered panel over the sound board. Also, this does nothing to control the bass,period.
My solutions are a great power conditioner;great cables and great components.---As to extract all the music---or as much of it as to be satisfying at lower listening levels.
Like Avguygeorge, I have some experience with managing rentals (8 years as a resident manager). While I agree that the presumption favors the complainer, and if it's audible at all in other units, you may get shut down, many jurisdictions have language like "peaceful enjoyment" which is probably not usually interpreted as a "right to silence," esp. before 10 or so. (Think of ordinary conversation, the sound of footsteps, or a baby crying.) In practice, and maybe in theory, I think managers (and judges) operate with a "reasonable person" standard, so that it helps your case if you can show that the music is not blaring. Elizabeth's suggestion of appealing to measurements could help you make your case, if you're unfortunate enough to live near someone who is always listening for mouse farts. John

I agree with Larryi's recommendation regarding Audio Note. Audio Note electronics are excellent at low-level detail retrieval - which I believe is the critical in getting great sound at lower volume levels. However, for the most part, Audio Note amps are designed with very low output power (eight to sixteen watts is common). So, care most be given to select a speaker that has an impedance curve friendly to a low power tube amp. I’ve heard several Audio Note amps with both Audio Note speakers and with Zingali horns (which use a horn for the highs & mids and a dynamic speaker for the bass). Both types of speakers presented the type of sound that are well suited for what you are seeking - although, I prefer Audio Note hemp speakers. Also, Audio Note makes both kit speakers and amps, which can provide lower cost options (used Audio Note manufactured and kit equipment is fairly common on Audiogon).

I've been thinking of this a bit myself. Have you thought of adopting a nearfield setup? You can get away with lower volumes and still possibly reach satisfying listening levels. I've been thinking those KEF monitors with the concentric drivers might do very well in a setup like that. Stereophile raved about the top of the line monitor, and I'm wondering if the lower-priced equivalents might not be pretty good.

The OHM speakers in my system currently nearfield at low volume late at night is hard to fault also.

I was just listening to "Love Is Like Oxygen" by Sweet on my rig that way at low volume. I never realized how much really good audio stuff goes on in that trite tune by that way under appreciated pop rock band from the 70s!
To the apt. mgrs. - What about before 10PM??
Quad ESL's
"What about before 10pm?"--you ask. This is a slippery area. I have been told by the police,while they were here,if there are 2 complainers they can take action.((This involved a car alarm,mid day. They towed the car as the owner wasn't home to turn it off.))
Just last night as another example, around 8pm, the guy above this ole'gal complained about her tv,(for the umpteenth time). I went outside; I listened above her apt, and below at that level.---While I could hear the tv I didn't think it that disturbing,so I did nothing.( No explosions,clapping,sound effects,or music---just dialog.)
As I walk thru the courtyard I frequently hear people's tvs,as I pass bytheir apts. We have allowed people to switch apts.many times to move away from the offenders.
After 10pm would be another story.
As an audiophile, you have one, and only one, option. Move. All that expensive equipment isn't noticably better than a boom box when played at a whisper.

Believe me, I know. I moved into a paper-walled condo in 2006 and I think I actually popped the housing bubble with my pen as I was signing the mortgage. So I'm stuck there. I listen to my stereo for an hour or two if I'm home on Saturday afternoon. Anything outside of that is going to generate complaints. An SPL of 70db or higher will get the cops to my door pretty quickly. I've begun to sell off my stereo components, as their capabilities are completely unrealized.

Since single family homes are not plentiful in Manhattan, I'd suggest looking for a concrete loft. That will be my destination once I am able to sell.

Low Volume:

This is the whole concept of my set-up, heck neighbors

where I live comes over, and NEVER dreamed I had

the number of speakers I have, how the music

is so "FULL!" and "DYNAMIC!", yet they were NEVER

even aware that I played music at "all"?

My premise was, If the Music is "close" to my ears,

it will NEVER have to be loud.

First Impressions: People see All the

the Loudspeakers, so they expect "LOUD!" but are

pleasantly surprised when the sound is "FULL",

but NEVER Loud.

Klipsch are a part of my loudspeaker arsenal.

When you can carry on a conversation, speaking in

a "normal tone" of voice, while a

song is playing, and everything sounds "FULL",

and you can hear each other "clearly", it's ALL


High Power, does not equal "HIGH" volume.

Just "Smooth Dynamic" Music that fills my "room"

without abusing my neighbors.

"SYNERGY" is the "Key" element to ideal "low level"


"Hearing IS Believing."

I Love Music!
OK, I just listened to some again, at a buddies in the Village, his place is pretty small, and he has rebuilt Quad 57's running off of a McIntosh MC275, it's a perfect set up for your place, from what you say, and it sounds GREAT.
Your concerns were my concerns when I designed my system (albeit for different reasons). Check out my system for some commentary.

However, you may also want to think outside the box to help solve your problem. What does your listening space look like? Do you generally listen near-field or far-field? Could it benefit from acoustical treatment? Sound-absorbing panels may help decrease the noise floor while containing your music from reaching your neighbors. How about a good headphone setup for late-night listening? $4k to $5k could hire a mime to entertain you on the weekends and after-hours. At this point, I'm not sure new equipment is the solution to your problem.
About your before 10PM question - you need to look up what your local law is about the acceptable decibel level of noise. You will almost certainly find out that unless you are playing your system ridiculously loud, that the level you do play it at is FAR below the legal limit.

As a professional horn player, I used to be very concerned about this when I lived in apartments, until I figured out that the legal limit in my area was far higher than the decibel level that any brass instrument is capable of creating. That said, I never did have a single complaint about my practicing, no matter how loud it was, but I never played after 9PM out of courtesy to my neighbors.
Another characteristic that needs to be addressed is dynamics .

I have a decent sounding low level system that has all of the micro & macro details , resolution , airy highs and tight bass .

But the dynamics , the difference between the loud and soft sounds with in the tune , are lacking . This , for me makes the music boring ! It sounds great but just does not move me . No head bobbing , toe tapping or air guitar action .

I used to think that this was amplifier related but further study has lead me into the direction of the speaker .

Good luck .
I second the above re Quad ESL's. Given the number of cheap amps that can give great sound with these, I'd say its definitive. See the following website for amp matches:http://www.quadesl.org/Amplifiers/amplifiers.html
Limiting factor may be that they need several feet from rear wall to sound best. Quads Unlimited reputed to be best rebuilt version.
A good quality dynamic range compression device (like the old home dbx units or perhaps even newer digital solutions) might be helpful in cases where music has wide dynamic swings, like orchestral music, yet the volume must stay low.