Question about Gain, amp power and volume

I guess my question is how do i know if i have too much gain or too much power. I have pretty efficent speakers (Dunlavy sc3, i think around 91db) and a 175w integated (plinius 8200), i can only use my volume to about the 11 o'clock position before it is way too loud, i recently bought a pair of in line attenuators (i think they add 10db of resistance) and they help the problem but not by much. I have run into this problem in the past with certain preamp / power amp combos but as i am using an integrated amp now i was thinking i may have too much power, any thoughts appreciated
Well, FWIW, 11 o'clock is more rotation than most folks can get under normal circumstances using speakers with your speakers sensitivity. Don't forget that your source's gain contributes to the gain from the pre-amp section of your intergrated. Nothing to fret about so long as you have good incremental control of volume (i.e. small steps).
newbee - do you think i would have this problem even if i had lower powered amp say around 70 to 100w, also i only use cd, i was under the impression most cd players had about the same output, is this true or am i incorrect, thanks for the input - mike
Mike, Its not about the power output of your amp, its about the amps input sensitivity. An amp with a high input sensitivity, say .5v will present problems if you have highly sensitive speakers (the higher, the more problems, including hearing residual noise from the pre-amp - tube amps are especially sensitive to that). Amps with lower sensitivity, say 1.5v work better with pre amps and speakers with higher sensitivity. By using the in-line attenuators you have probably reached the same result as using an amp with lower input sensitivity. If you had a speaker with an 86db figure you would get several more clicks on your volume control. Its all about matching preamp output gain, amp input sensitivity, and speaker sensitivity. As to output from CDP's and DAC's they definitly differ, and greatly. I have a Cal Alpha that puts out 2x to 3x more gain than my BAT cdp, and a tuner that falls right in the middle. Some preamps have input gain controls to level the input of all sources, which is a nice, if not audiophile approved, convenience.
Why do you feel that it is important to be able to open up the gain control further than you already are? Installing attenuators in series with the volume control only reduces transparency and detail. The only time such devices should be used is if the volume control ( aka "gain" ) is phenomenally touchy and hard to adjust for the desired listening level. If you find that the volume is constantly jumping from too soft to too loud by barely adjusting the gain, the attenuators might solve this. Otherwise, get them outa there.... Sean
I think you are under the impression that there is an increase in sound quality with a higher volume knob setting. Not true. Keep the playback volume level where you like it. It's determined primarily by your listening room and the distance to your speakers - any amplifier over 20 watts has the potential for being too loud for the average listening room. Your system in someone elses room "9-oclock" may be too high and in another's "3-oclock" may not be loud enough. By all means, get rid of the attenuators.
Most any amp will sound best wide open. Volume controls (Esp. cheaper ones) are rather non-linear at the lower ends of their ranges. So I can see why he wants to run it more wide open.
Ed's is on point - in fact some manufacturers will even admit to this, that the pre-amp sounds best with the volume between 10 & 2. Also the volume control on many pre amps is not linear, the gradiations being much smaller as you rotate the dial going from as much (or more) than 3dbs per click to 1db. Its much easier to fine tune such a volume control if the effect of the output seen by the amp can be reduced. Personally, I agree with Sean re attenuators except for those circumstances where the input sensitivity of the amp and the speakers is so high as to make the preamp residual noise too apparent. Its a matter of your priorities - which way to go. Best way is to think it out before you buy your stuff, however unlikely it is that this will happen.
Ed brought up a good point and i agree. Having said that, i would rather have too much gain and have to keep the pot turned down than to have to run it at max and still be shy on volume. This is the kind of thing that boils down to component design and versatility. Since the manufacturer doesn't know the electrical characteristics of the mating amplifier, they try to cover all bases. Having said that, those with tube based preamps and SS power amps are in the worst boat. That is, they've got so much gain that they have to keep the pot turned WAY down most of the time. In order to increase volume control resolution / reduce the "touchiness" of the volume jumping around, they have to insert some type of attenuator in line. Now you've got two attenuators in line, which can only sound worse. Sean
I must agree with Sean in that it is not necessary to have so much power to have really quality audio so you really don't need to turn your knob past the eleven o'clock position to get maximum performance.

One interesting note is that your volumn control really does not increase the signal as you start from the lowest position but rather this is the setting that most restricts the signal.

There is lots of terminology for this, but suffice it to say that the pre delivers the signal at miximum volumn and the volumn knob proceeds to restrict the signal so that what we call full voulmn is the signal with least restriction. There might be, perhaps some thing to be gotten by minimal restriction of the signal, especially if your volumn control knob is a less than a satisfactory one.
I need to amend what i said here:

"Now you've got two attenuators in line, which can only sound worse."

The following is actually more accurate:

"Now you've got two attenuators in line, which can only perform worse. With that in mind, that doesn't mean that someone wouldn't find this sonically more pleasing due to personal preferences."

I wanted to correct myself since what we hear / prefer is subjective. The fact that more signal attenuation with a longer signal path and more connections would degrade the signal / electrical performance is not really debatable. Sean
my two hopes in being able to use the full range of my volume control is to be able to use the full amount (or at least half) to have fine control over the volume, also i get a jump in volume at certain parts in my usable range that does not correspond to the amount the knob is turned. i enjoy my dunlavys so i am just going to spend a little time to get the right lower powered amp and a cd player that will be compatible, once again thanks to everyone for the input, mike
All i will say is that you can't have "too much" power with Dunlavy's. I think that there are better ways to achieve what you desire, but i'm not you and we probably see things differently. Sean
Mkaes, If you want to get a new amp, get one! BUT revisit the issues I raised regarding input sensitivity. Its not about the amount of power - I have three amps in my house I currently use, all are tubes (not that it makes a big difference) a 120 watt unit, an 80 watt unit, and 160 watt mono's. In that order they have input sensitivity of .65v, .95v, and 1.5v. The 160 watt units allow the most use of the volume control and I can get it up to about 12 o'clock using my BAT before its too loud. The 120 watt amp is too loud when the volume control is 10:00 (about a 9db difference). The 80 watt amp is too loud at 11 o'clock. As you can see from this example the amount of power the amp can put out has nothing to do with your problem. And, a final comment - you do not want to use all of the power available in you amp by rotating you volume control to the max - you will drive it into clipping which may not be good for your speakers health. As Sean sez, you can't have too much power, its just how you use it.
perhaps i shouldn't have put lower powered in my post as this shouldn't be a priority as muchas i should be concerned with finding an amp and cd combo that will work better with my speakers, if i can achieve this by just using a different cd player that would be great as this was the only piece i intended to upgrade in the near future, however if i understand correctly (and i may not have this right) i probably have a poorly matched cd player / amp combo for my speakers or just a poorly matched combo no matter what speakers (too much output from the cdp and low sensitivity inputs), once again i am set on the idea this is poorly matched as i have very little fine tune control over my volume level, of several systems i have had in the past i never has so little control, perhaps this is due to a cheap volume control but what is the point of a better volume control with 70 or more steps if you only normally use 15 to 25. That said if i get a cdp with a lower output level i may not have this problem but i really do not want to choose my source based my amp, i would prefer to limit my amp choices based on the cdp i choose, i'm sorry if i still am not getting this or if i am trying anyone's patience, but i think i've got it now, amp wattage not the issue, low input sensitivity on my amp and high output from my cdp is the likely cause, once again thanks for the break down
By having more steps in a control, you can obtain higher resolution. That is, rather than jumping up 2 or 3 dB's at a time, you can now step .5 or 1 dB at a time. This allows one to find the exact volume that they want. Only problem is, with that many steps, it is a REAL pain to obtain proper channel balance in terms of building the controls themselves. I have units with Mil-Spec potentiometers in them from the factory and even those don't track all that well ( channel to channel ). Can you imagine what it is like to have to sit and match resistors and then have to solder them to a million different steps on an attenuator??? Believe me, it is NOT fun.... Sean