Sensitivity in speakers

Just my luck I took woodshop instead of electrical engineering. Maybe if I undestood the difference between a volt vs. a watt, I might know how to pick my next speakers.

Here's the problem - as much as I like cranking it when the missus isn't around (perhaps I should reword that?), I want speakers that I don't have to blast to get a full bodied sound. Upgraditis has lead me to Manley Neoclassic 250's driven by a Manley Steelhead with a Sota Cosmos/Shelter901 and Wavelength DAC as sources (the sources courtesy of Jay Kaufman at Audio Revolutions - a truly great guy to work with). All of this runs into Von Schweikert VR-2's. A nice speaker from my POV but not quite up to the rest of the system.

Recommendations please - what speakers would fit into this system that would sound great at all volume levels? Of course like many of us I want soaring extended highs, warm, life-like mids' and bass from the bowels of the earth.

I don't have unlimited resources but I'd rather measure the distance between me and great speakers in time rather than current cashflow.

John I just want to point out a couple of things. Speaker sensetivity has a lot to do with how much, or little power is needed to obtain a certain spl (sound pressure level) but in my limited experience does not have much to do with a full bodied sound.

Your front end, and electronics are SOTA! I know I will get ripped for this (if AudiogoN even posts it) but I have heard a lot of VS speakers and the only one I thought sounded good was the top-of-the-line model, I think the VR 9 or something like that.

You need to answer some questions before anyone can make a valid speaker suggestion though! In what size room will they be used? A simple way to determine speaker size was posted here in the last year, I forget who said it but, a small room needs smal speakers, a medium sized room needs medium sized speakers, and a big room needs big speakers, if you're wondering if your room is big enough for big speakers, it's not!

Lots of people will recommend their favorite speakers, but until they know about your room the recommendations are of little use. Written at 9:42 cst
I went from Audio Physic Tempo 3's to a pair of Klipsch Epic CF3's, which are 100dB efficient. One of the cool things about these speakers is when listening at low volumes, they still have impactful bass. And I am talking of a volume of -60 on my Pre/pro. I find that very impressive. They also work well with tubes amps, like my 5 watt ASL SET amp. When turned up though, they play like a concert monitor with great slam. I am also impressed with the looks and specs of the new Tyler Pro series, though I have never heard them. Go for a higher efficiency speaker, for that low volume listening your looking for and for bass from the bowels of the earth. Though I think a good sub would do better for that.
I've listened to the VR4-JR and VR4-SR in the VSA line.
The JR is a little bloated in the bass while the SR is much more refined. Neither gave gutwrenching bass extension though.
For that you may want to go with a subwoofer to compliment the speaker you choose.
Most good speakers sound good at low/reasonable volumes with good equipment upstream.
I don't think you necessarily need an efficient speaker to do that. In fact, i have found the opposite is often true. Many highly efficient speakers doo not oppen up in the bass until they are run fairly loud.

Try a line source speaker like an electrostat or planar. The large surface area can give a great sense of depth and immediacy at low volumes. You will need a stove of an amplifier to reach very high volumes though.

You can always implement tone controls.

Good luck!
I'm not sure your question is about spkrs sensitivity (db spl/1W/1m) or frequency response or power response.

Generally speaking, spkrs that spec over92db "sensitivity" will play plenty loud with your amps (they'll reach ~115db spl peaks -- if they can take that power).

If OTOH you want speakers to play an extended frequency range i.e., "soaring extended highs, warm, life-like mids' and bass from the bowels of the earth" you'll need a subwoofer -- or similar setup. You can come close with a number of stand alone spkrs, but you won;t actually get there...

Some manufacturers offer models that incorporate a separately amplified bass section -- which can effectively help you attain a "full-range sound. Genesis, the expensive VS, Vandersteen, many others. These tend to be expensive (over 10k). The Genesis 6.1 I listened to recently were quite nice for less than 10k.

BTW, how big is your room?
I take your question to want speakers that sound good at lower volumes. Ones that do not need loud volumes to open up. If that is the case, I'm not sure there is a golden rule. In my experience however, I find that the more efficent speakers do sound better at lower volumes. I do not refer to the ultra efficient horn speakers or single driver speakers, I have no experience with them. But, a speaker like older Dynaudio Confidence 3 or Spica Angelus seemed to need more volume to start appreciating all the frequencies.

You have an excellent system. I would anticipate that you'll need to audition several speakers at home to get what your looking for. Audio physics, VR's, Merlin, or Silverline all seem like reasonable choices to me.

Cheers. -Karl
all i can say is i use aa pair of totem arro with totem sub for my office system, my office is reasonably sized, and i just love the imaging they give me with acoustic music. i think alot of your desire, mine and many others, is dependent on the kind of music you want to listen to. i find that relatively simple music, without the old wall of sound or big symphony/orchestra music, can produce the sound you want with good 2-ways and a good musical amp.
Most excellent responses, guys. The room is 16wide 19long and 9 high at the peak (pitched ceiling).

I like the idea of a sub and have been considering the new velodyne's with the room correcton software.

As to planars/eletorostats, I had some Maggies's years ago and always liked the speed and clarity.

I'm going to the Home Entertainment show in LA in June. With any luck I can get a better sampling that the local Hi-Fi outlets in SF.

On another note - I think its great that there are folks out there that will answer (somewhat naive) questions without making you feel like an idiot and for no other reason than comraderie and a shared love of music/equipment. Many thanks.
if you have a 92db speaker:
1 watt = 92db
2 watts = 95db
4 watts = 98db
8 watts = 101db
16 watts = 104db
32 watts = 107db
64 watts = 110db THX
128 watts = 113db Ultra THX is 112db
For every 10db, you will have a perceived doubling in volume
and, as you can see, doubling the wattage increase the sound pressure by 3 db.
Finally, not all amps (especially tubes) doulbe the output when going to 4 ohms-don't assume this.
Who needs an EE degree anyway?
You described the VSA db99...
Coincident Super Eclipse would smoke with the Neo's. Don't just look at sensitivity, take impedance load into consideration as well. look at coincident & atmasphere websites for great insite into this subject.
If you can do woodwork why not DIY your own system? Many plans available most Hieff designs play great at low and high levels.I build many loudspeakers maybe its time for you to try something yourself?
I second JohnK's suggestion to put your woodshop skills to good use. You might look at Go with JBL drivers and you'll have speakers that sound great at a very wide variety of listening levels, including very low levels.

Electrostats tend to excel at very low volume levels (I've owned electrostats for about ten years now, and have sold them for about six). Your Manleys should have no trouble driving a pair of 'stats.

By the way, Jay Kaufman is definitely one of the good guys. Glad you found him.

Best of luck to you,


What do you think of the Pi speakers? i have been looking at them as an esy DIY project. I spoke to Wayne several times and he seems like a really honest guy.

Thoughts? Oppinions?


I think very highly of Pi Speakers. They are excellent values and very well designed. Wayne really knows crossovers and is very free with his knowledge. I really can't think of anyone quite like him. The 7Pi cornerhorns in particular are ingenius and superb. I've heard a couple of the other models and they were also very good but the 7Pi had me kicking myself for not thinking of it first. It works very well.

The Midwest Audio Fest in Tulsa, Oklahoma is the first week of May, and Wayne is hosting the show, in case you can make it. I'm planning on showing there too.


If you have solid corners the Seven Pi w/JBL drivers would be worth your consideration, even if you had them built for you. I'm close to completing the mid-horns on mine, and have been running the bass modules and 2426 horns configured as two ways for the last week. Even in this configuration they are more fun/engaging to listen to than my VSA VR-4 GEN III SEs. The latter have served me well, however the Pi Sevens have a larger stage, and are much more dynamic and effortless on complex music. They also sound good at moderate output levels, and don't need to be cranked to open up. Depending on the cabinet materials you use and whether you upgrade the crossovers with better parts, the DIY cost is around 3k for the all JBL version. Less if you can find the drivers used.