volume vs presence

My amp is a bel canto s300 with a Dac3 on pmc tb2+ monitor speakers. I love this combination and find that it can be so deadly silky smooth that I am constantly turning up the volume probably to ear damaging levels as my ears are usually ringing after a session. But it doesn't sound loud at the time. This can't be good for my hearing.

I find I am turning up the volume of my system not to make it louder but to gain more presence and percussive attack. How do I listen at lower volumes without losing that presence? Do i need a bigger amp that provides more drive at lower levels. Do I need a good preamp? Do I need bigger speakers?

I am not sure but know people before me may have gone through all of this and would appreciate your advice. Thanks heaps,
You're right, it can't be good for your hearing. My advice would be to see a good audiologist to determine what's going on.
I agree with (jaffa's) idea that he is looking for a better amp. You need more 'INSTANTANIOUS CURRENT' from an amp to get better attack and percussive feel. (or speakers that deliver it with an ordinary amp) The problem will bw to find an amp that gives that current, without loosing the other things you love.
I find I turn up the volume on music that I really love, and ignore the 'reality' that I know it is louder, It just sounds so good!!
I agree with Elizabeth but instead of recommending the amp change mine would have been more sensitive speakers, same idea just different sides of the same equasion
I would say that yes, what you desire is much bigger speakers than a monitor. Bigger woofer(s), bigger cabinet, and true bass extension down to at least 30Hz - this will afford the same perception of presence and visceral impact at a lower *average* SPL level. In fact it'll sound even better at lower levels since it will provide a much more natural balance. Sounds like you may be compensating for the typical bass roll-off of monitors by pushing up the mid/upper bass & midrange levels. As you noted, no matter how smooth that speaker is in mids & treble, this can push SPL levels into dangerous territory (and possibly push your amp towards clipping, which exacerbates the problem).

As an added bonus the bigger speakers are much more efficient (all else being equal), easing the burden on your amp. And I do believe amp/preamp can make a difference, but unless your amp is clipping it'll be a drop in the bucket compared to finding the right speakers.

What put me into my "comfort zone" was my current speakers with 105 Liter cabinets, 10" woofers, and extension down to 29Hz. I do at listen fairly loud, but not at dangerous levels, IMO. Plenty of headroom left, even from 25-35 Watts/ch tube amps - the speakers give a true 93dB/Watt (I believe anechoic).

GET AN SPL meter! Decent-ish analog ones (like the old Radio Shack Analog meter) can be had for $60 I believe. This will tell you what SPL levels you're playing at (and just HOW dangerous), and also give you a starting point for estimating how hard your amp is working.

If you feel ear fatigue or any noticeable shift in hearing after a long session, then you're listening too loud! Any ringing at all means it's WAY too loud!! Take action now!
There's a lot going on here, and more than can be covered in a forum.

A) Most likely, you already have hearing loss.
B) You aren't getting the full dynamics and transients, because 1) They're not in the recording, especially pop music, or 2) Your system can't produce them when they are in the recording, and 3) The louder you play, the more driver compression you get.

Causes range from compressed recordings to passive crossovers, inadequate amp power and overheating drivers coils. No one thing is going to solve the problem.
All good and valid input here already. There was a recent thread of someone having some synergy issues running class D amps with specific digital front ends and speakers. You may want to look for input on that specific combination you are using and alternative combinations retaining either amp or speakers.

One exception I'd have to a post above: bigger speakers are most definitely NOT necessarily more efficient (all else being equal). There are many large speakers that are notoriously inefficient and require gobs of current and power to make them sing. Magneplanar 20.1's come to mind. Size does not necessarily correlate with efficiency.

Don't worry about your ears (provided you don't exceed half an hour loud).

Your amp can dish out more than your speakers can handle IMHO.

Your speakers must be pretty good if they sound better when turned up loud. (Most monitor speakers sound absoultely terrible when cranked => dull, flat and distorted and with loads of port chuffing) However, your monitors are still definitely too small to ever get quite the correct "impact" of real live music.

Think of small monitors as an upgrade to a regular radio - there is still no way to be fooled into thinking the music is real unless it is just a very quiet acoustical piece - this is because real music (especially drums) has lots of dynamics and proper bass is more felt or hinted at by room pressurization than heard. What you hear mostly from small monitors with impressive bass is RESONANCE not dynamics which is why most sound fake...think of resonance as like "humming" a tune versus saying Blue Dubba Dee Dubba Die - one is softer and blurred while the other has attack. Proper bass will not mask or bury the midrange - a resonant bass ruins midrange clarity through "masking".

If you love the PMC sound and the deep TL bass then I'd recommend you get the MB2i - this speaker will open you up to whole new world where percussion sounds real and visceral...
Check your hearing here
I think you may not have a problem at all. I find different albums and even different songs on the album have a volume where they sound best through my system. It always changes from day to day. It could be the environment you are in all day at work that could change the volume required to reach that sweet spot in the volume. I try at the end of the day to sit in my sound room and chill out with no noise or sounds for about a 1/2 an hour before listening and even longer if I drove around with the windows down in my van. Noise levels through out the day effects hearing a lot more than one would think.
Try adding a good powered sub.
I know exactly what you're talking about.., to feel involved with the music you have to crank it up.

I live in a Condo, and I had the same problem when I switched from a floor-standing speaker (Alon IV) with deep bass to stand-mounted monitors (Sonus Faber) and Sub (Rel Storm). I had to blast the monitors to allow it to sound great, and then my neighboor started complaining that it was too loud and I would have to agree that she was right. I now have larger floor standing speakers (Kharma) without a sub, and I can enjoy the music at normal levels and it even sounds great at low levels at night, and my neighboor hasn't ever complained again.

I would have to agree with Mulveling, that you need larger floor-standing speakers to better fill the room with a wall of sound. I would recommend something that at least goes down to 30-35Hz.


I forgot to ask you.., How large is your room?

wow, just got up and so many post already.

My room is about 5x6 meters.

I do have a sub, an mj acoustics ref 100 mk11. It sounds nice.

I will switch to floorstanders eventually I guess. I think most people here are right, I might be trying to get a big sound out of small speakers. My dream floostanders to get at the moment are the new PMC Pb1i. Pricey though.

I was thinking bigger speakers would need to driven louder to fill a room, or could be too big for a room. But maybe the opisite is true?
Shadorne, thanks for the link. I am required to have my hearing tested yearly where I'm employed, but the results given are not very informative. The results of this test really shows where the losses are. My loss started right at 500hz, with a gradual increase up to -12dB at 30 hz. What suprised me the most was how it stayed level when I increased the frequencies until I got to 6khz, which only went up one level, then again at 12khz one level. But at 16khz, I had to jump up to -6dB. !!! Great test!

I'm 52.
Hi Jaffa,

That is a decent size room that you have. I would have to believe that a speaker that goes down to about 28-30hz, will suffice.

You could certainly get "too big" and that won't be good either. The goal should be to get the right sized speaker for your room.

You mentioned that you want a more percussive attack. This is usually in the Bass region 60Hz-250Hz, not the Sub-Bass region 20Hz-60Hz. I feel that your Monitor and Subwoofer won't solve this problem, because your monitor isn't producing enough punch in the bass region and your subwoofer can't reach high enough into the bass region either. I actually prefer the sound of a Floor-Standing speaker with a Subwoofer, than a Monitor with a Subwoofer.

I believe that you need a Floor-Standing Speaker with at least 3 drivers (Woofer, Midrange, and Tweeter). This way the woofer can handle the bass region and the midrange can handle it's region without being pushed harder to perform in the bass region. A Floor-Stander with 4 drivers would also work.., but then you may have two smaller, faster woofers, one midrange, and one tweeter. Since you like a fast percussive sound, I would think that 2 smaller 170mm woofers, instead of one larger 250mm woofer, may be more to your liking.

Although, I have never listened to the PMC PB1i, I did check them out online and I think you're on the right track with that type of speaker design. The rest is up to you my friend...

Good Luck,
the better apparoach to realizing the punch & dynamics you desire is to retain your equipment & get some horns. That will do the job for you with very low power, probably less than you already have.
Many speakers designed for the S.E.T. crowd may be quite satisfying as well. Talk to the good folks at decware.com Steve is an absolute genius in this area. You'll get the advice you need without trying to sell you anything.
I just bought an analogue sound meter today. It looks like my from the needle moving around that lowest levels are around 80db and highest levels peaking around 90db. Average listing levels is probably around 85db.

Is this too loud?
I too would also say a change is in order.

Speakers make the biggest change in a system.

Getting different speakers however might not be your answer 100%.

If you have the BC DAC3... that isn't the problem. It delivers very good bass and highs, crisply and with impact. I haven't heard the BC amp or the ? pmc ? speakers... but those two seem to be delivering too much smooth for you.

I'm not too sure another uh, pmc (?) set of speakers up the ladder is the answer either.... unless they are quite dissimilar sounding. Especially in the tweeter area. Possessing more transparency and perhaps some better attack.

A system, is a 'system' after all. It requires matching or balancing of the system as a whole... or that' is my understanding.

Your room too is large enough to require some bigger speakers for sure.

just remember too... the amp (s) speaker pairing is important. Control matters in terms of presence and immediacy. that normally comes routinely from simple power being applied. More precise matching of amp to speaker can allow for lesser amounts of power being required, as with easy to drive speaks.

I would submit, even with speakers that possess greater transparency you will probably need to re-examine your system contents at large, possibly moving up the BC amp chain too... if you're a BC fan of course.

Cables too might well provide some resolution. and personally, I'd begin there. Try MIT Magnum series, or with lesser funds, SR Resolution Ref x2 active, or with still lesser bucks, a pair of Cardas Neutral Refs. The latter ICs might just give you another level of transparency and their highs are unveiled yet well mannerd.

Another pc too might be inorder as the DAC 3 responds very well to pc changes.

In fact, if you put a Shunyata Taipan helix or Python Helix onto that DAC without anyother cable changes, I assure you those highs will have a lot more shimmer and snap! Presence and transparency too will increase. A lot.

Try wires first... they're popular and if not the fix, you can flip them without a ton of trouble. People always seem to overlook wires.

These pc's will run you from about $375 - $650, or so... I've no idea how much the next level of speakers are you pointed to.

Good luck.
"to gain more presence and percussive attack."
I think the presence region is around 3,000 Hz. People here can correct me if this is wrong.Which is near the x-over region of your speaker Sometimes they put a dip in that region to cover up the blending of the drivers.
Full active speakers will have MUCH better percussive attack as the amp is directly coupled to the driver and no x-over to absorb energy. Have you tired an active PMC?
I just bought an analogue sound meter today. It looks like my from the needle moving around that lowest levels are around 80db and highest levels peaking around 90db. Average listing levels is probably around 85db.

Is this too loud?

No, not really. That is relative though...my wife thinks it's loud. It's pretty much how loud I enjoy music as well. When it goes to 100db and up that is ear-damaging territory, especially if it's staying in that region for very long.

Now that you have a sound meter you can check how your room might be affecting the sound. You'll have to get a test disc or some other device that generates a fixed frequency spectrum from low to high. Put your sound meter in the sweet spot where you listen...if possible fix it there on a tripod or some other fixed support. Go through the frequency range on your cd player and take note of the volume of each frequency from that point. You will note that there are many dips and peaks. This is entirely normal, but you can look for extremes where variances are more than, say, 6db. If you really want to get technical you can then plot out a graph of the room response and then repeat when you make changes to see how that response graph changes. In this way you might isolate specific problems...for instance, you may find that in order to listen to your midrange at a given volume that you are pushing the highs way louder than that. Or, as was suggested above, that there is a suckout in the vocal region that causes you to push the volume up higher (same idea).

This is just one approach, which does not invalidate the other theories of what might be going on, but it's a good start and very useful information in understanding your room interface (which is VERY much a part of your system).

You know..., I thought that we had two different questions here; but now I'm not so sure, I thought one was presence and the other was percussive attack. Presence sometimes means different things to different people. To me it means that the Vocalists or Instruments sound like they are in the room with you, or you are there with them. I believe this to be anywhere in the 2kHz-6kHz, but commonly referred to as the 2kHz-4kHz range as Cdc suggests.

I took Percussive Attack to mean; leading edge transient attack of the Music, such as; Rhythm Section, Bass Guitar, Kick Drum, and Lower Brass or generally speaking the Bass Region, 60Hz-250Hz. However, these Instruments' Harmonics, may also extend into the presence range.

So, I would like to ask the OP; Are you looking for "More Liveness (or presence)? or, Are you looking for a better rhythm section, with a more solid foundation and drive to the Music, that has more energy with greater Dynamics? or, Do You Want It All.....?

One thing I can tell you is that a Larger Speaker will definitely fill your room better, without destroying your hearing.

If you purchase a Sterophile test disc, you already have the necessary SPL meter, you can get a general idea what is going on with your system and your room.
I think I am going to wait and save up for my next system which will match the new listening room I will be looking for when I purchase/rent my next house.

Going along with Jax's post, I have just been doing a lot of reading up on acoustics and rooms for listening, and it seems that its the most important thing before you start buying components. I read that spending money on getting your room acoustically set up yields far greater results than focusing on gear alone. And when you have the room set up right, the components are able to realise their full listening potential. Which makes sense, because my system have sounded different in the couple of houses I have used them in.

I am reluctant for obvious reasons to go out and spend huge amounts of money on cables. I can't really see for the value for money in exotic cables sorry. Can you really hear that much difference for the money spent?

Hey Rich, I was thinking about what I was missing, and its the intial attack of the front, upwards curve of the sound. I can hear the guitar being played, but I want to feel the pluck on the string before the note sounds. The twang and percussive effect of the double bass player digging into a string.

Just want to thank everyone for their detailed responses too.
Shadorne, thanks for the link. I am required to have my hearing tested yearly where I'm employed, but the results given are not very informative. The results of this test really shows where the losses are. My loss started right at 500hz, with a gradual increase up to -12dB at 30 hz. What suprised me the most was how it stayed level when I increased the frequencies until I got to 6khz, which only went up one level, then again at 12khz one level. But at 16khz, I had to jump up to -6dB. !!! Great test!

What you describe sounds normal - you hear best (most sensitively) around 500 Hz upwards and you hear least sensitively in the bass. This is a normal "loudness contour" of hearing sensitivity.
Jaffa: Did you set your SPL meter to "fast?" If so, the music you listen to is not that dynamic. 85 dB average is loud, but not BLARING. It shouldn't be causing ringing in your ears unless you're listening for hours at a time. Very dynamic music could have peaks going well into the 90s at listening position while averaging 80 dB or less.

Presence, dynamics and transients are all different, but somewhat related.

-Presence is the impression of how close or far something sounds. Closer microphoning will sound more present and have stronger transients.

-Dynamics are the the range of loud to soft.

-Transients are the very short spikes on the attack. These can be very, very loud, but so short that we don't hear them as LOUD. They give us the impact of live music. Even on the "fast" setting those $50 SPL meters can't respond fast enough to show how loud they really are.


>>I am reluctant for obvious reasons to go out and spend huge amounts of money on cables. I can't really see for the value for money in exotic cables sorry. Can you really hear that much difference for the money spent?>>

In my system? Easily. In my receiver driven mini HT bedroom system? Sure.

I'm with the poster who says Presence = They are here, you are there. I'd say there is more to it than just realizing info in the 2-6K freq range. Most any speaker out there can reproduce freqs from 2-6K.

My idea on presence or immediacy, or even palpable, equates more to the resolution and detail therein, rather than to be as simplistic as I read above and merely stating some portion of the range allows for it.

Maybe too, you meant to use some other word instead. I don't know.

Feeling the music comes from pressure. Pressure and resolution. Personally, I've never felt a pick come off a string, nor would i WANT TO. i CAN HEAR IT THOUGH AND THAT'S PART OF MY ARGUMENT FOR DEFINITION AND DETAIL being more important than merely reproducing part of the bandwidth. It's more HOW that part is rendered.

I feel you do not have sufficient enough detail and delineation presently in your system.... SPL aside.

Loud doesn't equate to presence.

I've heard systems which while at quite modest listening levels produced that "Can I have your autograph?" illusion. Trust me on that. No kidding.

Maybe somewhere out there is a system that uses zip wire for speaker cables, Radio Shack interconnects, and OEM power cables which can provide the aforementioned 3D illusion, but I doubt it seriously.

If you take some time to look through the various posted systems here, you should also note the cabling, conditioning, and room treatments. I think you'll see what I mean.

Exotic to me means super expensive. Like $2K & up for a pair of ICs, or a power cord... not 300 - 700 dollars. 'Course, even 300 can be hard to swallow if you haven't tried out anything like it before... so you wouldn't know... and you apparently don't. I do. I didn't at one point, but I did, and NOW I do know their impact and I know their importance.

System performance is the whole, global, effect it produces. AS it takes more for a race car to go fast than simply a great engine, so too does a stereo system need all it's areas addressed to be a great performer.

So, if you want to feel the music, go for loud... if you want to gain the illusion you are there or they are in your room, it's only going to happen when your rig is quite resolute, defined, and capable of capturing all the audio cues in the recording... and as well, the recording itself will play a big part.

Smooth, ain't gonna do it. Been there. Done that.

The key, if there even is one, is too much of a good thing is indeed, too much. Too much articulation in a rig can come off as sterile or analytical, and quickly fatiguing. Briefly though it can be stunning. Finding that line in between those two results is the ticket and accounts alone for how eleusive it can be to achieve.

I don't mean to sound condescending but keeping close to a budget, or constrained by one will prevent many from attaining more than just good to great sounding systems. I know this all too well. It's taken me 3 rigs, and nearly 7 years to get where I'm at today... for someone else, it would take the time to write the check.

It will always come to this: Just how much do you want how much? Affordability only means more or less time needed, to do it. I get the notion you want it, so if you keep an open mind as to the whole of the affair here, you'll be well served. If not, it will be a more arduous and lengthy journey.

Everything matters... not just the stuff we can plug into the wall. hell, even the walls matter.

Check out the Cable Company and try renting some of the stuff from them... it will be an ear opening event... I guarantee!
Blindjim, thanks for your open, detailed and frank response. No I don't have the check book handy, nor the credit card. My ears want the best but my wallet will take years to afford it. As you said, fate has bitten me and it looks like I am heading down this path. I am a music lover first, a musician second, and a stereophile last. Its not about the gear for me, its just the music.

Its good to talk to people who have been their too. So how far does the rabbit hole go? Thats the feeling I am getting!

I second OjGalli's excellent posts - the only way 85 db SPL average would cause ringing is if it is continuous loud such as Metallica or other badly compressed stuff. If teh music has dynamic range then 85 db should not cause ringing unless you haave an auditory problem and already have damaged your ears....

Then we are more alike than different. I was a musician... playing horns for some years. Do love music. Not an aduiophile though... as I don't think I meet some of the criteria 100%.

So it'll merely take you time, as it has me.

I also think maybe... just maybe... your room is playing a part in that irritating issue following listening sessions... especially if it's empty, or scantily adorned, as there'll be plenty of reflections.

Are there echoes? Slap your hands together and listen for the repeats.... True too, 80db or around there isn't sufficient pressure levels to harm most peoples hearing.

Lots of threads here about handling those issues on the cheap which are quite effective and not hard to do.

I think the important thing is that you simply do what you can when you can... and as much as possible enjoy the music as often as possible.

At some point, now or after you go get them better speakers, do check out power cords as that aspect alone can really alter and/or improve the outcome of your components performance results.

Hope things work out for you sooner than things did for me.
"Hey Rich, I was thinking about what I was missing, and its the intial attack of the front, upwards curve of the sound. I can hear the guitar being played, but I want to feel the pluck on the string before the note sounds. The twang and percussive effect of the double bass player digging into a string."

Hi Jaffa,

Absolutely, that's a good goal, and just to summarize; your goal was to feel and enjoy the Music better, at normal listening levels without turning up the volume excessively high. You said your room was 5 meters x 6 meters which is equal to 16.5 Ft. x 19.8 Ft., which is a pretty decent sized listening room. I know that you would also like to; feel the attack and pluck of the Guitar, the thwack of the Drums, and the twang of the Double Bass, as you so eloquently stated above.

Well, just to put some of this into perspective for you, because there is certainly a lot of good information here, that can be very overwhelming for a new comer. You could certainly buy cables, and power cords, and room treatments and it all helps tremendously, and I mean that sincerely..., it really does and I have all of it as well. Even buying larger amps will primarily allow you to make it louder, and yes there is also the usual tighter bass, and other audiophile benefits, etc, etc..

If I buy a new suit, I may feel and look better, but I'm not suddenly going to become 6.5 Ft. tall

So..., to get the sound that you want, in that size room, you have to move a lot of air and excite the air in the room.

I understand that you are using very good, but "Small Studio Monitor Speakers."

As far as I know, there's are only a few ways to accomplish your goals:

1) Turn the volume all the way up, as you're doing, to raise the SPL in the room until it's uncomfortable.

2) Add one Subwoofer and introduce more problems and then we could start another thread on that one.

3) Buy two subwoofers and pray.

4) Add a center channel speaker, surround speakers, a processor, equalizer, more power cords, clutter up the room more and call it a Home Theater.

5) Move your Monitors into a smaller room in the house and enjoy them there.

6) Buy Larger Floor-Standing Speakers that moves more air at a lower volume, so that you may appreciate; a more involving transient attack of the leading instruments, without destroying that silky smooth sound that you so enjoy.

Oh, one more thing...., if you buy larger speakers, then you may need larger amps, and better cables, and fatter power cords, and more accessories, and max out your credit and take out a loan, and then, and only then, are you an Audiophile...

Now, my friend..., you really do have a lot of difficult decisions to make ; )

Enjoy and Happy Listening,
Thanks Rich, thats great, and funny mate!

I had better go and buy all this stuff before I go and get married I think. I am not sure how many wife's would really understand!