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  1. #1

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    Default Sound Quality at lower volumes?

    OK, this is something I've always wondered about, the decrease in SQ at lower volume levels.

    When I turn the volume down to anything below 90db or so, I lose a bit of clarity in the sound.

    I'm not talking about not being able to hear certain things that I can hear at louder volumes (background noises, a singer breathing, pads on a sax, etc)...although that is also true, that's to be expected.

    What I am hearing is an actual loss of clarity, muddy mid-range is the most prominent issue...

    This isn't something new, I've always noticed this with all my setups.

    Is this just something that we have to deal with, or has anyone else every even noticed this (maybe it's all in my head)...

    What we I attribute this to? Although it could obviously be anything, I'm thinking the most likely causes are either the amp section or the speakers themselves...or like I said above it's all in my head (doubt that though)

    Any thoughts from you guys?
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  2. #2

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    Default

    Some speakers are better than others in playing at lower volumes.
    HT/2-channel Rig: Sony 50” LCD TV; Toshiba HD-A2 DVD player; Emotiva LMC-1 pre/pro; Rogue Audio M-120 monoblocks (modded); Placette RVC; Emotiva LPA-1 amp; Bada HD-22 tube CDP (modded); VMPS Tower II SE (fronts); DIY Clearwave Dynamic 4CC (center); Wharfedale Opus Tri-Surrounds (rear); and VMPS 215 sub

    "God grooves with tubes."

  3. #3

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    Is that a factor of their efficiency, or something else...

    I've owned several pair of Polks and have noticed this with every set...
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  4. #4

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    You are experiencing a known effect whose name I just cant recall right now, it mostly effects bass ranges but can reach into the mids as well, I have experienced the same thing and know exactly what you mean.

    I have found that after some time passes it goes away and things sound just fine again.

    RT1
    REEL TIME THEATRE
    Onkyo-TX-NR5007
    B&K 7270 amplifier
    Polk SWA-500 Subwoofer amplifier
    OppO BDP-83
    Pioneer Elite 50"
    Polk LCi-RTS-105;LCi-RTS-C;LCi-RTSFx;LCi80Fx
    Subs-Twin Polk CSW200
    HTS5000


    RABBIT HOLE RIG
    BAT VK-31SE
    VTL MB-450 Signature monoblock
    Wolcott Presence monoblock
    Musical Fidelity kW SACD
    Rega P25/RB600/Clearaudio Aurum Beta
    Acoustech Phono-Pre
    Sound Lab Millenium ELS
    BillyBags Rack
    MIT S1/3 cables
    Shunyata/PS Audio/Virtual Dynamics Power Cords


    Everthing Matters...Tubes Rule...and It's Over until it's Not Over

  5. #5

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    Default

    I think you're trying to describe "low level linearity" and many things can affect it. Most notably is crossover design, though efficiency and other elements can effect it as well. Some speakers just need a little more "ummph" to get going, not really a flaw, just a by-product of its design. Early (1970/80's) Acoustic Research speakers were like this---you always felt like you needed to turn them up a little more. Some reviewers of the Lsi7 and Lsi9 have also pointed this out with those speakers (more so on the 9).

    I have 2 sets of tower speakers in my house, Pinnacle Classic Gold Towers and Athena AS-F2's. Both are almost identical in size, design, specs, etc. The Athena's have far better low level linearity though; I can play them at 'whisper" volume, and you don't feel like you're missing anything. The Pinnacles need a little push though, to sound their best. Not offensive volume levels mind you, just more of a nudge. Surprisingly, the Pinnacle is slightly more efficient at 95dB/1 watt vs 93dB on the Athena.

    You might experiment with some different speaker wire to flesh-out the midrange a bit....
    Last edited by steveinaz; 12-15-2004 at 10:53 AM.

    Source: Squeezebox Touch/CIA Power Supply
    DAC: Benchmark DAC/PRE
    Linestage: Placette RVC Passive
    Power Amp: Parasound HCA-1500A
    Speakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 Monitor
    Subwoofer: SVS PB12-NSD

  6. #6

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    You might experiment with some different speaker wire to flesh-out the midrange a bit....
    Sounds good, Steve. I'll only add that good interconnects help, too.

    However, does this issue really matter? For me, if I'm playing at low volumes, it's only for background effect. I'm not critically listening to the music, so it really doesn't matter if the clarity of sound is not quite there. IMO, music sounds best at moderate levels (or high levels for some folks). When you go to a concert or a dance club or a jazz club, the music is typically moderate or loud. And for good reason -- volume is needed to hear and feel the music, especially the bass. The analogy is HT. Who wants to watch an action flick at low levels?
    HT/2-channel Rig: Sony 50” LCD TV; Toshiba HD-A2 DVD player; Emotiva LMC-1 pre/pro; Rogue Audio M-120 monoblocks (modded); Placette RVC; Emotiva LPA-1 amp; Bada HD-22 tube CDP (modded); VMPS Tower II SE (fronts); DIY Clearwave Dynamic 4CC (center); Wharfedale Opus Tri-Surrounds (rear); and VMPS 215 sub

    "God grooves with tubes."

  7. #7

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    It's really a non-issue, and not an indicator of quality (or lack of), but if you do alot of very quiet listening (late night jazz and such) I'd recommend a good set of headphones.

    Source: Squeezebox Touch/CIA Power Supply
    DAC: Benchmark DAC/PRE
    Linestage: Placette RVC Passive
    Power Amp: Parasound HCA-1500A
    Speakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 Monitor
    Subwoofer: SVS PB12-NSD

  8. #8

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    Default Re: Sound Quality at lower volumes?

    Originally posted by Polkmaniac
    What I am hearing is an actual loss of clarity, muddy mid-range is the most prominent issue...

    This isn't something new, I've always noticed this with all my setups.

    Is this just something that we have to deal with, or has anyone else every even noticed this (maybe it's all in my head)...
    A good tube amp will take care of this problem. :)
    madmax
    Vinyl, the final frontier...

    Avantgarde horns, 300b tubes, thats the kinda crap I want... :D

  9. #9
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    Default

    I would look at the acoustics of your room before you drive your self crazy looking at hardware issues. This is a phenomenon I have experienced first hand at a friends house and read about in my research of acoustics. By your own admission, this has happened with all your setups so its does not ‘sound’ like a system issue, but an environment issue.

    In a pleasant acoustical environment, conversation is intelligible at all levels and there is no need to raise the volume, as the saying goes, in order to be clearly heard. In an acoustically hostile room, you feel the need to raise your voice to have intelligible conversation. I noticed this three years ago while having dinner at a friends house with hardwood floors, high ceilings and no soft furniture. I sat back part way through dinner and watched the other three starting to shout at each other, just having a normal friendly conversation. During the course of the dinner, the conversation also got louder, and louder, with no speech recognition improvements. I also noticed the (bad) acoustics of the room and this event started my research.

    The above example also happens when listening to music. You feel the need to raise the volume in order to make the sound ‘clearer’. The problem is that you will never reach the desired level of clarity, no matter how loud you play the music.

    As soon as you walk into an acoustically friendly room you can sense a difference in the ambience. Once you listen to your system in an acoustically friendly room, there is no going back. The internet contains a wealth of free information on the subject; perform some searches, start reading and keep reading until you understand the information. One place to start is at www.audioasylum.com in the Room Acoustics (Rives) forum.

    I hope this will start you on the path to find the solution to your problem.
    Last edited by jmierzur; 12-15-2004 at 12:16 PM.

  10. #10

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    In my previous post I was referring to something called the Fletcher Munson effect, it has to do with loudness contours and in a nut shell says that as music volumes are decreased the ability of the human ear to hear bass and high treble is reduced.
    REEL TIME THEATRE
    Onkyo-TX-NR5007
    B&K 7270 amplifier
    Polk SWA-500 Subwoofer amplifier
    OppO BDP-83
    Pioneer Elite 50"
    Polk LCi-RTS-105;LCi-RTS-C;LCi-RTSFx;LCi80Fx
    Subs-Twin Polk CSW200
    HTS5000


    RABBIT HOLE RIG
    BAT VK-31SE
    VTL MB-450 Signature monoblock
    Wolcott Presence monoblock
    Musical Fidelity kW SACD
    Rega P25/RB600/Clearaudio Aurum Beta
    Acoustech Phono-Pre
    Sound Lab Millenium ELS
    BillyBags Rack
    MIT S1/3 cables
    Shunyata/PS Audio/Virtual Dynamics Power Cords


    Everthing Matters...Tubes Rule...and It's Over until it's Not Over

  11. #11

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    Default Re: Re: Sound Quality at lower volumes?

    Originally posted by madmax
    A good tube amp will take care of this problem. :)
    madmax
    Atta boy!
    Check your lips at the door woman. Shake your hips like battleships. Yeah, all the white girls trip when I sing at Sunday service.

  12. #12

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    On the tube amp deal...how/why would that rectify this issue? I'm curious, as I've been thinking about getting into tubes...
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  13. #13

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    I have been dealing with some of these issues in my HT system. I have my HT and a 2 ch. system in an apt. that I work out of in Northern IL, and can not run either system at high-volumes. Most movies I watch I have the SPL at around 80 db to 84 db measured in the middle of the room on the slow scale on the Radio Shack SPL meter. I was having trouble with getting the bass and center front channel to fill the room at low volumes. I added a second CSi30 setting about 6.5" high above the TV and angled down towards setting height on the rear wall. I also added a second sub-woofer running very low at the opposite back corner from the front sub. I EQ without either of these hooked up, then add them and adjust to what sounds good. I now have room filling center channel and base, and amazingly the directionality of each has been pretty much eliminated. I'm really pleased with the results.

    What is it with tube amps? I run a set of very vintage Bogen tube amps driving a vintage set of ESS AMT 1B's (I can never remember whether these are 1A's or 1B's!) and I can not believe the clarity and presence at low volumes. Puts my SDA SRS's to absolute shame! These are at my acoustically disasterous partially finished house back on the farm in IA, and this setup just amazes me everytime I fire it up!
    DKG999
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    HT System: LSi9, LSiCx2, LSiFX, LSi7, SVS 20-39 PC+, B&K 507.s2 AVR, B&K Ref 125.2, Tripplite LCR-2400, Cambridge 650BD, Signal Cable PC/SC, BJC IC, Samsung 55" LED

    Music System: Magnepan 1.6QR, SVS SB12+, ARC pre, Parasound HCA1500 vertically bi-amped, Jolida CDP, Pro-Ject RM5.1SE TT, Pro-Ject TubeBox SE phono pre, SBT, PS Audio DLIII DAC

  14. #14

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    If the problem is the tone contour problem then tubes wont help. If it is that the lower volume is actually not as pleasing quality wise (transistor noise a big percentage of actual volume) then tubes will make a huge difference. Once you pick up on the dynamic noise made by most transistor amps (by hearing tube amps which do not have this noise) it becomes very hard to listen to. At louder volumes it gets lost but when playing lower you hear it all, you just cannot identify it yet. :)
    madmax
    Vinyl, the final frontier...

    Avantgarde horns, 300b tubes, thats the kinda crap I want... :D

  15. #15

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    After looking at Polkmaniac's equipment, I see you have a receiver. I also noticed you said "This isn't something new, I've always noticed this with all my setups." I think you may want to consider a seperate power amplifier. Most high quality amps are running in pure Class A mode to about 25 watts/rms (My Parasound, for one), they then switch to AB for higher output to reduce heat and increase efficiency. It could very well be that your AVR simply doesn't have good low-level articulation, which is not uncommon with receiver's.

    ....just something to think about.

    Source: Squeezebox Touch/CIA Power Supply
    DAC: Benchmark DAC/PRE
    Linestage: Placette RVC Passive
    Power Amp: Parasound HCA-1500A
    Speakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 Monitor
    Subwoofer: SVS PB12-NSD

  16. #16

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    I know that room acoustics play a part here, but this is something that I've had in other places as well, some of which were very good from a room accoustics standpoint, and still the same issue...

    I've also had two separate amps. One was an HK PA 2000 I bought on here, sold that later on...and I've also used the Parasound HCA 1500A (it's off to the shop for repair), and I notice the same thing with each of those as well, but now that I think about it, noticeably less with the Parasound...
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  17. #17
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    I looked at the information on Fletcher Munson effects; did not know about the changes in the 2k – 5k range and it was interesting to see the graph.

    If I was listening in the 90’s dB range, the 2k – 5k range would start to become more ‘distorted and piercing’, not become clearer as Polkmaniac noted. According to the graphs, as the overall sound level drops, these critical listening frequencies should become less pronounced. There is no reason that loss of clarity should be taking place at a lower level. Instead he should be saying it becomes unbearable to listen at louder levels.

    Next time you are in a highly reflective environment, stop and listen to the space around you. As I stated before, the ambience of a well treated room is dramatically different than the average room. Still sounds (pun intended) like an environment problem to me.

    OK, stepping off the soap box now. ;)

    Originally posted by madmax
    If the problem is the tone contour problem then tubes wont help. If it is that the lower volume is actually not as pleasing quality wise (transistor noise a big percentage of actual volume) then tubes will make a huge difference. Once you pick up on the dynamic noise made by most transistor amps (by hearing tube amps which do not have this noise) it becomes very hard to listen to. At louder volumes it gets lost but when playing lower you hear it all, you just cannot identify it yet. :)
    madmax
    This is true. I do not notice this on my system as I have Bybee's on the positive and negitive speaker terminals and in my BPT unit. When I placed then on the speaker terminals, I immediately noticed a smoother sound that sounded more realistic. I have listened to some very good tube based systems at the local shops, but still do not like the 'tube' sound. To each his own.

    He still should not be having such a noticable problem with the Parasound amp.

    Oh no, I have done it now. I said the dreaded 'Bybee' word! Let the fur fly; run for the hills. One day when the wife and kids are gone, I will take these off to see what the result is.


    Polkmaniac, hope you find the root of the problem as there is nothing worse than something ruining your source of pleasure.
    Last edited by jmierzur; 12-15-2004 at 04:34 PM.

  18. #18

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    well, it could be a "function" of the speaker. Maybe the Parasound helps. I have the HCA-1500A also, but have no problems with low-level articulation with my Athena towers. I do alot of late night, low-level listening and I love it--especially with Jazz. I'm probably not even pushing a tenth of a watt in those sessions.

    Source: Squeezebox Touch/CIA Power Supply
    DAC: Benchmark DAC/PRE
    Linestage: Placette RVC Passive
    Power Amp: Parasound HCA-1500A
    Speakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 Monitor
    Subwoofer: SVS PB12-NSD

  19. #19

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    I did a little testing last night to see if I could hear any difference at lower volume. 90db, no, no difference and btw, that is not low volume! 80db, no. 70db, no. 60db, well yea, there was an obvious problem. On voices they would sometimes kinda fade off as if there were not enough voltage output or something. 60db is very quiet but I was still surprised at the drop off. With my hand on the amp trying to change the volume slightly I noticed the amp was vibrating at 60 hz. I figured it was the main xformer so I set my magic brick on it. (a magic brick has mass and iron filings inside). That eliminated the problem of vibrating. I listened again and the voice fading I experienced earlier went away. I could hear them clearly at 50db which is very very quiet. Although this is different than your original post it just proves that if you don't seek out problems you will never find them. My system is a little better now.
    Thanks!
    madmax
    Vinyl, the final frontier...

    Avantgarde horns, 300b tubes, thats the kinda crap I want... :D

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