Speakers for low level listening.

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by jlhi2001, Sep 16, 2020 at 8:17 AM.

  1. jlhi2001

    jlhi2001 Member Thread Starter

    I'm looking for a speaker that works well near a wall that doesn't lose low frequency information at low listening levels.

    I'm currently using a pair of rear-ported Proac Response 1SC standmount speakers in a condo with an L-shaped open floor plan. I listen mostly at night which limits volume. The listening area, so to speak, is the short leg of the L and measures approximately 12' x 10'. The 10' wall actually extends some 20' into the longer leg of the L.

    First, the Proac's have to be paced along the 10' segment of the wall opposite the seating. Thus the distance between the back of the speakers and the back of the seating is 12'. This really won't work as the speakers should be placed away from the walls on stands which means they would be about three feet into a 12' wide room. That is just isn't practical.

    Second, the low level listening isn't great. The Proacs are small speakers and the low end that's there begins to diminish disproportionately as the volume is decreased. I don't really listen at high levels to begin with so the ultimate limitation on listening levels isn't really an issue.

    I'm thinking that a pair of acoustically sealed speakers would be best for placement against or near the walls. They could be placed on the floor. Alternatively, I could place a 24'' high by 12' bookcase along the 20' leg and place the speakers on top of the bookcase--that would place the speakers near ear level.

    I've read that the Klipsch Heresy (especially the new Heresy IV) works well at low listening levels. I'm sure there are other floor standing speaker options available. Alternatively, something like a "bookshelf " or larger vintage acoustic suspension speaker or modern iteration might work. I'd like to get down to near 40 kHz if possible. I think the new Klipsch heresy might get near there.

    My goal, then, is to find a speaker that works well near a wall and doesn't lose low frequency information as the levels are decreased. Soundstaging isn't that important to me (if at all), I'm much more interested in timbral accuracy.

    Any suggestions are much appreciated.

    Thanks, John
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020 at 8:24 AM
    bhazen likes this.
  2. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    Also take the amplification into account. I have found that some amps just have to be turned up to sound good. IMO, Naim is an example. Also depends on the particular amp-speaker match.

    HE speakers with SET amplification are the textbook example of a system that tends to sound great at low levels.
    Raul77 and jupiterboy like this.
  3. Dennis Metz

    Dennis Metz Born In A Motor City!

    Fonthill, Ontario
    I can’t agree with you about Naim. My Naim/Neat combo sounds great at any volume
    bhazen likes this.
  4. Yellow Rubber Jacket

    Yellow Rubber Jacket Well-Known Member

    New York
    Not sure about the Heresy, but I have the Klipsch Forte III and can confirm they are pretty amazing at low levels. They don't lose any of their excitement, and in fact, I think they sound best at moderate volumes. In my room they get close to 4ohz, but not quite. I think last time I measured they started dropping off at 45hz. Also, you don't need to get them far from the walls. They sound best in my space at about 10-12" from the rear wall.
  5. Bingo Bongo

    Bingo Bongo Music gives me Eargasms

    I would think the Loudness button on your amp/receiver would take care of that. Do they still have make them that way???
    Manimal and jtw like this.
  6. jlhi2001

    jlhi2001 Member Thread Starter

    I'm alternating between a Naim Nait 5i-2 integrated and a vintage Onkyo receiver. Neither one does all that great. I had a Line Magnetic 216ia integrated push-pull amp rated at around 32 watts. The name controlled the Proacs better--I think the Proacs might be 86 db. I sold the Line Magnetic some time ago. I work from home these days and likely will for quite some time. My concern with an SET amp is leaving it on for long periods time--like all day while working.

    I could start with HE speakers and then address amplification later.
  7. jlhi2001

    jlhi2001 Member Thread Starter

    I have a vintage Onkyo receiver with the loudness feature but I don't thinks it's quite the same as having a speaker that doesn't roll off so much as the volume is decreased. But I'm also looking for a speaker that works well against a wall.
    Raul77 and Bingo Bongo like this.
  8. Silverwolf

    Silverwolf Forum Resident

    I remember reading a fair few reviews for the Tannoy XT6F’s that said they keep their bass at lower volumes, and can be placed fairly near a wall due to their ports being at the bottom of the speaker. I don’t know if other models up the range are the same...
  9. timind

    timind phorum rezident

    Westfield, IN USA
    Google Fletcher Munson curve for some insight on what's happening when we listen at low volume.
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  10. jtw

    jtw Forum Resident

    I want to emphasize what others are telling you. Google Fletcher-Munson. The only real solutions are a loudness button or some other way to apply equalization to compensate for our lack of ability to hear highs and lows at low volumes. Your situation is exactly why loudness buttons are there.
    jbmcb, timind and joeriz like this.
  11. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    The Totem Sky works particularly well when positioned anywhere from 4" away from a wall. Listening positions at mid-field distances up to about 7' away from the front baffles of the speakers also work well, as long as the speakers are contained in a relatively small room.

    It's relatively easy to get any moderate-or-better quality speaker/amp combination to provide a full range experience that's satisfying when listening levels measure something close to 78-80dB average at a midfield listening position in a small-to-small/medium size room. The problem is that hearing acuity in most people drops slowly but steadily as the average listening level drops below about 70dB in that midfield listening position in that room size range. In a modern apartment or condo building constructed any time in the past 30 years or so, the aforementioned 70dB midfield average SPL - and possibly as high as 78dB depending on the type of building construction and inter-suite sound abatement designed by the original architect) - won't disturb anyone's neighbors in the building.

    Another problem arises when trying to achieve that 70-78dB listening level when the listening position in the room is 8' or 10' or more from the front of the speaker baffles. The inverse square law begins to kick in. So even though a measured SPL at the more distant listening position is still maintained at 70-78dB, much more amp power is needed to achieve it (because the sound has to travel through much greater air volume before reaching your ears at the listening position) and the transmissible volume level is therefore a lot higher, which in turn means that your neighbors may hear/notice plenty of low frequency sound. The music will still seem only moderate in volume to you at the comparatively more distant listening position, but your neighbors are much more likely to hear it. So the advice is always to reduce the listening distance to no more than 7' - less than that is better though. The closer you get - within reason in a typical living room in an apartment or condo - the louder you'll be able to listen to music without disturbing your neighbors.

    Or, you could forget about all that and go with a more straightforward solution. Keep the ProAc speakers and your excellent Naim 5i right where they are, but add an SPL Phonitor Mini headphone amp or an SPL Phnoitor 2, a pair of Fostex TH900 headphones (one of my all-time favorites) or Sennheiser HD800S, Mr Speakers Ether C Flow, Audeze LCD-XC, Beyerdynamic T1, Focal Clear, Grado Statement GS2000e, Sennheiser HD 650 or 660S V2 if you want superbness on a moderate budget, Grado Prestige SR325e if you want surprisingly good sound on an even tighter budget, or Shure SRH440 if you want surprisingly good sound on the squeaky-tightest budget. With the remarkable SPL Phonitor and any of these headphones, your late night listening won't be a compromise and you will be able to keep your existing amps and speakers (which are all very good). Anyway, it's a consideration.
  12. Slimwhit33

    Slimwhit33 Forum Resident

    Orange County NY
    +1 on the Forte III suggestion.. they are amazingly dynamic at very low volumes. Awesome late night speaker IMO..
    BluTorch likes this.
  13. jtw

    jtw Forum Resident

    You're right. The loudness button and speaker roll off are two completely different things. But even if you had speakers that were perfectly flat down to 20 Hz, you would still need some kind of eq or a loudness button to compensate for the lack of perceived bass at lower volumes.

    Headphones/earbuds are a great solution for your situation.
    SteveKr and jeffmackwood like this.
  14. 911s55

    911s55 Forum Resident

    Wa state
    High efficiency dynamic speakers work well at low volume. Klipsch has many models that could work, the Forte's previously mentioned have a rear passive so they could create some issues if the room and wall don't get along with them. Klipsch Cornwall would be a candidate if you have the space.

    I had Forte's and replaced them with ZU Dirty Weekends, very efficient, smoother, smaller and still maintain a large musical presentation and are very good with dynamics and detail at lower volume.
    Robert M. likes this.
  15. jtw

    jtw Forum Resident

    Sorry. Don't believe folks who are suggesting that a certain speaker will solve your problem. If you bought a speaker that sounded good at low volumes, you would need an anti-loudness button to make it sound right at high volumes. Read and understand Fletcher-Munson.
  16. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    Get the Heresys. Most speakers are nowhere near as good at low levels.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  17. jeffmackwood

    jeffmackwood Forum Resident


    I don't know of any speaker that embodies that knowledge in order to adapt its response curve to compensate for low volume listening. This is not a speaker issue.

  18. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    It's probably important to define what you mean by "low levels". At what listening distance, at what average SPL at that listening distance, and to overcome what level of household background noise in an L-shaped living room/dining room layout in an apartment of condo building that typically partly wraps around a kitchen with the usual refrigerator compressor noise?

    I have no quarrel with a recommendation someone makes for the Klipsch Heresy IV. They're good speakers, no doubt about it. But the OP stated that his current, small ProAc standmounts have to be positioned very close to the wall (presumably because of space considerations in the room). So he might not actually have the space available for the footprint of a (much larger) pair of Heresy speakers that also benefit from being positioned at least 30cm from the wall behind.
  19. SeaTac

    SeaTac Active Member

    I don't use it for music since I have a dedicated Preamp for 2-channel listening but for movies and TV I have the option when I use my AVR. Most Denon and Marantz systems, and likely any AVR that includes AUDYSSEY MULTEQ XT32, have an option called Dynamic EQ.

    Dynamic EQ corrects the frequency response in consideration of
    the audio characteristics of the room and human hearing ability so
    that sound can be heard even at low volume.
    This is recommended when using the unit with the volume turned
    down, e.g. when enjoying a movie or TV program in the middle of
    the night.
    0 Dynamic Volume adjusts the output volume to the optimal level
    while constantly monitoring the level of the audio input to the unit.
    Optimal volume control is performed automatically without any
    loss in the dynamism and clarity of the sound when, for example,
    the volume suddenly increases for commercials shown during
    television programs.
  20. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    Good point regarding positioning. I have the H-IIIs and they’re placed less than 6 inches of the walls, however, the IVs are ported so such positioning might not be viable.

    As for SPLs, I’m referring to averages in the low 50s. They can produce bass punch at even lower volumes in my room, which is much larger than the OPs.

    One place where I don’t like how they sound is in my concrete basement, due to some strange bass boom that can’t be alleviated regardless of placement.
  21. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Fish tacos.

    San Diego
    Have you thought about trying EQ? Something like the Schiit Loki? I added a small EQ for low level listening and it does the job. Basically doing what a loudness contour switch would do> Boosting LF and HF to my taste.
  22. Jon1969

    Jon1969 Ozark Hillbilly

    Schiit Loki?

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  23. egoBen

    egoBen Well-Known Member

    I own the Heresy III:s and some other speakers, Tannoy's Stirling and Eaton, Harbeth's 30.1 and P3ESR, all are lovely speakers but like previously said, an EQ isn't a bad idea no matter what speakers you have. Personally I'm more like the opposite, I want to turn the bass down, during night time because I don't want to disturb neighbours. But it would work fine the other way around too of course. I have owned Proac's too by the way, the floor stander 1.5, fantastic speakers! Try an EQ and see if it helps if you don't want to get a different amp with tone controls, tone controls are really useful! Don't trust the people who say it mess up the signal, it's just weird to say that. But if you want to keep the great Naim, the Schiit Loki EQ should be good if you can connect it in the path some way. I own the Beallari EQ570 that I posted about in another thread, I'm using it right now since it's late at night here and it works great to do what I want it to.

           EQ570 - Audio Equalizer - Bellari Audio
  24. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Fish tacos.

    San Diego
    One thing I don't like about Schiit is the too bright white LED power lights on the small components. I have a Modi3 and I wish it was just a smaller little blue indicator or something. Thing is like a flashlight in a dark room! The Modi3 sounds wonderful though.
  25. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    Use these. They're cheap and they work:

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