Why do some recommend high sensitivity drivers when low volume listening is the goal

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Firstly, I'm no expert. Just trying to learn.

Over the years browsing various hifi forums I have often seen people (including myself) ask for direction on a system (driver or loudspeaker system, diy or commercial off the shelf) that plays well at low volumes. Presumably and at least in my case, playing at low volumes only is a pre requisite as I share my living quarters and not musical tastes with others. Sleeping patterns is of course another story.

I've seen this answered on so many occasions with the advice to seek a high sensitivity system.

Now, from my early exploration into educating myself with the theory, doesn't the relative sensitivity of systems mainly relate to how much power is demanded from the amp for a constant listening volume? So, has little or nothing to do with low volume listening?

My really basic answer to this query today would be to seek a system with perhaps an increased bass range sensitivity relative to the mids/highs. Reason being due to the lack of sensitivity of the ear to bass frequencies at lower volumes.

Am I on the right track?
Joined 2011
I think many want to use very low power amps, roughly 1W or so, because
they can sound better due to fewer circuit compromises to get high power.

Speakers have to be voiced to sound "right" at a certain volume level
because of the way the ear works, especially in the bass range.
A high power amp would have to be used in the bottom of its range
with a high efficiency speaker, where it may not have the best sound.
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Joined 2011
I'm aware of the loudness control on amps and its purpose.

One type of circuit is a loudness switch that uses a tap on the volume control.
Another type is a separate loudness control knob that is used in conjunction with the volume control.
This allows adjustment using the actual sound level heard, instead of just using the electrical level,
which is not an accurate adjustment.
High efficiency horn designs control directivity to radiate more acoustic power to the listener's ears, and spray less acoustic power into the room. A higher signal-to-noise ratio reaching the listener's ears is interpreted by the brain as a louder sound, and often a more detailed(fast transients) sound.

"The on axis, free space directivity factor for sound sources with several common free space radiation patterns are as follows: Monopole: DF = 1.0, Dipole: DF = 3, Cardioid: DF = 3, 90x90 Horn: DF=8.27. What this means is that if these three different sources are to radiate the same total acoustic power then if the monopole has an on axis intensity of 1.0 the dipole and cardioid will have an on axis intensity of 3.0 or 4.77 dB greater, and the horn will have an on axis intensity of 8.27 or 9.2 dB greater. Conversely, if the difference sources are to have the same on axis intensity then the dipole and cardioid will radiate 1/3 the acoustic power of the monopole, and the horn 1/9 the acoustic power of the monopole. When studying room acoustics and reverberation this means that the "critical distance" from the speaker will be greater for a dipole or cardioid or horn than for a monopole. The "critical distance" is the distance at which direct and reflected sound are equal. The level of the reflected sound, above the modal region of the room, is usually considered constant and proportional to the total radiated power. Thus when sitting the same distance from a conventional speaker and a dipole/horn, the dipole/horn can potentially sound more detailed since at the position that ratio of direct to reflected sound is greater. "
Maybe you could find an old Yamaha integrated (or similar) that has loudness control...even some new ones have it.
This is designed to do exactly what your after. It works with whatever speaker you prefer.


They currently have a 2 channel integrated offering with a variable loudness control, USB in, and some other nice modern features for an integrated. It should be a very well engineered good value.
High efficiency speakers tend to have more motor control vs. suspension, and often sound better at low levels accordingly (though if that's the cause is debatable). Also, nearly all class A/B amps have a modest range where they're fully class A, to prevent crossover distortion (at the 0V crossing). Higher efficiency speakers mean you're using pure class A more often with those amps, because they're rarely if ever exceeding the class A bias. Larger, more efficient systems tend to also have better directivity characteristics which has several impacts to perception, etc.

There are other reasons, these are just a few.
They currently have a 2 channel integrated offering with a variable loudness control, USB in, and some other nice modern features for an integrated. It should be a very well engineered good value.

Not ‘should be’ it is! I’ve had a R-N803 for a year now......for mid-fi this thing is a awesome value. Streaming/app based dsp/sub integration w/hi and low pass/wi-fi/usb......excellent amp section.

It’s my first experience with real dsp......there will be more dsp in my future!
Here's a link to a previous thread on the same topic: Considerations for good performance at low volume

In a nutshell, the conclusion seemed to be that when playing at lower volumes and therefore working with much smaller motor forces, the amount of mechanical resistance from the suspension and spider becomes more important. So a driver with a lower Rms value should in theory be better. Unfortunately, it's not a figure that's provided by all manufacturers. It might be interesting though to look at this value for high efficiency drivers - perhaps it is frequently lower than the usual diy suspects?

Just as an example, here's a driver from Eton that (should?) fit the bill nicely: https://solen.ca/wp-content/uploads/8_212.pdf

I also happen to require low level listening. When it's just casual listening, I employ my receiver's eq functions to adjust for the high and low frequency losses but for more serious listening I want to avoid it and use the receiver's 'Pure Direct' function. My solution to counteract the equal loudness curve losses in this case is to use an adjustable xo in a 3-way speaker. Still a few weeks away from implementing it, but I plan to simply use a couple of switches on the mid and tweeter filters to change the series resistance for each circuit and thereby adjust the bass and treble levels a little more to my liking. Flip the switches again and they'll be back to a flatter FR and ready for louder listening again.

people often make recommendations based on their belief that loudspeakers are similar to automobiles. Ask yourself, what is it that you think a loudspeaker lacks when playing at a lower volume setting. You can counteract it by applying active EQ of some kind or you can try doing the same thing by designing a loudspeaker with such an out of ordinary crossover/enclosure loading.
Linesource nailed it. When you are bouncing most of the sound off the walls and ceiling it's hard to hear detail unless you turn it up. Horns or other controlled directivity speakers sound clearer at low volume because of this. Perhaps the other factors come into play as well, but I'd bet it's 90 percent directivity.
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