How Loud Do You Listen - Or Should You Listen?

Seems like a mundane question. You have a volume control right - so no problem - just use it.

But please bear with me. My speakers are Klipsch Forte III’s. For those not familiar they are fairly large floor-standers, horn-loaded in the mid and treble, and easy to drive at 8 Ohms and 99dB/W sensitivity.

They produce a crisp, lively, forward sound with no shortage of dynamics, drive and impact. Bass is deep fast and tuneful. My amp is a Moon integrated 100W/channel. The system will play frighteningly loud without showing any of the typical signs that things are being pushed too hard, ie. tonal hardness, softening of bass transients, a sense of strain and compression and loss of musical coherence.

I’ve had these for around two years or so. They are the first large speakers I’ve ever had at home - previously I’ve lived with bookshelf types, except for IBL’s.

It’s been a learning curve in many ways. I found I’ve had to re-adjust in some ways. One example: when I first got them my initial reaction was ‘where’s all the bass gone?’! They seemed to have less bass than the small speakers I had used previously! Not what I was expecting from their size! It took a while for the penny to drop. What I had regarded as ‘bass’ in the small speakers I’d always had before was actually bloated lower-midrange and upper bass. Lot’s of small speakers employ this trick - to make them sound fuller and to help disguise the fact that they have no deep bass at all. What I was now hearing was a complete lack of that bloat, so that unless the music contained real bass then there simply wasn’t any. But when real bass comes along you know about it. Deep, forceful and clean.

The other very curious thing is that setting the volume correctly seems much more important than ever before. Previously I’ve always just set the volume casually to whatever felt right at the time. Now I find that the sense of reality, of actually being there, is very greatly enhanced by getting the volume just right. I find myself inclined to play at slightly higher levels than what feels intuitively right, as doing so just makes everything so much more real. There’s a tangible sense of a rock band or orchestra actually being right in front of you. Yet lower the volume a little and this sense of reality is diminished.

Conversely, the speakers sound excellent at all levels, even when played very quietly. With many speakers one finds that the sound recedes into the boxes at low levels and loses presence and impact. This doesn’t happen here.

Maybe it’s something common to large speakers, I don’t know. But this greatly enhanced impression of reality once one hits a magic level is something I’ve never experienced before, with much smaller speakers. I’m left wondering about possible long-term hearing damage as this sense of realism inevitably means high sound levels!

So what are other people’s experiences? How loud do you typically listen?


Might be informative.


1 Like

Thanks Graeme. I did see these threads, but it’s more the greatly enhanced sense of realism once one hits a certain level that I’m curious to hear about from other people. Do they experience it also? It seems, from my experience anyway, to be peculiar to large speakers.

Very album/mood dependent I find. I’m listening to Bill Evans quite quietly just now, but had the ‘Stones ‘Sweet Virginia’ on at ear bleeding levels earlier.

Both hit the spot.



Interesting. What I’ve found is that the enhanced sense of realism at higher volumes is actually very addictive, so that I’m inclined to play at those sorts of levels all the time - or I feel I’m missing out. Can’t be healthy!

I guess it might come down to how resolving across the frequency/volume range one’s system is? I’m no expert in this but I used to find, with earlier systems, I did have to dial it up a bit to get that visceral sense.


I know exactly what you’re talking about, but that’s not really what’s happening here. It’s incredibly difficult to put into words. There’s no shortage of impact, solidity or drive at lower levels. In fact it’s by far the best system I’ve had in that respect. The IBL’s were pretty good but no match for the Klipsch’s.

I suppose what I’m saying in a roundabout way is that it seems that unless one plays at (seemingly) realistic levels then one loses a dimension of reality. This dimension is absolutely dependant on the levels being realistic so can’t be captured at lower levels. Imagine going to a rock concert or standing in front of someone playing an acoustic guitar or piano, and the sound being muted in some way. It would be realistic in all other ways (of course) but it just wouldn’t sound right. That’s the sort of effect I’m talking about.

Maybe with smaller speakers, which are inherently incapable of producing a realistic sound by virtue of their lack of bass and scale, it isn’t an issue. But with larger speakers, which are capable of at least conveying some realism, playing at lower levels loses something important - as it would in real life.

The question is I suppose do we always want absolute realism? Maybe sometimes we just want something more relaxing and gentle. But as I said - it’s addictive, at least to me.

1 Like

All live music is louder than what is typically played in the home. The dynamic range of an orchestra is greater than anything that can be recorded at the moment. All orchestra recordings have an element of compression. To hear them at their best, you would need to listen at a very high level.

Of course, higher volume listening is more accurate - it just depends on how well your system handles it. If your system plays very loudly without distortion then great. If not, you are limited by what level you can reach without hardness or distortion.


My first reaction on opening this thread was to post links to recent threads on the subject, then saw that @GraemeH did just that!

Whilst I discussed my listening levels in one or maybe both of those threads, I’ve upgraded both speakers and amp in the intervening time, so some difference here:

For me it varies by mood, but I do sometimes play at “realistic” levels, whence the sound level at the listening position may average high eighties, for short listening periods into the nineties for rock music. classical music depends on the type - an extreme being the Telarc 24-bit recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812, though I haven’t played it since changing amp and speakers, both more capable, so I’m guessing I can play it closer to realistic orchestral levels now without the canons clipping - with my previous setup I had to limit the orchestral parts to a rather unnatural average sound level of tge more dramatic parts only in the seventies.

For my ears’ sake, in general I tend to keep average levels no higher than low eighties except for short periods of time - truly realistic rock music maybe only 2 or 3 albums max in a session, and that infrequently.

I don’t play quietly very often.

(N.B. There were some pertinent notes about measurement of sound levels in the How loud is loud thread.)

1 Like

Some interesting contributions but I feel that nobody has really addressed the key point I was talking about - as described above. That’s why I started this thread as the others referred to don’t address it either.

Perhaps nobody else has encountered this phenomenon? Maybe it’s something unique to my particular set-up? Or indeed to me? Psychological?

Incidentally, my speaker experience is unlike yours because an unexpected temporary setup when I was building my first system briefly gave me the experience of real bass, so I knew what it sounded like and craved it. No way would I have been taken in by speakers presenting overemphasised harmonics in place of the real thing. Although the resultant completed speakers did some bass, they lacked that depth, and were rather woolly, so plans to improve were immediately in place. Being at school, only with pocket money + paperround earnings, it took time - I built one at a time, so partial lopsided improvement after a year or two, but longer to both. They were much better, though far from perfect, but the best I could afford. After a few years working I did a major speaker audition, finding myself decent real full range (transmission line) speakers. In today’s money the cost was somewhere around £2.5-£3k, but would cost at least double that new if made today (nearest equivalent is probably at least PMC twentyfive-24. That was almost 48 years ago: 3 changes since then, though the originals are still good and still in the family (one of my sons now has them). Peak loudness capability has increased with each change. And improving amplification has improved grip/tautness.

1 Like

Trying to address one aspect of the thread theme, I think I’ve tended to play at much the same “realistic” levels all through, because that is when music sounds more, erm, realistic! Upping the volume, especially with rock music, is great because it is even more like a real gig (or moving nearer the front), and the only reasons I don’t play at such levels at all times are 1) a wish to retain my hearing and 2) whilst I live in a detached house, I don’t live alone and the music room is not soundproofed.

1 Like

With 99dB/W sensitivity and 100W/ch and a medium-sized room it’s easy to achieve realistic levels with absolutely no sign at all of stress - on the system’s part anyway. The limiting factor is ‘how much can you take?’ In the past the systems I owned always showed signs of running out of steam long before my ears really felt threatened, and one quickly learned to not go beyond a certain point.

I don’t really know how far I could go now because I’ve reached the limit where my ears feel comfortable and the system clearly still has more to give. So I’ve never really explored my set-up to its limits, unlike any other system I’ve owned.

Large full-range speakers and high volume levels create a significantly more believable experience than any small speaker that I’ve ever owned or heard. I don’t believe it would be possible to replicate that sense of realism using smaller speakers and by improving the source alone - no matter how much one spent on it. Until I owned these speakers I never appreciated how much I was missing out on by using much smaller ones.

I wish I’d made the leap to large speakers much sooner. In the past, I’m thinking of the 60’s and 70’s, much was made of the benefits of large speakers. One was aware then that small speakers were really an undesirable compromise. Nowadays it seems that small speakers are all the rage and large speakers are often looked upon as being rather ugly and cumbersome and really not quite the thing to have in your room. Strange how times/attitudes change.

I tend to use human voice as the benchmark and aim for the level the singer would be at if singing from the central point between the speakers. Generally speaking, the more strident vocals of Metallica would play more loudly than the restrained vocals of Adele. However, the recording also dictates the optimum volume where sound quality snaps into focus and find this varies greatly. Mood also plays a part, I feel. Finally, I use a sound level app to occasionally check I am not exceeding 85db at even the most toe tapping of listening sessions.

1 Like

Over time I went from larger speakers to medium and relatively “smaller” size high quality speakers that articulate music very well (yes, bass too). I would also call this gradual transition a journey to understanding better the relationship of amp, speakers and room and my own preferences.
It’s critical for me that my system plays colourful music at low volume. If I cannot achieve this, my system is wrong. Only then high volume listening is also enjoyable rather than just noisier. That said, I tend to do higher volume only occasionally.

1 Like

NB. Just as an aside, many times I’ve read that one can convincingly replicate the experience of large speakers by using a pair of bookshelf-sized ones and a subwoofer. All I can say is that I’ve never heard such a system anywhere, and that includes at home, that sounded anything like large speakers. It just sounds to me like a pair of small speakers with bass tagged on to them.


I have personally found as the quality of my system components the volume that I listen at in the main had reduced. My Stereo amplifier is rated at 400 Watts RMS, what this ultimately brings for me is an ability to hear much more detail at a much lower volume level, not sure what DB level I am playing at but I would say depending on recording quality and level between 8 & 10 on my Townshend Allegri + which is an Autotransformer and therefore is not plugged to the mains. The most quiet noise floor I have ever experience, if its in the recording, you hear it!

Over the years, I’ve found that the optimum volume is room dependent. Some rooms (large and/or irregularly shaped) allow quite loud settings while others (most smaller and square) get overloaded pretty easily, especially with large floorstanders.

Yes, absolutely! My speakers are not small and pushing them hard is addictive - often it feels like the more you push them the better (more exciting) they sound. They’re not bad when playing quietly, and I often listen that way, but the sense of the system/speakers ‘having fun’ when pushed hard is almost tangible.

Slightly oddly, it reminds me of my skis, which, ever since I got them, have seemed to have their own ‘speed demon’ personality. They’re great just turning in a leisurely way, but when you point them downhill and let them run, my goodness me, it feels like you’ve just floored a car’s accelerator. As I get older, it gets scarier, but usually in a good way!



Since getting my first IMFs 48 years ago I have only really felt limited in sound level by the system’s capability when playing Telarc’s Tchaikovsky 1812, which has been only an occasional play. Otherwise I have played as loud as I wanted without evident system distress, but in the first quarter of that time living in terraced houses limited times of day that I could play very loudly. As I learnt more about hearing damage, I made myself moderate the length of time I played loudest. Music mostly just sounds best played at, or similar to, the sound levels at a live performance.

Amp power has nothing to do with you hearing detail (unless you have volume control wound right up and are listening to detail in a passage normally very quiet!). Clarity of amp and noise floor are quite unrelated to power.

Or just an aging thing?! I play loud for realistic levels and the energy of a rock gig, not to hear more!

Transitioning to higher quality speakers of course is better - unfortunately bass is much harder to reproduce fully and well compared to higher frequencies, more if a design challenge, larger and more complex to build, so speakers doing good bass are inevitably expensive. Size is not a direct measure of ability, either in range ir quality, but small speakers are inherently limited, I believe despite people’s claims to still hear the bass - actually either very diminished or hearing harmonics and the brain believing it is hearing lower.