Too much power?

I have a wonderful system with a great amplifier, and yet auditioned a more powerful version of the same amp. It indeed seemed to have more punch and drive, but at the expense of playing it a bit too loud. As my current system I rarely play over 70 db, since it’s perfect at low levels. I wonder other than bragging rights, what does more power get you? Since we aren’t here for PA style sound, is there a reasonable limit to how much you will benefit from higher power/ more expensive and? Especially since tire just using one watt most of the time?


So, were you motivated to turn the volume up because you weren't hearing the same level of detail?

"I have a wonderful system with a great amplifier."

Stop. Do not pass go. You are there. Be happy. Peace...

Good point. I think level of detail was lacking, but also with more power you feel the need to stress it. If you own a sports car in the city, perhaps it gets tiresome to stick to 30 mph?

Maybe. Looking at your system, assuming it is up to date, the Electrocompaniet 220 puts out 70 watts at 8 ohms, 120 at 4, into Maggie 1.7s. Seems like it might lack the depth needed for those speakers. Maggie owners, is this enough for mid-volume listening?

I hate audio shows. They all turn up the volume too loud because the next room is so loud and they realize everyone's ears are ringing so they have to turn it up to get through that.  Thus the audition means nothing to me.

You are listening at 70 dB, even with insensitive speakers, that's less than one watt.  So the question is, is the first watt from the other amp better than the first watt from your amp?  Probably not.  

I think you are experiencing just want they wanted you too--at excessive volume the dynamics stood out.


I once heard two very similar Rowland amps playing in a system which had, I believe, power hungry Magnepan speakers.  One amp was rated at something like 50 watts and the other 200 watts (basically the same amp with a larger power supply and more output transistors).  I thought the 50 watt amp sounded better, and the dealer doing the demonstration agreed.  He suggested that having fewer transistors operating in parallel probably improved the sound and that the bigger amp would come into its own if we asked it to play more loudly (it was plenty loud for me when we did the demonstration).

70dB is really low, and you indeed have a totally different amp calculation than guys like me. When you’re regularly pushing well into the 90s, then powerful amps and efficient speakers become worth their weight in gold. The power factor between 70dB and 90dB is 100 times! That means 100 Watts to me is like 1 Watt for you. You should definitely subscribe to the "First Watt" philosophy.

@zlone yes, thanks for checking the details, I have EC 220, and used to have 2 as mono blocks.. long story short was trying the EC AW 180.. but my question really was if any of these crazy powerful amps are even necessary when listening at any humane volume. I will say that power ratings are pretty useless to judge actual quality, but money tends to be the equalizer in most decisions. More powerful = more expensive.

@mulveling I think that's an interesting observation. I find many/most systems don't  seem to perform until they reach a certain DB.. now you're right about the exponential cost of loudness, but if you get the bass right (2 subs) it seems to be more than satisfying.. 

@zlone yes, thanks for checking the details, I have EC 220, and used to have 2 as mono blocks.. long story short was trying the EC AW 180.. but my question really was if any of these crazy powerful amps are even necessary when listening at any humane volume. I will say that power ratings are pretty useless to judge actual quality, but money tends to be the equalizer in most decisions. More powerful = more expensive.

I understand, but thought it worth raising the point given the speakers. I went through something similar with my difficult to drive LS50's, starting with a 75 watt amp and ending up with 150 watts. I listen in the 70-80 db range as well and found the higher powered amps gave me a richer sound and fuller bass. Different vendors though, so some of that could be house sound. 

1. Headroom. See Sanders amp white paper.

2. No

3. Proper inflation is the ticket.


@mulveling I think that’s an interesting observation. I find many/most systems don’t seem to perform until they reach a certain DB.. now you’re right about the exponential cost of loudness, but if you get the bass right (2 subs) it seems to be more than satisfying..

@dain There’s definitely some gear that falls apart at lower volumes, for whatever reason (non-linearities such as class AB crossover distortion, etc). But I think the bigger issue is our human hearing response curves, and how it heavily favors midrange frequencies as the volume level drops low (this is how speech maintains intelligibility even at a whisper). This means that systems which boost the bass and treble frequencies will sound more "whole" at lower volumes. Conversely, systems with a truly flat response may need to be throttled to "come alive". This was the whole premise between "loudness" buttons on stereo gear of the past.

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@dain  OK, I'm dating myself, but "back in the day" I found that some of the then "high powered" amps (like 200 watts per channel) to me didn't sound "good" until you cranked it up.

Fast forward to the 2000's and when I "saw the light at the end of the tunnel" with my kids' college costs, and started my journey into the "high end", I found that the more powerful amps seemed to sound like they had more "air" around the music, that they were not struggling to drive the speakers...and like you, I don't play music that loud.

@carlsbad   I'm with you on the loud volumes played at audio shows!

“I have a wonderful system with a great amplifier, and yet auditioned a more powerful version of the same amp. It indeed seemed to have more punch and drive”


Perhaps the gain was higher?

It really depends on one's speakers and system setup on how much power you need... With mine, they demand 0,01-0,01W with 0,2W peaks when I listen to them loud. So, my needs are below 1/5 of a watt... 1 watt for me is already splurging, and I rarely go there, only for concert-level experiences.

In general, as the amplifier gets more powerful, it can only be done through additional gain stages in the amplifier that erode the soundfloor. (Which is the low level details).

Most speakers are completely incapable of reproducing low soundfloors, so there's seemingly not much left missing as one climbs to even 5000WPC with the so pervasive "I need an arc-welder just to nudge"-type loudspeakers. Yet, provided sensitive speakers, going from 1W to 20W can already be a deal-breaker as already a noticeable layer of the soundfloor is lost, which might be subtle when you hear it first time in your life - yet, when you live with it, and are used to it, it will mean a LOT to loose it....

Just because you have the same manufacturer but two different models, does not mean that they will sound the same. The old Adcom smaller amps sounded better than the more powerful models.  You need to be happy with your choice and move on if that makes sense.


Happy Listening.

I have 450wpc but can still get great dynamics with less than 1 watt. Just depends on how well your components match..

I find the ideal volume depends on your whole system. But in general, the better my system has gotten, the less volume is needed. 

Over the decades I have pursued this hobby, more power has increased the punch and fullness in solid state amps. Although, for less power tube amps bested them overall.

Looking over your system, if I were you I would look to upgrade my preamp before looking to increase the power of your amps. I would guess that a really good audiophile preamp would increase details and midrange bloom and have a huge improvement on the overall performance of your system. I would recommend the best used Audio Research, VAC, Conrad Johnson or Presto preamp you can afford. Then you can revisit the amp issue later.

More power isn’t always the answer in hifi. My speakers are 92db sensitivity and I also listen mostly in the 65-80 db range.  Probably using 2-25 watts of power. 
Maybe I missed it, but what’s the rest of your system?


At 70dB SPL your speakers are not getting 1 watt or 2 watts or 10 watts, in fact they are not even getting 1/2 watt. At 70dB SPL your speakers are getting milliwatts from the amp. In my experience driving low efficiency speakers with milliwatts will sound anemic at low volume; high efficiency speakers can play well with milliwatts and not sound anemic at low volume. Also amplifiers, tube amplifiers and SS amps produce more distortion in lower impedances then higher impedances. In my opinion, higher efficiency (not higher sensitivity) and higher impedance speakers make more sense then a more powerful amp. 😎
Hope that helps. See article below:


@mulveling Wrote:

You should definitely subscribe to the "First Watt" philosophy.

I agree!

In the know Maggie owners all say that the more power the better.

Sanders certainly does.  Clipping does not sound good.


I listen at 60-70dB max as well. People have advised me that

planar or electrostatics would be best for me. Female vocals, etc.


If you have EC and Maggies just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Why bother to listen to a "system" at 70db, try a clock radio. I listen to music at the volume as recorded and meant to be heard.

When Vladimir Ashkenazy made a recording of Beethoven's piano sonata No. 28 in 1977 on a Steinway D, that is what I want to hear 45 years later in my room. Complete with his musical intent and it's necessary dynamics.

Ambitious audio is a manner of having a different but equal experience to hearing music in the flesh.


@dain your speakers are 86dB with nominal impedance 4 ohms. I haven't seen the impedance curve, but it may drop below 4 ohms at certain frequencies. This is a quasi-ribbon speaker and usually a demanding load for the amplifier. Your amp may not be up to the task of driving these to their full capabilities. I agree with @ditusa  that you need a more powerful amp to bring these to life. It is not about playing it loud. With a more powerful amp, you get better bass, imaging, spacing, and depth. Find a good SS amp that can deliver at least 200 W at 4 ohms and 400 W at 2 ohms. There are many good amps that can drive these speakers.

Regardless of what speakers you have, listening at moderate levels doesn't require a powerful amp at all. The dBs produced at one watt is the same no matter the amp. 

70 dB may be too low for good listening. I'm sure recordings are mastered at significantly higher levels than this. And our hearing response is level related. The lower the level the poorer our hearing at low and high frequencies(I seem to recall flat is at 100 dB). So if you listen at levels lower than the recording was mastered at, the level the mastering engineer set his sense of octave to octave balance, you're missing out on lows and highs and that probably results in the loss of excitement.

With ny one set of monoblocks  I changed speakers that were much harder to drive a d with the bigger load on the amp they system  came to life. The speaker needs to match the amp 

@dain    It is true that different systems perform differentially at different volume levels.  So uncomplicate the issue.  First determine what volume you like listening at.  After all. your music and your system are playing for your benefit.

Then listen to competing systems all at that level - get a dB meter and set the volume using a steady state sine wave at about 600Hz being a mid-frequency level.  Choose the system you like the most.

Most people don’t realize that they probably use only 5 watts during normal listening levels. However, having the reserve power for transients is very important and adds greatly to the performance of your system, That being said, higher wattage amplifiers don’t always mean louder. In fact it take exponentially, more wattage to produce a noticeable increase in loudness. I’m sure there are more knowledgeable individuals in this post who can explain in more depth but my point is don’t expect a larger amplifier to be “louder” just because it has more wattage output. Quality over quantity..

Great points. Thanks. I also needed to update my system in the forum. It’s all EC from dac to preamp, and yes, @ghdprentice I changed the preamp from Freya+ to EC and was very impactful. My amp seems plenty able to drive the Maggie’s loud, I just find the need to do that less necessary, mainly because of the bass impact from EC seems very effective at delivering current. >70 amps rating. I looked, the 180 monoblocks I tried have >100 amps and I looked up Parasound flagship >140 amps. I suppose even at 1 watt that this current or push has some positive effects, but it done any seem at my preferred listing level moving to the more powerful amps would accomplish much except draining my bank account. As @tomcarr said, enjoy and stop the FOMO. 

All else being equal a more powerful amplifier provides:

The ability to play music at louder levels without losing response linearity or introducing clipping and strain distortion.  

The ability to maintain relative volume level going from a smaller room to a larger room and a greater distance from the listening position.

The ability to maintain a relative volume level and dynamic headroom going to a speaker with less efficiency and more difficult to drive.

The ability to provide more relative volume and dynamic headroom (ability to be heard above louder levels of room background noise and din).

The maggie 1.7 is a fine speaker, but you need at least 150 watts to drive them to their potential.  I moved up to the 3.7's and they sound better with 250 watts.

It's true, many home listening is at an average 1w with mid-sensitivity speakers in a medium-small room at 70SPL.  And listening to level-compressed popular music requires an instantaneous headroom of between 3 and 10dB, which is 2w to 10w max without clipping of peaks.  However the headroom of 20dB of acoustic music (orchestral, jazz) and movies peak at 100w.  Double or half that peak wattage for speakers that range from +3 to -3dB of typical sensitivity.

@dbakker  that’s an interesting observation. I was recently at a chamber orchestra concert playing in an exquisite hall. 4th row. All I could think is that this would sound better as a recording where I could turn it up! It was in the 70db peak region (I checked) I enjoyed it but how anyone in the 50th row would hear the piano (well it was a harpsichord )I have no idea. So how do you assume there’s some specific volume appropriate to any recording? If you want to study this you’ll find masterers really have no idea, and are currently being policed by streaming services that now stress dynamic range over sheer loudness as has been the norm for 50 years, but that could be a different topic.


It seems you are investigating the right things. I have had season tickets to the Oregon Symphony for ten years, 7th row center. Over this time the softest music slowly rises out of a black background and crescendos we’re a bit to much for my ears… where resolution is reduced because it is simply too loud… but we are talking about a couple seconds over many hours of concerts.

So, for me, this showed the audio levels that are appropriate. Only the very loudest crescendos being really loud and the very softest pieces coming out of the void. This gives you a base line of what a system should sound like. You want a dead quiet background  < 30db in your listening room and have the quietest pieces gently rise from this background, then the largest crescendos push the limit of when your ears start loosing differentiation. 

A full symphony is the key to gauging the sound pressure levels.


Your equipment, well  that is another story. The better it is, the more it will mimic the real world.



My experience with Magnepan's is just the opposite. My 1.7's sound much better being driven by the XA-25 vs the XA-100.8 monos. That said, I prefer the 100.8's with the Quad ESL-2905's. 

Great article! I love the guy that said “life begins at 300watt Tubes of course!” After having Big Powerful Mono blocks for years I’m happy with less now running a 

VTLS200 and surprisingly in Triode more then I like to admit ✨with only 100watts but then again I have a REL Carbon Fiber to fill in the lower region and couldn’t be happier, however that being said so much is dependent on your speakers efficiency as when I had Martin Logan’s they responded well to massive power where as the Harbeths response is to quality not quantity🌟

I agree, I’ve had so many amps in the past, nothing compared to the Rotel rb1090 when i had it (before the smoke rose from the top one morning)


all these bunny fart amps , while loved, are worthless for volume, you need the headroom for rock/metal, or just symphonic crescendos!


have not gone below 300W rms, since the rotel fiasco.

if you love your 1.5 watt class A tube, enjoy, im sure its amazing through a nice bonus faber bookshelf pair, at low to med volume.


if you wanna shred, go 250-300W rms you will be rewarded.


no clipping, you get the full sound as meant to be!

cymbals , guitar, vocals, kick drum,.....the lowest powered amps i have in 8 Ohm are the Odyssey moon, they are powering a 3-4 Ohm speaker pair, so im still getting 300+ rms. Those Sanders Magtech monos are a 9th wonder of the world, they seem to run on endless power, into any load, even to 1 Ohm and below during tests, and use, powering some hard to drive Avalon, or Apogee, even those MBL Radiostrahler beasts, nothing drove those speakers like the magtech monos, even a pair of Sunfire sig 600's kneeled to the Magtech monos. They are so simple looking, yet will control any speaker, electrostatic,,....anything. She is on my radar this summer, then i can sell my Emotiva monos. Hint......hint......

most will disagree, but once you have the power, you will never look back.




I would feel severely abused if I were required to listen at only 70 dB SPL. 

@dain wrote:

... I wonder other than bragging rights, what does more power get you? Since we aren’t here for PA style sound, is there a reasonable limit to how much you will benefit from higher power/ more expensive and? Especially since tire just using one watt most of the time?

It's about what serves an important purpose to the individual; to me it's making the better/most use of the plentiful of wattages at hand, and having them efficiently turned into acoustic energy. Where they're not, not least over a wider SPL- and frequency bandwidth, it sounds more like an effort is exserted, which in turn has a signature as something more readily reproduced.

Lower efficiency in the electric to acoustic energy transfer (which also includes the effectiveness of cone to air coupling) to me can sound like an added lag or a higher level of perceived "viscosity" to the presentation, apart from being less immersive and present sounding. Merely adding wattages into a lower eff. package isn't enough for the desired low viscosity, effortless and immersive feel of sound, when most of it here is converted into heat in the voice coils and cross-over components, and cone-to-air delivery is badly utilized via direct radiation - unless from a large(r) direct radiating surface.

On the other hand with such circumstances addressed - i.e.: removing the passive XO, more efficient and larger/horn-loaded drivers/radiation area - for a more efficient transfer of an electrical signal to what's eventually perceived by the ears, less wattages are needed for a given SPL, but that's not necessarily to say we need less wattages overall. Instead, with the same power output we're given quite a lot more headroom within which music can "roam" more freely, something we likely missed in the first place - perhaps without even realizing it.

Dynamic peaks in the 90-110dB range with fairly non-compressed music material can take quite a lot of power with moderate to low eff. and not least passively configured speakers, certainly at more than ~12ft. listening distance and depending on acoustics, and so even several hundred watts can easily be sucked up with neither amps nor speakers having any headroom to give of here. 

I really didn’t expect it, but every time I cross over beyond 200 Watts of tube power, I get significantly better dynamics, bass, impact, and subjectively better "grip" over the big 15" drivers as a whole. Like I said I do listen quite loud, but then my speakers are 96dB / Watt Tannoys - and even 20 Watt amps can blast them quite loud, but NOT with the authority of the higher power amps!

I have one set of tube monos good for an honest 250 Watts / ch, and another set of tube monos good for almost 300. There is a BIG difference with these over the sub-200 Watts tube & SS amps I’ve used. There are likely other reasons beyond the raw power output, like premium parts & construction - but I think there’s also something to running multiple push-pull pairs of tubes per side, if you can afford to.