No matter how competent the various components of your audio system are, unless the levels are optimally set, the listening experience will be hindered. Choosing the best levels for your speakers is a vital part of setting up your system.
What levels should you set your speakers to?
As a general rule speakers should be set between 70-80 dB in volume. This can be established using a decibel meter. Several variables impact this, including the position of the speakers, the distance between them, and the acoustics of the room.
Calibrating the speakers in your home audio system is essential if you want to enjoy the best possible quality and dynamics.
It can be very frustrating when you have to turn your receiver up so high that there’s not much headroom left to get additional volume through the speakers.
Thankfully, this can be solved if certain measures are followed. In this guide, I’ll advise you on the optimal levels to set your speakers to.
Optimal Speaker Levels
Even if you’ve got all of the necessary gear in your home audio system, you still need to take certain measures to ensure that you get the best listening experience possible. One of the key areas you need to assess is the level that your speakers are set to.
If your speaker’s levels are set too high, this poses some obvious issues. Firstly, there’s the risk that you’ll damage your hearing. Our ears are sensitive to high volumes, especially when we’re exposed to them constantly.
Secondly, by setting your speaker levels too high you’re likely to upset your housemates or neighbors! Despite this, it’s important to find the perfect level for your speakers so that you can enjoy music and other audio types to the fullest, without missing out on any of the details.
Unfortunately, I can’t provide you with a definitive optimal level that you should set your speakers to. This is because several contributing factors come into play. These include the layout of the room where your audio system is set up, the acoustics of the space, and of course, the distance between the listener and the speakers.
The power of your speakers is also something that needs to be considered.
By assessing each of these variables, we can establish the best level for you to choose to provide the perfect blend of clarity, volume, tone, and the protection of your and other listener’s ears.
- Generally, the best level to set your speakers to is 75 dB.
If your space is smaller than average, you could limit this to 70 dB and likewise, if you have a particularly large listening space you could push it to 80 dB. Anything over this is likely to cause a disturbance or harm your ears if you get too close to the speakers.
The most reliable way to check the levels of your speakers is by using a device known as an SPL meter. Your receiver is likely to have a wide-band pink-noise test tone built into it, which is specifically for checking the dB of your output.
This test tone usually consists of a beeping sound, which is activated by pushing a button on the receiver, or its accompanying remote control. It is much safer to use this feature to check the level of your speakers rather than using music because the one-dimensional tone is less likely to damage your ears.
Bass frequencies are the biggest cause of hearing damage, and therefore the test tone of the receiver is made up of mid and high frequencies only.
To test the level, you simply need to activate this feature and hold the SPL meter while standing or sitting in the main listening location concerning your audio setup.
Why Do I Have To Turn My Receiver So High?
A common problem that leaves people scratching their heads, is why the level on a receiver needs to be turned so high for the speakers to produce adequate volume. There are a few potential reasons for this, which are easy to solve once you understand them.
Perhaps you’ve recently switched from an old receiver to a new model and have found that you have to turn the level control much higher than was previously necessary to achieve the same volume.
The key thing to understand is that the values used to indicate the level on your receiver are meaningless. The only thing that matters is the number of decibels output by the receiver, not the specific scale that the device measures volume by.
This is because several variables impact the loudness of the sound system. These include:
- Sensitivity of the speakers
- Size of the room
- The power rating of your receiver
- The prominence of bass/mid/treble frequencies
One thing that commonly confuses is the ideal of “0 dB” on a receiver.
It may seem logical that this value means the receiver would be producing no sound at all, but actually, “0 dB” should be considered the maximum loudness presented by the receiver’s volume display.
Setting the level of the receiver beyond 0 dB risks the amplifier being driven into audible distortion, saturation, or clipping.
On an AV receiver, the dB indications are relative, that is to say, they are heard in relation to the previous values rather than being directly multipliable from one another.
This may sound confusing at first, but let me give you an example.
Let’s say your receiver’s dB setting is currently set to -25 dB, and you increase it to -22 dB. This increase will result in a slight rise in the volume level.
If you were to increase the level from -25 dB to, say, -15 dB, this would result in the sound being around twice as loud, because you’ve increased it by a total of 10 dB. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the relative volume of your speakers and receiver settings are exclusive to your audio system.
In another listening environment, where the acoustics of the room are different, the speakers boast different specifications and the overall power rating of the receiver was different, the same settings you used to optimize the level of your receiver would create completely different results.
Indeed, the wattage rating of your speakers will also impact the level that your receiver needs to be set at.
This is because speakers which require more power need a boost in volume from the receiver for the audio signal to be audible, whereas smaller speakers with a lesser wattage rating require significantly less.
If you find that you need to set the levels of your receiver so high that there’s hardly any headroom for increasing the volume, you may need to consider either acquiring a more powerful receiver or downgrading your speakers to a lower-wattage option which leaves more room for additional loudness.
Check out my article to find out if amplifiers can be too powerful for speakers. You can read it here.
To give you an idea of how loud your speakers should be set, you can refer to the table below:
|110||Live rock concert|
|140||Jet engine takeoff|
Tips For Setting Your Speaker Levels
To optimally set your speaker levels, you’ll need a good quality SPL meter and a tape measure. Then you’ll need to find the primary listening position in your room, and sit down (or stand) depending on your preferences.
At this stage, it’s worth turning the volume down on the receiver to a relatively quiet level. This ensures that when you activate the receiver’s test tones, they won’t be surprisingly loud and harm your ears or annoy the neighbors!
On your receiver’s settings, locate the general setup menu. This is usually named one of the following:
- Manual setup
- Speaker config
- Speaker setup
Once you’ve found this menu, you’ll need to locate the “Speaker Delay” or “Speaker Distance” settings. Then, using your tape measure, figure out the distance from each speaker to the primary listening position in your room.
Once you’ve got the measurements, go back to the distance or delay settings on the receiver, and input the information. Then it’s time to activate the receiver’s test tone and use your SPL meter to see how loud the sound is from the primary listening position.
It’s recommended to calibrate each speaker to around 75 dB. This volume is loud enough to hear the audio in detail, without risking any hearing damage in the long term.
If you have ever wondered if Bass Boost can damage speakers, be sure to check out my article on the subject. You can read it here.
Check out this video from PS Audio in speaker levels for more information.
Is 100dB too loud for my speakers?
Unless you’re playing a live gig in a large venue, setting your speakers to 100 dB is too loud. Anything over 80 dB is considered to be potentially harmful to your hearing and is also likely to get you a noise complaint if people live nearby.
Does speaker wattage affect volume?
Although more wattage does equate to more volume from speakers, the efficiency of the speakers is also an important factor. More wattage means the receiver and amp will need to drive more power to the speakers to reach high volumes.
Should subwoofers be set to different levels to tweeters?
Bass frequencies have the potential to cause more damage to a person’s hearing, so it may be necessary to calibrate them differently to the tweeters. In a regular listening space, the subwoofers shouldn’t be set any louder than 80 dB.