Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps

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AllanS

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Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« on: 18 Mar 2023, 12:48 am »
One of many things that confuse me is dynamic headroom. I get the basic concept but wonder about the practical conditions where it makes an actual difference.
Specifically I’m thinking of low vs high power amps. I have a pair of PS Audio M1200 mono blocks playing through 90dB 4 ohm Spatial M4 Sapphires. Sounds great. I just bought a Schiit Lyr headphone / preamp and Gjallarhorn 10wpc speaker amp for the desk top. Also sounds great playing through the same M4s.
My torture track, as a reviewer described it a few years ago, is “Luminol” (Steven Wilson, “The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories”), which I’d think is a good test of dynamic headroom.
To compare the systems I played this track at uncomfortably loud levels, which for me in my space is upper 70s average with 80s peaks (unfortunately I didn’t record actual levels). I honestly could not tell any difference in the intro drum attack. Overall I thought how the 2 very different sets of gear presented this and other tracks was very similar.
Maybe I’m just deaf to what others might find to be significant differences but I’m having a tough time reconciling the dynamic headroom argument for high power amps. Besides general curiosity I’m wondering if my listening preferences are better suited to a low power system that does more with less.

Tyson

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #1 on: 18 Mar 2023, 01:29 am »
If you are listening to music with 80db peaks and the speakers are 90db efficient, you are not even using 1 watt of power.  Which opens up a lot of great amps to play around with.  Personally I love high efficiency speakers for exactly this reason. 

jtcf

Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #2 on: 18 Mar 2023, 03:05 pm »
Depends on the speakers. Hard to drive speakers with severe impedance dips wouldn't fair so well.

I.Greyhound Fan

Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #3 on: 18 Mar 2023, 03:56 pm »
I can tell you that my Magnepans sound better with high power, high current, high capacitance amps.

Saturn94

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #4 on: 18 Mar 2023, 04:07 pm »
I can tell you that my Magnepans sound better with high power, high current, high capacitance amps.

My experience as well.  :thumb:

poseidonsvoice

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #5 on: 18 Mar 2023, 06:05 pm »
If you are listening to music with 95dB peaks* and the speakers are 96dB efficient, you are not even using 10 watts of power.  Which opens up a lot of great amps to play around with.  Personally I love high efficiency speakers for exactly this reason.

 :green:

Best,
Anand.

*=at the listening position about 10-12 feet away, i.e. 3-4 meters in a 26 ft X 16 ft X 10 ft room.

P.S. Seriously though, the dynamic ‘headroom’ argument by amplifier manufacturers is only relevant after considering the overall sensitivity of the loudspeaker it is paired with, and the impedance/phase curves, specifically between 50Hz to about 5khz where the great majority of music exists. So 600 watts (since your PS Audio unit uses the ICE design in the output stage) is plenty, but obviously unnecessary except for Apogee Stages, Magnepan’s (on a head banging day), etc…hopefully the OP likes the other sonic qualities of the PS Audio design.

AllanS

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #6 on: 18 Mar 2023, 09:05 pm »
Thanks much for sharing your thoughts and experiences.  All this opens up a lot of fertile ground for rabbit hole hunting.   

…hopefully the OP likes the other sonic qualities of the PS Audio design.

I like the PSA sound well enough but I’m not overly enamored of it, certainly no more than the Schiit stack I’m listening to right now or other setups I’ve heard.
I’m taking advantage of the main preamp being out for repair to get hours on the Schiit.  Aside from some initial brightness, time with this “lesser” system has me thinking I don’t need as much as I thought I would.
I always felt as though the M1200s were total overkill for my listening preferences and setup but FOMO on what others experience kept them in this, my first serious system build.
I’m afraid I may be one of those who is never satisfied but am coming to understand that chasing the grail with increasingly more expensive gear probably isn’t the answer for me.  My listening space is about 150 sqft in a 230 sqft room.  It doesn’t take much to get pretty loud and hopefully doesn’t take much to get pretty good.

Tyson

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #7 on: 18 Mar 2023, 09:15 pm »
If you really want to hear what your Sapphire's are capable of, get an ultra high quality, medium powered amp like the Pass 25 or 30.  I ran my X3's with a First Watt (Pass designed) 30 watt amp and it was incredible. 

AllanS

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #8 on: 18 Mar 2023, 09:57 pm »
If you really want to hear what your Sapphire's are capable of, get an ultra high quality, medium powered amp like the Pass 25 or 30.  I ran my X3's with a First Watt (Pass designed) 30 watt amp and it was incredible.
Hmmm.  Something to reconsider.  The XA25 was on the short list before landing on the M1200s.  A year ago heat and perceived lack of power swayed me.  But everything is different now.

1965

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #9 on: 20 Mar 2023, 12:38 pm »
I just had a Ghorn here for a short time. A buddy in Texas sent it to me for audition on the way to someone else. I too listen in a small room and at the same levels.  If I hit 80db I’m cranking it.  It drove Elac Unifi 2.0 speakers to 85db peaks with no discernible dynamic compression.  My Ascend Acoustic Sierras were an easy load compared.   And the SNR on that thing is for real.  Black backgrounds? You betcha.  If my AVA amp ever gives up the ghost I know what I’m buying without a doubt.

MttBsh

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #10 on: 20 Mar 2023, 03:07 pm »
I just had a Ghorn here for a short time. A buddy in Texas sent it to me for audition on the way to someone else. I too listen in a small room and at the same levels.  If I hit 80db I’m cranking it.  It drove Elac Unifi 2.0 speakers to 85db peaks with no discernible dynamic compression.  My Ascend Acoustic Sierras were an easy load compared.   And the SNR on that thing is for real.  Black backgrounds? You betcha.  If my AVA amp ever gives up the ghost I know what I’m buying without a doubt.

Intrigued by your post I Googled Ghorn and found no results. Is that the manufacturer's name?

Tyson

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #11 on: 20 Mar 2023, 03:56 pm »
Intrigued by your post I Googled Ghorn and found no results. Is that the manufacturer's name?

Maybe this?  https://www.schiit.com/products/gjallarhorn

MttBsh

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #12 on: 20 Mar 2023, 07:37 pm »
Maybe this?  https://www.schiit.com/products/gjallarhorn

To Prefer a $299 Schitt over an AVA amp would be pretty high praise for the "Ghorn".

seikosha

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #13 on: 20 Mar 2023, 09:06 pm »
To Prefer a $299 Schitt over an AVA amp would be pretty high praise for the "Ghorn".

Might be more of a reflection of the AVA amp?  I’ve got a Gjallorhorn.  It’s a nice amp…. for the price….but I certainly wouldn’t settle for it as a replacement for one of my more expensive amps.

AllanS

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #14 on: 21 Mar 2023, 11:43 am »
It drove Elac Unifi 2.0 speakers to 85db peaks with no discernible dynamic compression.

This was my also my experience playing the Gjallarhorn/Lyr through a pair of 84dB Salk Supercharged SongSurrounds.  Though I am contemplating just leaving this set as is, I don’t know that it’ll replace the main gear.  The cost/performance curve in my situation is hard to ignore.
The M1200s are paired with a PS Audio Gain Cell DAC (GCD) / preamp that is out for repair.  It will be interesting to swap that setup back in when the GCD returns to see if there is a stark contrast.  (I should spend some quality time with the Lyr playing through the M1200s.)
The biggest difference I noticed between the two setups is I can listen to the PS Audio setup at higher volumes without it grating on me.  I may be mistaken but I perceive this as brightness than will temper with hours.  The Schiit stack includes a Bifrost DAC which I suppose could be contributing to the perceived brightness.
Back to the point: In my experience having 1200 watts on tap is akin to riding a Ducati on the street when it’s really better suited for track days.  I owned a Duc and happily traded it for a BMW R1150 that was perfect for my more relaxed riding preferences.  I’m looking for the same balance in my setup.

I.Greyhound Fan

Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #15 on: 21 Mar 2023, 04:50 pm »
Why are you even worrying about having too much power?  If you like the sound sit back and enjoy.  I have a friend that has the 1200's and loves them.

AllanS

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #16 on: 22 Mar 2023, 05:08 am »
Why are you even worrying about having too much power?  If you like the sound sit back and enjoy.  I have a friend that has the 1200's and loves them.
Fair question.  The answer could be long winded but I’ll aim for succinct. 
In hind sight I’m recognizing my lack of foresight.  Without a plan I assembled the system in the wrong order.  I bought speakers and the amps before finalizing a layout and preparing a revealing space.  Fortunately I stopped short of putting bigger money into a preamp and DAC until I finished the room and speaker setup.
The space and speaker set up are now as about as good as they’re going to get and I’m hearing little discernible difference between the 1200w and 10w systems (aside from the perceived brightness and assumed calming with hours), which creates my conundrum. 
I can’t afford or justify spending big money on a complimentary preamp and DAC in front of the M1200s.  I like them well enough and won’t take a step back to save some money.  But if they’re not clearly better in any way that I can discern I may be better off reallocating the equipment dollars to build a better balanced and lower overall cost system.
Long story short I’m not worried about too much power.  Recognizing I don’t need anywhere near as much power as I initially assumed is a revelation that creates opportunities.  Unfortunately or fortunately my deaf ears also lead me to believe something like a really nice Pass System would be a waste no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise.

I.Greyhound Fan

Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #17 on: 22 Mar 2023, 04:09 pm »
Fair question.  The answer could be long winded but I’ll aim for succinct. 
In hind sight I’m recognizing my lack of foresight.  Without a plan I assembled the system in the wrong order.  I bought speakers and the amps before finalizing a layout and preparing a revealing space.  Fortunately I stopped short of putting bigger money into a preamp and DAC until I finished the room and speaker setup.
The space and speaker set up are now as about as good as they’re going to get and I’m hearing little discernible difference between the 1200w and 10w systems (aside from the perceived brightness and assumed calming with hours), which creates my conundrum. 
I can’t afford or justify spending big money on a complimentary preamp and DAC in front of the M1200s.  I like them well enough and won’t take a step back to save some money.  But if they’re not clearly better in any way that I can discern I may be better off reallocating the equipment dollars to build a better balanced and lower overall cost system.
Long story short I’m not worried about too much power.  Recognizing I don’t need anywhere near as much power as I initially assumed is a revelation that creates opportunities.  Unfortunately or fortunately my deaf ears also lead me to believe something like a really nice Pass System would be a waste no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise.

Before changing amps, I would consider a new or different DAC or preamp.  Hit the used market or buy new with a generous return policy.  Also, consider tube rolling in the M1200's.  Tubes can make a huge difference.  USB cables can make a big difference as well.
What preamp, DAC, phono, cables are you using?  Have you played some pristine recorded reference music to see if you can hear a difference?  Turn the lights off and listen on different days as our hearing varies on different days.

I haven't heard the M1200's yet but owned a pair of M700's which sounded very good and better than the Parasound A21 that I had at the time.  The M1200's are supposed to be that much better and my friend in New Mexico who owns the M1200's and owned the M700's concurs.

AllanS

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Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #18 on: 22 Mar 2023, 10:42 pm »
Before changing amps, I would consider a new or different DAC or preamp.  Hit the used market or buy new with a generous return policy.  Also, consider tube rolling in the M1200's.  Tubes can make a huge difference.  USB cables can make a big difference as well.
What preamp, DAC, phono, cables are you using?  Have you played some pristine recorded reference music to see if you can hear a difference?  Turn the lights off and listen on different days as our hearing varies on different days.

I haven't heard the M1200's yet but owned a pair of M700's which sounded very good and better than the Parasound A21 that I had at the time.  The M1200's are supposed to be that much better and my friend in New Mexico who owns the M1200's and owned the M700's concurs.
I’ve been using the PS Audio Gain Cell DAC / preamp.  It’s out for repair which is why I’m using the Schiiit stack. 
IC and cables are Blue Jeans digital coax from a Vault2i to the GCD, Blue Jeans Belden XLR from the GCD to M1200, and Audio Art Signature Edition 2 cables to the Sapphires.
Reference material right now is a collection of Octave Record selections that are the best I have.  I usually listen in the evenings when the house and environment quiet down.  My space is upstairs facing the street and not too far removed from a busy road. 
I plan on spending time with the PSA rig again to check myself when the GCD returns. 
Edit: I wouldn’t say I’m in a hurry to part ways with the amps but need to find an affordable, complimentary way forward.  Used is certainly an option I’d consider.
 
« Last Edit: 23 Mar 2023, 02:23 am by AllanS »

I.Greyhound Fan

Re: Dynamic Headroom - Low v High Power Amps
« Reply #19 on: 24 Mar 2023, 07:05 pm »
I’ve been using the PS Audio Gain Cell DAC / preamp.  It’s out for repair which is why I’m using the Schiiit stack. 
IC and cables are Blue Jeans digital coax from a Vault2i to the GCD, Blue Jeans Belden XLR from the GCD to M1200, and Audio Art Signature Edition 2 cables to the Sapphires.
Reference material right now is a collection of Octave Record selections that are the best I have.  I usually listen in the evenings when the house and environment quiet down.  My space is upstairs facing the street and not too far removed from a busy road. 
I plan on spending time with the PSA rig again to check myself when the GCD returns. 
Edit: I wouldn’t say I’m in a hurry to part ways with the amps but need to find an affordable, complimentary way forward.  Used is certainly an option I’d consider.

That is some nice gear you have.  I would definitely try a few different tubes in your amps.  They definitely make a difference.  Also, before changing amps, consider a DAC or preamp upgrade.

I would also consider an upgrade of your BJC XLR.  I have a pair and they were just ok.  I ended up with a pair of Belden 8402 XLR's that sound more refined and smoother.  The 8402 XLR sounds better than my Cardas Parsec and AQ Colombia XLR's which cost way more. 

https://btpa.com/IC8402XLR-XX.html