Help. My ears hurt. How do I limit peaks in my audio to save my ears?

I finally have a great sound system and it’s too much for my ears.

Infinity RSIIb speakers w/bass EQ unit
Bi-amped with two Hafler DH-500 amplifiers.
Onkyo Integra 304 pre-amp
Denon DCD-600 CD player

I am happy with the way everything sounds. Low distortion, no hum, and very clear sound. I never even turn it up past 20-25% but feel like my problem is too much headroom is allowing peak audio spikes through and they are leaving me with ear ringing after even short sessions. I listen to pretty mellow tunes too. No EDM or distorted guitars.

I like to get the sense of presence and feel the bass but I want to save my hearing. What can I do?

Hey nncoco

Welcome to the fun spot!!

Perchance does your Denon have a dynamic range
auto limiter or a fixed one? This could help your
situation. Maybe your Onkyo preamp might have
a similar feature…

You can always play at very low levels for limited
time…

Best wishes

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Welcome!
Sounds like you need some tubes in the chain :slightly_smiling_face:

Kidding aside, when you say “finally have a great system” what is the latest addition to the system? Has the sound you described only been an issue since the latest component was added?
Do others hear/feel the same things after listening to you system for extended periods?
Curious as to the gain of the preamp & amps?
Can you talk about your cables a bit?

Lot of smart, experienced, friendly people here. I’m confident you’ll get some good starting points…

Best,
-JP

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If there isn’t significant distortion, it’s not the peaks that matter, it’s simply the average volume. If anything is distorting, then that adds energy during the distortion which can add fatigue. Sometimes people confuse louder than natural high frequencies with clarity, but the extra energy up top can be fatiguing over time. It’s an easy trap to fall into if your criterion for keeping something new is only that things are “clearer”.

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At what dB level are you listening?

You can download a sound level meter for phone. Let us know what you get as an overall average.

I suspect you are listening at much higher levels than you think you are.

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Maybe a sub would give you the bass impact that you’re looking for without excessive volume.

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Could be that your room has peaks at certain frequencies, which are contributing to listening fatigue. Perhaps some room treatments would help.

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That’s exactly what I was thinking. Maybe different speaker setup might help too.

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Thank you for all of the informative replies. So much knowledge. I love forums.

I have just read the Denon and Onkyo manuals. There are no dynamic range limiting features.

I am thinking of switching out the Denon DCD-600 for something more modern and see if that improves the sound. It is old-tech (my whole system is.)

Tubes would be nice. I play guitar and am very familiar with their audio performance. I do have a tube PA head with a lot of power. I could try it on the top end of the speakers sometime.

The whole system is new. to me. I got it all for $50 at a yard sale. It needed some restoration such as a midrange driver and bass speaker surrounds. The Amps have all been professionally recapped by the previous owner so I think they are about as close to stock performance as possible.

The cables are braided and about 15-20’ long. They are heavy gauge from Monster Cable. They look expensive.

I have not played it for anyone but the neighbors outside my window.

Don’t know about the gain of my amps and pre-amp. Can you explain?

I think I probably am listening at a pretty high volume sometimes but often I feel the spikes at a lower volume in jazz and piano for example.

I will get a db meter and check my volume soon.

A sub kicking out under 100htz would really give me the illusion of volume that I crave. Great idea.

The room is small with coves and a big window. The final space is not ready yet but it is about 12x18 feet with a smaller window. Lots of full records and bookshelves to dampen sound and old-school acoustic ceiling (love the popcorn.) I will cross whole listening room bridge later.

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I’d start with treating your room, and speaker placement first, before adding new equipment.

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Have you tried turning down the midrange control? Sounds like you have some upper midrange peaks that is too strong and need some control. You can use your bass equalizer to boost the bass a little also. That might help. The crossover and internal wires at the time of these speakers are a bit crude and if you are to replace them with better quality ones, that would really help.

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One positive from reading the manual to the pre-amp is that I discovered that my 1970s Sony 2251 with SME tonearm was playing at the wrong pre-amp setting for it’s Audio Technica cartridge. Listening to a Beethoven string quartet now and it sounds beautiful.

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I tried lowering the midrange control but it only affects the center one out, of the three midrange plainars. I like a lot of vocal presence. I noticed that modern audiophile speakers at places like Best Buy have loads of midrange presence. Too much really. It seems gimmicky.

These Infinitys sound better than what I’m seeing at stores but to get more of that presence, I have to lower the treble and up the volume too much.

Are there rebuild kits available for these old crossovers? I really want to get the best out
of this system.

No, there are no rebuild kits, but if you are pretty handy with an soldering iron, you can replace the parts yourself. Go to Parts Connexion and get the same value high quality capacitors and inductors and replace the old ones. If you do not use the tweeter and midrange controls, I would take them out of the circuit by bypassing them. They really degrade the sound. I Would put in a solid high quality resister in their place. I would also go to VH Audio and get some good hookup wires and replace the old crappy ones. I did these things to a pair of Infinity 3B’s and believe me, the improvement to the sound is absolutely unbelievable!!

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I was just tossing out some thoughts to learn a little bit more about your system, I was thinking your overall system gain might be a little too hot, which would explain the limited range of the volume control in your case, 25% I believe you mentioned

Your preamps (line & phono) contribute a certain amount of gain (aside from passive preamps) measured in db to the system which if too high (or low) or poorly matched to amps & sources can produce un-desirables. excessive brightness, too much “energy”, limited useable range on the volume control…

Sounds like you got a lot of good suggestions! Did you grab a sound level meter from the app store yet? Sorry if I missed this! Looks like your on to the crossovers, which is a great place to start, it certianly wont do bad things…

Best,
-JP

Im listening to Elvis Costello now and the peak db got to 76. The average was 69-71. This is not cranked up. I do occasionally play louder but this volume is pretty average for me.

Part of what i have here is a level of sonic acutance that I am not used to. These speakers and all that wattage can really deliver a solid accent coming from any frequency.

Audio of this quality is new to me. The best I had before was a Quadraflex receiver with JBL L100 speakers and a Bose Lifestyle system in the kitchen.

I’m settling in.

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70dB is a reasonable level to settle in at for longer listening sessions, provided the peaks are not much more than 2 or 3 dB higher – at least in terms of my sensibilities (ears). If the midrange or, especially, the treble is over emphasized, listening fatigue can crop up pretty quickly.

Good luck to you.

My wife is gone for a couple of days. I am hitting 88 dB peaks at the moment.
Shame on me, I know better.

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Sounds like a system from the old Warehouse Sound Co. in San Luis Obispo. :wink:

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This is a very understandable difficulty that I think many of us have dealt with. I have to agree that you may be listening at too high an overall level, and the use a db meter to quantify peak and average levels would be helpful. It would be convenient if you could audition a great system in someone’s home for comparison purposes. Unfortunately, audiophiles can be hard to find. Here in Athens Georgia, a town with many music lovers, I can find very few people interested in audiophile equipment. Good luck!