Learning about the decibel is one of the basics in understanding how audio works. Not only that, but you need this information when you’re in the market for speakers. So, what dB level should I set my speakers to? Let’s find that out and more.
According to experts, the best dB for speakers is 90dB. Audiophiles consider it as the level of perfection. Not only that but, the average speaker should have an average dB level of between 87 dB and 88 dB, by industry standards.
Sensitivity levels (measured using dB) are among the most ignored specs when picking out a speaker. But it is one of the most critical factors that play into how you will entertain yourself with the speakers. If you’re interested in learning more about speakers, dB, and dB levels, you’re welcome to keep reading.
Also read: Does Adding More Speakers Make It Louder?
The Best dB for Speakers – Explanation
As shared earlier, the ideal dB level for your speakers would be at 90dB. However, the average speaker should have a dB level of either 87dB or 88 dB. It may not seem like much, the 2dB or 3dB speaker level difference holds incredible value when determining the sensitivity level of a speaker.
But first things first, how did we even get to sensitivity levels? What is speaker sensitivity? Let’s find out.
What Is Speaker Sensitivity?
Speaker sensitivity is a measurement used to determine how efficiently a speaker will convert amplifier power into acoustic energy. But how does dB or decibels come into play here?
Experts measure speaker sensitivity through decibels or dB.
What Is dB?
dB is short for decibels, and it is a unit of measure that indicates the ratio of a change in level. The level could either be acoustic Sound Pressure Level (SPL) or electrical signal level.
One exciting thing about decibels is that it is on a logarithmic scale, contrary to the linear scale. A logarithmic scale is a non-linear scale used to measure a range of large quantities.
Now that we understand the essential aspect of dB for speakers, let’s understand how the entire thing comes together.
How Do You Measure Speaker Sensitivity?
Experts such as speaker manufacturers and independent contractors measure speaker sensitivity. They do it with the help of a calibrated sound level meter. Please note that the process of testing speaker sensitivity is pretty simple.
If you follow the instructions correctly, you should be able to receive accurate results.
So how do these experts do it? How do they measure speaker sensitivity and attach it to speaker specs? The experts stand one meter away from the speaker. Meanwhile, the speaker releases one watt of power from the amplifier.
Some manufacturers use different sensitivity testing values. Instead of the general one-meter one-watt test, they use 2.83 volts in one meter instead.
It would be in your best interest to check all the information the manufacturer provided you. You may have a speaker that underwent the 2.83 volts during testing.
If you check the sound level meter, you should see the speaker sensitivity in decibels. It could read something along the lines of 87dB. What does that even mean? It means that at one meter and one watt of power, the speaker sensitivity was at 87dB.
The assumption is that it is the standard way of measuring speaker sensitivity, and experts conduct this test the same way across the board. Unfortunately, manufacturers do not reveal the methods they use to test for speaker sensitivity.
There are other methods that one can use to test for speaker sensitivity:
- The Pink Noise method (the problem is that it’s not very precise)
- On-axis frequency response measurements of speakers (the most sensitive test)
What’s the conclusion to this test? The higher the sensitivity level or rating, the louder the speaker will play at specific wattages. Anything between 81dB to 84dB is below average. Some experts will even deem this level as poor sensitivity speakers.
From 87dB to 88dB, experts consider it to be average. In comparison, at 90dB, experts believe the sensitivity to be perfect. But at 102dB, the speaker comes across as top tier in comparison to other speakers.
One other thing to note is that sensitivity is not the sword of truth regarding sound quality. It’s one factor that plays a part in determining the sound quality of a speaker.
So take it alongside other factors in determining whether or not a speaker is the right one for you and your audio system.
The Importance Behind Speaker Sensitivity
Speaker sensitivity is an excellent measurement because it allows you to determine two things:
- How loud your speaker will be when placed in different situations
- To determine the power you’ll need from an amplifier
Not only that, but speaker sensitivity is also a tool that you can use to understand how the loudness of a speaker will change when the preexisting conditions change.
What are the preexisting conditions? The 1-meter distance and the 1 watt were used during the testing phase.
Once the speakers are in use, those conditions will have changed drastically. It’s up to you to do the math to ensure that you get the most out of your speaker.
The Issue Behind Speaker SPL
SPL is short for Sound Pressure Level, and experts refer to it as efficiency and sensitivity. If you did prior research on this topic, you would notice that the word efficiency comes up numerous times in the speaker sensitivity conversation.
Efficiency and sensitivity are two vastly different concepts when it comes to speakers and sound quality. Nonetheless, both of these describe the same phenomenon. How do they work?
You can convert efficiency specifications to sensitivity specifications and the other way round. It’s similar to a speaker and a microphone, two vastly different things, but you can convert a speaker to a microphone and vice versa.
What is efficiency anyway? Efficiency is the amount of power that goes into a speaker and is then converted into sound. Whereas speaker sensitivity is a measurement used to determine how efficiently a speaker will convert amplifier power into acoustic energy.
As you can see, speaker sensitivity and speaker efficiency are two sides of the same coin. They are two different concepts on the same platform.
Now back to the issue of SPL or sound pressure level. You use SPL to determine how much power your speaker can handle before you burn the coil in the speaker. You could say that the SPL is the optimum limit of power that your speaker can tolerate before it crashes and burns.
Manufacturers will share the speaker SPL. It’s not standard across the board, so you have to take the manufacturer’s word for it; despite not knowing the manufacturer’s method to test it.
It would also be in your best interest to stick with the SPL value before you blow up your speaker.
What About Bluetooth Speakers And Soundbars?
If you’re in the market for a soundbar, subwoofer, or Bluetooth speaker, you may notice that manufacturers do not provide a sensitivity specification for these products.
Why? Because manufacturers consider these products as closed systems. Closed units mean that speaker sensitivity loses value in comparison to the total volume capacity of a unit.
Not only is the speaker sensitivity a bit useless with these devices, but so is the power rating and how it’s measured, to some degree. Because manufacturers sometimes do not disclose this information, it doesn’t become a priority for buyers.
Furthermore, the drivers used in speakers and soundbars are typically inexpensive, so even if the amp doesn’t have enough power to satisfy you, that might be its limit.
Please note that manufacturers made these devices with specific tradeoffs in mind.
Remember that SPL measures the amount of volume produced by speakers before you burn out the coil. Now, the SPL matters because you can see and understand the limit behind your soundbar, subwoofer, speaker, etc.
Why Can Speakers Only Handle A Certain Level Of Power?
There are three main reasons why speakers are held back by a limiter. Let’s take a look at them:
Whenever you’re using speakers, the energy conversion process generates heat making the speakers extremely hot. If the heat overwhelms the speaker, you will start to notice the coils burning.
Not only does the heat cause the coils to burn, but it also causes a deformation of the VC formers, softening of the adhesives, burning crossover resistors, etc. You don’t want to cross the limit set by the manufacturer, or else you’ll remain with a less functional speaker.
If the heat continues to destroy the internal parts of your speaker, it will inevitably run into a thermal failure, also known as burnout.
When the speaker experiences massive input, more than its original design plan, it will force the driver to move farther and farther away. Why is this so bad? It’s terrible because the driver’s coil will move so far that it will jump out of its coil to match the power input.
Please note that once a driver jumps out of its coil, it can no longer return to its original position. This issue is known as a mechanical failure caused by extreme power inputs.
Last and certainly not least is compression. A speaker is a conversion tool that turns electric energy to sound energy. So if the power input is in the extremes, the magnet responsible for the conversion process can no longer conduct its original purpose.
When this lack of conversion happens, the speaker will release a weak signal known as compression. Essentially, the speaker compresses its output due to the extreme power input.
Speakers are complicated and sometimes fragile things. It’s sad, but it’s the reality many audiophiles have to face.
You will have to part with a massive chunk of your bank account if you want something that checks all the boxes on your list for a perfect speaker.
The best speakers in the market are not cheap; manufacturers build them to withstand thermal failures, mechanical failures, and compression while also delivering the desired sound to users.
Nonetheless, it will be an incredible investment into your sound system.
dB plays its part in the decision-making process of buying a speaker. Like every other factor that willing buyers have to look into, its levels show poor sensitivity and the perfect speakers you could ask for in a speaker.
Experts consider any speaker with a dB level or speaker sensitivity of over 90 dB ideal.
If speakers exhibit a speaker sensitivity less than that, you read it as having poor sensitivity.
If the speaker sensitivity gets to even 102dB, you might be looking at a top-tier speaker.
There are other things that users will come across when researching speaker sensitivity, that is, speaker efficiency.
They are similar to some degree but, quite frankly, pretty different. You can find the difference between speaker sensitivity and speaker efficiency in the article.
Lastly, dB levels in speakers measure only one aspect of what makes a good speaker.
Several factors (apart from the dB) come together to help users determine the ideal speaker for their audio system. Be sure to countercheck other factors before solely prioritizing the dB.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is 65dB Loud For A Speaker?
65dB is pretty below average for a speaker. The average speaker should have a speaker sensitivity of 88 dB at most. So a 65dB speaker is way below average and not as loud as you would expect.
How Many Watts Is Good For Speakers?
Watts is a unit of measure for speaker power. So the ideal power wattage would be over 100 watts, that is, for a massive speaker. But if you have a home speaker, the ideal wattage would be between 15 watts and 30 watts.
How Can You Tell Speaker Quality?
You can determine speaker quality by several factors such as sensitivity, frequency response, etc.
- Ankit Tuteja, Speaker specs simplified: The seven things you should check before you buy a speaker, News 18, https://www.news18.com/news/india/speaker-specs-simplified-the-7-things-you-should-check-before-you-buy-a-speaker-711049.html
- Brent Butterworth, What Does Speaker Sensitivity Mean and Why Is It Important? Lifewire, https://www.lifewire.com/speaker-sensitivity-3134850
- Steve Munz, The Decibel (dB) Scale & Audio Rules 101, Audioholics, https://www.audioholics.com/room-acoustics/the-decibel-db
- Geoff, Understanding Speaker Sensitivity, Geoff the Grey Geek, https://geoffthegreygeek.com/understanding-speaker-sensitivity/
- Big Tony, Understanding SPL, Eminence Magazine, https://www.eminence.com/understanding-spl/