How to set levels in a HiFi system

November 26, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

8 comments on “How to set levels in a HiFi system”

  1. Hey Paul. I am always eager to squeeze out the last remaining bit of SQ from my system, and this is a great topic. I understand your answer, but, as usual, the ‘real world’ is often messy. I have all-PS Audio system — DS Memory Player, DS DAC, BHK Preamp, BHK 250 Amp driving Tannoy Cheviot speakers. Playing a well recorded redbook CD in my medium room at comfortable listening level, here’s what I get: (1) DAC at volume 100 + Preamp at 27. To achieve the SAME listening level, to play (2) my Preamp at volume level 45 (which you recommend) I have to lower the DAC to 70.
    * Scenario 1: DAC at 100 and Preamp at 27
    * Scenario 2: DAC at 70 and Preamp at 45
    To my ears, Scenario 1 sounds more “crunchy” i.e., the HF seems to be breaking up a little. So, I play my music using Scenario 2.
    Any observations or recommendations?
    I wonder what volume values other all-PS Audio owners get with their speakers? FYI, my speakers are very efficient — 91 db. Is that why my volume levels might be so “low”?

    1. Hey Hoytamundo,

      There’s at least a few more scenarios you may like to try.

      Scenario 3: Use the single-ended (RCA) outputs from the DS DAC. There’s a 6dB drop in gain when using the single-ended rather than the balanced (XLR) connectors

      Scenario 4: Use the DS DAC’s low-level output setting. I’m not sure off the top of my head what is the difference in dB but it’s something to try

      Scenario 5: Bypass the preamp and go directly from DS DAC to power amp. (With the ‘Sunlight’ firmware, the DS DAC powers up with the volume set to ’25’).

      I’ve tried scenarios 4 and 5. For the latter, I found with the ‘Sunlight’ firmware, bypassing my preamp has a slight edge on SQ to my ears. I typically use the DS DAC’s volume setting in the range ’30’ to ’70’, depending on the levels found in the recording. The level from my DAB and DVB player tends to be high so I’m usually listening at a level between ’30’ to ’45’. I’ve also found that typically higher resolution recordings can be played at higher levels at round ’60’.

      For scenario 4, I found that I need to set the DS DAC level to at least ’70’. I ended up going for using the DS DAC’s ‘unattenuated’ setting, so using lower volume settings. It seems to sound fine, given the ‘low-loss’ design of the volume control as Paul says. 😉

    2. The DAC at 81 is what most people like best. To me, I keep the DAC at 100 but much depends on where the preamp level is relative to the gain of the system. I would go with whatever sounds best and “crunchy” doesn’t sound like that’s what you want.

  2. Thanks, MikeK, for your detailed reply.
    I’m a little hesitant to give up my XLRs or my Preamp, but I will give them all a try. Ears are the final judge.

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