120db = Loud, Louder, Loudest, INSANELY LOUD.

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by Danny Kaey on January 04 '08

 Images Definition Mk2 Def Gloss Blk BigMost of my buds aren’t “audiophiles." Naturally, every time a neophyte friend comes over to hear my latest toys or review samples, the most common questions are: how many watts, how loud and what kind of bass does the system play? Considering that most modern day recordings have about 0.1db of dynamic range, I most always reply, “Well, that sort of depends on the quality of the source”. In truth, the more dynamic a recording, the more “natural” it will sound at the low level, but especially at higher, or elevated db’s.

Typically, my non-audiophile friends bring their favorite CDs, like Just Jack, or the latest Cibelle, Goldfrapp, Dylan, Kraftwerk or Spoon. My current CD player is the LessLoss system consisting of the stupendously good CEC belt drive transport and LessLoss 2004 “miracle” DAC. Depending on the flavor of the day, I’ll run the system through either my Brinkmann Vollverstärker, the original pair of Quad II’s, my Luxman MQ88, the mighty Threshold T400 or Lavardin Model IT.

Based on each amps and cable combo, the sound can change from Smooth to Vivid to Refined around our SonicCircle taste menu. While each of these amps have more then enough power to drive the crazy, silly, stunningly good 101db efficient Zu Definition 2’s to absurdly high output levels, the amp I usually pull in first is the almost 40 year old Quad II 15 Watt’er.

“15 Watts, that’s it? Isn’t that kind of little to listen to music? The Best Buy guy told me my receiver has 150w per channel on all 26 of ‘em!” “There is still a lot you have to learn young-one,” is my typical reply. So cranking up the “Fun” knob, aka, volume control (which I would still like to own, thank you Mr. Producer) on my preamp, we get to pretty loud and dynamic already. “What the hell? This is what 15 Watts can do? Holy crap!”

The Lavardin, Luxman and Brinkmann are all within the ballpark of around 50 Watts each of output power, thus the loudness level is more or less the same. Basic physics tells us that each doubling of output power raises the volume by 3db; to double the perceived volume level, you need a tenfold increase in output power. Thus, a 50 Watt amp will more or less sound the same “loudness” as a 100 Watt amp.

Now let’s bring out the big guns: Threshold T400 is my name, I carry a badge. I love this thing! Rated at a conservative 200 Watts into 8 Ohms (I’d say it’s probably more like 300), it’s the most powerful amplifier I have in my arsenal. Made in the early 90’s, this is a classic American Muscle Car (ch)amp = the only thing better than horsepower is more horsepower! Think Corvette ZR1 or Shelby Mustang and you get the picture. Cables switched, I usually preface the unassuming, innocent listener to hold on, ‘cause this will be loud. I said loud, didn’t I?

Cueing up something like say Dr. John’s Right Place, Wrong Time, I turn the volume to about 11 o’clock on my pream. What follows next is absolute and positive insanity on my part – come to think of it, I should collect a disclaimer signature, ‘cause this is nuts. Ok, how nuts? Hrmm… try registering near 120db peaks on my calibrated ATI meter at the listening chair about 7 feet away from my Zu’s. Muahahahaahahahah, “I’m the king of the world!!!” Comes to mind… Likewise, the famous Terminator intro off Telarc’s fantasy movie CD sends chills down your spine as you listen to the life sized, dynamic realism and music that unfolds before you. Is this Hi-Fi? Is this real? Is it Memorex? Not sure, alas, it’s immensely fun!

So, how loud are near 120db dynamic peaks? So loud that my friends and I can only stand it for a few minutes before we either leave or turn the volume back down to more sane levels. What is most remarkable however, is the fact that the Zu’s are having fun, producing sound that is just insanely dynamic and powerfully moving. Quite Amazing. It reminds me of the latest Nikon D3 advertisement which features a large fold out poster of a motorcycle racing scene shot in almost no light at ISO6400, 1/5000th of a second, 9fps. The picture is remarkably clean, sharp and simply stunning looking. The point of this is clearly to show the capability of the new Nikon D3. What’s most impressive is the fact that Nikon so believes in the D3 that they decided to pull a rabbit and publish this poster as the ultimate proof.

The dynamic realism afforded by this (almost) unlimited supply of power to the Def2’s is in one short word: stunning, mind numbing, death defying. Ok, those were three words but you get my point. Yes, each of the other amps, the Luxman, Lavardin, Quad and Brinkmann sound extraordinary in their own right and at sane volume levels I wouldn’t part with any single one, but taking it to level maximum takes well, gobs of power.

Now what would happen if I were to find a second T400 and bridge them both to mono…

The moral of the story? First, dynamics are a must in music. Quite simple actually! The aforementioned trials would be quite painful if you were to try this with some 0.1db dynamic range mastering hell album. Second, the fact that Zu speakers aren’t a facade or some gimmicky “here today, kaput tomorrow” toy. They advertise the truth and stand behind it. Third, (mind you this is not something I do often) the fact that I can play dynamic music at those levels, yet with a twist of the volume control turn it back down to sane levels, without the fun factor missing or disappearing. Now that’s dynamic music. No BS, just plain old fun and if you ask me, well worth it.



I can attest to how loud a pair of Zu Definition 2's can get and not distort what's being played, and it's a revelation as to what high caliber speakers can do. The quality of the wattage being output to your speakers is a major factor, at least to an audio cadet like myself. I recently had my Monster Power (I know, I KNOW) solid state amp's 200 WPC blown away by my cousin's 20 WPC Cary Rocket 88. Suffice to say there's going to be a certain amp gracing the pages of Audiogon very soon.
I love to live on the edge from tyme to tyme myself!