Is Higher Or Lower Speaker Sensitivity Better? (Know The Truth!)

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More curious home theater newbies are looking to speaker sensitivity as well. This is not a wrong thing to do, but a wiser move. So, is higher or lower speaker sensitivity better?

At A Glance: As a general rule of thumb, if you want to save the power and electricity bill then higher sensitivity speakers are better, but if you live near neighbors and want to keep the noise low then lower sensitivity speakers are better.

Keep reading as we will be discussing much more related stuff and this argument in detail. Also, this is my first guide on this blog that will explain the main point in the second heading because the topic needs clarification. Don’t forget to download the sensitivity chart at the bottom.

What does sensitivity mean to a speaker?

In-Short: The sensitivity of the speaker is defined when we pass a 1-watt power to the speaker and pump a specific dB of sound at 1 meter. That dB number will be its sensitivity.

In-Depth: The sensitivity is measured as 87dB @ 1w/m. This can be pronounced as 87 decibels of sound at 1 watt at a distance of 1 meter.

It means that. When we transfer 1-watt power to the speaker and hold an SPL meter at a distance of one meter to the speaker and that meter shows any amount of dB. That dB is said to be the speaker’s sensitivity.

There are different sensitivities of speakers. Some are lower and some are higher sensitivity speakers. The sensitivity is relative to another speaker’s sensitivity.

For example: If a speaker throws 85 dB at one 1 watt and another 89 dB at the same watt. The 89 dB speaker has a higher sensitivity as compared to the 85 dB.

Know how to correctly set the frequency crossover for each speaker in the surround sound by reading my this guide.

Is speaker sensitivity higher or lower, better? (Detail Explanation)

The lower and higher both are better when looking at each case separately.

Case#1 Higher is better

The higher sensitivity is better for the home theater purpose. Because here you need to save the power consumption and have an accurate dB level with the usage of small numbers of speakers.

 To have the best home theater experience, you need to get 75 dB of sound from all the speakers in your seating area. The seating area may be more than 1 meter because the 1 meter which is used for definition is just a standard. You can sit at any distance.

The dB level changes with the distance. The longer the distance, the lower the dB will be. That’s why you don’t install a lot of speakers all around you to achieve the 75 dB. 

A small arrangement of 5.1 speakers will help you achieve that recommended 75 dB at your seating area on very low power consumption.

We tend to use the home theater system a lot, especially during this pandemic. This higher sensitivity will help you to save on your electricity bill because you can have loud sounds with less power consumption.

Read this guide, on how to match speakers to the amp? I have included a two-step simple guide.

Case#2 Lower is better

The lower is better when you are living in an attached house or an apartment, and you don’t want to freak the neighbors out.

That’s why you need speakers that are not loud by nature. The lower sensitivity speakers will play at a low volume that will keep the neighbors happy and will not file a complaint.

This is one thing to do to stop annoying the neighbors. However, newer technology receivers have this feature that can trap the sound at certain premises, and you can soundproof your home theater, but choosing lower sensitivity speakers is another option to keep the neighbors happy. 

You will too get a decent sound experience, but you will have to power the speakers more to achieve the same dB level that you were achieving with higher sensitivity speakers. This means more power consumption and higher electricity bill.

This power consumption is the only downside of the lower-sensitivity speakers. More than this, there is no downside to lower sensitivity. No one has the right to criticize your choice.

So, how much power will you be using extra? Read the following heading to know more.

Know how high to mount speakers in a home theater? I have included the height values for each speaker.

Does sensitivity matter for speakers?

The sensitivity does matter because it is a baseline for a speaker and with each doubling figure of the power there will be a 3 dB increase in the sensitivity.

The sensitivity is used to give a sense of volume and power consumption. If you buy speakers that have an 84 dB sensitivity, then this 85 is the baseline from which the speaker will start its function. Now to get an 87 dB sound you will have to push twice the power to the speakers. 

Now, consider you have bought speakers that have 87 dB sensitivity. These speakers will play at the same volume as 84 dB speakers, but use half of the power that 84dB was used for.

This is why sensitivity matters. It gives you a sense of how much power to provide to the speaker to get a desired 75 dB at your seating area.

Know how to optimize home theater audio? I have included my best 5 steps to perfection.

Is 85 dB or 96 dB good? 

The 96 dB is better because we need 75 dB in our seating area and to get that you need less power with 96 dB. Along with less power, it will give accurate dB levels too. The 85 dB is just a poor sensitivity for home theater speakers.

Read the below chart to have an idea of it.

Speaker Sensitivity Chart

Here is the reference chart for the 85 dB and 96 dB. You will get a basic concept of how the speaker’s sensitivity works.

Speaker Sensitivity Chart

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Is speaker sensitivity related to frequency?

The frequency is related to the speaker’s sensitivity, but not directly or inversely. The sensitivity is just affected and influenced highly by the frequency. 

For example: If the speakers are labeled as 93 dB sensitivity, and you power them with 1-watt sound signals that have a frequency of 11Hz. Guess what? You will get 0dB on 1 watt here.

Just think why? Because there are no speakers that can work on 11 Hz. But if they can work on it. You will not get any sound because human ears are not designed to hear sounds below 20 Hz.

There was a double twist in the plot for you, LOL! So, now it is clear that the frequency is not directly related, but it can affect the sensitivity of the speaker a lot. You need proper signals with 1 watt to transfer to the speaker to meet its desired sensitivity.

Does speaker sensitivity affect sound quality?

It will affect the sound quality of the speaker if they are designed poorly. The higher the sensitivity, the more the chance that these speakers will sound distorted at a high volume. However, on a well-engineered speaker, it will have no effects.

This is the case because many cheap manufacturers with no brand name will claim that their speakers are of higher sensitivity. They might be telling the truth. But with the higher sensitivity, engineering challenges do arise. You need to craft the speaker in a way that doesn’t get distorted on higher volume, but that engineering keeps the prices high.

To keep the prices low and attract you more. They will compromise on this engineering. Now, their speakers will be of higher sensitivity, but they will sound distorted at a little higher volume.

Are more sensitive speakers louder?

This is understandable that the higher the sensitivity, the louder the speaker will be.

The sensitivity of the speaker is directly proportional to its loudness. With less power, they will be louder than the lower-sensitivity speakers. That’s why the loudness is directly affected by the sensitivity, and you can say that more sensitive speakers are louder.

Is sensitivity important for the speaker?

Sensitivity is important both for the speakers and for the consumers. The speakers’ system knows how to sound on given power, and the consumer knows its power limits.

The sensitivity keeps the speaker bound to a certain set of rules. These rules are not told by some system, but the speaker circuitry is designed in a way that they are bound by its sensitivity. They can’t sound higher or lower than the specified number of their sensitivity.

It is important for consumers because we need to keep the noise and electric bills in check. The speaker’s sensitivity helps you to better understand your needs.

Helpful Resources For The FAQs To Read More

  1. This was my opinion, read more about it from Klipsch Blog. (Resource for the first answer)
  2. This was my opinion, read more about it from this DefinitiveTechnology Blog. (Resource for the second answer)

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Ayaan Khan
Ayaan Khan

Ayaan khan is a freelancer and a Computer Science degree holder from P.E.S. College. After his degree, he started an internship with his father in his home theater showroom. After working for a month he realized that this is the best job in the world for him and it could be turned into a passion. Fast forward to when his internship ended, he joined his father as a full-time home theater equipment tester. He tests new equipment and approves it before it can be installed in the customer's house. He loves to test equipment and sometimes loves to install it by himself in the customer's theater room. Ayyan has the right experience and knowledge to learn from his articles. In my Free time I write & answer questions here on AVSFORUM. Every Article on Homelytainment is curated according to Homelytainment's Editorial Policy and Sponsorship Policy.

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