How can I make my stereo quieter?
November 15, 2004 8:29 AM   Subscribe

How can I make my stereo quieter? [MI]

I have a Harman Kardon receiver (sort of an ordinary home model with a bunch of regular RCA inputs and two sets of speaker-wire outputs) and a pair of Fisher speakers that date from the 70s that my dad gave me. I have a bunch of regular devices running into a switcher box that then feeds into the stereo -- the TiVo, the PS2 & GameCube, my Mac, etc.

The problem is that even the line-level inputs like the TiVo are WAY too loud since I moved to an apartment with a smallish living room. I can't even turn the volume halfway between zero and one without feeling like I'm going to wake the dead, especially in the evening. The speakers sound great and warm and I don't really want to replace them. I am not an audiophile although I do care about halfway decent, natural sound.

I bought some highly-rated bookshelf speakers a while ago, thinking they would have a lower overall output, and they sounded so tinny compared to the floor speakers I was used to that I had to return them. Today I searched on Google for something to reduce or limit the volume and all I could find were sort of audiophile-ish devices that cost $200 or more.

Can anyone recommend some kind of not-that-expensive device I can stick between the stereo and the speakers (or between the switcher box and the stereo, or whatever) that will reduce the overall volume so I can have more control over the sound? Thanks!
posted by bcwinters to Technology (14 answers total)
 
what i did was build an attenuator that i put between tape out and aux in. so the signal goes through tape out, gets reduced in volume, and is read from aux in.
if that makes sense, and your receiver can do that, and you are happy about soldering, i can explain how in more detail.
(the idea is to attenuate the signal early, before it goes through the power amp section of your receiver, so that you don't need to dissipate much energy. something between your receiver and speakers could get quite hot.)
posted by andrew cooke at 8:46 AM on November 15, 2004


Borrow another receiver and see how that does. IANAAudiophile, but it's possible that your receiver's volume control -- which is basically an attenuator -- is busted. If so, just get a new receiver; you'll be able to find a decent 5.1/6.1 receiver for $200.

What's your current receiver like with headphones? Is it always loud with them too?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:48 AM on November 15, 2004


Unfortunately, I have no idea how to solder. I'll be visiting my folks for Thanksgiving in a few days, and my dad has a fully-stocked workshop, so if you wouldn't mind passing along the info I might be able to make him do it.

(It'll be a great father-son bonding moment. I'll be upstairs on the porch drinking a whiskey and soda, and my dad will be in the workshop sweating over an electronics project for me! Sounds like a plan!)

But: how do you get the signal in to get it to the Tape Out in the first place? If I set my stereo to use the Aux In, I don't think it will pass the signal on from a different input to get it to the Tape Out to get it to the Aux In. If that's making any kind of sense.
posted by bcwinters at 8:52 AM on November 15, 2004


ROU_Xenophobe (I M Banks reference?): I don't think anything is busted on the receiver; if it's daytime, and there are several people in the room, I might turn the stereo up to 3 or 4 and it's fine; it's just when I'm alone, or it's nighttime and people are sleeping that I really need more fine control over the lower level of volume. My new living room is tiny -- maybe 8 x 10 -- and that's not helping.

Buying a new receiver is pretty much my worst-case-scenario. Other than this one issue, I like this one a lot, especially since it has a phono preamp and most inexpensive 5.1 systems don't.
posted by bcwinters at 8:59 AM on November 15, 2004


Use the EQ loop. i.e., the inputs and outputs you'd use to connect an equalizer, if you had one. Lacking this, you'd connect it between tape out and tape in, and engage the receiver's tape monitor function.

If it doesn't have these, make enough attenuators for all your sources and hook them up between each source and the receiver's inputs.
posted by kindall at 8:59 AM on November 15, 2004


Just now knowing that what I need is an "attenuator" has helped immensely. Electronics stores online have 1, 3, and 6db attenuators for around three bucks each; can one of you wizards recommend which "strength" I would probably need? They're so cheap I'd rather pick some up than try and solder my own. But I don't know a decibel from a hole in the ground.
posted by bcwinters at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2004


in my case, it's pretty simple. my amp has two rotary knobs - one selects what gets sent to tape out, one sets what should be input. but it's a very minimal "audiophile"(ish) amp - one reason i asked is that i don't know whether this would be possible on a modern amp with electronic switching.
anyway, assuming it's possible, the idea is that you make two identical phono-to-phono leads (one for each channel). for each lead, in between the two phono plugs, there's a simple potential divider.
so you connect two resistors, R1 and R2 in series (just solder a leg of each to the other). then you connect them across the tape out socket. connect R1 to tape out ground (outer) and R2 to tape out signal (inner).
next, we need ground to be common, so also connect tape out ground to aux in ground.
finally, we need to get the (attenuated) signal across, so connected the point between R1 and R2 to aux in signal.
im assuming that your dad can go from that to a circuit. you can actually fit the resistors inside a large phono plug if you're careful, so you end up with something that just looks like a phono-phono lead.
the tricky bit is choosing the resistances, because you want a high output resistance for tape out, and a low input resistance for aux in. unfortunately, that's pretty much impossible, so this may affect sound quality.
for attentuation to 1/10 level you want R2 to be about 10 times bigger than R1 (we're taking the signal off R1 and dropping level in R2 if you follow my instructions above). you might try R1=1k and R2=10k. or R1=10k and R2=100k.
any electrical engineers care to help out?
say hi to your dad from me :o)
(you know, you might be able to just stick a resistor in series with the signal! maybe that would be better? i've only just thiught of that! maybe googling for attenuators would be a good idea...)
posted by andrew cooke at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2004


psychic!
posted by andrew cooke at 9:13 AM on November 15, 2004


3db is 1/10, 6db is 1/100. you probably want 6db even though it sounds a lot.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:14 AM on November 15, 2004


Thank you so much for the help! I really appreciate it!

I will pick up the 6db attenuators and see what happens. I might make my dad do this project anyway, just to keep him busy on Thanksgiving!

(ask.mefi rules)
posted by bcwinters at 9:25 AM on November 15, 2004


You can buy speaker attenuators at radio shack. They're essentially variable inductors. They go inline on the stereo cables. Can't really speculate on their audio quality. They are usually used inside speakers to regulate the volume between different drivers in the enclosure, i.e. if you have 3 drivers one one enclosure, a bass, midrange and tweeter, you might put one of these on the tweeter to adjust the high balance.

On the more expensive end are the items you already found. I use things much like these to reduce the output of a guitar amplifier to apartment levels (under 1 watt total output). Expensive but fairly high quality sound.

Another method, for guitar amps, that maybe could be adapted to your situation, is isolation cabinets. You could put more load on your system by adding speakers, but dampen the output of these speakers by building heavy sound dampening boxes around them. I use these by sticking a mic into the box with the speaker and taking the output of that. You'd use it just to increase the load, reducing the output to the audible speakers. You could stick the isolation speakers in a closet or something. Probably not all that practical.

It's a difficult problem. At one point I spent a lot of time doing recording in my apartment and I developed strategies to work for me, but, totally different goals there.

There may be a simple device you can put on the RCA in of your system to reduce the level. Most of these kinds of things will greatly reduce the sound quality, but you could try it. I use a compressor on my sound system input, that might help. A compressor would bring down the explosion sounds but keep the dialogue audible. It's not simple to tweak for your system though.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:37 AM on November 15, 2004


-3 db is 1/2 perceived volume. -6 db is 1/4.

Trust me on this. :-)
posted by shepd at 11:22 AM on November 15, 2004


Before you spend money, check the different inputs on your amp. My amp boosts the phono and video inputs a lot more than the aux and tape inputs.
posted by fuzz at 4:12 AM on November 16, 2004


(phono input is also a very strange response curve - you should only plug turntables in there. anything else is going to sound terrible.)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:34 AM on November 16, 2004


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