What is Speaker Sensitivity, and Why Does it Matter for My Home Theater?

Your speakers' sensitivity rating has a profound effect on the overall sound quality of your home theater.

Many factors determine the quality of individual speakers, as well as your entire home theater system: materials, design, tweeter assembly, etc. One critical piece of the puzzle is speaker sensitivity. Do not overlook speaker sensitivity ratings when building out your home theater. These ratings have a profound effect on overall sound quality and require thoughtful consideration.

Speaker sensitivity defined

Speaker sensitivity is often misconstrued with speaker efficiency or general sound quality, but it is an entirely separate element that must be considered prior to purchasing home theater speakers.

In a nutshell, speaker sensitivity refers to a speaker's ability to convert power into actual sound - that is, how much power you need to make your speaker function properly. Not all speakers are equally effective in this regard, which is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, they require more power to operate, meaning a more robust - and likely expensive - amplifier is needed to run them. Second, speakers with low sensitivity convert less power into acoustic energy and more into heat. That heat can wear down components faster over time.

Find the best speaker sensitivity rating

Traditionally, speaker sensitivity is measured by placing a microphone one meter in front of the speaker and running a single watt of power from the amp to the speaker. Measure that output in decibels, and you have your speaker sensitivity rating. Generally speaking, 88 dB is considered average, with 84 dB being the point where low speaker sensitivity noticeably impacts sound quality.

On the other end of the spectrum, speakers with 92 dB sensitivity or above, like the Definitive Technology BP9060 tower speakers, are considered high performers in terms of speaker sensitivity.

Pair the right speakers for your home theater

It's very important that you use speakers with similarly high sensitivity ratings in your home theater. Mixing high-performance speakers with low-end products will negatively impact your overall sound quality. If you want to equalize two speakers with divergent sensitivity ratings in your band, you will need to increase the amplifier power to bring the lower speaker up to the same level as the higher one.

The amplifier power must be doubled to increase speaker sensitivity by a measure 3 dB. For home theater setups that include speakers with wildly different sensitivity ratings, that could require a major boost in energy output.

The best option is to pair together speakers with similarly high speaker sensitivity ratings, along with high-quality audio equipment to get the best sound quality out of them. To begin building the perfect setup, take a look at the Definitive Technology lineup of home theater speakers.