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Often, I find myself at a ma'ariv minyan that meets before "nightfall" and someone invariably makes the announcement that we should all remember to repeat the sh'ma after tzeit hakochavim. I also know that to be yotzei saying the sh'ma properly one should say the words audibly and clearly, even louder than one says the amida.

But if I know I am davening at a time when my saying the sh'ma is not efficacious towards fulfilling my obligation, must I still say the words out loud? Can I say them at the lowered level of the amida so that they are still "prayer" but not as loud as the sh'ma should be?

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