Does It have to be loud?

Are you also under the impression that when people (or manufacturers) demo their equipment, they maintain sound pressure levels between 90-100 Dba. In general this is done in rooms being too small, and therefore the room will heavily interact with the sound heard in that room. Often, when you ask to lower the volume, the actual result is better, and –most likely- provides you with the information you were looking for. So, my question here is, do you also prefer to listen in the 90-100 dba range? Or do you –like myself- like to listen in the 70-90 dba sound pressure range? Of course, I’m referring to sound pressure levels at the listening position, which –in my case- is about 4 meter away from the speaker. 

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Yes, lower is better for extended listening! Levels over 90 db peak can become tiring!
^ and destroy voicecoils.
Depends on the type and specific song of music you’re listening to. IMO, each song has a particular decibel range that makes it sound "right". For example, listening to certain Led Zeppelin songs will be more enjoyable, IMO, in the 90 - 100 db range as opposed to 70 - 90. So in answer to the thread title, no, it doesn’t have to be loud; but often times it should be.
For me it’s all about Dynamic Range, not loudness per se which usually means having to turn up the volume more for recordings with high dynamic range. And loud recordings don’t necessary have good/high dynamic range, in fact that usually means they don’t.
For me it’s all about Dynamic Range, not loudness per se...

Well, that me be your (Geoff) preference, but there certainly is more to it than dynamic range. For example, one could choose to listen to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture or Ravel's Bolero, each of which have reasonably high dynamic range. If you then choose to "top out" the max decibel level of that dynamic range at say 80db, you've done an injustice (IMO) to the great work of those composers. So again, volume/loudness *does* matter.  

Geoff, you should be impressed. Looks like I know about and have listened to more music than only Grateful Dead :)
That’s funny! You totally misunderstood my post. I’m impressed.
if i blow tuba it'll be loud so if i hit drum.
Tastes in music listening vary as widely as tastes in food and drink, or anything else imaginable. After five decades of listening to more live music(every genre/studio/auditorium/outdoor/two or three times a week/two to four hours a pop) than home audio systems, suspension of disbelief only happens with realistic SPLs(whether loud, as in Pink Floyd/Heart, or soft, as in Classical/Flamenco guitar). Many equipment manufacturers voice(and demo) their equipment with realism in mind. That’s probably why loud/dynamic pieces, are chosen by some to demo. To convey that their gear can deliver, when called upon. Nothing wrong with requesting a softer audition, if that’s your preference, and- YES: just like some live music venues, room overload happens and lower SPLs work better, in such instances. The only thing that gets in the way of my extended enjoyment, of music played at realistic levels, is distortion. If a system can’t convince me(loud AND soft/micro and macrodynamics), without distortion(or damaging itself), I’m not impressed.
Well duh! The big difference between ho hum run of the mill Bose waveguides and a great high end system is exactly what they are trying to demo - clarity and great low distortion full range sound at realistic dynamic live music levels.

Big face palm! I would not expect a sports car demo only in downtown rush hour bumper to bumper traffic.

I listen at 50 to 60dB measured at listening chair.
70dB is pretty loud and I only rarely play music that loud, and 80dB peaks is as loud as I ever play music at home.(mainly opera climaxes.)
When I go to a dealer to audition they always turn it up way too loud.
I bring my phone dB meter and set it to my preferences.
People just get used to loud playing and expect it. When it is turned down they just hate it. But if you listen at lower levels all the time, your ears adjust.
Nice reference -elizabeth.
I want it louder, more power.
Happy Listening!
It is great advantage if you only need 70 dB. It greatly reduces the cost of a system. Unfortunately it only leaves you with 80dB peaks less 30dB noise floor = 50 dB dynamic range but it does offer an advantage in that almost any system will do a pretty good job at these modest levels including Bose speakers. No need for market leading 120dB THD+N performance as it won’t be audible anyway.
I listen at 50 to 60dB measured at listening chair.

When I play Nirvana, I can listen to it at 50-60 db outside my building.
No and you can save a lot of money that way.   Wear and tear on your ears as well if you keep it below 85 db or so most of the time.  No good ears, no good sound....

It’s producing large quantities of good sound that is hardest and most expensive.

As amazing and sensitive our sense of hearing is, it is insensitive to certain aspects of music at low volumes.
1. Dynamic range - when you listen at low volumes, loud passages aren't loud
2. Frequency extremes - our ears can't' hear deep bass frequencies or extended high frequencies at low volumes very well. 
3. Harmonic overtones - harmonics, and the "feel" of the space of where the music was performed is lost at low volumes. 
This is why music is played loud at shows and for demo purposes. Although I agree that most tines the "demoer" overdoes it.   
Several good comments above that deserve amplification.  I dont know what the SPLs are at my chair but i do know that:

1. the ear has a reduced sensitivity to extremes at low levels, so too low is not ideal
2. Noise will mask low level detail if the level is set too low.
3. Music also provides "feel" - does the kettle drum vibrate you?  That's realistic.

Too loud certainly overloads both my comfort and my room( and generally not my amps, which i have the ability to measure, roughly).  But too low obscures detail, even things like the texture of vocals. You may question if its a "good thing" but at moderately hgih levels i can often hear the artifacts of mixing.  not so at lower levels.

And gladly, despite many decades, many concerts and tons of listening, i still hear very high frequencies in my lab - 15-20k. Down in audibility, yes, but I hear them. When i'd travel to our NY lab decades ago, my dog used to get annoyed when [name withheld) turned his oscillator up to a HF rather than off :-)  Cant fool the dog.
Looks like Elizabeth may have the only SPL meter :-) facts are pesky

just ran thru Live in Paris and a fantastic for me anyway level was 86.2 dB peak ( A weighted)

no wine, not dark yet, spouse away, Labrador faking asleep....

with the advent of digital and the analysis toys ... much music pretty limited in dynamic range, 30-35 dB common

knowing what your noise floor is in your room can be helpful in eliminating sources of ambient noise....

then there is....

some of the ticks and pops pops between songs , the Krall 45 rpm disc has some 40 dB ticks.... so in real terms signal to noise is approx 46 dB 
Also for less $$$ than you think you can get some nice tools to run on your phone or iPad, I use Studio Six Digital Audiotools RTA and a nice calibrated mic, unless I am lazy then I use the iPad microphone which ain’t too bad at 1k
YES , Enjoy the Music!  Play it Loud, Play it soft!
@gdhal - I agree that each recording seems to have a level, given room, system and recording, where everything comes together.
I think that sometimes, "turning it up" is meant to get more immediacy, impact and get the system out of the way, and if everything (including the recording) isn’t up to snuff, it’s just playing louder at you, but doesn’t sound more real. So I get @geoffkait ’s point, in that some recordings are compressed where there is no real dynamic range- a/k/a loudness wars.

I went to hear Crimson several months ago in a good hall here in Austin. The next morning, I played some material from the 2016 Live in Toronto LPs- there was just no way I could reproduce the scale of that recording, or the level of bass, in my room (which is fairly large by normal residential standards) at anywhere near what I heard live. Nonetheless,the recording and system acquitted themselves pretty well in that half-assed live v. recorded comparison.
I’ve aimed to get the resolving power of my system to a point where it doesn’t have to be super loud to be fully engaging and I do listen to a lot of very hard rock (mostly early stuff, before the term "proto-metal" was invented).
It is a shame that some of the records I like from that era, e.g. the first two Zep albums are not very good recordings. But, there are some that are- try Brian Davison’s Every Which Way (U.S. Mercury) circa 1970 or 71. You can turn it up and enjoy it like you would a well recorded jazz record- sounds like early Traffic. Some of the better known heavy rock records, like the first Sabbath album on Vertigo Swirl (UK) sound very good, even though they are primitive.
I find that I have to wear ear protection at almost all live rock events. They are just too loud and too often, overwhelm the room.
Personally when you start going over 90db  not only are you abusing your hearing 
But permanent hearing loss + tinnitus. Also room  reflections,  your room and  
Natural flowing  music will be an after thought ,unless you
Have room correction of some type.
I like to listen at the level I imagine the music would be played at if it were a live performance. I’m listening to John Fahey play acoustic guitar right now (with a pickup and amp, it sounds like, on his record of hymns, "Yes! Jesus Loves Me"), and after reading this got out my SPL meter and read about 80 dB on the loud parts.

I like orchestral music to be loud in the loud when it should be, of course. Of course there’s a lot of dynamic range in orchestral music. I wonder what concert hall SPLs are like.

A lot of the 50s and 60s-era acoustic jazz I like doesn’t need to be very loud to be enjoyable because it’s not too difficult to distinguish among four or five instruments.

Now I’m curious and will test myself and the music to see what works.
What’s being measured, average SPL or peaks? And how measured, e.g., test tone, music?
Just put on "The Dave Brubeck Quartet in Europe," and Brubeck's big piano chords are peaking at 80-83 dB, and the applause at the end of each track is irritatingly loud at 85 db. It seems I need the volume up a bit to hear the bass, although that might be a deficiency of my system or (rather small 12.5' x 15') listening room.
A lot of not mentioned things are the type of music one likes (though a few if the recent posts DO mention what type of music being discussed in the dB comment) It is easy to have realistic volume listening to a solo artist playing an acoustic guitar. Same for piano, or even Classical chamber music at relatively low SPL
But them you have Death Metal. That expected dB is 100? Also the amount of bass. Particularly low bass, gut massage bass.. adds a LOT to the dB meter. So folks WITH a sub, or strong bass output speakers will have a higher dB than folks playing the SAME MUSIC without a sub or prodigious bass output

In large Classical, and in Opera, only the climaxes are really loud..
(thus my personal 80dB for opera climaxes)
So some of the disparity of folks playing levels is ’what they play’.
I seldom play Heavy Metal! And little Hard Rock.
The vast majority of what I play is small combo Jazz, Small scale Classical.

One other point is nothing is lost playing at lower levels with good equipment. (though when I hit the bottom, like extremely hushed passages in an orchestral piece and the music is too soft to actually hear well, yet the loudest are louder than I want to play at,, Talk about dynamic range.. But that is rare.. My latest cable upgrade made this more of a problem, though like I said, only rarely and particularly on large scale Classical.)
I listen at 50 to 60dB measured at listening chair.
70dB is pretty loud and I only rarely play music that loud, and 80dB peaks is as loud as I ever play music at home.(mainly opera climaxes.)
Are you using a real meter or one of those gimmicky phone apps? Is it set to fast C-weighting or A-weighting? Is your meter placed near your head? 
Pardon...  I didn't hear you. The hearing is not so good anymore...
70dB isn’t  realistic. Kind of the level you would listen to the radio. If it doesn’t sound good any louder then there is something badly wrong with the setup.

Single musicians Average dB Peak dB
Violin/viola (near left ear) 85 - 105 116
Violin/viola 80 - 90 * 104
Cello 80 - 104 *. 112
Acoustic bass 70 - 94 * 98
Clarinet 68 - 82 * 112
Oboe 74 - 102 * 116
Saxophone 75 - 110 * 113
Flute 92 - 105 * 109
Flute (near right ear) 98 - 114 118
Piccolo 96 - 112 * 120
Piccolo (near right ear). 102 - 118* 126
French horn 92 - 104 * 107
Trombone 90 - 106 * 109
Trumpet. 88 - 108 * 113
Harp 90 111
Timpani and bass drum 74 - 94 * 106
Percussion (high-hat near left ear) 68 - 94 125
Percussion 90 - 105 123-134
Singer 70 - 85 * 94
Soprano 105 - 110 118
Choir 86 No data
Normal piano practice 60 - 90 * 105
Loud piano 70 - 105 * 110
Keyboards (electric) 60 - 110 * 118
Several musicians
Chamber music (classical) 70 - 92 * 99
Symphonic music 86 - 102 * 120 - 137
* at 3 m
Note: These representative noise levels are collated from a range of sources. They give an indication of the variety of noise levels and noise peaks that musicians and other workers can receive from the instruments concerned. This information can be helpful with estimating noise exposure and in identifying potential noise ’hot spots’. However, as shown, many of the instruments can exhibit a range of noise levels depending on how loudly they are played, for how long and under what circumstances (eg repertoire, venue, number of instruments concerned). Do not only use this information for a risk assessment but look at Sound Advice Note 3 ’Noise risk assessment and planning’and the relevant sector guide(s).

I tend to listen at lower levels like yourself. My system will get plenty loud (for me) but I don’t feel obliged to use it all.

What we are missing once again is individual differences. We all hear differently. Women have more sensitive hearing, so Elizabeth may hear at 70 dbs what it takes some of us 90 dbs to hear. And women are not the only ones who may have better hearing.

I don’t like loud music. Didn’t when I was a kid, still don’t. As I have moved up the audio ladder my system has become more transparent and more natural sounding without having to increase the volume.

If you’re doing a lot of listening at 80 - 100 dbs you’re damaging your ears. Try turning it down for a little while. You may find your ears adjust.
For dB meter.
I own a digital Radio Shack dB meter. I keep it set to "C" weighted.
I also have a smartphone app. Also set to 'C' weighted.  Comparing the two, they are very close all through the range.
(one additional problem with the RS meter is the range is 10dB, adjusted with a knob. So one has to know in advance approximately what range you are measuring, or all you get is 'high' or 'low'.
No such problem with the phone app.
The phone or meter are used at my usual seated listening position.
The difference from holding the meter or phone in my hand at a comfortable spot vs right at my ear is too small to bother about. (though for purists I would admit the ear position is about 1dB lower than just holding it (since it is another foot or so further back. But I prefer being able to SEE the meter while I am using it. LOL

The big plus with the phone app is it records the dB level over several minutes. That is something the RS meter cannot do.

Now neither one has been professionally calibrated. but are way way better than no meter...
As for "gimmicky phone app" I guess you never actually used one. No gimmicks, just a useful app. (I would say its usefulness may depend on the phone mic. But most ($800 or so) Smartphones have a decent mic.

I have tried numerous phone apps with multiple phones and they all read about 6 to 8 db lower than my Extech meter. I’ve only encountered one app that allows a C-weighted measurement, but it doesn’t record peaks like the Extech. If you blow into the mic of a real meter you can easily register over 100db. Try doing it with a phone mic and you’ll max out around 90db. 
First of all, thanks all of you for your input. I do agree that it is more about dynamics rather that just loudness. Any continued SPL above 85 dba will result in hearing damage, so needless to say this is not recommended. My hearing –after 40 years running around on electricity power plants- is not very good anymore, Nevertheless, I’m certainly able to enjoy the music, and I love the dynamics. Unfortunately, not many systems are able to present the full dynamic range available. Most of the systems will run into distortion when playing 90-95 dba SPL at listening position.  Don’t be fooled, 95 dba is loud! Now, considering a background noise level of let’s say 40 dba, and a dynamic range of 50 db on a very good CD, your system must be able to produce undistorted SPL of 90 dba. That’s it. You may wish to have a bit headroom, but if your system plays SPL peaks up to 95 dba undistorted, you’re good. Believe me, not too many systems can. Other than that, I play music at a level which I believe would be natural. So if a singer would be standing in between the speakers, how loud could she/he possibly sing without amplification, that’s the norm for me. Of course, occasionally I do play louder, depending on the music. But hardly ever do I exceed the 90-95 dba peak SPL. (and yes, I measure with an Extech SPL meter, it does make a difference)

Many people are a tone of deafness that the reason they listen loudly
if these people consult an orl  surprise they don t hear middle and high frequency but especially grave
Soliciting opinions to this question....

I understand that doubling the power results in a 3db increase. Speaker manufactures typically include a sensitivity measurement *and* a recommended amplification power measurement.

Can one draw an inference as to the maximum spl capabilities of the speaker based on its sensitivity and recommended amplification level? I believe, "yes".

For example, if a speaker is rated at 93db sensitivity, and the recommended amplification is 20-200 watts, then could one infer that the speaker can produce (approximately) 115db "comfortably"?
All of my systems go to "11".
Absolutely! initforthemusic
Happy Listening!
Loud is good! I have the Modwright Pre-amp, which does indeed "go to eleven"
I am with the crowd that thinks the ability to sound good at lower volume is a high priority.  Yes, the ability to play at high volume is a criterion of performance, but, the ability to sound dynamic, full and exciting at low volume is more important to me.  I know one can show that classical music has an enormous dynamic range such that the peaks can be well over 100 db.  But, recordings don't come close to delivering the full dynamic range; if you set the peaks at 100 db, the quiet passages are unrealistically loud and inappropriate.  I don't ever play such music at "realistic" peak volume.  For amplified music, I don't ever want to attempt to duplicate a live performance; frankly, if my system only sounded as good as perfectly reproducing such performances, I would dump it.

The very best systems at sounding good at low volume levels also tend to ones that are highly efficient and easy to drive.  That allows the use of low-powered amps.  That is a really big deal to me because ALL of the amps I really like happen to be quite low in output (the most powerful is a custom-built OTL amp at 30 watts).  I haven't heard most of the high-powered candidates out there, but, I've heard a few and they have the same problem--they sound dull and lifeless and un-engaging, particularly if you don't crank up the volume.  
@larryi   +1 on your post. 

Question regarding:

That allows the use of low-powered amps. That is a really big deal to me because ALL of the amps I really like happen to be quite low in output

Are you primarily referring to tubed amplification? If so, does the same apply to Solid State amplification? Thank you.

The amps I have liked the most are tube amps.  I own a custom-built push-pull 45 amp, the Audio Note (uk) Kageki (parallel 2a3 SET) and a custom-built push-pull 349 amp.  The Kageki, rated at 6.5 watts/channel, is the most powerful of the trio.  But, I had in my system a solid state First Watt J2 for about two weeks (borrowed from a friend).  The J2 sounded very good--it was vivid and engaging and only a touch hard on the initial attack of notes. I could easily live with the J2.  That same friend built for himself a low-powered SIT amp based on schematics made available by First Watt.  I think that this is also an excellent low-powered solid state amp. 

In the past, the common complaint raised against solid state is that the sound tended to be harsh and "grainy."  I don't think that is the case these days.  Most solid state amps are smooth sounding and are not at all unpleasantly harsh or shrill.  To me, the complaint about harsh and shrill can more often be leveled against high-powered tube gear than solid state gear.  But, when even decent sounding solid state amps are played at the lower levels I prefer, they sound a bit lifeless, and I tend to lose interest.  A friend of mine, who also loves low-powered tube gear, and who has heard much more stuff than I have (he goes to the Munich show), says that the Bridge Audio Laboratories (BAlabo) high-powered amps sound good.  I have not heard these amps, and in any case, I could never afford to buy amps that cost six figures.

The mathematics you use are correct. However speakers do not behave linearly after a certain point. Worse speakers distort terribly. That point is surprisingly low. Soundstage do NOT test speakers above 95 dB SPL as a level above that will damage most speakers!! (Soundstage conclusions and not my opinion).

Drivers have a limited excursion where they are fairly linear (Xmax). Driver voice coils get extremely hot and that causes significant compression (non linearity). There are a huge amount of challenges for high fidelity (no added distortion) at rock concert levels.

My speakers play at 115 dB SPL linearly even at a continuous level with similar low distortion to playing at modest 85 dB levels. This is extremely rare in a speaker and requires large woofers, large drive motors on the drivers (huuuge magnets), short voice coils in a large gap (to preserve linearity),large diameter voice coils (for better cooling), extremely tight tolerances (better cooling) and lots of clean power - in short a huge amount of engineering is required to achieve this over a speaker that is designed to only play up to 95 dB SPL before starting to distort heavily (the majority of designs). To achieve this performance requires specific engineering that you won’t find in 99.9% of home audio.

Since our ears and brain interprete distortion as loudness most audiophiles think they have speakers that play extremely loud however a dB meter will confirm to them that what they think is loud is actually just huge amounts of distortion giving the appearance of loudness.
 audiophiles think they have speakers that play extremely loud however a dB meter will confirm to them that what they think is loud is actually just huge amounts of distortion giving the appearance of loudness

You make a great argument for horn design many sound amazing at low levels but have extremely low distortion as SPL increases 
Well mixing usually happens in the 85 dB - dB 87 average range.  If you listen to higher average levels the risk of hearing damage increases.
@larryi Thank you very much for your response. It’s very helpful.

I’m at a fork in the road with amplification (tubed or solid state) and have essentially chosen the solid state path. I’m also preparing to evaluate a few (new to me) solid state amps. My current amp is the Pass XA-30.8 The Pass performs very well at low listening levels, for my needs and preferences. Speakers are the Tekton SEs (99dB [email protected]).

I hope your findings (copied below) do not bear out, as I am hopeful that my low powered options will perform well at low listening volumes (though I understand and generally agree with what you are saying below, especially at lower price points).

But, when even decent sounding solid state amps are played at the lower levels I prefer, they sound a bit lifeless, and I tend to lose interest.

If you have additional thoughts and advice regarding this, please share (PM me if it makes more sense to reach out that way). Thanks!
Since our ears and brain interprete distortion as loudness most audiophiles think they have speakers that play extremely loud however a dB meter will confirm to them that what they think is loud is actually just huge amounts of distortion giving the appearance of loudness.

Hi @shadorne

I appreciate your response to my question earlier in the thread. I’ll grant you that, unfortunately, sound stage does not seem to test above 95db. In the case of my particular speakers (Golden Ear T Ref), I consider the fact that they are a few db’s off "perfect" linearity, and even then over a small range of high frequency, essentially linear where the ability to play loud without distortion is concerned. On the basis of their sensitivity and power handling capability, they can produce over 115 db. And, I have reason to believe they could do so without damaging themselves in the process.

I certainly do agree with you that distortion increases as volume increases. But I think I’ve attended enough live events to know that - at least in my particular case - my system is more than capable of producing realistic rock concert level sound pressure, with (seemingly) no more distortion than the live event itself would produce. So, the fact that distortion increases with volume (generally speaking) is what it is, and IMO is largely irrelevant to the enjoyment of the listening session (unless the distortion is such that it becomes obvious).

To your point I’ve quoted above, I’ll disagree. Distortion doesn’t necessarily give the appearance of loudness. Distortion sounds "wrong" whereas loud and relatively undistorted music can sound authentic (and "right"), like a live event.

A db meter is used to confirm sound pressure level, not the "quality" of the sound. The db meter doesn’t care if the sound is distorted or not. Sound pressure is just that; sound pressure. So, whether or not the SPL is reading distortion or genuinely loud and un-distorted sound shouldn’t matter (from the perspective of the listener perceiving the sound as loud or soft).


Besides the fact that I do have an SPL meter, there are numerous charts available that provide insight as to sound pressure level. Here is one of many: It is based on my SPL meter and general understanding that if a subway train at 200 feet is 95 db, my apartment at times can sound as though the train is 50 feet away :)
I’d opine the whole phenomenon of distortion increasing with volume is more mysterious than anyone gives it credit for. There is no reason why distortion should increase since for all intent and purposes the SNR remains the same as the volume is turned up. Obviously driving the system behind it’s capability, for example clipping, is not what I’m referring to. Amplifiers and speakers are linear devices so there is no reason why distortion should rise with volume. Yet all systems exhibit this phenomenon. That’s why people complain of fatigue and harshness at higher than moderate volume. But it’s not the speakers and it’s not the electronics. It’s something else. Something very mysterious. 😳

Since you have a dB SPL meter it is a very simple matter to check your own speakers.

Keep cranking it until you get the meter reflecting sustained levels at 115 db SPL. If it sounds clear and clean and undistorted (but obviously very loud) then you can be assured the speakers are fully capable.

A great test track is the Sheffield labs drum track CD with track 1 - this is quite a good workout for a speaker as it is highly dynamic and also broad in frequency response (bass as well as mid range and tweeter are all heavily used).

I would suggest that you use a simple formula to estimate if your speakers are producing a combined at 115 db SPL at 1 meter. At your listening position the SPL meter should read 112 db SPL at 2 meters from speakers and 109 db SPL at 4 meters back. Since sound is dynamic you can expect the meter to only stay at such a sustained high level during drum rolls for a couple of seconds.

Of course you should never listen at these levels on a continous basis.

Nothing mysterious - all speakers distort terribly and very quickly. This is why pro monitoring gear used as main monitors in high end studios is so very expensive. This is why PA speakers in your local bar go loud but sound awful. Getting loud clean distortion free sound is a significant engineering hurdle and a costly manufacturing effort too. The diminishing returns are incredible - each extra 3 db in distortion free loudness capability pretty much DOUBLES your costs.