How loud do you listen to your music?

Today I decided to take my RS SPL meter and see just how loud my system when I was listening to levels that I perceive to be pretty loud. To my surprise, the nominal SPL was only 70db with peaks going as high as 82db. I had expected the SPL reading to be much higher especially since I thought I had my system cranked up pretty loud. When I put the volume back to where I mainly listen, the SPL was only in the 50-60db range. For whatever reason, this number seemed too low but I do not really have a good sense for what decibels really mean in terms of how loud things are in the real world. Is 60db loud? Is 70db excessive?

So my question is, how loud do you normally listen to your music?
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When I listen to classical I crank it up spl at 90-110
large music room 22x32 Thiel CS-6.
Are you using the A scale or the C to measure? On the C scale, I tend to listen in the mid 70's low to mid 80's (this will show lower on the A scale.) There is also the issue of whether you are using the peak mode or average.

The type of music you listen to also has a big influence on the volume.

I listen to a lot of unamplified folk, jazz and smaller classical works and try to match what "live" levels might be. That is going to be much softer than if you try to duplicate live levels from a heavy-metal rock concert.
70 db is pretty loud, not extreme, but it's getting up there. 50-60 is much safer. Here's a pretty good site for comparisons:

Is your room treated? If not, you might want to think about bass traps and diffusers--they have been my obsession for the past few months, and they do help make lower decibles levels sound larger. The reason is fairly complex, at least I wouldn't be able to explain it coherently, but you can Google many website articles and discussions on the topic.
Funny you post this as I checked my levels several times in past week, mine are around 85-95, if I am enjoying rock or pop music with a steady beat I listen a bit lower than Classical wich dips in and out of dynamics, I have been over 105db a few times but then I put down the beer.
I have seen a chart a while back that shows how many dbs for many household items. Be nice if someone has that chart to post.
50 to 60db sounds right. Amplifiers generally only pump out fraction of a watt to generate music most of the time.

Makes one wonder why most posters seem to have this need for 100wpc (and higher) amps. Hearing issues I guess ... ;-)

I typically listen about 90 to 95 db SPL continuous and on a good recording I may listen even higher (closer to 100 db SPL). Rarely do I listen to anything but very briefly at 105 db SPL (average rock concert levels). All these are at the listening positio, roughly 12 feet back from the speakers.

Some may think this is excessive, however

1) human hearing has a 120 db dynamic range...if you play at 60 db SPL (close to the typical ambient noise floor of 30 db SPL) then you will almost certainly miss details in the music. (Dynamic range is critical to music, the contrast is what provides much of the emotion and feel. Realistic levels of dynamic range, without distortion, is often what most distinguishes real live music from playback)

2) Ever heard a live orchestra/band play as soft as an average level of 60 db SPL....?
From the occupational standpoint, the following standards apply.

The OSHA standard for occupational noise allows for up to 90dBA for an 8 hour time period without hearing protection.

Employers are required to offer hearing protection at 85dBA. Professionally I advise employers to make protection mandatory at 85dBA.

A good rule of thumb is when you have trouble hearing a person talking to you at a normal conversational voice, you have exceeded the 85dBA.
Hi Tboooe -

Paste the link below into your browser and scroll down...hoepfully you will see the table of db ratings for different things.

This one says normal conversation is 60 db
A Vacuum cleaner is 80 db

Does your SPL have any sort of calibration function? I've been interestd in purchasing one...I take it RS = Radio Shack? What sort of $ should I expect to lay out?

"Loud" means different things depending on the situation and the music. If you like in an apartment 70dB is probably loud. I live in a rural house with no houses in close proximity. If I am playing Sousa marches on the fourth of July 90dB with higher peaks is not loud.
Thanks for the response everyone. Just answer a few of the questions: I used a Radio Shack analog SPL meter set to C weighting and "slow" response. My reasoning is that I wanted to get a decent nominal reading, as I am not so much interested in the peaks.

As for the posters who said they listen at 80-100...all I can say is that seems VERY loud to me. Maybe I have really sensitive ears, but I could not imagine being able to enjoy music at those levels.

I also agree that the volume has to be up to a certain level in order to not miss finer details.

Based on the responses so far, it seems that I may be listening at relatively low volumes compared to other people.
Makes me wonder, too. Makes me think many are taking a best guess. Its important to separate peak reading from nominal readings. I listen about 75dB nominal with peaks of about 85-90dB. It also make a big difference what kind of music you are listening to.
03-19-07: Shadorne 1) human hearing has a 120 db dynamic range...if you play at 60 db SPL (close to the typical ambient noise floor of 30 db SPL) then you will almost certainly miss details in the music.

Shadorne, if your system leaves details in the music at 60db SPL you need to upgrade to a decent system

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Oops , meant to say, if your system drops details in the music at 60db SPL, you need to upgrade to a decent system
80-100db listening levels for frequent and extended periods will do irreparable damage to human hearing. I am sure some people actually listen to music at those volume levels. Ouch. Worse than that are earphones. Kids that listen to their iPods the whole time are going to have impaired hearing by the time they’re 40 or 50.

Rather them than me.

What?????????? Huh??????????? Come again????????
I asked the same question a few years back... here's the link.
Interesting...Checking back 2+ years, I agree with myself!
Eliminate the guesswork. Here's the Table from "The Physics Classroom". Left to right values are:
Source Intensity/Intensity Level/ # of Times >TOH

Note in particular:
Vacuum Cleaner 1*10-4 W/m2 80 dB 108
Large Orchestra 6.3*10-3 W/m2 98 dB 109.8
Military Jet Takeoff 1*102 W/m2 140 dB 1014
Instant Eardrum Peforation 1*104 W/m2 160 dB 1016

Threshold of Hearing (TOH) 1*10-12 W/m2 0 dB 100
Rustling Leaves 1*10-11 W/m2 10 dB 101
Whisper 1*10-10 W/m2 20 dB 102
Normal Conversation 1*10-6 W/m2 60 dB 106
Busy Street Traffic 1*10-5 W/m2 70 dB 107
Vacuum Cleaner 1*10-4 W/m2 80 dB 108
Large Orchestra 6.3*10-3 W/m2 98 dB 109.8
Walkman at Maximum Level 1*10-2 W/m2 100 dB 1010
Front Rows of Rock Concert 1*10-1 W/m2 110 dB 1011
Threshold of Pain 1*101 W/m2 130 dB 1013
Military Jet Takeoff 1*102 W/m2 140 dB 1014
Instant Eardrum Peforation 1*104 W/m2 160 dB 1016
Paul, we exchanged virtues of the SET vs PP in another thread, have you had any experience with parallel SE vs SET? How does that piano decay when the triodes are in parallel?
The nice link GH provided unfortunately uses Hearing Level (based on an average threshold of hearing) rather than Sound Pressure Level (based of .0002 dynes/square cm). RS meters read SPL, although scales other than C attempt to mimic hearing sensitivity. Forced-choice techniques show that 0 dB HL is high by maybe 10 dB, i.e. sensitivity is underestimated.

Jazz at the Pawnshop at the level I prefer averaged 75 dB(C) with peaks to 80 with slow trajectory. I'm sure certain passages of Mahler's 2nd, for example, exceed that, because the dynmaic range is so large.

Shadorne, if your system drops details in the music at 60db SPL, you need to upgrade to a decent system

LOL. Yes indeed you are right Pauly. I forgot to mention this is why I have to play so loud (don't have a decent system). Indeed, there is nothing more to be heard with an extra 30 db of dynamic range (going from 60 db to 90 db). Thx for pointing out my error. ;-)
Eleven. (See Spinal Tap).
Depends on the day, the music and the mood. Some music just sounds better loud. I usually make those short sessions though. No ear ringing for me.
Where is everyone measuring from, YOUR LISTENING CHAIR, I HOPE! Otherwise, the measurements are meaningless!

I infrequently like to crank it with peaks [C weighted, fast response, on the Rat-Shack Digital Meter] at about 95-97 dB. Having used and abused my hearing at concerts and working in radio, I usually hit peaks of 85-87 dB, softer later on at night. Again, these are PEAK levels, not RMS levels.
I get to listen to live jazz, classical, & choral music in our university's music department several times a week, and I tell you this: live music of all kinds is LOUD. it takes a lot of power to even come close to recreating a live event. Now admittedly, our performing spaces are not the size of large commercial performance venues, but even in our largest theaters the SPL's of the jazz & classical ensembles make you wince at times. I need to take my db. meter with me to work & see what levels we're listening at. I'm not sure how this has been resolved, but when the European Union implemented new noise in the workplace rules, the standards proposed would make it illegal for musicians in the orchestra to be exposed to the db. levels they experience. Some sort of compromise legislation was in the works last I read.
Shadorne, my apologies for the tone in my prior response – that was uncalled for.

I have heard a couple of amps drop the lowest level detail from recordings that other amps are quite capable of reproducing at the same volume. It is one of my pet peeves and cannot think of much that annoys me so much … maybe the ex calling me and telling me how wonderful her new @#$% husband is?

Whenever you audition amps, you’ll do yourself a big favor if you also listen to them at very low volume levels. Many so called good amplifier fail miserably.


I get to listen to live jazz, classical, & choral music in our university's music department several times a week, and I tell you this: live music of all kinds is LOUD

That has always been my experience...rarely have I heard a concert or instrument played at "conversational" or 60 db SPL level. If you have the best seats in the house then there is simply no way you can have a comfortable conversation even with a string quintet (wind, percussion and piano are usually much louder).

Hearing damage limits are often set very low intentionally. This is because prolonged exposure 8 hours a day (day in and day out) to continuous machinery appears to damage hearing at much lower levels than musical instruments (which are dynamic, less repetitive and usually involve less extended exposure periods).
Onemug I have not listened to a parallel SE/SET amp at any length to really comment. I have listened to a parallel 2A3 on an unfamiliar system but it did sound very good and very natural.

Not an amp where you would need 100db of sound pressure to hear all the details :)

Except for very high levels, gun shots for example, hearing loss tends to be induced by fairly continuous exposure. I wouldn't be surprised if some musicians do suffer hearing loss, espcially those who play at rock concerts. The danger of noise exposure is adaptation: It needs to be louder and louder to seem loud.

Set your meter to slow trajectory on the C scale (essentially flat) with 0 dB reference (the middle of the meter range) set at 80 dB SPL, and sit in your customary seat. If the meter runs off scale often (which i doubt it will), move the range up or down as needed. You may be surprised the level is not as high as you imagined.

I've attended lots of recitals of two to five musicians at Stanford, and should attend those at the Music Academy of the West here in Montecito, where they run a master program with noted artists helping advanced students. It's a good way to calibrate yourself.

Would some one please tell me if I listen to my 400xi with the digital setting normally at its 45 to 60 at the front read-out, what is the DB that I listen to? My speaker is Paradigm 40.2 bookshelf ( don't know its efficiency level).I use the R/S SPL reading ( w/o the digital reading)but cannot get a steady measurement. Also for the 400xi, 50 to 60 at the front digital read-out equals to what position of the regular rotation knob ?
I listen at an average 85 to 92 dB's to get the detail and gratification I need out of my system (B&W speakers/Marantz surround sound system). I've been reading lately that at these sustained levels year after year, hearing loss will happen. I'm 50 now and am getting concerned for the future. I listen mostly at night when I'm home. I travel on the road about half the time. Are there ways to get the dB's down without giving up the impact and sound I need to listen at? I love deep bass and must feel that in my bones. I play the electric bass guitar as well. For example, would going to a pair of full size 2-1/2 or 3 way more efficient loudspeakers over stand mounts make any difference? On the other hand, is this really true that at these levels, hearing loss will happen down the road? Are there any older audiophiles out there in their 60's and 70's that listen loud and have not noticed any loss? This is a topic we should all be concerned about. Thanks.

Your hearing will get worse anyway as you age - so enjoy it while you can. Listening at these levels several times a week for short periods (not more than an hour) is unlikely to be a major problem.

Remember the quacks all told us to stop eating butter and switch to, thrirty years later, they have discovered that Trans Fats are particularly lethal!
Thanks Shadorne. Makes much sense. You're right about the margarine. I stopped that a few years ago and went back to good old all natural butter !! I'm actually going to look at upgrading my standmount B&W's to a full size B&W monitor speaker (DM603 or DM604 for example) which could work to lower the dB's and still hear the detail and volume I like along with that bass kick. I noticed my powered subwoofer adds a lot to the dB levels. If I can get more natural bass out of the two mains and back off on the sub somewhat, that could get those dB's down. I'll let you know how it goes.
Hi Pdn

The lack of low level detail at lower SP level is not due to your speakers, rather it is due to your amplifier not having a low enough sound floor.

You should go and audition some amplifiers and listen to them at low levels. Take a SP meter and listen to music at an average of about 50db. When listening to a couple of amps at low you'll be surprised how many 'big name' amps simply drop low level detail.

I can easily listen at 50-60db on my setup and the music is still 100% complete and intact. I too do not want ruin my ears.


Check Equal Loudness Curves to see how volume level affects the presentation of the sound.

Notice that at around 30 db SPL, the average person won't hear anything at all below 80 Hz. At 60 db SPL one begins to hear 30 Hz and at about 75 db SPL the lowest frequencies in the audible range (20 Hz) become barely audible.

This is why bass audibility improves so dramatically at higher levels - put another way this is the reason for the "loudness" button (to help audibilty of bass at low sound levels).

The other important thing to notice on the plot is the area between two different "Phon" curves. It may help to take two extremes, just for illustrative purposes;

1) Imagine you listen at close to 40 Phon peak equal loudness.....then what you hear is contained between the 40 phon curve and the threshold LESS whatever background masking noise you have in the room. Even if you IGNORE the noise floor (usually around 30 db spl) and shaded the ENTIRE area between the curves you get an idea of the signal range that your hearing is working with. ( Anything on the source music that falls below the threshold will fall below audibility - so you are working with a MAXIMUM dynamic range of roughly 40 db SPL)

2) Imagine you turn up the sound to around 100 Phon peak equal loudness contour (yes I said extreme). Do the same exercise and color the area between 100 Phon curve and the threshold of hearing. (Immediately it should be apparent that you are now working with a MAXIMUM dynamic range of roughly 100 db SPL. This is similar to the dynamic range of a 16 bit CD - meaning you will not miss even the lowest level signal on the least significant bit on the CD, provided it is not "masked" by other sounds)

This is the long answer of why you may like to crank it.

The short answer is best explained by Dewey Fin in School of Rock, "Dude, I service society by rocking. I’m out there on the front lines liberating people with my music. Rocking ain’t no walk in the park, lady."
Shadorne, the majority of amplifiers lose low level detail of frequencies in the mid-range, i.e. 250Hz to 500Hz, and that is why people crank it. It has very little to do with the frequency extremes.

I agree with some your comments pertaining to phons, but you would need very sensitive ears to hear 20Hz. Very few speakers will produce sound under 30Hz, let alone 20Hz. Personally I feel low frequencies in my stomach before I actually hear them and we probably hear the harmonics of low frequencies without hearing the fundamentals of said frequencies themselves.

Same with frequencies of over 15KHz. I doubt many males will hear anything over 18KHz.

If the midrange is incomplete, the frequency extremes do not matter. Incomplete midrange = inferior amplification.

And forget about the theoretical dynamic range of CD. The majority of CDs are compressed to under 20db range. I listen mostly to uncompressed MFSL and direct-to-disc recordings, which has a way bigger dynamic range than most the crap available on CD. I cannot say what the peaks go to (probably 80-90db I guess) but the average is around 60db and I get the complete sound picture.

A truly good audio amplifier can create a complete musical picture at low SP amplification levels without losing the lowest levels of details. I have heard tens of systems where they needed to be turned-up-to-sound -right. Without exception, at low volumes they lack the small nuances and micro details that natural music has. These system simply have to be cranked because they suck at low volumes.

This is another excellent point. The quality of the amp plays a major role in this as well as the loudspeaker. Didn't think of that angle. While I have no plans to change my amp component, I'm going to upgrade from standmounts to full size monitors within a month. Should be a great learning experience to see or hear for that matter if I can in fact get the SPL's down but remain gratified with the music. Of course the type of music makes a world of difference. Thanks for the insight.

If the midrange is incomplete, the frequency extremes do not matter.

I agree fully with you here.

I have been lucky with amps I guess, as I have not run into the problem of a high noise floor or dynamic compression in the mid range due to electronics (usually the speaker is at fault in my limted experience).
fascinating thread. fwiw, i use the rat shack digital spl meter and i am in disbelief at the amount of misinformation most audio nuts are exposed to. 75-85 db from my sweet spot is plenty loud. this is clean power from unstressed spkrs. when i play an xrcd type disc of large symphony it would be ludicrous to try and achieve concert level spl in my space. i tried and peaks were leaving me with ringing ears...and my room opens up and is well treated. dealers should package spl meters with products and maybe we would start to see thru this mega power myth requirement many cling to. then again, i'm not 18 and blitzed.
6 beers= 15 extra Db.
Chadnliz, LOL. 6 beers may also be the start of a reduction in linearity?
Pardon me chad but is'nt this the tech forum? If so were should i pour my beer , my passive could use a little more gain :> Kiddin aside I measure wide band and got 89 just before I was blown over , turned the subs off and got 60 . It shure didnt sound bottom heavy. Could it be I'm bass impaired ?