How loud is loud?


Seems like a rhetorical question, but I'm curious what other folks think is "ok, now that's loud"

For me, if something's hitting 100dB as measured from where I'm seated while listening, and not just for a brief moments, but with some regularity, that's loud.

I used to listen at higher average volume than I do these days. Typically, I'm finding that at the right volume, the recording is more nuanced then when it's running full throttle.

If I'm not mistaken, the late Peter Walker observed that every recording has it's one correct or optimum playback level. I think generally he was correct, though once we are willing to forge optimum there's a range of acceptable.
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For me, once it gets in the mid 80's, (at the listening chair) it's loud.

I've found that as my system has gotten better, I listen at lower levels. I no longer have the need to turn it up as I get everything I want at a lower volume.
I blew Aerial 10t woofer with Dead Kennedies all the way cranked. I wasn't sure how far did it go in terms of db/distance.
Still love to crank some hard-core punk.
The "correct" loud is how loud it was when it was originally performed live for recording since that's what the performers intended.

As for digitally produced stuff (Boomba Boomba music!)....who cares!
When your neighbors slide on their knees and beg for mercy...then it is probably a bit loud.
85db from the listening position is loud enough.
This also the threshold for ear damage.
There are free apps for db meters.
Being a live concertgoer, I like to be able to enjoy fully at lifelike volume levels. How loud that is may vary, but do not want to be limited. Most of the time though, I will not go that loud though. Sometimes, background music levels suffice.
I once put two pairs of 8ohm speakers on a Krell 700 cx stereo amp on the Bi-amp speaker connections, man, If I did not know any better, It seemed the amp droped down to 2ohms or something crazy like that, Till this day, That was the loudest home stereo I have ever heard, in this case, run from!, till I came to my sinces and turned it down, and un-hooked all the speakers, I felt like the maxell tape comercial, LOL!
100dB is as loud as it gets for me on most days. Occasionally I'll go for louder, but just because my system will hit 118dB peaks at my listening position before clipping doesn't mean I want to go there all the time!
It depends on the recording. Constant high level will numb your ears and reduce dynamics. Rock bands often start at lower volume adding more later. Once I attended concert that was so loud that I could not open my mouth because my lungs were vibrating. I don't want that at home (not to mention my neighbors) and I don't want to be deaf.
Zavato, I agree with your assessment of loud. And I DO enjoy lots of music approaching those levels, or just below; that's where a good system can reproduce the energy of a live performance. I ensure that I'm not disturbing anyone, and carefully limit my exposure to such levels (I'm not a high-hours daily listener). And music rapidly becomes very unappealing as you push beyond this level.

My problem with systems that do low levels well is that they're usually the result of a modified response curve that complements our own hearing's non-flat response curve at those levels -- the Fletcher-Munson curves are oft-referenced here (though they may not be very accurate). That's not a route that I prefer; I like gear that yields fantastic realism at loud levels and is completely non-fatiguing -- so in most cases bright sounding gear doesn't gel with me.
Hey Mulveling,
If you our talking about high end equipment I don,t know of any that still have a Loudness control button. Some cheap equipment have that and it increases low and high end to compensate the drop off in our hearing of bass and treble as volumn goes down which is the Fletcher-Munson curve. remember if your listening to a live concert and volumn gets very low the same fall off of low and high frequencies occur. Regarding what is loud, if after listening to music your ears are ringing it was too loud. You will damage your hearing
Alan
Yes, if you experience any fatigue and/or loss of hearing sensitivity after a session, then it was definitely too loud, and care should be taken to not repeat those circumstances. If you ever experience ringing, then it was WAY too damn loud, and permanent hearing damage may have occurred.
On every single song I play, I ask myself, "If I were listening to this live, at what volume would it be played at?", and I adjust it accordingly.

I've been to a certain audiophile's house a few times. His system retails for well over $300K. Every time I go there, he plays everything back at very loud volume levels which sounds COMPLETELY unrealistic. Listening to his system leaves me wanting to hear my own instead.
85dB is the threshold of damage only if you're listening to that continuously for several hours a day. And this threshold probably varies quite a bit by individual. For reasonable listening sessions, this level is quite safe for most folks.

Anyone near a city and/or with yappy dogs will experience sounds that exceed 85dB several times a day.
My average listening level is in the upper 50's to low 60's. Rarely do I get it up into the 70's. So, loud for me is into the 70's and up. Depends on the room, the system, and the listeners threshold levels.
Rarely is the time I can listen to anything loud. I don't go to conerts hardly anymore due to it being so loud.

It's little girls with guitars for me :-)

All the best,
Nonoise
My average is between 85db - 95db at my listening chair for hours with out any fatigue.
Check with the local police department since they are governed by each town ordinance which spells out in db's what is loud and when it is loud. Then get a sound meter and have someone go outside when you are listening at levels you think are okay. Then, call the police and report yourself since I am sure you want to be a good citizen first. Yes, I have had the police come calling. No, they did not come with a sound meter, so they were confused when I mentioned they had no way of really knowing what loud is. Yes, they felt I was a wise guy, but did not arrest me.
When you start to think its too loud, It only means you're too old. :D
**The cleaner your system is, the less loud it will seem.**

This is because the human ear/brain system uses higher ordered harmonics as cues to determine sound pressure. In this regard the human ear is actually more sensitive to such harmonics than fine test equipment: we can hear harmonic distortion that we have troubles measuring.

If your system sounds loud at 90-95 db at the listening chair then it is an indication that there is excess harmonic content that is not part of the original signal (unless the signal itself has added distortion too). This can come from the electronics, resonances in the playback system or hard surfaces in the room itself.

If you are running an SET and it seems loud at less than these levels its an indication that your speaker is not efficient enough to take advantage of the SET's ability to have low distortion. Instead, it is being driven hard enough that the higher ordered harmonics are showing up on peaks/transients- this causes the amp to sound like its playing louder than it really is and contributes to the sense that it is playing loud.

It is these harmonics (particularly the odd orders, 5th, 7th and 9th) that are why transistor amps tend to sound brighter and harsher than tubes as well, despite these harmonics often being at seemingly vanishingly low levels. But our ears use these harmonics to calculate sound pressure, so even the slightest change in this area can be heard.

An additional complicating issue is that our ears are tuned to birdsong frequencies (Fletcher-Munson). Musicians like to make sounds where the harmonics fall into this very sensitive range as well. Its no easy task that sound systems have to play everything right without contributing in a negative way at these frequencies!
I noticed that in spite of Fletcher-Munson curve some gear still plays lows and highs at low volume while other gear quits and sounds midrangy. Also, room itself plays role. In my room playing soft sounds cleaner with better imaging. I suspect it is reverberation in the room that is causing multiple echos - still audible at higher volume.
Digital audio provides a very good platform for dealing with things like Fletcher-Munson, when needed. Much better than old fashioned analog loudness buttons.

There is an unlimited # of ways audio CAN be processed digitally, many for good reason. Digital sound processing is the ULTIMATE sound quality tweak in terms of possibilities at ones disposal.
My preamp has zero adjustments for anything although I turn my sub up and down in a small range from time to time and that's all it needs. I assume people listen to different levels depending on how they feel (late at night I can easily enjoy listening at lower levels than during the day, regardless of ambient sound)...I simply use the "it feels too loud" adjustment criteria regardless of the content...I listen to a lot of jazz piano trio stuff these days and back the level off when the piano feels unnatural or like its poking me in the brain. When I noodle on my electric guitars (along with a rhythm track of some sort) I think I must play too loud all the time partly due to the "amp grease content factor", but it feels good so I don't stop.
For me, if something's hitting 100dB as measured from where I'm seated while listening, and not just for a brief moments, but with some regularity, that's loud.
loudness in dB SPL without stating the distance is meaningless. As you know, SPL drops approx 3dB for every doubling of the distance.
You wrote "where I'm seated while listening" - what distance is that from the loudspeaker?

For me 95dB SPL 10 feet away from the loudspeaker is LOUD. I try to keep my peaks at the 90dB SPL level (again, 10 feet from the loudspeaker).
My remarks were based upon where I sit, approx. 10' from the speakers.

I assumed the other remarks were based on seating position as well, but a good question to ask!
bombaywalla,

When we say at seating position, I assume we measured the db using the SPL meter while seated. At least I did. This means speaker distance is irrelevant because it is measured where you are at. Simple logic.
It's about 10 feet, and yes, 95dB is plenty loud
Atmashere, Hi, when you put 2 pairs of 8ohm speakers on an amp that has 4 speaker post for bi-amping, what is the load drop from 8 ohms to?, is it 4 ohms?, less maybe?
Hello Audiolabyrinth, yes, 4 ohms.
bombaywalla,

When we say at seating position, I assume we measured the db using the SPL meter while seated. At least I did. This means speaker distance is irrelevant because it is measured where you are at. Simple logic.
no, I don't think speaker distance is irrelevant - it is very relevant. True, the SPL meter measures sound pressure where you are physically standing/sitting in the room but still it is at a certain distance from the speaker. If you take 1 step closer to the speaker, the SPL will go up. If you take 1 step back, the SPL will go down. If you raise yourself 1 foot off the floor, the SPL will change (I think it should go down as the distance to the speaker is more. You have to calculate the hypotenuse of the triangle which is greater than the 2 other sides).
Distance from the speaker matters.....
08-21-14: Bombaywalla

If you take 1 step closer to the speaker, the SPL will go up. If you take 1 step back, the SPL will go down. If you raise yourself 1 foot off the floor, the SPL will change Distance from the speaker matters.....
I believe the point of the other posters is that they give the db reading where they listen, and one step closer, one step further away, one foot off the floor are pretty much irrelevant because they don't listen from there.
Well said Sebrof.
08-21-14: Sebrof

08-21-14: Bombaywalla

If you take 1 step closer to the speaker, the SPL will go up. If you take 1 step back, the SPL will go down. If you raise yourself 1 foot off the floor, the SPL will change Distance from the speaker matters.....

I believe the point of the other posters is that they give the db reading where they listen, and one step closer, one step further away, one foot off the floor are pretty much irrelevant because they don't listen from there.
OK. so you've made my point again: distance from the speaker is important - there's a very specific distance from the speaker they are listening from & measuring the SPL from.
Most think of SPL as a number - 90dB, 95dB, 105dB, etc, etc but it's a number with a distance associated with it.

Look at a speaker spec: For example: 90dB/W/m. Correct?
you've seen such a spec before, right?
how do you read this spec?
90dB SPL feeding 1W into 8 Ohms (not written but assumed to be the industry standard) & listening at 1m away.
dB SPL with a distance attached to it......
It is irrelevant since they measured the db level from their listening position. Whatever the speaker is rated at, say 90db/W/m, is just that, the speakers output. I guess if it where lower, the listener would have to increase the volume to get the db level they want at the listening position. I'm at a loss to see your point...
Especially since the focus of this thread is on what's too loud for listening. All that matters is the SPL at the listening position. 90dB/W/m is a measure of a speaker's efficiency, not how loud it is when you listen.
dB/W/m is an efficiency spec. Not a "how loud is it" spec. That's what dB alone is for. You're grappling really tightly onto an incorrect argument.
Hello everyone,
I do get Bombaywalla's point, distance from the speaker is a factor and a relevant variable. If you sit 5 feet from your speakers vs say 12 feet, the SPL in db will change as a result of the distance. That's all he is pointing out.
It's a point but it's not a relevant point. Wrong details like this drive me crazy at work! Distance would come into play if we were discussing the power required to achieve a certain SPL at a given seating distance. But that's not this thread -- plus that would require consideration of additional variables, and the math inevitably gets fuzzy when room boundaries come into play. This thread right here was SO simple; dB is really ALL you need, and why oh why do you/we audiophiles have to inject chaos and confusion into something so perfectly clear-cut!? :p
Lol!
I do see a reason for the ganging up.

Here is a link from Wiki,

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_pressure

"The distance of the measuring microphone from a sound source is often omitted when SPL measurements are quoted, making the data useless. In the case of ambient environmental measurements of "background" noise, distance need not be quoted as no single source is present, but when measuring the noise level of a specific piece of equipment the distance should always be stated. A distance of one metre (1 m) from the source is a frequently used standard distance. Because of the effects of reflected noise within a closed room, the use of an anechoic chamber allows for sound to be comparable to measurements made in a free field environment."
Apparently, common sense isn't so common to some people. =\
Wrong details like this drive me crazy at work!
Then here is another one.
dB/W/m is an efficiency spec.
Actually, that is the sensitivity spec. And yes, I know many seemed to be confused about this, and even some manufacturers list it as efficiency, however here is the difference, Efficiency vs. Sensitivity.
Hi Mulveling,
Ok, guilty as charged, you're right it is a simple topic regarding loudness
and nothing more. I do understand Bombaywalla's post in the technical
sense as he presented it. I have no intention to muddy the waters and
introduce chaos.
Thanks,
Charles,
08-20-14: Atmasphere
The cleaner your system is, the less loud it will seem.
Very true. And I would add that the cleaner the recording is, the less loud it will seem. IMO/IME very high quality recordings can be, and will in fact tend to be, played much louder than run of the mill or poor recordings before seeming to be "too loud."
08-20-14: Bombaywalla
SPL drops approx 3dB for every doubling of the distance.
For conventional box-type (non-planar) speakers, other than perhaps tall line-source arrays, that would actually be 6 dB per doubling of distance. I can write up a paragraph or two explaining why, if anyone is interested. The number for planar speakers is significantly less than 6 db per doubling of distance, and I believe will vary significantly depending on the speaker's height.

Addressing the original question, for the classical music which comprises most of my listening I generally find myself listening at average SPLs that are in the 70's at the listening position, with very soft notes being around 50, and brief dynamic peaks on well recorded minimally compressed symphonic music reaching about 100 to 105 db.

Sustained levels start to seem "too loud" somewhere in the 80's or high 70's, for most of the recordings I listen to. Although those numbers would be way higher for something like the "Sheffield Track Record," which I have in my collection.

All of that is at the listening position. I agree that listening distance is irrelevant to the discussion, as is the Wikipedia paragraph quoted above. I'm surprised there is any disagreement about that, especially given the reference in the OP to SPL "as measured from where I'm seated while listening."

Regards,
-- Al
The 'loudness' most people hear is their system (or rooms) distorting.
08-18-14: Seikosha
For me, once it gets in the mid 80's, (at the listening chair) it's loud.

I've found that as my system has gotten better, I listen at lower levels. I no longer have the need to turn it up as I get everything I want at a lower volume.
+1. Even though my Magico S5's are capable of hitting 118db, I see no reason to play them that loud. These days, I highly prize inner details, layering and texture in the music and low level information. In other words, being able to play my music at moderate levels and hear all the music as Seikosha said.
Not all frequencies are the same when it comes to being heard as "loud".

Take a look at the ear sensitivity chart that is part of the Audio Frequency Chart and you can clearly see why.
I know my wife walks by regularly and says.... "That's so Loud!"
I normally listen around 85db to 90db average, peaks at 95...

121db is the threshold of pain
Tls49:
Actually, that is the sensitivity spec. And yes, I know many seemed
to be confused about this, and even some manufacturers list it as efficiency,
however here is the difference, Efficiency vs. Sensitivity.
Ah, excellent point. Thank you for correcting me! It should have been obvious that efficiency is in %. You got me!
thanks for catching that typo Al re. the dB drop per doubling of the distance. I've done this calculation many times here on Audiogon & have always used 6dB such as this post/thread:
http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?aamps&1076310141&openusid&zzBombaywalla&4&5#Bombaywalla.
this was a typo on my part.
Al,
I've observed that as the system and recording quality improves it "expands" the usable listening spectrum. You are able to listen at higher levels comfortably, but lower volume listening is much improved as well. The urge to want to crank it up is diminished.
Charles,