What decibel level do you listen at?

poor grammer on the question, I know, but I recently downloaded the SPL Meter app for my iPhone and I am shocked by how low the volume level actually is when I listen to music.

I thought I was normally listening at high SPL levels, but I have found that at about 85 it's too loud to think (when it reads 65, you can't talk to someone else in the room). I checked it against my real SPL Meter and the readings are pretty accurate.

I thought I was listening at about 90+ dbl on average, but I have discovered it's actually about 60 to 75 db, and that actually seems loud to me. I guess I'm happy about that, but does anyone else check the Decibel level, and what's considered "Reference Level"?
85dB - 90dB. Sometimes louder. Rarely quieter. This is measured from the listening seat with a Radio Shack decibel meter.
Tvad, you are a menace to the neighborhood! Hope you don't live in a NY apartment, or we will lose you to an angry next door, below, or above neighbor.

Man, on both my RatShack meter and my iPhone at 75 db it's deafening. I must have whimpy ears.
Usually 85 to 90,but when i want to jam 110 to 115dbs according to my spl meter at my seated position 15 feet away.Yes i know that's too loud for most audiophiles but it's my friday routine thing for a half hour or hour.
Ditto here!85dB - 90dB. Sometimes louder. Rarely quieter. This is measured from the listening seat with a Radio Shack decibel meter....
Its background music below 65db not for serious listening imho.Live performances are not at 65db so how could you judge a recording performance at 65db or below?80db for that matter..JD
I listen (measured with Radio Shack "A" weighted at seated position) at 65dB up to 78dB a few times up to 82dB.
Never peaks over 85dB
MacDad -- You'll find a lot of interesting discussion of the same question in this thread.

Quoting my own answer therein:
This is a difficult question to answer, because it is highly dependent on the dynamic range of the music, and because it is (as Shadorne points out) also highly dependent on the quality of the recording.

It's pretty well recognized that music which is accurately recorded and reproduced will tend to be played louder than inaccurate, unrealistically reproduced, distorted music.

But even more significantly, music with wide dynamic range, such as well-recorded classical symphony orchestra, will tend to be played with the volume control set MUCH higher than for highly compressed material, such as most major popular releases. That will mean that the average volume level of the wide dynamic range material will be less than the average volume of the highly compressed material, but the peak volume of the wide dynamic range material will be MUCH higher.

A notable case in point would be the early Sheffield Labs direct-to-disk recording of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," conducted by Erich Leinsdorf (which is presently available remastered onto cd). I've never used an spl meter, but I would estimate that I listen to that recording with the average level in the low 70's, but with peak levels reaching around 105db (estimated based on speaker efficiency, amplifier power, and attenuation due to listening distance).

And btw, I can tell you that the 105db is not anywhere close to being as loud as the peak levels in a live performance of the same work, as listened to in the very front row at Tanglewood!
Best regards,
-- Al
Very similar to Elizabeth 64db-78db once in awhile into the low 80's. I keep a spl meter on all the time and try to average about 70db because of the mild tinnitus in my right ear. These level 64db-76db don't seem to aggravate my ear.
Usually ~85 db, sometimes a little louder (88-90), sometimes a little softer (80-82)
80-92dB's when drinking and ready for action.

65-82dB's mornings, relaxing, chillin'

All vinyl all the time.
I am with Elisabeth and Samhar, mid 60's to the 70's. The db meter is next to my remote.
Usually 75-82 db C weighting with my Radio Shack meter. Question? I thought C weighting was for music. Is it not?
Around 85 - 95 based upon Radio Shack meter C-weighted.
The better the resolution of your system, the quieter you can listen without losing presence or detail. Putting it another way: as my system got better an better over the last 30 years, I tended to listen at lower and lower average levels.
06-16-10: Gmuffley
The better the resolution of your system, the quieter you can listen without losing presence or detail.

I wonder what Metallica or Miles Davis would sound like at 70dB? I'll have to try that for yucks.
110 to 115 dB is too loud for anybody. You're going to damage your hearing with those levels, if you haven't already. Here's a table for reference:

Decibel Level (dB) Source
140 threshold of pain: gunshot, siren at 100 feet
135 jet take off, amplified music
120 chain saw, jack hammer, snowmobile
100 tractor, farm equipment, power saw
90 OSHA limit - hearing damage if excessive exposure to noise levels above 90 dB
85 inside acoustically insulated tractor cab
75 average radio, vacuum cleaner
60 normal conversation
45 rustling leaves, soft music
30 whisper
15 threshold of hearing
0 acute threshold of hearing - weakest sound
Here's an excellent loudness table.
Funny you'd pick Miles, I was listening to "Kind Of Blue" this afternoon at 72db and it was very enjoyable. Was that the best db level? At 70db-74db my system starts becoming dynamic enough to have energy/life.
About low level listening. One of the ways I know stuff is set up better is I can listen to it a lower volumes and it still shines.
As Almarg points out, if one listens mostly to classical or other types of acoustic music, the decibel level will be constantly changing, often over a very large range. Many audiophiles like to listen to their systems much louder than is actually necessary (I am not saying this is a bad thing, by the way - there are good reasons for as well as against). As I get older, I'm sure I will turn mine up more, but as a professional orchestral musician I am guaranteed to lose at least 20% of my hearing over the course of my career as it is, so I tend to try to avoid other really loud environments. Sometimes I will really crank up the volume on my system, but normally I try to listen at as low a volume as possible and still hear everything clearly. I have never used a decibel meter at home - I can tell you that I certainly don't listen at the decibel levels I constantly experience at work, which are definitely on the upper end of the range we are talking about. As Almarg said, this quite often reaches above that 105 mark - often more like 120 onstage depending on the piece. You don't always notice it, because we are used to it, and there is something about the physicality of helping to produce that volume that seems to mitigate the effect while you are doing it. The really bad ones are the pops shows where they amplify everything inside the hall completely unnecessarily, to the point where it is extremely loud even when wearing ear plugs. We usually beg them to turn the onstage monitors off or at least way down, but the so-called "sound men" never understand that they are actually making the ensemble problems much worse by cranking the volume up louder and louder. It just becomes noise after a certain point. If they would just turn everything way down, everyone could hear everyone else. Anyway, this is turning into a rant so I will shut up, just wanted to explain one very good reason why many musicians listen at lower levels than other audiophiles.
My Bloody Valentine live @136 db was pretty intense. I'll measure later today.
It depends on the dynamic range of the music. Where the db level is nearly constant - a lot of rock and roll for example - somewhere around 85-90. Jazz and blues - 80-85. Classical, barely audible at 60 or so up to peaks over 100. By the way, I have taken an spl meter to the front row of symphony performances at two different halls a number of times. The loudest peaks I have ever measured was 102 db for Verdi's requiem and slightly over 100 for Tchaikovsky's 6th. Many years ago I worked on military jet aircraft. Stand next to an A7 turning up - that's loud. On last audiometric testing a few years ago my hearing is well within the normal range. Also of note, the relative level against a background heavily influences what "sounds loud." In a lot of classical pieces (Tchaikovsky's 6th for example) several minutes of low volume sound followed by sudden increase of 30 decibels will be percieved as louder than a constant level higher than that peak. This is somewhat supported by medical research which tends to show, at least with animal subjects, a neurological protective response to loud noise. These research results have been interpreted as meaning that a constant environmental noise actually protects one against damage by a sort of conditioning. So it is probably not only the db level that is important as far as what is percieved as loud but also the immediate history of db levels. In other words, the signal elicited from the anatomical structures that sense hearing and are sent to the brain depend, at least in part, on that history (a few minute history if I recall)- at least in test animals. Of course the test animals are notoriously poor music critics, aside from the canine love for the blues (i.e. Howlin Wolf).
Mid 80's. I'm listing in nearfield and above 90 is not very comfortable, and certainly not enjoyable to me. I agree - over 100db is just plain stupid, IMO, unless you don't value your hearing. Daverz reference table speaks volumes. Here's more info to add to that.
To paraphrase what Elizabeth says, about low level listening;

I say,
One of the ways I know stuff is set up better is I can listen to it a HIGHER volumes and it still shines.

One of the ways I know stuff is set up better is I can listen to it a HIGHER volumes and it still shines.

Acoustat6 (Threads | Answers | This Thread)
I was thinking the same thing. Glad you mentioned it. In my system, I know things are set up well when the volume can be turned WAY up and the system continues to sound clean, smooth and balanced.
ditto, but I am surprised that what sounds extremely loud to me, and is still crystal clear, registers at 85 db. 90 db, can't stay in the room, need to move to the next room.
I am surprised that what sounds extremely loud to me, and is still crystal clear, registers at 85 db. 90 db, can't stay in the room, need to move to the next room.
Macdadtexas (System | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
Knowing the music you like from your posts, I'm frankly surprised you listen at such a moderate to low level (on my volume scale).
My "neighbors are out" listening volume seems to have peak levels of about 85 dB. I suppose climaxes in Bruckner, Mahler, or Shostakovich might get up to 90 dB. Hard to say what the average is for big Romantic and post-Romantic works.

I just put on the Clash's London Calling (2000 CD), and an 80 dB average level is really above what I'd normally find a comfortable listening level ("too loud to think"), and even 75dB average seems to be my "indulgent" volume.

Part of this may be that the default Vandersteen bass EQ procedure results in very warm bass. On music with lots of low, synthesized bass it can be kind of overwhelming.
~ 88 dbs tops. If any higher I know it is higher and that rare case I adjust volume down accordingly. My volume is optimized (for my room)for all sources (two CD and three TTs)-For Most recordings I don't have to touch the volume dial and it is loud enough.
My average is around 85dB, with brief peaks, on some recordings, as high as 100dB.

As several people have pointed out, my volume level is largely determined by the quality and dynamic range of the recording. I have also noticed, as has been mentioned, that when I "improve" my system, particularly my room, I can usually listen 2-3 dB louder with the same comfort level.

The other factor that seems to determine how loud I listen is the level of ambient noise inside and outside the house. Late a night, when the house and the neighborhood are quiet, I get the same impact with lower volume levels.
Here is some info on the frequency correction for out of the meters normal range.[http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=505236]
A lot will depend on the source music. The more lower frequency content the more likely you will get clipping or IMD. It is also not just an amp problem...speakers compress music because drivers quickly exceed their linear operating range - this also leads to a lot of distortion which will make the music sound harsh and perceptively very loud - most noticeable and uncomfortable in the mid range and tweeter.

There is no reason that good source music should not be enjoyable (i.e. not sound too loud) at 90 db SPL average levels - this is still far far lower than most live concert levels even for classical.

Trust your ears and not the SPL meter and calculations. If the sound is effortless crystal clear and undistorted then you should be able to play up to about 95 db SPL at the listening position before it may begin to sound uncomfortably loud ( a rock concert can be thoroughly enjoyed at levels above 100 db SPL with the odd dynamics up to 115 db spl).

If it all sounds way to loud at 90 db SPL this is indicative of high amounts distortion somewhere (for starters make sure you have a good source music - well recorded music and not modern compressed pop trash...good high quality source music played at 90 db SPL will vary from less than 70 to 100 db SPL on a Ratshack meter while a terrible pop recording may only vary from 87 to 93 db SPL)

Unless everyone is using the same reference source music (say for example the Sheffield Labs Drum track test CD) then it is hard to say whether there is a system issue or it is just a genre or source music issue.
Here is some info on the frequency correction for out of the meters normal range.[www.avsforum]

This is for the Radio Shack meter only. I think a few folks, at least the OP and myself, may be using the iPhone app by Studio Six Digital. Not sure what corrections, if any to use there.
I have both of ths Jax2, and they are almost dead on, compared one to the other.
Macdadtexas, Excellent thread.
I listen mostly in the 65-75 db range.
06-18-10: Macdadtexas
I have both of ths Jax2, and they are almost dead on, compared one to the other.

Of course Studio Six claims theirs is more accurate than the Radio Shack meter. No idea whether that is true. I have their full Audio Tools set and find I use the RTA most frequently.

Another point of interest, and contrast perhaps to what is being pointed out - I've found that with more refined and detailed speakers I do not have the inclination to turn them up louder to enjoy them. In general, the speakers I enjoy at lower volumes tend to be those that render more detail and that I'd consider more refined (I don't know if this a 'rule' or just coincidence). I'd agree, that with these speakers one is able to increase the volume to greater levels with less distortion, but it still makes me want to get away from the sound pressure, distortion or not. Good points about the answer to the question being dependent upon program material too.
Jax2 - how do you use the RTA from Studio Six? I have the lite version and it is pretty useless but I think their Iphone/IPad apps might be good for room set up, etc. I just don't know how to use them. Feel free to provide detail if you have the time.
Jax2 - how do you use the RTA from Studio Six?

I use pink noise from one of the Stereophile discs to measure in-room response. You can freeze the graph and get it to yield a fixed set of measurements. I transfer those to a simple excel spreadsheet and turn that into a graph in Excel. You can overlap various samples to compare (various speakers, or different locations, etc.)
Musicnoise, just saw your post here - I would say you are absolutely right. When I mentioned decibel levels of 120 in a concert hall, I am thinking more along the lines of pops concerts where we are playing just as loudly as in Tchaik 6 AND there are the electronic instruments involved, and everything is absurdly amplified. Though I would guess that the orchestra unamplified easily reaches 110 in say a Mahler symphony, such as the ending of Mahler 2 with the organ blaring and chorus wailing away as well. As you say, the peaks seems even louder than they are because of the contrasts with the softest passages. Also the level onstage is probably even higher than in the first row. I am now curious, and will have to measure sometime. Unfortunately that will have to wait until next season, as we are done with both the symphonic series and the indoor pops for this season, but I will try to remember to do that and report back.
It is different with every song never mind every record. I turn it up until it sounds best to me.
Excellent posts by many; esp. Almarg and Musicnoise, IMHO. My answer is "it varies" - with the music, the dynamic range, my mood, the quality of the recording, and on and on. One thing I don't think has been mentioned (although I didn't read each post closely): the noise of one's system and environment is another factor, at least it is for me. I have a very quiet system and environment, so I may listen at lower levels than some do (I haven't checked w/an SPL meter).
I'm was listening at 85db+ the dynamics were fantastic, it was great to let my system"breath". I'm a convert as long as my right ear permits.
Macdadtexas - thanks for starting this thread... it's been a very good read. in my case, my assumptions about my own listening levels were WAY off. i would have guessed 70-85 db. not even close according to the meter sitting next to me now.

it's reading around 50 db (dianna krall live in paris). this is low-ish listening - greater than background levels, more of a lower regular listening level. when i turn things up to a reasonable listening level i'm barely into to 60's.

wow, that's surprising!
You should the type and class of meter you're using as well as specifically how you're using your SPL meter. There are multiple types of SPL meters as well as classes which offer different information and use different ways to measure which are weighted differently. Both the audio material you're attempting to measure and the method of measurement will play heavy roles in the result. Additionally, if you're using music to measure your SPL, this will return different values based on whether you're measuring based on peaks or averages. Peak SPL will typically have a 6dB crest above the average where your transient peaks are in music (kick drum/crash cymbal/etc.) as they demand more power/SPL to be heard as a percussive sound over the average level. Conversational speech has average levels at roughly 60dB SPL, so background music would be considered around this level on average, placing peaks at about 65dB. It seems you were likely measuring an A-weighted average SPL of music, which will discriminate/ignore much of the low frequency, and return a slightly deflated average level as it's only measuring from about 500Hz to 10kHz. If you read 65dB, I would estimate you're actually hitting somewhere in the low to mid 70's for peak SPL, and an average level in the upper 60's. If you want to get an accurate reading of what SPL is in terms of "loudness", I would recommend using audio material with no transients and no bandwidth discrimination as well as a weighted meter which has no bandwidth discrimination and can implement peak monitoring. The best way to do this is use pink noise (equal energy per octave), and an RTA meter with either C or Z weighting. White noise is also usable (equal energy per frequency), but you'd need to find an FFT-based meter, which are difficult to find.
On a side note, phone microphones will rarely get an accurate reading because they are bandwidth-limited and don't have smooth transfer functions for accurate readings. 
For me, the relevant question is really peak spl at the listening position.  In my case, for a dedicated listening session on my main system, that would usually be 90-95 db, with average spl being lower.  That gets the blood pumping, but there's no issue of "too" loud.

OTOH, in my car, dynamic range is compressed and it feels really loud if peaks ever approach 90 db (courtesy of my iPhone spl app).  I agree with those who've noted system dependency.