What Volume do you listen at?

When you sit and listen actively to your stereo, what volume do you like to set it at?

I am thinking about replacing my mediocre system with a new High Dollar System ($30K). My guess is that when you have High End gear, you naturally want to play the music at a higher volume. Is that true for you?

I have a RadioShack Analog Sound Level meter. It tells me that when I have music on in the background I set it at about 50 dB. When I set it at what seems right for serious listening, it is more often 75 or 80 dB.

One implication of this is where I will put my new listening room. I had intended to put it in our living room (pictured in the link above). However, if I will be always wanting to play so loud that my wife will complain, perhaps I should set up a room in our basement.
Of course the perception of loudness is one of the most misunderstood and neglected areas of sound reproduction.
The presence of noise and distortion adds dramtically to the perception of loudness. A less resolving system will tempt you to turn it up.
Thus my car and mini-system appear louder than my main sytem. Moreover my main has excellent low level resolution(vital for apartment living0
If you have ever lived with an aspring musician you will find ther is almost nowhere in the house where you can't hear them practice.
Live music requires almost no amplification. Your real challenge is to purchase equipment with low noise and distortion. Your desire to "turn it up will decrease.
The next step is dynamic range. Very important. I search for a volume that allows optimium resolution but still leaves sufficient headroom so you can hear dynamaic contrast.
According to my RatShack SPL meter, I listen between 50-70. Anything above that and it just hurts my ears.
Years ago, I made a post here about volume level, the main thrust of which was that for any given piece of music there is only one volume level that is correct. I, obviously, didn't invent anything here as this comes from a recording engineer of some repute. I had even postulated that every record should have some built-in benchmark indicating what that proper level should be.

You are right on one thing: a better system will be way more dynamic and, while the average SPL might be similar to what to you get with a smaller system, the uncompressed dynamics is where you will get your money's worth.

A dedicated listening room is really a must for serious listening in order to keep some semblance of peace in the house.
My guess is that when you have High End gear, you naturally want to play the music at a higher volume.

I've found this to be untrue, especially with fully acoustic music. If the system has good resolution, dynamics and a low noise level, the urge to crank it up actually decreases in my experience.

However, if you are into head-banging rock at live concert levels, maybe you have a point. I don't enjoy the jet-engine sound level of many live rock concerts so I certainly have no urge to recreate that in my home.

However, if you are currently listening at 75 or 80 dB it sounds like you're in my league. I doubt that you'll be turning things up with a new system. Hopefully you'll just be enjoying it more.
The basement is the way to go, assuming you can AC/Heat it and that that equipment can be isolated so as not to provide a nasty 'noise' floor. That being said, what you are looking for is 'live' music levels of volume. Everything else becomes just background music, and Bose can take care of that without spending $30K. When I built my last house I created in the basement a custom designed listening/media room. High WAF, live music/movie listening levels that could not be heard outside the room, no comprise with speaker placement. You can tweak forever. Looking at your picture I see the 'wife' every where, it will never work, especially with all the glass. Believe me, living rooms are like 'dressy' dresses, and you know who rules there. A small tip if you are going to the basement, put a two inch exterior, heavily striped door at the main floor entrance door to the basement. Also use these type of door every where a door is needed in the basement space. Look into Armstrong Wave ceilings and put heavy carpet on the floors and achieve a 'dead' room, then all you hear are the speakers without any room colorations. So, spend $10K on the room, and $20K on the equipment. You will never regret it.
Grand Piano = 110 db SPL, Drum Set = 115 db SPL...if you like live music or have ever played any instruments then you will know that music is loud because instruments are intended to be heard by others.

Furthermore your ear can handle from 120 db SPL to 0 db SPL (of course 120 db should be transients and never continuous) . Therefore if you want to benefit from the dynamic range inherent in real live music on your playback then you need a system capable of playing around 105 db spl continuous (with 10 db headroom) at your listening position. If this is 3 meters back then you need about 115 db SPL continuous (125 if you include peaks) from the speaker itself.

This will allow you to play any music at realistic levels. Of course you will rarely (if ever) listen to much above 95 db SPL continuous, however, transients can easily go much higher and it is the dynamic contrast which is partially what makes music lively and exciting. Rock concerts are at 105 db SPL and with a good stage system and can actually sound extremely good.

Depending on where you live the noise floor will usually be somewhere around 30 db SPL.

If you play music at 80 db SPL then 80 less 30 is 50 db spl and you have limited the dynamic range of what you hear to 50 db SPL. This is probably ok for rock or pop or small ensemble music but will almost certainly limit you in classical music with full orchestra where you get huge dynamic range in the music.

Greater dynamic range will allow you to hear more detail in the music. Natural uncompressed music rarely sounds loud or fatiguing. Stereos mainly sound loud because of distortion. The perception of "loud" is linked to distortion. Music at 80 db SPL with distortion will sound louder than music at 95 db SPL with no distortion.

At $30 K you may be able to find something that can play with close to the full range dynamics of real live music without much distortion. Likely you will want to keep turning it up if there is no distortion.
I listen at all levels, depending on music / mood / situation. That's one of the things I like most about having a nice system - it serves so many purposes while sounding great.
The "proper" volume level can be determined by focusing on one sound source in the music that is familiar to you. I use a violin, or sometimes a human voice. I know how loud a volin can play, and how loud a person can sing. It is easy to crank up the volume of the total music program to the point where the violin, for example, is impossibly loud. When you do this it's like puting a a beautiful object under a microscope: all the defects become evident.

Sometimes the mastering of the recording is a problem. For example, in a violin concerto the soloist is sometimes recorded so loudly that the orchestra cannot be brought up to an exciting volume without making the soloist too loud. However, in a multichannel system, where the soloist is in the center channel he can be toned down by reducing gain in that channel relative to the other channels. I often need to do that.
I find that my most enjoyable listening sessions are late at night when my house, the neighbors, and the electric lines are all very quiet. The background being much quieter makes dynamics greater - leading to reduced volume levels, but increased dynamics. Cost me many hours of sleep when everything is right...
The same volume during the daytime would be equal to background listening levels. So, volume is relative to the background noise. If you're within earshot of your kitchen, try listening with the refrigerator off. You might be shocked at the difference that type of background noise can make. Quality Hi-fi equipment should actually lead to reduced volume levels for most types of music - since you'll be able to listen into the music, not just listen to the music.

Cheers, Ed
Ed, very well put! I also listen mostly late in the evening after my kids are asleep. I find that listening at low volumes given the right circumstances, provides me all the inner detail and subtleties that help to convey a sense of intimacy and realism that I am after. I go to a lot of small venues listening to acoustic sets so this is the environment I am trying to recapture. Of course at low levels you do not get the same bass slam and SPLs but for my musical preferences, this is not important. At the end of the day, like everything else in this whacky hobby, it all comes down to personal preference.
usually 80-90 --also the more you can reduce the noise floor ie better pwr cords and pwr line conditioner--the less offensive louder volumes are --hey Ed --get a good pwr line cond and you can get more sleep :) I also went thru the late nite listening --now it doesn't matter---rich
Usually 80-95 db with a very low noise floor. For me it depends on the type of music and how it was recorded. I have some jazz albums where I have to turn down the volume because of the way they were recorded in the studio.
I listen at normal speaking volume plus a tiny, tiny bit. During the day, it takes a bit more due to all the extra environmental noise.

Egoss sums it up the best.
as loud as you can (without upsetting your significant other) but its a good thing if it sounds bigger and more open as you raise volume, as if you are increasing the window of the performance; otherwise it may be distortion or compression that makes it sound louder. Forget all that calibration business, just rock out and have a blast. You will know when to say when. Amen.
1.Great system should have a resolution, detail, musicality, stage, micro-dynamics, low level detail at all volume settings. Matter a fact is.....if the system struggles and chokes at moderate or low volume, it is a sign of a compromise in the system.

2.Referance listening levels very, it all depends who you talk to ......or the agency behind the format.

3.Personal preferences are far more important then industry standards or recommendations. If you don't feel comfortable listening at 90db.....don't !!!!!!
Another consideration is your hearing. So take care of it by trying to avoid excessive and dangerous volume levels. You will thank yourself later.

My preferences very. It all depends on the time of the day,
mood that I am in, type of music and purpose (casual listening or evaluation).

I listen at 70dB and 80 only rarely. Probably because I haven't damaged my hearing from listening at high SPL's. However some people's ears can take the abuse. Sure live music is loud but that does not mean just because it is acoustic you ears are designed to handle that kind of volume level. Studies have shown that even extended listening at 80dB causes hearing damage, YMMV.
A good speaker should come to life at 70dB or lower and usually one that cannot won't resolve the fine details which account for small dB changes. There are always exceptions to this, of course.
I would suggest getting a speaker which is optimized for the SPL's you listen at.
With classical music the correct volume is when you can hear the softest passages. I have left my volume control here and never change it no matter what music I play. So with some music like Jazz, Rock, Pop it does sound louder than usual but according to my RS SPL meter, never louder than 85 dB.
I have noticed that some visitors do listen at much louder levels and I have accomodated them by turning the volume up to something like 95dB which is more than twice as loud as my normal listening volume.
The simple answer is what you (don't forget the rest of the household and your neighbours) are comfortable with.
See this link http://www.dontlosethemusic.com/home/areyouatrisk/protectingyourself/ if your SPL meter shows anything above 85dBs.
I find that as systems get better, one tends to listen at a LOWER volume, not higher. To some extent, higher average volume is used to compensate for a lack of dynamics and "boogie" factor.

I know there are all sorts of measurements that show that one must achieve 110+ db to realistically capture the dynamic peaks of real instruments. But, the fact remains that no commercial recordings offer realistic dynamic range and most listeners would find such recordings undesirable (too soft in quiet passages for the car, etc.).

I generally find that most listeners of classical music listen at a MUCH higher average listening level than one hears at a concert. This is, in part, to compensate for the lack of real impact and scale from recordings vs. the live experience. The better a system is at reproducing dynamic impact and scale, the lower the average listening level required. If one sets the peak level of a recording at say 100 db, the average level would be unnaturally, and for me unbearably, loud.

As for popular music, I like the fact that I can listen to music at much lower levels than a concert. I think listening at home and listening at a concert are completely different experiences. Frankly, if my system sounded as bad as a live concert, I would junk it in a flash.
> Grand Piano = 110 db SPL, Drum Set = 115 db SPL...

These figures get thrown around a lot, but need to have a dose of moderation applied.

Those figures are correct if you are standing next to the instrument while someone is banging away as loud as they can.

In reality, sound level decreases by the inverse square of distance. (I acknowledge this is a free-field figure and is affected by reflection and absorption.) However, if you are sitting with 2,800 other people in a 30,000 or 40,000 square foot concert hall listening to an unamplified grand piano on the stage, you are not going to hear 110 dB from the instrument.

There are certainly some audiophiles whose goal is to get 100-plus dB average volume levels from their systems. However, in a typical home listening room of perhaps 200 to 400 square feet, many (if not most) people are not interested in bringing the up-close volume of a full symphony into their living room. What they really want is an appropriately scaled representation.

For someone like me, tonal accuracy, low distortion, good imaging and a sense of space are more important than bringing venue volumes into my home.

At best, even the finest, most expensive stereo is just providing clues that suggest reality; they never duplicate it. Each of us varies when it comes to prioritizing the many different clues in order of preference. For me, sheer volume ceased to be near the top of the list a long time ago.

However, ask a hundred audiophiles, and you'll likely get a hundred answers.
One thing I have learned is to wear ear protection for everything but listening to music. Such as lawn mowing, chainsawing, snow blowing etc. This saves the ears for music listening.
Another consideration is your hearing. So take care of it by trying to avoid excessive and dangerous volume levels. You will thank yourself later.

Very true. In fact, I used to listen at very loud volumes when younger, probably above 100db continuous. My hearing now is little affected especially my right ear which will ring slightly if exposed to sound of high levels. Now I try to limit myself to around 50-80db but occassionally crank it up to 90db. Take good care of your ears folks.
I would have thought it had been done. Of course this is a joke paying homage to Spinal Tap.

I found that when I moved up to better equipment that I listen at lower volume levels. I crank it up every once in while just to get my YAs YAs out but the system really sounds better at reasonable levels. All the detail and quality is there and, especially on acoustic instruments, high volume levels just don't sound right.
regards, David