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How LOUD is TOO LOUD & Does it Sound Better? An Honest Audiophile Listening Level Challenge!

Playing music loud is something that we all have done and experienced at one point or another in life. Who of us hasn't pushed the volume knob higher than the norm when our favorite song comes along or when the kids or co-workers are annoying loud and need to be drowned out? Loud music is all around us but does it sound better the louder it is played? These are my thoughts on listening volume levels and if cranking the volume knob improves the sound or not.


NOTE: Please keep in mind that I am not a professional sound engineer, producer, musician or vocalist, etc. I have not done any scientific research, measurements or in-depth testing of any kind; just my own listening, comparing and internet reading. I have very limited real life experience with recording, mixing and mastering gear. I have been involved since my teenager years with various churches as the sound booth dude. Currently, at my church, we use an Allen & Heath QU-24.

Secondly, this write up is based on impressions from an audiophile who mostly uses headphones and IEM, not speakers.

Please take these thoughts, opinions and reasonings as just that, my honest audiophile thoughts, opinions and reasonings.


For years I listened to music way too loud, whether in the car, at home with earbuds, headphones or with speakers. My friends and I would sit just a couple feet away from his Pioneer stack and blast AC/DC, Aerosmith, Rush and Metallica at crazy levels just so we could see the woofers on the verge of explosion and we could feel the impact of the air movement.

When I was about 30 years old; I started working with a friend in our church sound booth. He asked me one day why I always turned the speakers up loud and if I thought that sounded natural and accurate. I immediately answered with a defensive "YES" and was taken back a bit by the question. Was my friend accusing me of being deaf? Did my friend think that I was doing something wrong? It was his response that really threw me for a loop. He told me that louder doesn't mean better and that I need to learn how to listen at lower volumes. I scoffed and told him that at lower volumes you can't hear the details and you can't feel the music. He challenged me to start listening at lower volumes and to see if that changes my mind on details portrayed and feeling the music. He recommended that I start slow and consistent over several weeks. He said to listen to my favorite music at normal levels and then to turn the volume knob down just one notch per week. Continue doing this until I can no longer hear what I believe I should be hearing. Several weeks later, I noticed that I didn't listen to music at ridiculous levels and that I was hearing more in the music then ever before. My mind was blown; I was actually enjoying the music instead of just blasting it for the laughs and hopes that the drivers would explode. I found that at church I wasn't blasting the speakers so that everyone in the building, including those in the boiler room in the basement, could hear but I was portraying an accurate and natural sound that all could enjoy without having to put their fingers in their ears.


Here are some simple examples about noise levels:



Keep in mind that the average use of personal audio devices is 94db but only for 1 hr of exposure. It is recommended that you lower that 94db by 30db and no less than 15db so you should be listening somewhere between 64db and 79db on average,


https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ECCZWWI/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_04QKKCT96CKBZFVQGYRH?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1


I have created a list of songs that I think do a good job of portraying sonics that can be heard at all listening levels. I challenge you to give these songs a listen at your normal listening level and then lower the volumes little by little over time and see if you don't still hear the same or more detail and dynamics along with a more natural and accurate reproduction. Also, try listening with gain on low, medium and high and see how that affects your listening experience, not all gear needs high gain.


Honest Audiophile Listening Level Challenge playlist:


Harry Connick Jr. - Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

https://songwhip.com/harry-connick-jr/supercalifragilisticexpialidocious


Molly Johnson - What a Little Moonlight Can Do

https://songwhip.com/molly-johnson/what-a-little-moonlight-can-do


Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - The Pine of the Appian Way https://tidal.com/browse/track/12064811


Bela Fleck, The Flecktones - Flight of the Cosmic Hippo

https://songwhip.com/bela-fleck-and-the-flecktones/flight-of-the-cosmic-hippo


Nils Frahm - My Friend the Forest

https://songwhip.com/nils-frahm/my-friend-the-forest


Quincy Jones and His Orchestra - Soul Bossa Nova

https://songwhip.com/quincy-jones/soul-bossa-nova


Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey - One Sweet Day

https://songwhip.com/mariah-carey/onesweetday


Yosi Horikawa - Grasshopper (YoggyOne Remix)

https://songwhip.com/yosi-horikawa/grasshopper-yoggyone-remix


Sarah McKenzie - Paris in The Rain

https://songwhip.com/sarahmckenzie/paris-in-the-rain


Brian Tyler - Escape Room

https://songwhip.com/brian-tyler/escape-room


Rene Marie - Bloero/Suzanne

https://songwhip.com/rene-marie/bloerosuzanne-live


Ilhan Eshkeri - 47 Ronin

https://songwhip.com/ilan-eshkeri/47-ronin


Cher - Believe

https://songwhip.com/cher/believe


Two Steps from Hell - Ulthuan

https://songwhip.com/two-steps-from-hell/ulthuan


Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You

https://songwhip.com/whitney-houston/i-will-always-love-you


Mariah Carey - Hero

https://songwhip.com/mariah-carey/hero


Reba McEntire - You Lie

https://songwhip.com/reba-mcentire/you-lie


New England Conservatory Chorus - Las Agachadas (Vocal)

https://songwhip.com/newenglandconservatorychorus/las-agachadas-vocal


Yanni - East Meets West (A Medley of the Best)

https://songwhip.com/yanni/east-meets-west-a-medley-of-the-best


Baha Men - Who Let the Dogs Out

https://songwhip.com/baha-men/who-let-the-dogs-out


Pearl Jam - Alive

https://songwhip.com/pearl-jam/alive-1991


Vangelis - Echoes

https://songwhip.com/vangelis/echoes


Vangelis - Conquest of Paradise

https://songwhip.com/vangelis/conquest-of-paradise


Madsonik - Boom Goes the Dynamite

https://songwhip.com/madsonik-2/boom-goes-the-dynamite


Kraftwerk - Geiger Counter/Radioactivity

https://songwhip.com/kraftwerk/geiger-counter-radioactivity


Michael W. Smith - Agnus Dei

https://songwhip.com/michael-w-smith/agnusdei

Atli Orvarsson- Babylon Requiem

https://songwhip.com/atli-orvarsson/babylon-requiem

Todd Rundgren - Bang the Drum All Day

https://songwhip.com/todd-rundgren/bang-the-drum-all-day1982


AC/DC - Back in Black

https://songwhip.com/acdc/back-in-black


AC/DC - Highway to Hell

https://songwhip.com/acdc/highway-to-hell


Tony Bennett - My Favorite Things

https://songwhip.com/tony-bennett/my-favorite-things


Amber Rubarth - Good Mystery

https://songwhip.com/amber-rubarth/good-mystery


Queen, David Bowie - Under Pressure

https://songwhip.com/queen/under-pressure-1982


Madonna - Material Girl

https://songwhip.com/madonna/material-girl


Enya - Orinoco Flow

https://songwhip.com/enya/orinoco-flow

Britney Spears - Toxic

https://songwhip.com/britney-spears/toxic


Confederate Railroad - I Hate Rap

https://songwhip.com/confederate-railroad/i-hate-rap


Little Texas - Some Guys Have All the Love

https://songwhip.com/little-texas/someguyshaveallthelove


Lorne Balfe - Terminated

https://songwhip.com/lorne-balfe/terminated


Lorne Balfe - Bad Boys for Life

https://songwhip.com/lorne-balfe/bad-boys-for-life


Rush - Tom Sawyer

https://songwhip.com/rush/tom-sawyer


Iron Maiden - 2 Minutes to Midnight

https://songwhip.com/iron-maiden/2-minutes-to-midnight-2015-remaster


Europe - The Final Countdown

https://songwhip.com/europe/the-final-countdown


Run-DMC, Aerosmith - Walk This Way

https://songwhip.com/aerosmith/walkthisway


Karen O, Willie Nelson - Under Pressure

https://songwhip.com/karen-o/under-pressure


Ronan Hardiman - Love Song

https://songwhip.com/ronanhardiman/love-song


Jerry Goldsmith, London Symphony Orchestra - The Generals

https://songwhip.com/londonsymphonyorchestra2/the-generals


Petra - St. Augustine's Pears

https://songwhip.com/petra/st-augustines-pears


Kelly Clarkson - Never Enough

https://songwhip.com/kelly-clarkson/never-enough

Houston Person, Ron Carter - You Are My Sunshine

https://songwhip.com/houston-person/you-are-my-sunshine


The Piano Guys - Lord of the Rings

https://songwhip.com/the-piano-guys/lord-of-the-rings


Hans Zimmer - Crimson Tide/160 BPM

https://songwhip.com/hans-zimmer/crimson-tide-160-bpm-live-from-crimson-tide-angels-and-demons


Jerry Goldsmith - Valhalla/Viking Victory

https://songwhip.com/jerrygoldsmith/valhalla-viking-victory


Ear protection is important and with unhealthy ears we can't enjoy the music as well as we can with healthy ears. Do all you can to protect your ears now so you can enjoy the music just as much in the future. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and impressions about what you all hear and experience with this little listening challenge.


Remember to Enjoy the Music and Honesty is the Best Policy!

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Honest - Is the quality of being fair, truthful; free of deceit and untruthfulness. Soundstage - Ability to accurately portray size, shape and acoustical cues of the original recording with the impres