Listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "The Live Anthology" CDs at home with my Zu Druid V speakers, I kept turning up the volume. How loud was it? Armed with my trusty Radio Shack sound pressure meter, I started listening at a medium loud volume, then 90 dB, and that sounded better, so I pushed it up to 95 dB, so the energy of the band was closer to what you'd get at a live rock concert. Any louder than that was too loud for me; of course real concerts are much louder. Most go well over 100 dB, but 110 to 120 dB is not uncommon. On July 15, 2009, in Ottawa, Canada, Kiss hit 136 dB! That's dangerously loud, and probably permanently deafened some Kiss fans in the audience.
You can see in the picture to the right a phone running the Studio Six Digital sound pressure level meter app in a small NYC restaurant; the reading was 87.6 dB at the moment I shot the picture. That's loud, but not long after that a lot more people arrived, and my ears were assaulted by 100.3 dB peak volume! Loud sound is everywhere, even in restaurants at lunchtime!
So while loud music gets a lot of the blame, life in the 21st century can be awfully loud. Over the long term, everyday sounds in bars, at sports events, from lawn mowers, and so on can hurt your ears.
If you experience whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring, or ringing in the ears (tinnitus) after exposure to loud sounds, you may be at risk; have your hearing checked at an audiologist's office. Good quality earplugs are very affordable; I always have a set of plugs in my pocket, just in case.
Loudness is related to fidelity, so with well-recorded acoustic music I occasionally listen at or near realistically loud volume. Listening too quietly I miss a lot of the music's presence and drive. When I'm home alone or listening over headphones I try to zero in on exactly the right volume that best suits the music.
There's a narrow range of volume where the sound locks in, and once you're in there, the music sounds right. Rock or any amplified music only comes alive when played loud, but I'm not recommending very loud listening for more than 15 minutes, and the louder you go the shorter the duration should be.
At home over speakers or headphones, or in your car you're in control of the volume, how loud do you like it? Listening loud at home might be an issue for your family or neighbors, but you can satisfy the urge to crank the dBs up with a pair of closed-back headphones, or when you're alone in your car.
Some folks have a low tolerance for loud sounds, so if you enjoy listening at hushed levels, tell us all about your preferred volume -- quiet or loud -- in the comments section.
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