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Thread: Optimal Volume

  1. #1
    Audiophile Wireworm5's Avatar
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    Jan 2002
    Rupert's Land, Canada

    Optimal Volume

    I'm discovering what I call Optimal Volume.With a recent upgrade I am getting a more enhanced sound at lower volumes. Which happens in my case to be at approx. 85 decibels 'C' weighted. I realize this would vary for each individual depending on your components and room acoustics. At this volume you can listen right into the music and absorb more musical content. At higher volumes what use to be my standard I may experience the wow factor from the shear power of the bass, but it more difficult to absorb everything.
    Anyone else experience this phonomena or is this just a phase I'm going through?

  2. #2
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    Feb 2002
    This is one of the most neglected concepts in high fidelity reproduction. With recordings of electronically amplified instruments, there is no such thing as optimal loudness. However, with acoustical instruments and unamplified ungimicked voice, there is. This is the volume you would hear if the instruments were the same actual distance from you as they are perceived to be in your recording. Let's say that there is no reverb on the recording. Then this optimal volume would be the volume you would hear if the instrument or voice were the same distance from you as your loudspeakers. Since this is nearly the case for most recordings, then that is what you should be thinking about. What if it's not playing as loud. Then the instrument or voice sounds feeble, lacking the power we associate with that insturment. When a piano is playing triple forte and sounds like it is six feet away, it won't sound like a real piano no matter how good your sound system if it isn't playing at the proper loudness which is very loud. If it's too loud, it doesn't sound like a real piano either but like some monstrous caricture of a piano. How do you know how loud it should sound? Experience with the real thing is the only way. Since you are trying to create an illusion to duplicate something else, you can't know how that illusion should sound if you are not fairly familiar with that something else. What happens when you have more than one instrument. What happens when you have a group, a band, a whole symphony orchestra? The tendency is to play them very loud because since the acoustics of the place these groups are normally heard is lacking, you want to hear them as they would sound if they were in your room. And if you could somehow physically shrink down a 100 piece orchestra so that it would fit into your room but it retained the same acoustic power it normally has it would be deafening. This is one reason why reproducing the acoustics of the concert hall is so important and why the feeble technology we have today is so glaringly inadequate. In real life, these groups are not heard by the audience at deafening levels. You sit some many feet away and they are not quite so loud initially but the energy produced by each note is heard over an extended time. Their sense of power when they are playing loud comes from the fact that their sound takes several seconds to die out filling up the vast empty space you are in. A pipe organ playing softy in a church with it's huge reverb of up to 5 seconds sounds powerful. A recording of the same pipe organ playing very loud in your home through your stereo sounds feeble. In my experiments with acoustics, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that this ability to reproduce what I call the psychoacoustic power of live music is one of the most important factors for enjoying music and one of the most poorly reproduced effects offered by modern sound reproduction systems. That's one reason you won't see me going nuts over high end audio equipment. For reproducing those factors which I feel are important, they are no better than their far cheaper alternatives. The technology for reproducing the bulk of what's missing, the other 90 to 95 percent just isn't there.

  3. #3
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    Feb 2002
    Long Island, New York

    Makes sense to me... a matter of fact, between 80-85 dB is where I do most of my listening. We live in a condo, so ultra-loud music is a no-no anyway. Geez... I just got a note in the mail scolding me for not having a lid on my garbage pail! I really have not been into ear-bleeding SPLs since high school anyway.

    I think the rationale is that at lower volume levels, you are listening to more of the music system and less of the room. Reflections are generally detrimental to tonal balance, imaging and whatever else.

    Besides... your hearing will last longer at lower listening levels.

  4. #4
    What, me worry? piece-it pete's Avatar
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    May 2002
    Cleveland Ohio

    I discovered the exact thing when I finally got a decent amp. I thought I had a decent amp before that, but I was wrong .

    I promptly came here & posted excitedly & probably inadvertently insulted some people (comparing many brands to dog food). Oh well, no harm done! (I hope).

    It is such a joy. I will have a decent stereo for the rest of my life, unless there's just no more dogs to eat .

    Although with each step up what Skeptic is saying becomes more & more painfully obvious. I doubt that any stereo can reproduce that single note played on the dbl bass ( Tchaikovskys' 4th) in such a way to bring a tear to my eye, as happened in Severance Hall.

    I fear explanations explanatory of things explained.
    Abraham Lincoln

  5. #5
    Forum Regular gonefishin's Avatar
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    Nov 2003
    Joliet, Ill.
    Dang Skeptic...thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    After reading your got me thinking about my own listening habits. I know I listen to music just above a whisper...and other times quite loud. After reading your actually hit me what should have been obvious.

    When I listen to rock (or pop...or whatever it's called)...I pretty much listen to it at any given volume. It really doesn't seem to matter to me how loud or how soft it plays. Most of the time I play "rock" at low to very moderate volumes.

    But, if I'm listening to some Maynard Ferguson, Wynton Marsalis or whomever (but some brass and skins)...I really do prefer to listen at moderate to loud volumes. I know that the tone and everything is decent at lower volumes...and the system is picking up all the...oh, what's the word??? "inner detail" But...for a system to play certain instruments correctly...I think they have to have the ability to play near live levels. This doesn't mean you have to reach these levels all the time...but hey...if anyone has ever listen to even a single drum, sax, trumpet...etc in a medium to small can get loud. To me...that's how I view a drum set, sax, trumpet sounding...not only good...but all instruments have not only high dynamic capabilities ...but also a very wide dynamic range.

    One of the things I enjoy about some systems is the ability to not only play well at low volumes...but the ability to play just as well at moderate and loud volumes as well. MAny "HiFi" systems that I've listened to sound fine (even intriguing) at low volumes...but as you turn them up...they seem to compress the music and show levels of distortion that make me want to keep turning the music lower and lower.

    It still amazes me how quiet 100db can sound. It also amazes me how loud 85db can sound.

    Just a few thoughts

    thanks again>>>>>
    I found the spoon

    enjoy the music!

  6. #6
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    Feb 2002
    There are some people on another thread where I discussed equalizers who had a problem with the notion that if the purpose of a high fidelity sound system is to produce the audible illusion of a live performance, it is necessary to have experience with live performances before you are in any position to judge whether or not the illusion is accurate or not. Part of that illusion is the power of the instruments themselves. Much of the music which can be considered "documentation" as opposed to "manufactured" is normally heard in places much larger than our homes. The larger the place it is heard, the more important the role of the "venue" of the live performance becomes in the sound the audience hears and the importance of that effect in recreating this illusion. If relatively few audiophiles have extensive experience with listening to live performances of unamplified music, far fewer have experience listening to the acoustics as well. But even though they aren't aware of it, acoustics play a very significant role in what they hear. Normally when I think of acoustics of spaces for listeining to music, I think of concert halls, opera houses, churches, and cathedrals. But the acoustics of a club for listening to a jazz concert is also important if not quite as carefully designed and it's also quite different from your home. It's a problem few manufacturers have addressed at all and one that practically no one has solved, at least not to my satisfaction. Manufacturers are preoccupied with each individual component of a sound system and leave the system engineering to the end user who is usually the least qualified to solve it.

  7. #7
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Dec 2003
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    ... if the purpose of a high fidelity sound system is to produce the audible illusion of a live performance, it is necessary to have experience with live performances before you are in any position to judge whether or not the illusion is accurate or not.
    Amen. Here by the way is a thirty year old "position" statement by Harry Pearson of The Absolute Sound:

    "'The absolute sound' is the sound of unamplified music occurring in a real space, usually a large room or concert hall (small or large). That music can be bluegrass, jazz, folk, big band, or classical. (Nor need instrumental music be our only reference: The human voice will serve as well.) Such is the 'real thing' and provides us with a philosophic absolute, which means that our descriptions of variations from that absolute are not based in subjectivity, but rather upon observation. "

    Further, he addresses some common objections with more recent comments.

    "Consider, as another example, the recording of any kind of acoustic instrument in a real space. Perhaps a cello. If, during recording or playback, it either sounds, in its lower registers, like a double bass or, in its upper, like a viola, then something is measurably (some day, if not yet) wrong with the equipment begin used, and, in time, a careful listener will be able to describe the deficiencies in a way that will allow designers to correct the flaw. One argument used against this approach is that cellos, pianos, and other instruments don't sound exactly alike. But once you've heard, say, a piano being played, you have got a fix on its gestalt, and despite any variation in individual instruments, you will still kniw you are hearing a piano played, be it an upright or a Steinway baby grand. And the more truthful the reproduction from your equipment, the more of that piano's individual character you will be able to discern. The same is true, on a grander scale, for the symphony orchestra. (You can get used to the flaws in sound reproduction and begin to take the colorations for granted, which is why we urge all of you to attend as many live, preferably unamplified, concerts as you can. To refresh yourself, not about the gestalt but about the shortcomings of reproduced sound).


  8. #8
    Forum Regular thepogue's Avatar
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    your ALL fulla crapola....AND hot air!!!

    and thats why I luv you all

    sorry...couldn't help meself...

    Peace and the Power of music, Pogue
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