New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Listening Loud Distroys Fidelity

post #1 of 44
Thread Starter 
As I hope we all know, the dark underbelly of this hobby is hearing damage---usually in the form of tinnitus. I have it moderately in my right ear. I given this a great deal of thought as I don't want to contribute to others suffering in my business...heck, I want to pleasure the ears of others.

Obviously we make a big deal of warnings folks: we have a big warning on our web site; we have a full page warning in our manuels; I lobby for turning it down when I talk with others, but I know the allure, a good punchy listening session is a lot of fun. None the less, a week straight of that and you might find yourself in trouble with your ears. If you are interested in this hobby, that would---and does---suck. What to do? How can we save our ears and still have fun? Well, I think I've stumbled upon an answer.

This hobby is not about how loud, but how good. We strive for the most faithfull and tasty sound, not the most impactfull. Sure, dynamics are important, but it's dynamics in a musical mix with fidelity, imaging, ect, in proportion to your personal taste that matters most. Therefore, audiophiles spend a lot of money on gear with the assumption that it made the sound going into your ears better. OK, nothing wrong with that, but what if I told you that your ears suffer a loss of fidelity starting at about 85dB until at 100dBspl the decrease the dynamic range is about half, and the amount of noise is rougly equivalent to an air conditioner running in the room. What would you say if I told you that, past a certain point, turning your volume control up amounts dailing down the quality of your gear until it's about that of a transistor radio.

Your ear have tiny muscles attached to the bones that transmit sound from the ear-drum to the inner ear. There is a natural reflex associated with the these muscles that when you hear lound sounds that causes them to tense up to limit how much your ear drum can wiggle and how much pressure gets to the inner ear. When the muscels are fully tensed it cuts down the sound by about half, and it increase noise significantly because your muscles are jittering as they tense which is translated into a signal that you can hear. If you have a vivid imagination, you can fake a reaction to a surprisingly loud sound, and if you do it right you can hear a burst of relatively low frequency sound---that's the muscles tensing during this acoustic response. The point, of course, is when you turn it up loud enough to trigger this response you are singificantly changing the signal at your inner ear.

Now this isn't just a guess anymore at this point. I've had the opportunity to exchange a few emails with Dr. Jens Blauert author of one of my favorite books "Spatial Hearing", in which I asked him about the subject, and he confirmed my suspicions. I've been listening with this in mind for a while, and I can pretty easily sense a tension when things get loud. Hearing the sound quality decrease, I'm not so sure, but I do sense a subconcious unwillingness to aurally relax and attend to listening. And I can consciously tense these muscles and hear the noise, and it's clearly audible, I'd call it moderatly loud noise in the upper bass. I know for sure though that the loss of fidelity would be measureable at the eardrum and inner ear; and I know for sure that if I want to get the best from my gear and for my ears I'll basically keep it around 85dB.

I hope you think about this and tell others.
post #2 of 44
I feel so good for reading this from you Tyll.

I've been really concerned lately with my volume listening and being trying to train my ears for low volume listening. I realised i can live with low volume and still listen all the details i can listen when the volume is loud.

Too loud volumes gets kind of confused and my eyes starts to blink on the high passages of the song, like chimbals for example. Proving that it's excessively loud.

I'm turning the volume, at least trying, to a level where i can hear all the environment. Including TV, dog, family, etc. I'm still in time to learn to avoid loud volumes, before my ear gets dameged for life.

I really support people who bring this subject for discussion, once it's probably the first thing we need to know and be conscientious about ...
post #3 of 44
The interesting thing is that I constantly turned quiter the better my equipment was. Nowadays I listen at a very very low level but I still enjoy most of my music. If I want to rock out it's mostly on speakers.

It's very good that you talk about it again tyll!
post #4 of 44
This feeds into the "high end is headphones" argument. With speakers we learn to turn the music up to hear detail. With headphones in a quiet environment (or with IEMs) we resort to a learned behaviour that needs to be unlearned.
post #5 of 44
i find myself listening to slightly higher volumes when i am sitting here at the computer. just as soon as i step away from the computer and get in me comfy chair i notice the volume will become louder to me. at this point i am concentrating on the music instead of other things. so i get back up and turn the volume down.

i think when i listen to headphones i am just gonna turn the lights off and sit back and focus on the music like i use to in the old days.
post #6 of 44

How loud is 85dB?

Tyll,

Is there any easy way to determine the maximum safe volume for a setup?
Various countries health and safety organizations (OSHA in the US?) set limits for exposure in the workplace. leisure should be no different.

Would (for example) a Radio Shack Sound Level meter be a worthwhile investment?

How much is your hearing worth to you?
post #7 of 44
I always thought it was that if I wanted a flatter FR, I had to turn it up...

how does one know if they are at 85db.
post #8 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Grahame View Post
Tyll,

Is there any easy way to determine the maximum safe volume for a setup?
Various countries health and safety organizations (OSHA in the US?) set limits for exposure in the workplace. leisure should be no different.

Would (for example) a Radio Shack Sound Level meter be a worthwhile investment?

How much is your hearing worth to you?
Yes, do get the rat shack meter. But be warned, it will not give you an accurate reading if you just put it next to your headphones at an equivalent distance to where your ear would be - you will get a very low reading, as the ear pad/ear cup is no longer coupled to your ear, and is thus radiating sound over a much wider field, thus yeilding a much lower SPL. To measure your headphone output, a simple way of doing it is to get a piece of cardboard, and cut a hole just the right size for the microphone tip - place the cardboard so that it covers the ear cup as it would against your head, place the microphone poking through and then take a reading.
post #9 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by granodemostasa View Post
I always thought it was that if I wanted a flatter FR, I had to turn it up...

how does one know if they are at 85db.


On this subject, below 90db mids are naturally perceived as louder, when you go above it evens out.
post #10 of 44
The 'sweet spot' for both my senns and grados is around 78-82dB. I just hope my ratshack meter is accurate enough that I'm not damaging my ears when I think I'm listening at a safe volume.
post #11 of 44
Very good and wise advice Tyll! I agree the optimal and safe "concert level-like" listening volume is 85dB at your listening position with speakers, and also the same perceived volume is what I prefer on my headphones. Louder than that and at louder passages I feel uncomfortable and have to turn the volume down. Lower than that might work, but at some passages it might lack some impact. So usually I listen to music at around 85dB, both on speakers and headphones. That corresponds to 19/50 on my Marantz receiver, and 10-11 o'clock on my Dynahi.

That's of course recording dependant. Listening to Ana Caram's "The Other Side of Jobim" (A Chesky recording) to achieve that same perceived volume of 85 dB through my speakers I have to set the Marantz to (corrected, just checked) 28-29 over 50. That recording has excellent dynamics, so the average volume is relatively low compared to most compressed recordings. The beginning of Koyaniskatsi is the one that does require a setting of 30-31 over 50 on my receiver.

I have also perceived the low frequencies caused by your own hearing, and can consciously reproduce it. Didn't know it was caused by your inner ear, I thought it was probably caused by muscles from my jaw or from my head, the muscles that some people use to move their earlobes maybe. I can't move my earlobes, but I thought I was making those muscles tremble causing that low freq that I could hear, maybe from bone conduction. It is certainly hearable, a mild low to mid bass tone, similar to the low flutter you would hear with a very soft wind hitting your earlobes in a consistent manner.
post #12 of 44
Thanks for raising awareness.

There is a section on Etymotic's website with some good articles:

http://www.etymotic.com/aer/libart-category.aspx

Go down to "Hearing Protection." At least a couple of them are peer reviewed articles and worth a read.
post #13 of 44
ok can anyone just give me a quick answer. since most portable amps have roughly around the same output, when coupled to an mp3 player like a zune, or an ipod, how high can i go on the amp gain?

right now its on at 9 o' clock, sometimes when i really want to jam, its up at 12 o'clock. it rarely needs to go higher than that.

is that acceptable?
post #14 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris_Himself View Post
ok can anyone just give me a quick answer.
No, because it's not that simple.

You can't use the position of the dial to determine what's safe. It depends on the output of your player, the sensitivity of your headphones, etc..
post #15 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris_Himself View Post
ok can anyone just give me a quick answer. since most portable amps have roughly around the same output, when coupled to an mp3 player like a zune, or an ipod, how high can i go on the amp gain?

right now its on at 9 o' clock, sometimes when i really want to jam, its up at 12 o'clock. it rarely needs to go higher than that.

is that acceptable?
Just to throw some more numbers out there...

when I used ZVM out to low-gain govibe v5 (set at 2 or 3 I think) to K81DJs I never went above 10 and I mainly used it at 9. When I gave it to my friend to listen, he cranked it to 11:30
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: HeadRoom Premier Sponsor Forum