Should You Play Your Audio System Loud?

05/20/2014 Paul Helvin

A couple weeks ago I was auditioning a 2 channel audio system for a customer. To my surprise he said to me “You don’t like listening to your music loud do you?”. He went on to explain that when playing  his system, he wanted to feel as if he was in the front row, right next to the speakers, and had me turn it up ALOT.loud-01 (1)

That night when I got home to listen to my personal music system, it got me thinking about what he said.

Now there are 2 things that come to light as I explore this topic with you the reader.

The first is the “louder is better” opinion. Now I appreciate loud music as much as the next guy, but for me it is like a “Buffet mentality”.

Yes, I can fill the plate to the top with every kind of food item I can think of in one trip, or I can pick a sampling, take my time savoring every flavor and texture, chewing slowly, knowing that the same, or other food choices will be there when I get back.

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To me playing the track at a level where I can simply close my eyes and feel like I am in the auditorium, in a live recording studio, or on a grassy hill at a park hearing the music float through the air… that feeling of “I am there” is what I personally most strive for.

Now, If I am playing a track that sounds great at ear bleeding levels because I want to feel like I am in the front row at that live Mega Death concert, and it does sound great at that level, then so be it!  But listening to Nora Jones pluck out a tune on her guitar in an intimate studio session?, well for me an ear splitting level just won’t do.

The second topic in this discussion is the variations in which the recording levels where made in the first place.  Regardless of the source medium, I find myself adjusting the volume up or down to compsensate for a musician that is singing “into” the mike, or one where the performer is too far away or in an environment that changes the overall presentation of that performance.

It’s often just a matter of the volume being adjusted by 1 that pulls the whole presentation into that “I am there” feeling, and not just good High Fi.

In closing, it’s not about  “if it’s too loud you’re too old”, but about bringing that recording into your personal environment to feel as if you’re getting your own private performance.

Whatever that volume level may be.

Paul Helvin,

Audio/Video Specialist