Thanks Just Lisa,
So thrilling to get a response, finally.
Especially as most of us are working on audio/video/music, in the nearfield, by this I mean less than 2 meters from the speakers, every small change in our position, and every small change in volume of our audio, IMHO, has an impact. Which was why I asked the question about ideal volume levels, in the 1st place. I really wanted to hear what others thought about this, to also check on my own understanding of the importance of this issue.
This phenomenon of volume sensitivity is made the more poignant when we consider the Fletcher-Munsen variability in our perception of frequencies at different loudness levels (volumes) of sound.
The video above provides evidence that all vocations are perpetually a work in progress, and contrary to the thinking that there might be answers to these questions on loudness, it is also possible that there are no converged opinions, and everyone involved is simply “winging it”, like the Wild Wild West, no formulas, i.e just trial and error, and its more about JFDI than well thought out approaches to loudness… So maybe rather than try to seek esteemed opinions, sometimes we are the pioneers of our own understanding on subjects, cos there really is no answer to be gleaned. Or pianobook may not be the place to seek such answers.
So one thought is, is there are definitive consensus around loudness volumes… or none, or several different consensus/schools of thought?
The excellent article in Sound on Sound has been one of my references for gleaning an answer.
I do not yet have a sound level meter, and this is definitely one of my nice to have’s or birthday present to self, excuse to spend a bit of money for a good cause. Seriously, everyone in audio should have an SPL meter as their primary instrument, to judge things without bias. Part of my concern was also hearing protection, ensuring that audio was not unhealthily loud.
At the very least using an SPL meter on a smartphone device that is fairly consistent is a start, I understand that that the SPL meters on Apple devices have a more consistent result, as the hardware underpinning this measurement is well known and consistent, at least far more consistent than say a Windows Phone or Android based device.
My experience, if I may add this here, has been :
- If you have a good DSP process for tuning your speakers so that they sound more accurate than physically possible without any DSP, you can hear a lot better, and can lower the volume yet still hear very clearly. I tried Sonarworks but I think a good idea has been hijacked by capitalism, and while the results are pleasing, I found more accurate results IMHO using a combination of REW and generated correction impulses from REW.
All of the above applies to accuracy at the mix position, and caveat that it may not sound fantastic at any other position.
There is a really nice location in front of the speakers where just a small lean in of no more than two or three inches allows you to pinpoint something a bit better - temporarily, without having to change volume levels. - like a mini magnifying glass.
The ideal listening volume changes with ambient noise. I do not have a sound proof room, just closed windows and a closed door, in a bedroom studio. At night because the ambient noise from outside is a few decibels lower, I can listen, especially after 11 pm at lower volumes and still hear very well.
Anything else is a bit of trial and error, swinging between higher and lower volumes and over time recalibrating to an ideal - and even the ideal changes a bit over time, as my ears have I think become better at listening and I do not need to listen as loud anymore… While the loudness settings on some of the audio flowpath are fixed, I can vary the playback levels of an audio piece or track using level plugins - which have one advantage over using faders - I can save each level as a preset…such as
a. Quiet listening - minus 8 dB
b. Tracking:- plus 3 dB
c. Post Recording - minus 2dB
Levels changes used above are purely for illustration
So depending on what phase I am at in production, I can listen to a track or mix at a relatively lower or higher volume, almost like having a monitoring dial but in software, rather than hardware. This point of using well defined levels which I can see and adjust in the DAW, has been a Godsend, to keep me honest on any new track, kinda like a preliminary gain staging,.for monitoring purposes.
In my DAW, I can save the chain of presets including the level plugin settings, so each time I need to use a specific sample library, I can call up the entire chain including the relevant gain settings, without having to start from scratch. Definitely a time saver, for libraries I use very often…The level presets are not an effective strategy though for libraries with thousands of sounds! (impossible to curate in this way), which typically have variations between audio levels from one patch/sound to another.
- Revisiting levels - After a few minutes of listening our ears acclimatise, almost like they have a compressor in them that gets turned on, so we become impervious to loudness. Taking any break for about 10 or more minutes, can help reset this sensitivity, and invariably I find that on coming back from a break I can turn down the level and still hear clearly.
I would estimate that I listen at somewhere between 55dB SPL and 70 dB SPL, depending on my mood, time of day, and whether I’m composing, patch editing, tracking or mixing,.or just enjoying some good old Spotify…
This is already really long, I’ll add the rest in another post.