It seems that there is a common perception that music sounds better when played loudly. In a club for example the bass can make you chest thump or trousers flap. The mid range of a heavy metal band in an enclosed venue can leave you with ears ringing for days after the gig. These examples help create the atmosphere for that event, but should we follow these examples when listening at home, on the move or in the car?
There is of course a lot more to the fidelity of audio than volume. Electrical components need to be carefully matched with each other, the speakers need to have the correct power rating & positioned correctly within the listening environment.
If an amplifier is asked to power speakers that aren’t correctly matched, you can end up with a strangled, distorted sound that really isn’t very pleasant to listen to. Any kind of amplification turned up to its higher levels will induce harmonic distortion to the audio signal. Likewise if an amp is way too powerful for the speakers that it is connected to, the amp won’t be able to show its true colours or operate within its most efficient range.
When matched correctly, an amp will produce the correct level of output for the speakers without any induced distortion or excessive colouring of the sound. If done correctly, there is a sweet spot where the sound fills the room and you can still talk over it.
The room you listen in will also influence the quality of the sound and the volume required to get the best from it. Different rooms have different acoustic properties – different frequencies that resonate or echo. Adjusting the volume as well as the EQ can help keep these under control.
Another factor that many people don’t consider is that our ears have a natural compression. Apply excessively loud noise to them & our eardrums actually distort…at this point, the sound levels are pretty unpleasant & any music sounds pretty awful.
More care needs to be taken when listening to music on headphones – the sound is being produced within such a close proximity to our ears that even small changes can make quite a difference.
Smart phones now warn us for listening to loud music for extended periods of time & give warnings if we try to turn the volume up. While this is a good guide – it isn’t necessarily correct because the phone doesn’t know the power rating or sensitivity of the headphones that are plugged in. Full volume for one set of headphones may sound excellent & comfortable, while another set may only require half the volume setting to get the same results…operating systems can’t tell the difference.
Listening by any means for an extending period of time can also lead to ear fatigue. Ears become tired when they have been exposed to music for a while, this is often when you start feeling that you want to turn up the music louder. This is normally a good sign that you should give your ears a rest & have a break.
So as you can see, music doesn’t necessarily sound better when played louder. It sounds better when its played at the right volume for the equipment being used & the environment that its in. So in actual fact, you may need to turn your music down to get more from it – your neighbors may thank you as well!