EverywhereReview and photos by John Keegan
I have always been a volume slut. I love it. The louder the better. I like it when the bass makes my pants vibrate. I dig the immersion in the wall of sound. Have you noticed how good almost all club pa's sound now a days? Sound is immense. Everywhere. Shithole dive bars have systems that can push 120 dB.
There are a number of measures used to calculate the average duration that you can listen to loud noises without damage to the ears. The most common measure is the decibel (dB). Most scientists agree that the ear can deal with a sound pressure level (spl) of approximately 85 dB for 24 hours. Human speech reaches approximately 30 dB. A loud vacuum cleaner can reach 85 dB. Cranked up shows can easily reach 130 dB. There are plenty of phone apps that you can download that will give you a reasonably accurate dB reading if you want to check spl.
The increase in volume as a function of incremental dB increase is very steep. The commonly accepted factor is that volume doubles for every 3 dB increase. The curve for safe listening time is inverse and equally steep. Every 3 dB increase reduces maximum safe daily listening time by half.
Sound level (SPL) Maximum daily dosage
85 dB - 8 hours
88 dB - 4 hours
91 dB - 2 hours
94 dB - 0 hours
Most of the shows that we all attend rock along in the 120+ dB range. One practical result of all of this volume is that people are wearing a lot more of those florescent sound strangling foam earplugs. They cut the spl by approximately 30 dB but they decimate the mid and high frequencies and rob the music of life. There are better, "musicians" earplugs on the market that are molded to the wearer's ear canal shape. They aren't cheap - around $200 for a pair - but they do sound noticeably better.
So, why the rant? Three reasons. I've notice a change in my conversations lately, especially if they involve more than two people and include a table between or background noise. My daughter says, "Could you pass the toast?" I hear, "Could you hassle the goat." My wife asks, "Will you move the car?" I hear "Did you shoot the Czar?" At work, someone asks, "Did you finish that report?" I hear, "Did you Danish heliport?"
I recently looked at three years of hearing tests lined up end to end. That crevice - signifying hearing loss - in the mid-range is getting wider and deeper. A bit of self-directed behavior modification is at work here. Maybe the data will help me to show those molded earplugs a little more love. Maybe by writing about it I can convince my brain that crazy ass volume over time is aversive and detrimental to my favorite pastime and act accordingly.
Finally, perhaps the folks running soundboards across the club land can experiment to see how low they can go. Will 110 dB do the trick for people? How about 100? Will we notice? Will we rock less? Can the community set its own new standard? Is the opportunity to jettison earplugs and really hear the collective musical handiwork of the band and soundperson worth the loss of a few dB? Is the current standard worth the hearing loss and tinnitus? What was that? I didn't hear you.