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Loudness Sounds Better. It’s Also Ruining Music.

LET’S TALK ABOUT LOUDNESS! Yelling is loud! That fashionable guy on the train blasting music into his ears? His headphones are loud! Loudness sounds good and feels good, and unfortunately, it’s ruining recorded music. Why we like loud music The concept of loundness is deceptive, because loudness is not a discrete physical property of sound, but rather how we humans perceive the strength of sound. It’s psychological as much as physical. I’m not going to get too far into the physics here, but I want to discuss one particular facet about loudness, the one that ultimately leads us to want to Turn It Up. First off, there’s a difference between loudness and Sound Pressure Level, the measurable disturbance caused by a soundwave at a given point, usually denoted in decibels or dB. It’s also not the same as volume, which is technically the amplitude of a sound wave. We’re talking about what your ear and brain perceive versus what an instrument like a microphone perceives. The way human hearing works is that our perception of different sound frequencies changes as sound pressure level increases—specifically, our perception flattens out as sounds get louder. As Mix explained years ago:
The ear is not a linear device-its response varies with frequency. Hearing sensitivity peaks in the high-mids and falls off at the extremes, and the hearing curve also changes with volume, becoming slightly flatter at higher SPLs. In order to maintain a perceived balance between high and lows (and mids and low-mids, and so on) a “flat” playback system may need to be EQ’d differently for different levels of reproduction.
So if the low-mid-high equalization of your sound system—speakers, headphones, whatever—isn’t properly calibrated for the sound pressure level you’re listening at, you’re going to push the volume up until you hear everything sufficiently—or until it’s too painful to go any louder. The result is that music sounds better when when you turn it up. How loudness is ruining music via Gizmodo.

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