Thursday, June 20, 2013

Apparent Loudness

I'm going to go a little bit against something I've always stood for. The scooped EQ. I constantly mock both guitar players and kids in zippy cars for cranking the lows and highs. I've been a long time supporter of "listening flat". The truth is though, there's a time and a place for doing that. This is it.

It has to do with apparent loudness. Because of the way our ears function and the way they're wired to our brain, above a certain level we start to perceive increases in volume more in the highs and lows. While our hearing is just about flat at 65 dB SPL, up above 90 our ear's response is pretty scooped. So here's the trick. When you want to listen at a sensible level but want to really feel the impact of the music, scoop the EQ. 

This isn't new information. The Fletcher-Munson curve has been around for years and pretty early on in the manufacture of audio gear for public consumption, the "loudness" button appeared. All it did was boost the lows and the highs so that even at soft levels music seemed louder. Of course it has almost never been used correctly because people don't understand what it's for. So you get all these kids in their zippy cars with the bass and treble cranked and they figure, "Hey! If I hit the loud button it gets even LOUDER!

I tried it out for myself today. I had a rehearsal to mix and didn't want my ears to be trashed by the time I got there. I also wanted to blast some metal on my lunch break. So I set the volume in my car about 10 dB lower than I normally would when I've got it cranked. Then I located the loudness setting in a menu and punched it in. Voila! Megadeth went from easy listening to stadium rocking and my ears weren't ringing when I got back to work.

I don't know how much use this is in the studio, but I can think of a lot of times when the knowledge would have served me well in a live setting. When I'm already close to dangerous levels and people are asking for more, from now on I'll start scooping the FOH EQ instead of just reaching for more gas on the main fader. In smaller rooms I might even try it preemptively, starting out with loads of bass and maybe a touch of tricked out highs. If it feels loud at 100 then maybe I won't have to suffer through bleeding ears at 110 or more in a tiny bar and the patrons will go home feeling like they got a dose of rock.

Give it a try Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Let us know your results, tweaks, or anything else pertinent.

1 comment:

  1. And, that knowledge presents further advantage to running your subs on an aux. You can keep pumping more signal from that aux into your low end and make it bump.

    People ask for more but its already almost dangerously loud? Bump that low end and keep the highs the same.

    Its not loud but people are complaining that it is? Cut a little low end and they'll stop complaining.

    Happens to me once a gig now-a-days.


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