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Listener Preference for Concert Sound Levels: Do Louder Performances Sound Better?

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High-frequency hearing loss among teenagers and young adolescents has been shown to result from high sound levels in nightclubs, concert halls, and headphones. Sound reinforcement systems can raise the average sound levels at concerts to 105 dB SPL. This experiment provides evidence that in a regular concert environment (with listeners sitting quietly in their seats) the preferred sound level (Laeq) for classical music and smaller jazz and big band groups was about 73–85 dB. In fact, the score on overall pleasantness drops somewhat when sound levels were either too high or too low. This relationship has an inverted U-shape. The most influential factor on overall pleasantness was fidelity—the naturalness of sound. This is the first study where the experience of sound level in concert-goers has been investigated using psychological methods. Surveys among concert listeners reveal that they predominantly complain about excessively loud sound.

JAES Volume 64 Issue 3 pp. 138-146; March 2016
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AES - Audio Engineering Society