It’s the time of year for saving money!
This morning many of my fellow audio journalists and enthusiast audio manufacturers are either on their way or already arrived at the annual Munich audio show. Thinking about Munich focused my thoughts on one of the main reasons that many systems sound mediocre or just plain bad at audio shows – ambient background noise levels.
Several years back I started measuring the sound pressure levels at audio shows, including CES and the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I found that “quiet” rooms at shows ranged from an average background level of 45dB to 50 dB. Rooms with what I’d consider “loud” background levels started at 50 dB and went to a high of 60 dB. That means that a system in a loud room must be playing at 15 dB louder levels to achieve the same contrast between loud and soft as the quiet rooms. On many systems that 15 dB is the difference between working well with its comfort zone and pushing into distortion.
But how does the background levels at shows compare to a home listening environment? The difference can be as great as listening in a quiet wooded glade verses Grand Central Station. Let’s take my own listening rooms as an example. My noisiest listening room, which is right next to the kitchen and shares walls with my living room and has several working fish tanks, has an average ambient background level of 42 dB. This is nearly the same level as the average background levels outside my home. At 3:45 PM on a Tuesday afternoon, my dB meter registered 40 dB outdoors.
My main listening room is the quietest room in my house. The average background levels are 32 dB. When you compare this to a “quiet” audio show hotel room at 45 dB, you can see why a system can sound better at home than at a show. Even my computer audio system in my office, at 36 dB ambient noise level, is 9 dB better than a “quiet’ audio show demo room. Compare my quietest room with the highest levels I’ve recorded at a show and You’ll find just under a 30 dB difference in background noise levels. That is huge.
The next time you go to a hifi show or a enthusiast audio store, check the background noise levels, and then go home and take some measurements in your own listening room. You may be surprised to discover how much difference you’ll find.
Wear ear plugs that should take care of the noise….
And the sound. I have yet to see or hear a system that sounded good while listening with earplugs in, but it does, I suppose give me a taste of what my hearing could be like by the time I reach 80.
More than that: if you like the particular music selection you are more likely to like the speakers playing them. If someone was demonstrating speakers playing Country Music, I would probably not like the speakers.
You, my friend, are listening to the wrong kind of country music. Try Darrell Scott, Buddy Miller, or Dale Watson for some “real” country music.
My main listening room is about 34 dB but the loudest thing going is the background noise in my head! Tinnitus is the culprit! By the time anyone my age (67) thought about ear plugs it was to late.
Just back from Munich , noise levels room to room Very High , but compared to the other problems one must deal with to make a room and system sound good. That may be one of the easier to deal with. We get there days earlier to work the system , make adjustments and clean the problems. It takes passion and knowledge. That is rare in today’s shows and showrooms. I like Munich , Rocky and Newport, then Hong Kong and Montreal as far as venues. I wish all dealer showrooms where as good as the best I have visited , but that is not often the case. Yes the noise floor is a problem ,but ultimately it is the passion of the owner/staff to make the system stir an emotion in the listener. Music and its reproduction is an ART.