For those looking to delve deeply into the science of this whole topic, look up “Fletcher Munson equal loudness contours” online and see exactly how the conclusion came about. For everyone else, here’s a brief summary of how and why one specific volume level is said to be ‘perfect’ for precision mixing.
Head to any live show or outdoor festival and it is pretty clear how volume affects the quality and interpretation of projected sound. Shouldering your way through the crowd, you eventually find yourself in a spot where everything sounds fantastic. However, move even slightly in one direction or the other and everything suddenly sounds like garbage.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not exclusively a directional thing. It is also to do with the fact that the volume of the music you are hearing has a major impact on how its frequencies are picked up by your ears and your brain.
This is something that should be fairly obvious to anyone who’s ever been exposed to music that’s way too loud, or irritatingly quiet. In both instances, it is impossible to get a proper ‘feel’ for the tunes being played.
We all have our preferred volume range, within which we get a kick out of whatever we are listening to. Even so, scientists believe they have found the ‘perfect’ volume level for music, at which the human brain naturally hears all aspects of a track as balanced and ‘neutrally’ as possible.
What is the Right Volume?
According to the boffins behind the study, 85dB is the magic number to aim for. At this volume level, the human brain is apparently able to pick up on the subtle nuances of the track better than at any other volume level.
Now, this does not necessarily mean that 85dB should be the volume level you aim for when playing live. Nor does it mean you exclusively have to listen to or mix music at 85dB.
Instead, it simply means that from time to time, you should listen to your tracks and your mixes at 85dB. In doing so, you will be able to pick up on any potential issues with more pinpoint precision than at any other volume level.
It is at 85dB that the human brain can pick up on all low, mid and high frequencies more precisely, without them simply blurring into one wall of sound. Perfect your mixes at this level and you might just find that when you turn up the volume, everything sounds even better than you could have expected.
An Essential Tool for Perfectionist DJs
Given the costs involved in setting up a pro-grade DJ rig, waxing another £20 or so on an SPL (Sound Pressure Level) metre is not going to be too painful. Even so, it is an indispensable piece of DJ equipment that will help you nail that magical 85dB volume level.
If the mood takes you, you can also look much deeper into the whole theory by looking up “Fletcher Munson equal loudness contours” and checking out the study for yourself.