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How loud does your bass need to be?

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So I found myself distracted today when I found an interesting article.  The article was about how some people in Commerce City, a poorer suburb of my home city of Denver, were very upset by bass noise from a Bassnectar concert that was held at an outdoor venue there.  From there, I learned that the iconic Red Rocks venue quite recently (2014 and 2015) imposed a noise ordinance in response to noise complaints from local residents.  (Google it.  I can't find the actual regs online to link.)  That's remarkable because the venue had operated without complaints until only recently.  In any case, Bassnectar made some curious statements about Red Rocks before announcing he was going to use a different venue for 2016:  "[...] And sadly Red Rocks is gonna have to run their sound levels so low it will sound like laptop speakers.   And I'd feel guilty telling ppl to go. [...]"

 

In any case, the reporting of technical facts in the articles I read were predictably atrocious, and it took a lot of digging for me to figure out just what kind of levels we're talking about here.  Eventually, I tracked down my answers (but please forgive the source). 

 

An audio consultant was hired to carry out a study.  Measurements taken at the front of house mix console over course of multiple performances revealed a maximum 1 minute average SPL of 132 dB.  Wait what?!  Someone's concert had bass playing at 132 dB continuous for a whole minute?!  In any case, Denver put a noise ordinance in place in 2014 and updated it in 2015.  In its current incarnation, 1 minute average sound levels at the mix console are required to remain under 105 dBA and 123 dB for 25-80 Hz bass.

 

Now my question is, am I getting old or something?  Cuz even 123 dB SPL continuous across the span of a minute is ludicrously loud, even for bass, isn't it?  Not loud enough for whoever played at 132 dB SPL.  Also, I'd to know from Bassnectar where I can buy some laptop speakers that do 123 dB SPL continuous at 25 Hz.  (@ 1m is OK as I will be using near-field)

 

What amazes me is that he and so many others regard such a limit to be somehow draconian, even an affront to electronic dance music (EDM) culture.  This is despite the fact that the ordinances place no restriction on levels of dynamic bass.  But when I listen to Bassnectar and a lot of the rest of the dub step genre, I realize *there is no dynamic bass*.  (Sadly, almost all of it is also compressed to hell and back to squeeze every last dB of bass out of it.)

 

Don't get me wrong.  I have no beef with EDM, and in fact, I enjoy listening to quite a lot of EDM.  (I am picky, but I think everyone is because it is such a broad genre.)  I was and still am a big fan of ambient, dub, and psy-trance.  I heard Bassnectar stuff when he was just a local thing in California, and I wasn't too impressed then.  Some of the older stuff is not too bad, and I listen to a couple of these songs as part of compilations, but after browsing YouTube, IMO, the music has not gotten better with time.

 

Admittedly, I haven't found a lot of dub step I like, despite the fact that the genre is quite similar to stuff I do like.  I find it very repetitive.  Some of the bass harmonic modulations certainly sound cool, but the harmonic structure often doesn't vary in ways that are interesting.  The novelty wears off, and I have to wait for the song to end before I get to hear a new bass riff.  Talk about boring!  And yes, I may be a teapot because I like psy trance music, which can be pretty darn repetitive also, not to mention almost universally 4/4 rhythm with relatively high BPM.  However, I very much like how it works for me.  The bass keeps the body anchored while the mids and highs take the mind on a journey.

 

So perhaps I owe it to myself to open my mind a little.  Perhaps the point is to focus on the bass to the exclusion of all else.  All the mid and treble content is there merely to focus attention on the droning bass.  And only if that bass is droning at 125 dB or higher for minutes at a time, can a listener truly appreciate the music for what it is.  I dunno.  My home system will soon be capable of such things, but I don't think I'll be trying it out any time soon.  I do have neighbors.

 

How often do people here with big systems run them with 125 dB continuous average bass for a minute or longer?

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So your saying that Denver has a new law stating that the volume can only be 105db at the FOH console or stage?

 

Because I know that most places aim for about 105db at the FOH console which is anywhere from 100ft to 1000ft or more away. So 105db of bass can mean a huge difference depending were it is measured from. PLUS outdoors and knowing BN he usually has quite the bass setup. 

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The ordinance applies specifically to the Red Rocks Ampitheater venue.

 

Also, the limit for bass (officially 25-80 Hz) is not 105 dB but 123 dB continuous average over one minute!

 

The 105 figure is 105 dBA for the overall sound level.  And please note that the "A" is for A-weighted SPL, for which bass contributes very little.  The figure of 105 dBA is extremely loud.  Although OSHA sets the permissible daily exposure limit to 1 full hour, most experts agree OSHA isn't stringent enough.  European standards require limiting daily exposure time to 4 minutes at 105 dBA continuous.  Personally I find 80 dBA continuous to be approaching my level of comfort for music.   With anything higher than about 85 dBA continuous for any length of time, I'll probably be reaching for my hearing protection, especially if the sound is upper-mid heavy.

 

I'm curious how often people here listen to their at bass > 123 dB SPL continuous.  I think you'd have a hard time finding many movies that deliver that kind of sustained high output over the span of an entire minute even when played a reference + 20 dB.  Maybe "Interstellar" in the wormhole scene?  "Earth To Echo" bass is centered more around 20 Hz so may not even qualify.

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Movies wouldnt do it but definitely music hence the law. Also 125db 25-80hz, to me, is loud but nothing I feel I need hearing protection for. If it were mains then yes.

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Whether this is insane depends on where the measurement is taken - if this is the mix console out where the audience is, as in what we would describe as the "listening position", then it is VERY LOUD.

 

 

I found this, a spl log playing at 0dB and then +6dB.

The mic clips around 120db peak, the +6dB level is around 125dB peak max.

post-181-0-48487200-1470264874_thumb.png

 

Occasionally I will listen to music at this level, but not for very long, maybe a song or two.. or three.

Because it is kind of addictive.

 

But this is LOUD.

Not loud as in "oh I can actually feel the bass"-loud - this is like a wall of sound hits you, and every time the heavy bass drum hits, you are blasted with a shock wave that makes it feel like everything is moving - the house, the floor, the seating.

 

But this is also dynamic music, it is only the peaks that reach above 120dB.

dB-z (full-range, dBC is around 5-6dB lower, dBA maybe 10dB lower) is in the range 105 to 110dB.

 

 

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And what makes sense, how loud do you need.

Assuming one wants to explore the full dynamic range of human perception of sound, my suggestion is:

 

- 130dB peak below around 100hz.

- 120dB peak is enough for trad/acoustic/rock music.

- Full frequency range, quality and tactile feel is mandatory. 

 

But then I do not listen much to EDM or dubstep, with those continuous droning bass tones.

 

When sound becomes so loud it is no longer pleasant, it does not makes sense anymore.

And very loud spl - even in the bass range - is believed to cause hearing damage.

 

In the end it all comes down to personal preference - one persons too loud is exciting and pleasant body massage for another.

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Movies wouldnt do it but definitely music hence the law. Also 125db 25-80hz, to me, is loud but nothing I feel I need hearing protection for. If it were mains then yes.

 

I think for me it would depend on how much was under 40 Hz or so, but I'm not sure I've personally ever listened to anything at 125 dB continuous.  Perhaps at one concert I went to but the mids and highs were way too overbearing there to appreciate the bass.  I gather a fair number of people have car systems that are capable of that and a handful may listen at those levels regularly.  So maybe this is just the expectation now?

 

Whether this is insane depends on where the measurement is taken - if this is the mix console out where the audience is, as in what we would describe as the "listening position", then it is VERY LOUD.

 

 

I found this, a spl log playing at 0dB and then +6dB.

The mic clips around 120db peak, the +6dB level is around 125dB peak max.

attachicon.gifpanda dub l_abre a son +6db mic ovl.png

 

Occasionally I will listen to music at this level, but not for very long, maybe a song or two.. or three.

Because it is kind of addictive.

 

But this is LOUD.

Not loud as in "oh I can actually feel the bass"-loud - this is like a wall of sound hits you, and every time the heavy bass drum hits, you are blasted with a shock wave that makes it feel like everything is moving - the house, the floor, the seating.

 

But this is also dynamic music, it is only the peaks that reach above 120dB.

dB-z (full-range, dBC is around 5-6dB lower, dBA maybe 10dB lower) is in the range 105 to 110dB.

 

The ordinance applies to sound levels measured at the "front of the house" mix position, which I take to mean the one that's at the front of but within the audience.

 

I agree that what you describe is very loud but perhaps suitable for the last couple songs of a live set.

 

Do you mean the dBA is 10 dB lower than dBC or dBZ?  If I go with -15 for dBA vs. dBZ (no idea, but seems reasonable for highly dynamic content), then your 1 minute continuous average lands at maybe 92 dBA, max.  And of course, your one minute continuous average 25-80 Hz level is no more than 107 dB or so.  Compared to 123 dB, that's just whimpy.  I guess you must be an old fart like me.

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I checked the differences between dBZ-dBC-dBA for typical program material once, but I don't have the number here now.

What I remember is that the diff was much smaller than expected, so around -5dB for C, and some more (-10dB may be too much) for A.

 

It is the frequency distribution that matters, not the dynamics.

 

The dynamics matters for the diff between peak and the dB-z/c/a.

 

Average spl >100dB is loud, but frequency distribution and dynamics determines how it is perceived - more dynamic material will have louder peaks, and will be perceived as louder, heavy bass is a lot more tolerable than loud mid/high.

 

When I play Panda Dub at 125dB peaks, it may be perceived as comparable in loudness to the 123dB dubstep/EDM.

But it is not comparable to 130dB+.

 

Did an experiment once on a drum track with Marilyn Mazur.

Found that the drums were clipping heavily on the initial attack, used a restorer plug-in to gain around 10dB more dynamics.

Now the hypothesis was that the track could be played at +10dB more volume, and still sound equally loud, but with more powerful and realistic drums.

Not the case.

The drum hits got painfully loud, the overall experience did not improve much.

The surprise here was that the louder very short in time peaks had a very significant impact on the perceived overall loudness.

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What type of restorer where you using for the clipped material?

 

JSS

 

A simple plugin in audacity.

I have tried different approaches, but the results are not worth the trouble.

The problem is that it is not possible to restore the signal that is lost when clipping occurs - there will be a small timespan where all sound is muted, and this affects higher frequency content. 

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Frequency distribution, which effects relative average dBA vs dBC in tracks, definitely varies a lot with content.  To the extent that dynamics relate to dBA vs. dBC, it's really more due to coincidence.  For one thing, raising dBA makes the sound louder, and is routinely used in the loudness war.  For another, if someone is doing a mix with a lot more headroom than a typical CD, say at a live show or something, they will likely use that extra headroom more for bass than treble.  I don't think it should be any mystery around here as to why.

 

With that said, high frequency transients can still hit pretty high SPL without being too loud.  One thing that's surprised me since I got my Motu A16 is how often I see high SPL high frequency transients in the real world.  The A16 has front panel peak/average indicators for the outputs, and I can watch what happens to the horns (1k-20k) separate from the bass drivers (100-1k) and subs.  With good, high dynamic range recordings, I frequently see high SPL peaks going to the horns on things like rim taps, snare whacks, cymbal crashes, and so forth.  These are often comparable to woofer peaks on content that has plenty of good chest punchy hits.  I have one of the later Telarc "1812 Overture" releases, (the SACD but as a stereo downmix), and the canon blasts have some strong high frequency peaks.  Still, these sounds aren't harsh on the ears so much as hard on the nerves.  At my playback level, the strongest peaks reached into the low one-teens for the full spectrum.  I wouldn't be surprised if the high frequency part reached above 100 dB.

 

Another relevant point to transient loudness is tonal balance.  Until I added more high frequency roll-off to my current setup, a lot of the high frequency transients sounded very aggressive and irritating.  It wasn't just a problem at high playback levels either.  In fact, it made me tap out on the master volume a lot sooner than I would have liked.  I'm thinking that if the tonal balance of the sound is unnatural, i.e., it emphasizes certain frequencies that are not typically emphasized in nature, it interferes somehow with our hearing processes.  This would happen when the sound is too bright.  It's amazing how even 1 dB of adjustment to the high frequencies can have a big impact on perceived loudness, as much as a few dB, in fact.  It's as though something about the presence of low frequency sound prepares our ears for high SPL at high frequencies, perhaps by activating some kind of compression.  What's weird though is that the low frequency part of the transient should not arrive until the same time or after the high frequency part in most cases.  So I guess maybe our neural processing is forming our perception of that high frequency part of the transient using information that arrives later.  Hmm.

 

Now for something silly (and NSFW) from Vice, covering the recent Bassnectar performance that pissed off more local residents:  http://noisey.vice.com/blog/bassnectar-denver-earthquake-so-rad

 

I'm so ambivalent.  I mean, I feel bad for people being disturbed, but I'm sure the people at the show were having a blast.  :P  Considering how splendidly that show went, I wouldn't be surprised if he goes back to Red Rocks and figures out how to put on a good show with *only* 123 dB continuously averaged over a minute.  Maybe?

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You are right about the hf transients - peak level can be high enough to be comparable in level with the full frequency range signal.

I analyzed this once, see the attached files.

 

Comparing full range to 6K high-pass filtered.

While rms shows 18.6dB difference, the peak difference is only around 6dB.

 

This means it is necessary to dimension amplifiers for the hf section so that peak levels comparable to the lower freq sections match up.

Using the power spectrum to dimension amplifiers is wrong.

 

Full fr spectrum:
post-181-0-26759700-1470419968_thumb.png

 

6K filtered:

post-181-0-73563100-1470419996_thumb.png

 

rms -18.6dB:

post-181-0-96364700-1470420024_thumb.png

 

But as we can see from waveforms, peak level is only around -6dB:

post-181-0-35712200-1470420010_thumb.png

 

 

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Great examples!  I must say, life appears to be tough for dome tweeters.

 

Sadly, it doesn't look like a lot of people are responding to my query here.   I thought with all the bass heads here that I'd find someone willing to argue for the need for these kinds of levels.  Where are you guys?  Someone needs to tell me that I'm just a big wuss, and 125 dB continuous is barely enough for a proper party.  Anyone?

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Great examples!  I must say, life appears to be tough for dome tweeters.

 

Sadly, it doesn't look like a lot of people are responding to my query here.   I thought with all the bass heads here that I'd find someone willing to argue for the need for these kinds of levels.  Where are you guys?  Someone needs to tell me that I'm just a big wuss, and 125 dB continuous is barely enough for a proper party.  Anyone?

 

My first DIY sub could hit 125db at the seats...so yeah pretty wimpy.

 

Every couple of months I push to about 140db, but it's for probably less than a minute. 

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My first DIY sub could hit 125db at the seats...so yeah pretty wimpy.

 

Every couple of months I push to about 140db, but it's for probably less than a minute. 

 

I'm not talking about hits.  I'm talking about long-term continuous output averaged over a period of a minute, as that's what the noise ordinance was based on.  The noise ordinance said nothing about peaks, and one could theoretically "hit" 140 dB SPL without running afoul of the ordinance.  Sorry if I'm repeating something you already know from my earlier posts in this thread, but I want to make sure we're talking about minute long continuous average SPL.

 

It's hard to confirm this with the data that's available:  My guess is that with subs run at reference + 20 dB, there are only a handful of movies where you'll average 125 dB SPL over the 25-80 Hz range for an entire minute or more.  Likewise for music.  I guess you can always just keep turning the sub up until you get there, but I don't think I've seen anyone mention running the subs *more than 20 dB hot* here yet.  ??

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I'm not talking about hits. I'm talking about long-term continuous output averaged over a period of a minute, as that's what the noise ordinance was based on. The noise ordinance said nothing about peaks, and one could theoretically "hit" 140 dB SPL without running afoul of the ordinance. Sorry if I'm repeating something you already know from my earlier posts in this thread, but I want to make sure we're talking about minute long continuous average SPL.

 

It's hard to confirm this with the data that's available: My guess is that with subs run at reference + 20 dB, there are only a handful of movies where you'll average 125 dB SPL over the 25-80 Hz range for an entire minute or more. Likewise for music. I guess you can always just keep turning the sub up until you get there, but I don't think I've seen anyone mention running the subs *more than 20 dB hot* here yet. ??

I'm talking about continuous for about a minute as well, so we're on the same page i think.

 

I've run my subs over 30db hot hundreds of times.

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I have just now learned that all posters in this thread are wrong, 140dB is not needed, 130dB is not needed, even 123dB is far off the scale.

Around 100dB seems to be right, and movies are to be played at -15 or occasionally -10dB if you want it very loud. 

 

I learned this from reading on the local hifi-forum.

 

<insert double-facepalm picture here>

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LOL

 

You should invite them round and then blowww theirrrr miiiiiinnnnnd with what a proper system sounds like :lol:

 

Watch their eyes boggle as you turn the MV up to Reference!!

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I'm talking about continuous for about a minute as well, so we're on the same page i think.

 

I've run my subs over 30db hot hundreds of times.

 

Thanks!  I kind of figured that you would, if anyone.  But "30 dB hot hundreds of times" makes clear that this is a pretty routine thing for you.

 

And I gather you don't have any problems with neighbors?  I'm sure being underground helps a lot.

 

I have just now learned that all posters in this thread are wrong, 140dB is not needed, 130dB is not needed, even 123dB is far off the scale.

Around 100dB seems to be right, and movies are to be played at -15 or occasionally -10dB if you want it very loud. 

 

I learned this from reading on the local hifi-forum.

 

<insert double-facepalm picture here>

 

Oh bugger, you could have told me that a bit sooner.  It sure could have saved me a lot of time, money, and effort on all this stuff that doesn't work. I could have used that money for better cables or something.  :P

 

Of course the real irony here is that the 100 dB isn't really enough to play a lot of movie soundtracks back at "-15".

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...

 

Oh bugger, you could have told me that a bit sooner.  It sure could have saved me a lot of time, money, and effort on all this stuff that doesn't work. I could have used that money for better cables or something.  :P

 

Of course the real irony here is that the 100 dB isn't really enough to play a lot of movie soundtracks back at "-15".

 

But some hifi-nuts do have capacity.

They are the ones building their own systems, like most readers here do.

The only difference is that there are only 2 channels, and often no need for extreme sub-20hz capacity, because the music they play never contain ulf, part from unintended noise.

 

I want full frequency range for music as well, it makes a huge difference on lots of electronic music.

 

The audio world is becoming divided - those who still believe the reviewers and high-end suppliers, and those who take on the more scientific approach and end up building things themselves, because the performance they want is not available in any ordinary shop. 

 

The believers think that 120dB+ bass is never needed, in fact not desired at all.

They have never experienced a good full-capacity, full-range system.

 

A good system also sounds much better at very low volume, because the response is smooth without huge dips or peaks. 

But that is not what we were discussing here, this was about what capacity is actually needed when you turn up, all the way up.

And for that, the limits are when it gets so loud it is not pleasant anymore.

 

I have experienced that some people can get problems with the pressure at low frequencies, at spl below 130dB, guessing peak values around 125-128dB.

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I would have thought the local environment is a major contributing factor here. I can't realistically use all of the capability I have in the house because I live in a densely populated city, have neighbours who I respect (and who haven't minded on the occasions when it does get somewhat feisty in here!) and have ears I don't want to damage further (tinnitus which I would assume is derived from years of standing too close to PA speakers in clubs).

 

Normal viewing levels for me are ~ -10 (bass has a ~4-5dB rise by the bottom end), -5 probably about as loud as it ever goes for normal film viewing). No idea what that equates to on the scale referenced in the original post.  

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It's interesting to see the variety of views and responses here.  I like that different people interpreted the question a bit differently.  Like Kvalsvoll, I tend to think about max SPL more in terms of short term peaks, and I agree that 130 dB is pretty good.  But I was surprised that the noise ordinance I posted about was based on minute long average levels, and even more surprised that Bassnectar deemed 123 dB, measured this way, to be insufficient for his creative expression.

 

I found a recording of one of the Bassnectar concerts at Red Rocks that caused complaints on YouTube.  I'm fairly certain that the audio was remixed with much lower bass levels.  What's not clear is how much compression was added for the remix vs. the live event.  I'm very curious, because I think it would make a big difference between me enjoying the event (despite having to wear ear plugs the whole time) and just being annoyed and bored before going home feeling like I spent an 8 hour day handling the worlds biggest power sander.  But because all the 2 channel stuff from the artist is crushed to hell with whimpy bass, I'll never know his appeal without actually going to one of his events.

 

I did once go to a live Shpongle DJ set in my area.  Shpongle is EDM, but more on the ambient / psy-ambient / psy-trance side.  I was a big fan when they first got started.  Anyway, I think that live event had bass that might have hovered in the 120s dB for a while.  Unfortunately, the bass was extremely bloated and muddy (probably due to the room acoustics) to the point that it seemed to play way behind the music in time.  As for the mids and highs, they were so loud as to be un-listenable.  I honestly couldn't tell if it was the system or my ears or both that were clipping all to hell, to the point that I struggled to discern the tunes of songs I knew well.  It was still grating even with fingers in the ears.  Afterwards, it sounded like I had a few heavy towels wrapped around my head, and it took days for my hearing to fully recover.  That was the last time I went to any live sound event without hearing protection, and I'm very thankful I didn't suffer worse.  Even with hearing protection, I can't say I'm inclined to go to another one of those events again.

 

On the flip side, I bought the recently released Shpongle "Live at Red Rocks" BD.  Can I just say wow!  For anyone who likes that sort of music, I highly recommend it.  There are some very talented musicians performing there (along with a few who maybe hope to be some day).  The mastering reminds me a lot of the sound in the "Metallica - Through The Never One", at least the YouTube version.  (Shame on me, I still need to buy that BD.)  The natural ambiance of Red Rocks sounded very authentic, and there just seemed to be no shortage of dynamics in the mix with hits getting bigger and bigger toward the end.  I played it at a "-3" because it was starting to make my front stage Hsu HC-1 speakers cry.  I don't doubt it could go well above reference with my upgraded speakers, but I'm waiting until I'm done with some more upgrades before I watch it again.  :)  Through that BD, I saw and heard Shpongle the way I always wanted to hear them but never could.  Sadly, I don't know if I'll find another recording of them that brings them to life like that.

 

The ironic thing is that the real-life version may have been deafeningly loud to the point of being unintelligible just like the live event I went to.  I'll probably never know.

 

I wonder who if anyone is doing the long-term exposure studies to figure out how much bass it takes to cause hearing loss.  Hopefully it's pretty high because I don't think most forms of hearing protection do much for bass.

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Great post ^^^

 

 

Sad to say that I've not been to many music events, but I can definitely relate to the comments.  

 

I have been to an under-18s Jungle event (when I wuz young), which had something like a 20k soundsystem in what was effectively a village hall, and the inescapable, excessive bass was doing my head in after a while because my lungs were just vibrating out of my chest in every room in the building.  (The fact there were seemingly 7 year olds smoking did not exactly provide a 'quality' ambiance either...)

 

I have also been to one of the superclubs in Ibiza once (I think it was Space, I'm pretty sure it wasn't Pasha) and while the music was literally crystal clear so didn't feel that loud once you were in there for 5 minutes and acclimatised, when we got out and into the cab, it was like we were wearing those enormous ear defenders and had to shout at each other.

 

I'm surprised I'm not more deaf TBH but I seem to be able to hear to about 20kHz on those online test things, so perhaps I've been lucky.  It's just the raging tinnitus and intermittent ringing/deafness after loud noise exposure that is the annoying thing nowadays...

 

Anyway, enough of my egocentric waffling.

 

 

Other than the Red Rocks issue discussed in this thread, I do sometimes wonder how many venues actually tests their volume levels for reasonable-ness.  The Shpongle event described above sounds like it would clearly not pass any Health and Safety tests if they were actually enforced.

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