Loud Music and Hearing Loss 1

To: acoustic-ecology@sfu.ca
From: Ron Pellegrino
Subject: Re: Loud music (and hearing loss)
Date: 1/19/98

On Tues, 27 May 1997, Mark Kolmar wrote:

>The sound-pressure level isn´t necessarily as much of an issue
>as distortion (esp. inharmonic or intermodulation distortion).
>I´ve owned different amplifiers over the years. In the last
>couple years I´ve been able to purchase a somewhat high-end
>pre-amp, power amp and speakers. It can create significantly
>higher SPLs, but causes far less fatigue at the same SPL versus
>equipment I´ve used previously. My motivation is not to create
>a high SPL for its own sake, but to create a more realistic,
>balanced soundstage -- which follows from the ability to
>recreate transients and higher SPLs with low distortion. This
>means less strain on the ears, as well as a more enjoyable and
>relaxing listening experience. (And there is, perhaps, a link
>here as well.)

RP - This is one of the better arguments that I´ve been hearing for years from the better audio engineers and audiophiles. Get the best equipment with the least distortion for the best listening experience... The problem is that audio equipment with a perfectly linear response exists only in your sweetest dreams. Least distortion is not the same as no distortion. All audio systems, even the best, impart their color to the audio signal. The color, subtle as it may be at lower levels and more obvious at higher levels, is a combination of influences such as the noise floor (composed of component and thermal noise), transient response (response to sharply defined events of short duration), amplitude distortion (unequal frequency response), phase distortion (unequal phase response), harmonic distortion (resulting from the combination of amplitude and phase distortion), and intermodulation distortion (frequencies beating against each other to create sum-and-difference frequencies). All those distortions are always present in the sound produced by any audio system. That's the given.

The key to getting the best sound out of any audio system is to have intact fully functioning ears, an experience-based (not just book) knowledge of how the music is supposed to sound, a full experiential understanding of the limitations of your equipment, and the time and temperament to tune the system to fit the music. In other words, be an audio artist, levels up from audio engineer. The audio artist breed is rare indeed. Mark´s statement that "My motivation is not to create a high SPL for its own sake, but to create a more realistic, balanced soundstage..."sets him far apart from that audio engineering mob out there unconsciously blowing away our hearing. The issue of sound-pressure levels can´t be dismissed. The hearing system has limits and thresholds. Sounds that exceed those levels threaten the hearing system.

Ron Pellegrino


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