What is the proper loudness for listening?

Paul McGowan via YouTube claims that each room, system and recording has a specific sound level at which music sounds most "real"

I've noticed this myself listening to my 3 different systems set up in differing rooms. Thought I was crazy to think so but I guess maybe I'm not?

Also, have notice in smaller listening rooms that lower maximum volume levels sound more real.  Going too high on volume in a small room just overloads it and results in distortion

Any comments?


I'd say as loud as you like it before the room and/or componants become overloaded.

Right now on certain records above 83/84 DB, the treble becomes harsh. I'm 98% sure this is a room issue and I'm working on that now. I was listening yesterday to a record that doesn't have that issue and was 75-88 for the most part but a few peaks up to 96-ish and crystal clear. 

Large room or small, the music sounds best to me when the measured peaks are coming in over 85 and under 90db. Loud enough for realism but not so loud that damage to hearing is a real concern. A sound meter app on your smartphone like decibel app is your friend both for determining good listening levels and frequency response aberrations from room acoustics, which in many rooms is quite significant, left unaddressed.

@laynes that could be odd order harmonic distortion that makes the treble hard to handle at higher volumes. It’s an artifact of many older SS amps. Tube amps and most modern Class D amps are less prone to that issue. @atmasphere talks about that all the time here if you search out his posts.

It is completely dependent on the system, room, and your tastes. I have noticed that the better my system has gotten the lower the volume sounds best to me. Typically I listen at ~ 75db. Most of the experience audiophiles with good systems have seemed to converge on this volume. My system is shown.

@kota1 Wrote:

Your spouse will let you know, don't worry.😲

You got that right. LOL 😁


I have a big space and the system doesn't really come alive much under 75db.

Having read somewhere that listening above this level on a regular basis can lead to hearing loss, I don't exceed it.  I have no wish to compound the damage already done by guitar amps. There's no sense of "missing out" by not cranking it louder, though. 

I do automatically turn it down when my wife wants to listen. It only makes sense to  do whatever I can to ensure she enjoys the system.  

@bobbydd Wrote:


What is the proper loudness for listening?

Caution: The suggested maximum exposure is 115 dBA SPL for no more then 15 minutes. (Department of Labor bulletin #334). 😎




Well, OK. When I worked as a baker in Eugene, our sole means of ventilation was  a small fan mounted in 3X3'  window. Standing over a mixer churning flour dust into the air all day, I was concerned about my respiratory health. I called OSHA  The first  thing the guy asked was "can you see across the room". With this question alone, he made it abundantly clear that the regulations (no doubt written by industry lobbyists and rubber-stamped by elected representatives on their payrolls) were a joke. As a consequence, I don't have a lot of faith in govt. guidelines. 

@bobbydd   I agree with everything you said. I was very loudness sensitive. I would turn my system down to the lowest acceptable level. I recommend everyone to try to do this. Save your hearing and enjoy your listening, don't try to impress or shake the roof off. 

There's a relationship between distance, volume, and reflected sound.  You can tell the difference between someone talking 3 feet away and someone yelling 50 feet away even if the volume is the same.  If what you're hearing sounds like someone playing an instrument 50 feet away but the volume sounds like it's 10 feet away that's an unrealistic element.  

In my house of stereo, 75 to 80 db is my range for a fully immersive experience. Less and I don't really "feel" it, and more is completely unnecessary and saves my hearing for more years of enjoyment.

I have listened at very high levels.  Hovering ~100db.  That is as loud as I care to listen, my system will do that all day,,,,I like overkill.  But, as I age I prefer music that has a large dynamic range, so it peaks at ~100db.  There is no set rule, but having said that, a good db meter will tell you (no matter what room) that its overloaded, your ears should tell you first.

To answer your question: yes I agree that every piece of music has a "proper" listening level.  I'll only add "determined by you".





+1 …. You never want to be even close to any OSHA or other government standards.. you can be sure they will be revised down many times as more data comes in. 

85 db or lower can be listened to for up to 8 hours without 

damage.  I listen at 85 average. Small or large room 85 db is 85db

small rooms just get there quicker

Good luck Willy-T

65-85 here. Depends on the music. Sometimes rock has to be played louder though.😁

My system seems to b able to play most jazz louder than rock, likely because it's recorded with less distortion.

In my listening room my speakers are 9 feet apart 3 feet off the wall and my listening position is 11 feet away from the speakers I have no side wall issues and vaulted ceiling  I have a very powerful D class amp 500watts@8ohm 650@4ohms and 1,200 watts@1ohm  I typically listen to music around 75db with peaks in the mid 80's  My amp really makes the inner detail and dynamics come alive compared to my tube amp  I'm afraid if I played any louder my neighbours would be on my porch with torches 

I have an Anthem STR Integrated amp and an Anthem STR power amp two speaker sets.  The Preamp preset volume by the factory is -35 on the "Volume knob".   Most often that setting is almost always good unless I am really jamming.   I do not have a Db meter.  The power and the ohm load and the speaker cone area give a good amount of presence. The SNR is very clean, likely class A.  I often listen to UHD or HD source or very good LP quality such as Miles Davis.   I tend to avoid low fidelity recordings, (most recordings).  Compression and noisy LP's have come to bother me so much that I limit my listening to such at below normal sound levels, if at all.  My 4 ohm Legacy 20/20 Focus speakers will put out the sound,but need 3 or 4 hundred watts.  My turntable must have higher end cart & stylus or the sound must be low volume.  Trash in, = trash out, the decibel level is not really the issue with me.

’Round here, depends where you are in it....at my desk, 70~75 is topping out a small ss amp, and loud enough in an 8h x 8d x 20w, doomed to the center cross-wise, ultra nearfield....50~60 good ’nuff.

Approaching a major physical space reconfig, so the main is down for a count....🙁

Major upheavals with good intents pending, but hope an improvement will fit into the mix.

Annd, there’s always the phones... ;)

I've noticed an unexpected but delightful increase in 'perceived dB' within a simple 4ch 'surround' with the Walsh.....something to improve on in the next 'condition'. *S*

Bravo barts, I agree. My system sounds best at 90-100db and does it easily at about 25 watts a channel. The key is very dynamic and bass heavy music. To each his own, but what I have come to expect from music is a connection that can only be had at higher volumes 80-100 dbs. As you said, the music and your ears will tell you what is enough.

80-85 db is as loud as I go and I'm happy to listen at way lower levels than that at night when the ambient noise level is lower.

@chester_bunger Sure! I have the NIOSH SLM app on my iPhone and iPad. I’m sure they make one for Android. I think it works well.

It’s really up to you. I listen at a variety of different levels based on what I want to hear, how I want to hear it, if it’s emotional to me, if there are other people listening with me, etc etc. Also listen so that you can hear the music clearly, define the soundstage, and enjoy the material. 

Though this won't include Rock or some Acid Jazz, it is simple for me. The perfect level is found when you look for the soft passages, often found quite noticeable in classical music, and set that at a comfortable but yet soft volume i those portions of the piece, the rest takes care of itself. This after a while and a little practice, this  will come naturally. For those that think that music is good if it is loud, I can only offer my pity, Volume has noting to do with sound quality, with one exception. My speakers and I assume most quality speakers don't even 'Turn On' till they get a certain power level. This means that Yes they will play sounds at lower power levels but their excellence doesn't shine until that minimum threshold is reached. This is going to be different for every speaker made and is like in my example above, you set your volume higher to achieve this quality threshold, you may be pushing the limits of crazy when the more powerful portions of a piece come along.
What does all of that mean? It's totally up to your own particular taste and what wifie will permit before she gets the cast iron skillet out to clobber you with.

I am surprised how loud some are able to listen.

I use a dB meter, C-weighted, fast response.

75 dB peaks when my wife is sleeping in over the weekends.

85 dB peaks after she has joined the living, and it is LOUD to me.


I have learned that the best way for any system is to turn it up till it starts to get harsh, then turn the volume down till everything comes into FOCUS like a lens.You can tell pretty quickly. I heard a LOT of systems at AXPONA 2023 with my wife and we both thought most systems we heard were too loud for the room. But, there are people coming in and out, talking, etc. So it is limited to say the least.

                             How LARGE do you like your music?

     Unless a system can cleanly reproduce all the information (well engineered/recorded in an environment with good acoustics and mic placement) in a quality cut, to the original/intended dB level; It's listener will never hear that information.

              ie, regarding, "depth": the reflection off the venue's back wall.

      Of course: familiarity with the venue in which a recording was made,  would go a long way with regards to recognizing whether what one's hearing is actually accurate.    NOT that that's a necessity, when it comes to the enjoyment of one's music, BUT- having that knowledge, one can be confident that their other recordings are also being faithfully reproduced.

       'Checkerboard Lounge Live Chicago 1981' (on vinyl) is a favorite of mine, far as being able to hear the room, especially between songs.

        Especially, in the softer cuts of Diana Krall's 'Live in Paris' vinyl (45 RPM/180 Gram), I find the Olympia Theatre's back wall reflections nicely reproduced (with accurate depth).

         Back the the size-of-your-music thing: I turn my sound up slowly (a song at a time, to acclimate the ears to higher dB levels, without having them shut down), until my image height reflects where I imagine/know the performers to have been, when recorded.     Again: a system has to be able to reach that level cleanly/without distortion, or: it's just LOUD (iow: noise).

        It's been my experience: seated in the better/more expensive, front and center seats; it's easy to hear and locate individual voices (human or instrumental), on a stage and seldom would the level be low enough for some to consider, "safe enough".     Yet: no one complains, because it's clean sound (just big).

                    OF COURSE: different strokes, for different folks.

                                          Happy listening!

I've found that Paul McGowan has a point: especially with acoustic music (solo, unamplified voice; solo acoustic instruments or small ensembles; piano), the volume usually sounds best when it reproduces accurately the volume that instrument would produce in your environment. Therefore, even a piano can easily be played too loud; if your room is small, a grand piano would overwhelm it, and not just by taking up too much space. One of the things a good audio system should do is to accurately recreate the size of the instruments being played. Perceived size is not entirely a matter of SPL, but they are correlated.

When it comes to amplified music (rock, most jazz, electronic, etc.), this principle is harder to apply. As long as your amp isn't driven into clipping and the high frequencies still sound sweet, your pain threshold is about right for a band like Tool or Massive Attack. After all, that's where the volume would be in a live show.

Be aware, by the way, that "weighting" on SPL meters is crucial. Most are "A" weighted (note that the OSHA standard ditusa cites is given as "dBA"). Most laptop SPL meters I've seen, and most inexpensive hand-held meters on eBay or Amazon, are ONLY "A" weighted. What this means is that frequencies below 100 Hz are NOT registered at all! So if you're listening at, say, 70 dB with an "A" weighted SPL meter, you're probably hearing music that would measure 80-90 dB in "C" weighting, or even more. I learned this the hard way.

I like 70  to 85 dB.  Does not sound as good and feels pushed on me if it gets louder.  

When instrument volume sounds like what your hear it to be like in a live environment?  Except for rock concerts which may be detrimental to your hearing at the supposed actual volume.

Some approximations are below.

Generally, an acoustic guitar will put out between 70 and 90 decibels.

Piano (normal practice): 60 to 70 db. Piano (fortissimo): 84 to 103 db. Oboe: 90 to 94 db.

Cello ranges from 82-92 dB.

Violin ranges from 84-103 dB.

Chamber music in a small auditorium range from 75-85 dB.

The trumpet can range between 80 and 110 decibels, while the trombone can peak at around 115 decibels.

A drum set and cymbals is 119 dB loud on average but can range between 90 and 130dB (decibels) depending on what instruments are being played.

Generally, 75db is more than enough for me in my room, which is still on the way to being better treated.  Once it is treated properly, I may change my mind.

At what ever volume makes you happy, but as others have said, louder volumes can produce hearing damage, so if you do play at loud to very loud volumes take frequent breaks and keep your listening sessions short.

I have always asked the question if one can measure dynamics by a decibel number. There is a certain point in volume that makes the music come alive. You can hear the instrument separation, you can feel the kick drum punch you in the chest, and you can listen for hours with no fatigue. Yes the room, the room treatment, and the components will all play their part but I still think there is a low and high range you can measure that will always work and achieve that sweet dynamic sound stage or nirvana. 

Yes. Another way to say it is the optimal level is the loudest you can go for extended periods without risk of damaging hearing. Dynamic peaks in the mid to upper 80s db level starts to breach into that territory. A sound meter app like decibel on iPhone is your friend! When you start peaking in the yellow zone you are where you want to be in most cases ….. beyond the green and short of red.



optimal level totally depends on the situation... including other people in the room, your purpose, time of day, are you engaged in other activities, etc. ... and depends on the speakers, etc., too.

some speakers need to be "turned up" to come alive... I'd never want such speakers.  Others do very well at even quiet volumes; I'm constantly impressed by the dynamism and richness coming from the Klipsch Heresy at very low volumes, for example, and some of the most interesting listening experiences I've had with the Epi 100 over the years have been at low volumes late at night: they have clarity and sparkle.

@snilf Wrote:

Be aware, by the way, that "weighting" on SPL meters is crucial. Most are "A" weighted (note that the OSHA standard ditusa cites is given as "dBA").

See the tutorials below Decibel A, B and C:




Thank you, @ditusa. These are very informative links.

Note that, according to your third link, "The A-weighted sound level discriminates against low frequencies.... In this setting, the meter primarily measures in the 500 to 10,000 Hz range. It is the weighting scale most commonly used for OSHA and DEQ regulatory measurements. The C-weighted sound level does not discriminate against low frequencies and measures uniformly over the frequency range of 30 to 10,000 Hz." This is just what I maintained in my earlier post, except that A-weighting actually cuts off at 500 Hz, rather than 100 Hz—which, of course, makes my point even more important.

However, I will admit to some puzzlement about the clause I elided: that A-weighting "discriminates against low frequencies, in a manner similar to the human ear." In my experience, audio system measurements are almost always given with C-weighting. Sometimes this is explicit, but even when the weighting filter is not specified, the numbers seem to be C-weighted. After all, we do certainly prize systems, and speakers, that produce sound below 500 Hz! To eliminate these sounds from the meter’s measurement because the human ear is less sensitive to them would not be what an audiophile would want to do. For one thing, low frequencies are felt as well as heard. Surely you (ditusa) are not advocating for measurements that ignore low—and high, for that matter—frequencies!

In any case, when I see the dB levels folks on this forum cite as preferred listening levels, and then try to match them on my system, I find that the higher levels (90 and above) MUST be C-weighted. My ears begin to bleed when I approach 90 dBA, but 90 dBC is just excitingly loud.

Some very good insight here, I enjoyed reading through this thread understanding there's always the factors of the individual person, system and room.


Personally, I find myself in 70-75db as a sweet spot for most types of music although I'll go slightly above that for classical to feel the scale and peaks. 

Those two items on each side of your head will be the guide as to how loud you can go with the sound. Your room will also dictate this and whether you're listening alone, what time of day/night you are listening, etc. If you plan on listening into old age as I am, then don't go overboard on the volume control!

@snilf Wrote:

Thank you, @ditusa. These are very informative links.

For one thing, low frequencies are felt as well as heard. Surely you (ditusa) are not advocating for measurements that ignore low—and high, for that matter—frequencies!

Your welcome. No, I am not advocating for measurements that ignore low and high frequencies. The Department of Labor bulletin #334 I posted about OSHA standards is their standard for safe levels, they don’t care about audio, like you and I do. I.e. full frequency bandwidth from 20Hz to 20KHz. They only care about safety, bass frequencies below 100Hz are not as detrimental to our hearing as frequencies above 100Hz. You are correct, frequencies below 500Hz are felt as well as heard, so yes C-weighted dB(C) would be better for audio.

FWIW, I bought a pair of JBL 4343’s in 1979 for my home stereo, see JBL brochure below last page top right hand corner caution:




60-75 dBA during the days and 40-65 during the nights. Anything beyond 75dBA in my listening position in room becomes too noisy. And, yes, my best half will come to give me a friendly reminder. Also, when I listen with foobar2000 / laptop at 60-75 dBA, I will turn on the EQ with 2-6 dB up in the bass bandwidths (below 110 Hz) and 2-3 dB up in the treble bandwidths (above 7kHz) to possibly reach the equal loudness contour levels. At night, these SPLs are raised to 4-9 dB in the bass bands and 3-4 dB in the treble bands.

Whatever volume I happen to enjoy listening at at the time is the proper volume.