Audioclinic (Sept. 1978)

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Neighbors & Sound Systems

Q. I am a tenant in a multi-dwelling apartment complex. I purchased a high-performance stereo system which cannot be used at an adequate listening level without disturbing my neighbors.

Are we owners of stereo systems forced to give up the use of our speakers and listen to high fidelity through a pair of headphones?

-Michael Tudos, Brooklyn, N.Y.

A. Where an individual's high fidelity listening interferes with his neighbor's rest, peace, right to quiet, etc., the person with the high fidelity system must keep the volume down. Each of us is free to do whatever we like, just as long as this freedom does not, in some manner, interfere with the rights of others.

You would not want to be awakened by a TV set blasting away at 3 a.m., but this is a possibility if one of your neighbors works until midnight. The same holds true for your neighbor if you blast your sound system, or even play it at moderate levels in today's houses. Bass carries, and it is generally the bass which is the disturbing factor in these cases.

It is fortunate that we do have rather good, lightweight stereo headphones available. With the poor acoustic construction of modern apartment buildings, loudspeakers blasting away simply have no place in such apartment buildings.

High Listening Levels

Q. After having read in magazines about people having hearing problems after prolonged exposure to loud music, I've come to you with a question. In the future I would like to be a recording engineer in a studio. I know that I should take good care of my ears and I would like to know what average dB level do you think is a safe listening level?

-James Tate, Sharon, Pa.

A. You raise a serious point in terms of hearing problems associated with high level listening, and you are right to be concerned about it. Where the sound level is really excessive, it may be a matter of just a year or two before all highs above, perhaps, 5 kHz are lost. I've received some rather sad letters from teenagers who've said that this has already happened to them, and the damage is irreversible.

Today's music places a greater emphasis than before on "feeling the music as well as hearing it. Apparently, the near painful elements of this experience are very important to both performers and listeners alike. But with hearing loss, the feathery edge that makes for real immediacy and transparency of sound is gone forever.

It is interesting that you wish to enter the recording field as a studio engineer.

If you visit the average recording studio and watch a mixing session, you will hear sound at incredibly high levels, considerably above the conservative 85 dB sound level. I believe that listening at levels above 85 dB is asking for hearing problems, even though there are people who argue that 90 to 95 dB sound level is more realistic.

Given the facts that the ears must last a lifetime and that the ears can and do sustain damage when exposed to high listening levels, you must decide whether work as a studio engineer is really what you wish to do, or if there are other aspects of sound recording work which would be equally satisfying to you.

True, the work as a studio engineer is the most well known, but there are other fields such as disc mastering, equipment maintenance, field recording, etc. that are equally challenging and rewarding.

Volume Control

Q. How do you tape a program so that the volume level will be fairly constant, and you don't have to readjust for each selection or station?

-Mike Harkey, Lorain, Oh.

A. Some inexpensive tape machines have an automatic volume control (AVC) so that the recording level doesn't have to be adjusted. However, high-quality machines keep away from this due to distortion and other problems introduced with it. If you want good quality, you have to change recording level when the level of your program source changes.

An alternative would be to set the recording gain control on your deck to accommodate the program source with the highest level, e.g. a radio station which comes in strongest. However, weaker incoming signals would then be under-recorded resulting in a drop in the signal-to-noise ratio. If you are using a very fine tape deck with a high S/N ratio (60 dB or better), you may be able to afford the loss of 5 or 6 dB as a result of not turning up the recording gain for the weaker program sources.

If you have a problem or question on tape recording, write to Mr. Herman Burstein at AUDIO. 401 North Broad Street., Philadelphia, Pa. 19108. All letters are answered. Please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

(Source: Audio magazine, Sept. 1978; Joseph Giovanelli)

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Updated: Tuesday, 2017-07-04 18:12 PST