The perfect volume

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Every track you play on your high-end system has a perfect volume level it should be played back at and it is always the same.

This might sound odd to many of you who are not familiar with this. It’s why I am writing.

I was first introduced to this concept by my friend and former partner, Arnie Nudell (founder of both Infinity and Genesis loudspeakers). We were in a listening session and I was complaining that the female vocalist sounded “too big” her voice being larger than life as if she were a giant in the room. Very unnatural. I blamed the system; Arnie blamed the volume.

“I can fix that”. He reached over and turned the volume level down ever so slightly and bingo, her voice snapped into proper focus and size, as if the entire system were changed. It was a stunning revelation to me and turned me instantly into a volume convert.

This observation is a very important one and I notice not many people in the high-end pay much attention to it – which is odd because we all are looking to recreate a lifelike experience in our homes. It is simply not possible to achieve this lofty goal without setting the exact volume level for each recording first.

To make this slightly more complicated, that perfect level is different in every room – which kind of makes sense if you think about it. Imagine a real person singing between your loudspeakers. In a small room that person would sing softly and in a large room, considerably louder: she would overload the room in the first place and sound insignificant in the second. Your system’s volume level is no different: too loud for the space and the image is too large, the opposite is true for the volume level too low.

Remember next time you listen. Pick an instrument or vocalist you can mentally relate proper size to and adjust the level on that track so you are believing it. Then write it down so the next time you play it, it’s perfect.

Sounds like an idea for a new feature for us. 🙂

Tomorrow: the Magic of High-End audio