Perceived Loudness

One of the trade-offs of our content-on-any-device-from-any-source culture is that volume levels can be unpredictable.  Actually, volume isn’t quite the right word: a better way to talk about this problem is “perceived loudness”. No matter what we call it, the issue is that many people feel like they have to ride volume controls to raise indistinct dialog scenes or engage fast-twitch thumb muscles to lower loud commercials.  We’re involuntarily recruited as sound mixers with just a two button fader! On a service like Pandora, the famous algorithm is pulling content produced from diverse sources with very different frequency and dynamic ranges. On Vimeo, a quiet narrative might be followed by an in-your-face music video. Add to this, the devices that we use to consume music and video have distinct speaker profiles that significantly influence perceived loudness.  If you’ve ever gone from listening to bass heavy music that sounded amazing in the car to listening on your built-in phone speakers, you know what I’m talking about. But there’s good news: technologies that can smooth volumes, and compensate for speaker inadequacies while preserving the contours of the original sound mix are emerging. Those worn-out volume buttons may finally get a break.

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