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Thread: Using a db meter to test headphone volume?

  1. #1
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    Using a db meter to test headphone volume?

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    until I'm settled in a treated room, I'll be using open backed phones for playback/mixing. I'm currently running out from the mac mini headphone output and 90% of the time going to a stereo receiver to monitor/listen. The phones are plugged into the receiver's phone jack.

    I've got two volume controls to contend with, the computer's and the receiver's. As such, I don't really have a metric, to say, half way up on the volume dial on the receiver because it depends on how high the computer's headphone out volume is set.

    I was listening to some bass tracks the other day and heard crackling in the phones. Yes, the bass was sort of loud but was it the speaker in the phone or something else? This made me wonder just how loud was I listening to.

    Google totally failed me in searching for testing headphone volume. The closest I got was some site saying to get a styrofoam head and cut holes in it to approximate ear canals and a place to put the volume meter's mic. WTF? Seriously? The vast majority of the hits were admonitions to not listen too loud. Well, duh. How about showing me how to test the bloody phones so I know what it's doing? The other videos were about how loud phones can get for DJs, reviews, etc. I'm not interested in max volume, I'm trying to find a working volume that I can mix with for extended periods without hurting my hearing.

    "Can somebody hear your music if they're sitting beside you?" Um, nobody else is around.

    "Hold your phones at arm's length, can you hear the music clearly?" yeah, about that, they're open back phones, of course I'm going to hear the freaking music clearly at arm's length.

    "Have other people noticed you having hearing difficulty?" jumping jebus on a pogo stick, that's what I'm trying to avoid.

    If I get a meter like this Galaxy Audio Live Sound Monitor (CM130), do I just hold the phones and put the meter's mic right into the cup? Do I try to push the two cups together over the meter's mic?

    forget about smartphone apps, they have to use the built in mic and undoubtedly contend with all kinds of Automatic Gain Control and compression programs. They may be able to give a limited idea of how loud a room is, but not s single source item like a headphone speaker.

  2. #2
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    Rather than monkey around with two volumes, set the computer level to 100%, and then adjust the playback level at the receiver.

    No, I don't think your can accurately measure the dB SPL level of headphones with your meter (if you're talking about an SPL meter) least, I've never seen that done or know how best to do it. I guess you would have to hold it right up against the cup...???

    Usually the headphones are rated for a certain impedance, and they show their max sensitivity level.
    With that can ballpark how far to crank them, but honestly, you should be able to tell in that first minute of putting them on, if it's too loud.
    After you're listening for awhile, that sensitivity will drop off...but you have to fight the urge to keep turning up the headphones.

    Find a commercial music source that is not distorting, and then use that to set a comfortable level, if you think there was some distortion in your bass track from something...but yes, pumping out a lot of bass into headphones can easily make them distort and fart, they're not going to handle sub-lows pushed too hard.

    Which headphones are we talking about?

  3. #3
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    Why forget about smartphone apps. Many sound engineers use them for casual level monitoring, before bringing out the calibrated stuff.

    The problem you have is that to do the job properly, you need an authentic ear canal to put the headphones on, with measurement at the eardrum position. The BBC have strict rules on headphone use, and use Canford Audio headphone limiters (google this). Beware - the levels are VERY low. It's virtually impossible to mix at these levels. Limiting level is fixed at 85dBA, 88dBA or 93dBA. Even the loudest version is unpleasant to mix with if there is ambient noise in the room and the headphones are open backed, letting in sound. The usual bodge for testing headphone volume is to use a small lav mic - MKE2 size, and calibrate it with a known noise generator, then transfer it into the ear cup of your headphones and test the volume there. My approach to headphone levels is much cruder. I turn the level up until it hurts then back it off a quarter turn, and that's my rough and ready maximum. It's similar to how I set my speaker monitor levels. over the years I can identify too much level pretty accurately. I have no actual data on what level I listen at - I simply don't need to know. I can set the level pretty accurately and work for extended periods of time. That works for me. When I'm somewhere else, my ears tell me sound is too loud, and my phone confirms it.

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