Reference Level?

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by paul clipsel, May 31, 2004.

  1. paul clipsel

    paul clipsel Stunt Coordinator

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    I read a lot about playing back at Reference Level. I am curious if people listen at the Reference level, and if not what sort of average levels do people listen to when recorded by an SPL meter at their listening chair?

    PC
     
  2. David Strand

    David Strand Agent

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    I was just thinking about this. I rechecked the levels of my setup this weekend and then proceeded to watch LOTR3 and kept the spl meter out and on the arm of my chair out of curiosity. We watched it at a level that was a little higher than we watch most movies (with the rare occasion we watch at a higher level) and the highest I ever saw the needle hit was about 95db with the average loud scene at about 90db and most of the movie not even registering (I left the meter on the 90db scale).

    I increased it briefly to the reference level, and there is no way I could watch a movie that loud. I find it hard to believe that in theaters they are hitting 105+db because at that level in my living room it was damn loud.
     
  3. al lout

    al lout Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm listening my movies at about -10 to 15db below RL... There's not way I can listen to some movies at RL, for example... the haunting, U-571, JP (re-mix), Titan EA... My sub will bring down my apartment if I crank it at RL... And I don't think many ppl listen to movies at RL...it's just too loud...

    Al,
     
  4. Richard_M

    Richard_M Second Unit

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    Mostly I listen at -20RL which is heaps for both music & movies. If I want to impress people I turn it up to -15RL, which gives me around 100-110dB at the listening position (depending on the soundtrack), this I find (depending on the alcohol) is a little over the top for my tastes.

    I have a spl meter with peak hold built into my Behringer DEQ2496, so this makes it easy to register what the peaks have been.
     
  5. paul clipsel

    paul clipsel Stunt Coordinator

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    Thats great info. Its one of those questions I felt funny to ask. I thought it was just me. No way can I play back at RL, as its just too loud. I get a max in my chair of around 80-85dB and anything higher is just me showing off for a short blast. Sustained louder levels and both my wife and I would have to be out of the room. It becomes tiresome and fatiguing. My wife is very sensitive to overly boomy sound, she dislikes HT shops where the set-up is normally extra bass heavy.

    PC
     
  6. BrianWoerndle

    BrianWoerndle Supporting Actor

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    I will listen to most movies between -5 and -10. I have a few dramas that I can watch at reference level. There is just something about seeing 00 on the receiver.
     
  7. Tim Ranger

    Tim Ranger Stunt Coordinator

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    I still don't have my own HT, but so watch quite a few movies at a couple of different buddies theaters. Most of the time we listen at -15 to around -10 At full reference, they just seem too loud.
     
  8. Sami Kallio

    Sami Kallio Screenwriter

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    I went from RL to -6dB, I was afraid I would damage my hearing. Is there RL for DTS movies at all? They all seem to be considerable louder than in DD.
     
  9. BRADH

    BRADH Auditioning

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    I listen -10 to -7 most of the time. On Lord of the Rings (all three of them) they +4db on the dialog norm. there are other out there as well, some receivers and av processor will show you this but only on DD. So when I listen to disc like this I turn the volume down 4db or 2db.

    Some DD are recorded 2db or 4db down as well. So on DD it depends on the dialog norm. were I listen.

    Brad
     
  10. Mike Dzurko

    Mike Dzurko Stunt Coordinator

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    I'll do reference level for development and testing purposes. Normally if my wife and I watch a movie it is somewhere in the -12 to -16 range. Occassionally we'll watch at around -10. If I'm watching by myself later at night it will be around -20 or less to not disturb everyone upstairs. Our teenage daughter and friends usually start around -5 or louder before I come in and turn it down so we can talk upstairs [​IMG]
     
  11. Phil Iturralde

    Phil Iturralde Screenwriter

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    First of all ...

    Yamaha RX-V1300
    REV LEVEL = -19.5 dB (Volume Digital Readout / approx. 115 dB*)
    -10 dB below REF Level = -29.5 dB (approx. 105 dB*)

    My usual once or twice a month DVD presentation SPL is approx. -10 dB below REF Level (105/106 dB*)

    I say approximately because, ... some DVD's LFE are mixed hotter than others.

    So I usually start out dialing -29.5 dB (my -10 dB below REF Level mark) and then monitor my presentation DVD SPL's, ... basically the LFE bombastic actions, before my family & friends come over. In those cases where the DVD LFE is mixed hotter, ... I lower my Volume SPL level until my Analog Radio Shack SPL Meter reads approx. 105/106 dB Fast LFE SPL Peaks levels @ my 'sweet spot'. I then make a note of that Volume Digital Readout and I'm ready for the nite's DVD presentation!

    I've been setting my presentation DVD's SPL to = approx. 105/106 dB* (-10 dB below REF Level) since 1998 and my usual family / friends crowd keeps coming back! 105/106 dB* is loud enough to move the floor, couch, seats, walls, pant-leg(s) @ all my seating locations in my 20' x 30' HT/family room, ... when the encoded LFE calls for the sub-sonic air moving effect(s), but still maintain an audible & understandable whispering dialog level (timbre-matched speakers is a must!) during the quieter moments during the movie!!! [​IMG]

    But for the most part, as an average, ... most of my blockbuster DD/DTS-5.1/6.1 DVD's @ my 'sweet spot' and HT/family room follow this "Digital Readout / SPL" scenario ...

    Digital Readout / SPL
    -19.5 dB / REF LEVEL approx. 115 dB*
    -24.5 dB / -5 dB below REF Level approx. 110 dB*
    -29.5 dB / -10 dB below REF Level approx. 105 dB*
    -34.5 dB / -15 dB below REF Level approx. 100 dB*
    -39.5 dB / -20 dB below REF Level approx. 95 dB*

    IMHO - YMMV.

    *Fast LFE SPL Peaks (RS Meter Dial = 90 dB to 110 dB respectively / Weight = C / Speed = FAST)

    ----

    FYI: REFERENCED Calibrated using Dolby Digital - "Explore Our World" DVD DD-EX & Dedicated LFE Test Tones:
    .... 1) Dolby Digital EX HT Speaker Test Tones = 75 dB
    ......... a) Changed RS Meter Dial = 80 for the DD-EX dedicated LFE Test Tone:
    .... 2) Dolby Digital EX LFE Test Tone = 77 dB AVG (highest needle swing = 78 dB / lowest = 76 dB)
    ......... a) RS Meter Dial = 70 dB or 80 dB respectively / Weight = C / Speed = SLOW)

    Yamaha RX-V1300:
    • Volume Control Display = -19.5 REF Level
    • Tone Controls = Bypassed
    SVS 25-31PCi
    • Volume Level: 1/2 power (12 o'clock high)
    • Auto ON/OFF: ON
    • Crossover: OFF (bypassed)

    LEVEL MENU
    - CENTER:... -7.0
    - R SUR:....... +2.0
    - REAR CT:.. +4.5 (pair wired in-series)
    - L SUR:........ +2.5
    - SWFR:....... -8.5**

    SETUP MENU
    - BALANCE:... L & R = 0
    - LFE:............. -11**
    - SP Delay: (in feet***)
    .......... Main LR: 9.0 ft. / (actual LT = 9' - 0" / RT = 9' - 1")
    .......... CENTER: 9.0 ft. / (actual = 8' - 9")
    .......... Rear LR: 10.0 ft. / (actual L SUR = 9' - 10 1/2" / R SUR = 10' - 2")
    .......... Rear CT: 10.0 ft. / (actual 10' - 2")

    **The Bass support is 100% A-OK when switching between my DD/DTS DVDs Digital LFE bass to my analog bass 2-channel Music CD's (DPL TV shows, VHS tapes, etc.)!!!

    *** All measurements from my tripod mounted Radio Shack SPL Meter located @ my 'sweet spot' to each speakers.

    Phil
     
  12. Steve_Ma

    Steve_Ma Second Unit

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    -10 to -20 for me is the norm for me.

    I've listened to reference level material in a home environment in a much higher end setup than mine. Hearing clean ref level material was impressive ... but at those levels, my own system strains and sounds ... not as good.
     
  13. Edward J M

    Edward J M Cinematographer

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    Reference Level to -10 typically. 110+ dB bass peaks at the seat with the meter on c-weighted fast are typical - a cake walk for the PB2-Ultra.

    A few notables (like Underworld) can't be played much louder than -15. OTOH I was pleased to see the last two Matrix releases have the correct mix level and sound just right at/near RL.
     
  14. Matthew Todd

    Matthew Todd Second Unit

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    Is there any standard in the industry for what level dialog should be recorded on the DVD at? Obviously, at reference level, peaks in the LFE channel can go as high as 115dB, while peaks in the 5 full range channels can go as high as 105dB, but is there a guideline or standard as to what the level for ordinary dialog should be at reference level?

    If there is a standard or guideline, I think most here would agree that it is to loud to be comfortable under most circumstances. That's why we're almost always watching at below reference level.

    Matt
     
  15. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

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    I think I read once average level should be 85 dB. I would guess this would correspond to normal dialog level.
     
  16. Edward J M

    Edward J M Cinematographer

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    I typically use dialogue to set overall playback level, and it usually ends up right around 80-85 dB; about what you would expect from a conversation with someone. On hot DVDs, bass peaks from the LFE channel are roughly 30 dB higher (110-115 dB) than typical dialogue. Craig Chase uses this method of setting playback volume also, and might corroborate or have additional comments.

    It's not that I can't live with a lower playback volume. Dialogue is certainly perfectly clear at -20RL, but it doesn't sound life-like to me unless it matches typical real conversation levels.
     
  17. BRADH

    BRADH Auditioning

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    Thers a great article on dialog norm over at secrets of home theater.

    Brad
     
  18. Owen Bartley

    Owen Bartley Second Unit

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    Wow, now I really want to calibrate my system to see where I'm listening. Movies are typically watched at -20 on my (uncalibrated) Denon 2802, which is plenty loud for most movies, and threatens to shake the house apart much higher. I would like to find out where I am in relation to ACTUAL reference level, so I guess I need to bite the bullet and buy an SPL meter. I have DVE, and was waiting to get the meter cheaper from Ebay, but now I'm getting too antsy.
     
  19. Doug_M_Fraser

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    I was just watching a Aerosmith special on A&E and Steven Tyler commented that they had a loud show at 98db. Given that reference is 105db - yikes!

    I usually listen at -15db from reference which is 90db and my wife still complains !

    Doug
     
  20. Mark Seaton

    Mark Seaton Supporting Actor

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    This is a common misconception. If a system was operating to a utopian ideal, the peak possible level from any single speaker would be 90dB. The subwoofer is intended to then have 10dB more peak capability.

    A digital recording has a maximium level above which it runs out of bits. We typically set the level of our speakers with a signal 30dB lower than this maximum, to a level 30dB lower than our desired peak levels at our "reference level." In the end this is nothing more than a gain setting which helps us to have our system produce the same level at our seat with a given recorded signal as another system set to the same gain structure.

    Again, reference level is in actuallity not a specific level (in dBA/C etc.), but rather the level at which mastering engineers supposedly mixed the soundtrack at. A quiet movie or scene may have dialogue more than 10dB less than another, higher energy movie. Reference level sets an approximate standard with which a mastering engineer can work with. It is equivalent to a palate of colors and brightness/contrast available in an image. The dynamic use and contrast created within the palate is what makes things interesting.

    So to answer the question "What is reference level in terms of SPL?"

    Whatever the mastering engineer wanted it to be!

    As a point of reference, most Dolby trailers played back through a capable system at reference level should produce around 103dB-C (C-weighting) peak levels with a meter set to "fast" response.
     

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