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Author Topic: Movies are WAY too loud!
Thomas Pitt
Master Film Handler

Posts: 258
From: Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
Registered: May 2007


 - posted 01-29-2018 05:25 PM      Profile for Thomas Pitt   Email Thomas Pitt   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Has anyone else noticed that the sound level in movie theatres seems to have gone up in recent years? Back in the early 2000s, the sound level was enough to enjoy the movie without being uncomfortable; you could appreciate explosions and weren't deafened by dialogue. Since 2010, my father has been unable to cope with the volume in the theatre and has to wear earplugs. I could tolerate the sound level, but it still seemed too loud for my liking.
Now, in the last couple of years, movies have generally been too loud even for me to tolerate! Simple speech segments are painfully loud and even I'm having to use earplugs!

Anyone know the reason they've become louder, or is it just my hearing becoming more sensitive as I get older (opposite of what I expected)?
More than once we have asked if the sound could be turned down, but they always say they're not allowed to because it's calibrated to a certain level - particularly in IMAX.

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Mike Blakesley
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From: Forsyth, Montana
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 - posted 01-29-2018 06:14 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I agree that big theaters play movies too loud. The trailer presentations at CinemaCon are stupidly deafening, or at least they were the last time I went.

I don't think movies are getting louder though -- it's just that all the big blockbusters these days are superhero, action, and such genres that are loud by nature.

I always adjust the volume to where the dialogue sounds natural to me based on my years of experience, and the rest of it takes care of itself. People who automatically set the volume to the "reference level" are either towing the corporate line, or they're just not concerned with showmanship.

I had a guy in the business (now retired) tell me that if you don't get one or two complaints a year that it's too loud, then it's not loud enough. We don't get complaints anymore though, either because our audience (which is 95% repeat customers) is used to our sound, or because they like it the way it is. I'm inclined to hope it's the latter.

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Carsten Kurz
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From: Cologne, NRW, Germany
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 - posted 01-29-2018 08:01 PM      Profile for Carsten Kurz   Email Carsten Kurz   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Thomas - if you regularly go to IMAX cinemas, I am not surprised. They are known to play painfully loud, and usually they are under a policy to play according to IMAX specs.

I don't think you would notice the same tendency in other cinemas. Digital sound production and improved audio systems certainly allow cinema sound to play with higher dynamics, but not necessarily too loud.

I agree to that retired guy, that the occasional complaint is a good proof you are doing it right. We shouldn't always play on the soft side just by assuming a comfortable listening level. At least occasionally, also sensitive people have to get a little kick in cinema. No, I don't advise these levels for the romantic comedy. Just for those cases when a sensitive person accidentally turns up for an action or Scifi flic. If you don't get the occasional complaint in that scenario, you are doing something wrong.

In general, yes, aiming at a common sense dialog level will get you in the right ballpark. But then aim up from there, not down.

- Carsten

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Martin McCaffery
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From: Montgomery, AL
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 - posted 01-29-2018 10:20 PM      Profile for Martin McCaffery   Author's Homepage   Email Martin McCaffery   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Thomas: You may just be getting sensitive to certain frequencies as you get older, particularly high end. We have lots of old folks at our theatre and is quite noticeable. They'll say the voices are fine, but them some music will come up, or, say, a jet plane and they freak out.
But agreed, many theaters play too loud, especially the trailers.

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Harold Hallikainen
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From: Denver, CO, USA
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 - posted 01-29-2018 10:30 PM      Profile for Harold Hallikainen   Author's Homepage   Email Harold Hallikainen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
What fader level are people playing movies at? If at 7.0, supposedly this matches the level the movie was mixed at on the dub stage. But, most theaters seem to use a considerably lower fader level.

Harold

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Scott Norwood
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From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
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 - posted 01-29-2018 10:46 PM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
With respect to complaints--I feel as if most people are more sensitive to distortion and poor dialogue intelligibility than to absolute loudness. A sound system with problems tends to cause people to complain. If the auditorium and sound system are of top quality, it should be possible to play a well-mixed film at very close to 7.0 without generating complaints from customers. If there has been a recent increase in customer complaints, I would look to see if there are problems with the sound system or auditorium.

That said, if it's too loud, turn it down.

I haven't noticed an increase in movie sound levels over time, but I haven't tried to make a scientific comparison, either. Trailers and commercials have always been mixed too loud, and that does not seem to have changed.

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Marcel Birgelen
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From: Maastricht, Limburg, Netherlands
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 - posted 01-30-2018 01:57 AM      Profile for Marcel Birgelen   Email Marcel Birgelen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'd say that on average across all movies being released, movies haven't really gotten much louder, but the usage of the surround channels has noticeably increased over the last years.

Also, the number of movies really pushing the envelope on what people can bear has also been increased.

Digital systems are extremely dynamic, so it should be possible to create a dialog on normal levels, intelligible for practically anyone, combined with bone-rattling explosions where needed. Unfortunately, not all sound mixes are living up to those standards.

I guess that one of the louder movies of last year was Blade Runner 2049. I personally liked it at "reference level", though I can imagine it was close to the edge or even over it for many and I'm not sure if I would play it at 7.0 at all occasions.

There are also movies which I consider defective in regards to their sound mix. One of them is Interstellar. I do know that Nolan considers "his" mix to be perfectly fine, but I think he needs to see a doctor. This movie features enormous loud scenes with a lot of muffled dialogue. If you play it at 7.0, you shatter people's ears and people are still unable to understand some of the dialogue in there. The director may claim that that's the way he intended it to be, but most people tend to appreciate the movie better when they can follow what people are saying, even when it doesn't really add anything to the plot. If people are not following the characters on screen, they're in the impression of missing out on something, a hard way to enjoy a movie.

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Martin McCaffery
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From: Montgomery, AL
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 - posted 01-30-2018 08:15 AM      Profile for Martin McCaffery   Author's Homepage   Email Martin McCaffery   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Marcel Birgelen
If people are not following the characters on screen, they're in the impression of missing out on something, a hard way to enjoy a movie.
He never said he wanted you to "enjoy" it. [evil]

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Leo Enticknap
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From: Loma Linda, CA
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 - posted 01-30-2018 09:19 AM      Profile for Leo Enticknap   Author's Homepage   Email Leo Enticknap   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Agreed with Scott: dialogue intelligibility and absolute loudness are the two audio issues that customers tend to be most sensitive to (hence the reason My Name is Joe had to be shown in the US subtitled - audiences simply couldn't understand the thick Scottish accents!).

I wouldn't go as far as Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock (both of whom hate(d) multi-channel sound in the theater and refuse(d) to use it), but one advantage of the mono mix is that the mixer has a lot more control over what the audience hears, and therefore it is within his or her ability to make sure that the dialogue is intelligible. Creating a complex and engaging mono mix is not easy (watch/listen to I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang or The Wages of Fear if you don't believe me), though today's audiences are unlikely to recognize or understand the achievement.

With multi-channel mixes, there is so much that can go wrong at the theater end, over which the mixing and mastering personnel have no control, of which poor room tuning is at the top of the list.

The only times I've ever played modern 5.1 or 7.1 mixes at reference level were for studio premieres, when I was ordered to do so, at metaphorical gunpoint. Even among those invited audiences, there were always multiple complaints. Part of the problem is that these tracks are often normalized to way louder than DCI level (-20dBFS), presumably because the filmmaker wants the audience to experience uncomfortable loudness. I remember one such show - a documentary about Curt Cobain - in which, played at reference level, the words he was singing were clearly audible through the very thick, nitrate-certified booth wall, with all the booth monitor speakers totally off!

California law states that employees cannot be subjected to 92dB for more than eight minutes in every eight hours, without being given ear protection. If movies were all played at 7.0, every theater owner in the state would have to wear earmuffs, like the workers on airport ramps use, and issue them to their staff.

As for hearing changing with age, I seem to have bucked the trend: my higher frequency hearing has deteriorated over the last few years, and I've become more sensitive to lower frequency sounds. When playing the organ, I can barely hear 2' pitch stops now, especially when using them in a wide registration. Listening to recorded music at home, my wife complains that there's no bass, so much so that I've installed a subwoofer that is on when she's listening and powered down when I am.

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Sam Graham
AKA: "The Evil Sam Graham". Wackiness ensues.

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From: Waukee, IA
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 - posted 01-30-2018 09:38 AM      Profile for Sam Graham   Author's Homepage   Email Sam Graham   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Scott Norwood
With respect to complaints--I feel as if most people are more sensitive to distortion and poor dialogue intelligibility than to absolute loudness. A sound system with problems tends to cause people to complain. If the auditorium and sound system are of top quality, it should be possible to play a well-mixed film at very close to 7.0 without generating complaints from customers. If there has been a recent increase in customer complaints, I would look to see if there are problems with the sound system or auditorium.
Yes. Exactly. And if you built your building with cheap equipment, you're not meant to be playing at reference level in the first place. Your speakers can't properly handle it.

Know your system and manage your levels accordingly.

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

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From: Lawton, OK, USA
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 - posted 01-30-2018 12:14 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I don't know. Maybe I'm not visiting the "right" theaters or something because most of the time I find movie theater sound these days to have wimpy, under-powered sub-bass and dynamics toned-down everywhere else on the frequency range. Hell, it seems like any movie I see in a standard priced auditorium is running the sound at ordinary home TV speakers volume. Barely dynamic at all.

Depending on the auditorium's configuration I might hear some decent surround activity. But that, too, is a crap shoot lately. The theater may advertise Atmos, but a theater can go all over the damned map with how much or little it spends on amplifiers and other components to really make that format shine. There is no way to know if a theater that installed Atmos (or Auro, DTS-X, etc) did so on the cheap. And even if the theater has a fully tricked out Atmos rig the sound system is totally at the mercy of a movie's post production crew. It takes a lot of work to create a great quality Atmos mix and sound designers only seem to get stupidly short amounts of time to do their work. So we often get Atmos tracks that are Atmos in name only; they sound no different than an ordinary 5.1 mix.

IMAX-branded theaters can get uncomfortably loud (and harsh on the EQ side of things), but they seem to be the exception rather than the norm. The one here in Lawton doesn't play its movies nearly loud as it did when the Patriot 13 first opened. I've visited a few Dolby Cinema-branded theaters. None have been what I would consider to be painfully loud or show off dynamics that would startle viewers.

Maybe they're cranking the volume in other places. I don't know. But I still feel like we're a long way from the early 1990's era where 5.1 digital sound was a new, novel thing and film makers pushed the dynamics of sound mixes really hard. Moments in Jurassic Park, The Lion King and Fight Club would jolt the hell out of viewers, but it also depended on a theater having a powerful, well-EQ'ed sound system -like the GCC Northpark 1-2 in Dallas way back then. It has been a very long time since I've visited a commercial movie theater whose sound system could rumble the air in my chest. Modern stadium seated theaters just don't seem to have that kind of punch.

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Carsten Kurz
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From: Cologne, NRW, Germany
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 - posted 01-30-2018 12:50 PM      Profile for Carsten Kurz   Email Carsten Kurz   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Our 'typical' main feature level is 5.5 (AP20/old JBL THX speaker system, 460seat 'semi-wet' auditorium usually filled to 1/3 to 1/2 from the back). Typically, when I am in the auditorium watching the movie myself, I tend to push it up a bit, like 5.7 to 6 on my iPhone a few minutes into the movie. We strictly play preshow at 4.5. As many single screeners, we play a mix of mainstream/action and dialogue/arthouse features, so we deal with the full spectrum of audience expectations.

I played 'Blade Runner 2049' at 6.5, knowing that we would get 'some' complaints. But we also received some respect for it. Our sound system is certainly not up to todays standards, but everything works. I really enjoyed the massive Blade Runner 2049 sound track, wow...

I played SW8 at 6.5 in the opening night (those midnight nerds can stand it), and at 6 during the remaining engagement. Yes, some minor complaints after the movie, but nothing serious.

I am not ignorant towards complaints, but playing soft in order to get no complaints is like putting more and more sugar into your popper every day...

- Carsten

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Julian Antos
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 - posted 01-30-2018 01:28 PM      Profile for Julian Antos   Email Julian Antos   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
IMO the only thing worse than a movie played to loud is one played too quiet. If the crinkling of candy wrappers, munching of popcorn, murmurs of senior citizens, squeaky seats, and the HVAC system should all be gracefully drowned out by voices which are (comfortably) larger than life. We run all manner of films but for those that have been mixed to industry standards we generally do 7.0 with a full house and 6.0 with an empty one.

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Martin Brooks
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 - posted 01-30-2018 06:20 PM      Profile for Martin Brooks   Author's Homepage   Email Martin Brooks   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The theaters I go to are playing some movies too loud, IMO, but I think the problem is more the mix than the theater. As I've written before, I think that directors are insecure about their films and think they can create emotion by cranking up the volume. I think both in movies and in the record and concert business, just about everyone has forgotten what dynamic range is. When two characters in the film are having a quiet conversation and it sounds like they're yelling at you in the theater, there's a problem.

I've wondered whether my aging has caused me to be more sensitive or whether it's because I'm losing high frequencies, but then I realize that it's unlikely the theater sound system is putting out much above 10KHz anyway. I look around and see younger people holding their ears.

Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to bring a sound level meter with me to the theater, so I can get some real data and learn for sure whether it's me or the system.

I think part of the problem is that the levels in the theater are set for a full crowd and bodies absorb an incredible amount of sound. But these days, I more frequently wind up at movies during the day when the theaters are empty.

The other issue is that I've noticed that in spite of all the surround systems, the levels really fall off as I move back in the theater, especially in the few larger theaters that still exist. So what's too loud about a third way back from the screen is too low in the back rows.

And trailers are generally much louder than the feature. I thought Dolby had established some kind of voluntary standard for levels some decades ago. Maybe that went out the window with digital presentation .

I think it's ridiculous that with all the tech we have available today, theater sound sounded better to me back in the mag analog days. For the best sounding films, it used to take my breath away it was so good.

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James Westbrook
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 - posted 01-31-2018 12:09 AM      Profile for James Westbrook   Email James Westbrook   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The worst offender, in my neck of the woods, are the movies from India. We do not run our processors at 7, considerably lower than that, actually, but we find when we play an Indian title we have to turn the fader down even more.

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