The Decibel Wars – Does Loudness Matter? by Matthew Slater

The loudness wars is a term used to describe the rise and rise of volume on CDs and other consumer formats in the last few decades. It's something that happens during the mixing and mastering of an album that pushes the volume close to breaking point. This has resulted in sounds that clip and distort when played too loud; a limited dynamic range due to overuse of compression and brickwall limiters; and poorer audio quality overall. The music doesn't have the headroom to be able to be turned up, blasted out of speakers like it's supposed to be. It's like "you break it, you bought it" but in reverse. It's not that I'm against high volumes. If you're a performer, I don't care what excuse you are trying to use – if you play, practice or record at high volumes – use some sort of hearing protection. Consider it a workplace safety measure, a precaution to ensure hearing aids never come your way. Believe me, I'm 21 and have played the bagpipes since I was 12 – my left ear where everything goes over my shoulder and all of the sound is projected towards, is irreversibly damaged. On the other hand if you're heading to gigs and festivals as a consumer of music, just a listener, knock yourself out. It's like buying a steak with all the trimmings in my mind – it's already bad for you so enjoy it, put salt and pepper and thick, buttery sauces and gravys on it . Where I draw the line with volume is personal music players. If I can hear what you're listening to when you're sitting next to me on the train, can play the beat on my lap and I can sing along – it's too loud. Don't turn it up, turn it down. Get new earphones or cans with noise cancellation to block out the sounds around you. EU regulations are in place that must now limit personal music players to a threshold level of volume, and no higher for your safety. High volumes ploughed directly into your ears every single day is going to do more damage to your hearing, in my opinion, than anything else that you can easily avoid. Your ears, if you are going to do music ANYTHING professionally, become the tools of the trade. Keep them in good working order.