What is "reference" level? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 95 Old 05-26-2010, 07:26 PM - Thread Starter
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This has been bothering me for quite some time.

I know this is stupid, but how do I know what volume IS reference for the material I am watching? Once, I tried watching movies with my speakers calibrated to the 75db level, subs were about 80db and nothing even touched 100db (just an estimate)?

So, what does one do to enjoy a movie at reference? Whats all this talk about reference being in the 115-120db range? I just dont understand it.

Could someone please paint a picture for me? Or is it as simple as just cranking the volume to insane levels?

If I am watching a movie at 75db, are the peaks of the movie supposed to hit 110-120db?

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post #2 of 95 Old 05-26-2010, 07:34 PM
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Reference level means peaks of up to 105db from the main channels and up to 115db from the LFE channel.
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post #3 of 95 Old 05-26-2010, 07:41 PM
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Peaks, not average. Listen at a comfortable level, which is usually 70 - 80 dB. 120 dB is near the threshold of pain and prolonged exposure will damage your hearing.

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post #4 of 95 Old 05-26-2010, 07:46 PM - Thread Starter
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So your saying, that if I am listening at 75 or so db's, while running my LFE channel hot, I should experience peaks of around 105 on the mains, and 115 or so on the sub?

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post #5 of 95 Old 05-26-2010, 08:06 PM
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Average reference level is about 85db with ideally 20db headroom for peaks on the main channels and 30db headroom on the LFE channel. 75db is the typical calibration level that most avr's put out, but is not considered reference listening level.
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post #6 of 95 Old 05-26-2010, 08:44 PM
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Reference level is something youcalibrate for, like movie mixers do, then set you master volume at reference to hear the movie at reference. There's no rule and no way to know what the volume level of any movie's dialog is. So you can't really tell just by seeing how loud a particular part of a particular movie is.
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post #7 of 95 Old 05-26-2010, 08:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by combos99 View Post

So your saying, that if I am listening at 75 or so db's, while running my LFE channel hot, I should experience peaks of around 105 on the mains, and 115 or so on the sub?

As mojo stated 75 db's is what you use to set your levels. Reference levels are 105 db's peak in any given channel full range. LFE is 115 db's peak. 85 db's is the average so if you are listening to 75 db's average then you are 10db's lower than reference(THX and DD reference levels). If you run bass management(speakers on small or speakers on large plus sub(XO) then the bass below the crossover point get routed to the sub as well. If all the speakers peak as well as the LFE peaks and the speakers are routed to the subs then you cab get over 120 db's from your subs(not highs as they would still be 105 db's). All the bass sums together.

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post #8 of 95 Old 05-26-2010, 09:06 PM - Thread Starter
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I seeee, thank you Mojo and MK for clearing that one up.

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post #9 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 09:23 AM
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For instance, Say you are using an Onkyo and you calibrated to speakers to 75db and your sub maybe a tad hot with with "relative" volume.

If you have the volume knob at -13, you are 13dbs away from constant reference level volume.

However, if I turn up the volume to say -10 and I get an explosion that registers 110db on the SPL meter, this is the combination of my speaker and sub output which can be called reference level for that particular scene.

Is this about right HT gurus?
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post #10 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 09:32 AM
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That is correct. It is a combination that is giving you the level you are measuring, but it is probably dominated by the output from the LFE channel on explosions and such.
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post #11 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 10:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eiger View Post

For instance, Say you are using an Onkyo and you calibrated to speakers to 75db and your sub maybe a tad hot with with "relative" volume.

If you have the volume knob at -13, you are 13dbs away from constant reference level volume.

However, if I turn up the volume to say -10 and I get an explosion that registers 110db on the SPL meter, this is the combination of my speaker and sub output which can be called reference level for that particular scene.

Is this about right HT gurus?

If you calibrate your speakers to 75, then the setting of the MVC, (Master Volume Control), you used when you calibrated is RL, ("Reference Level".) On all THX receiver's/pre/pro's this MVC setting will be "0". On other, non-THX receivers, this MVC can be arbitrary, but it is always the setting used to set the speakers to 75 dB.

If you're MVC, is at -10 from the setting used to calibrate to 75 dB, you are still 10 dB below RL. If you are at -10 MVC setting and you are measuring 110 dB on an SPL meter, you are seeing the combined output of all the speakers and the sub(s) combined to that SPL, but that is still 10 dB below RL.

At full RL, the outputs of all the speakers plus the subs(s) can be over 120 dB: (105dB x 7) + 115dB => 120 dB.

Bottom line, RL is *very* loud. Prolonged exposure to it can cause hearing loss.

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post #12 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 10:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by combos99 View Post

So your saying, that if I am listening at 75 or so db's, while running my LFE channel hot, I should experience peaks of around 105 on the mains, and 115 or so on the sub?

I believe it would be more accurate to say that you "...could experience peaks of..."

Though reference in theaters is often stated as 85dBc taken at the center of the theater, I believe in a home environment (by far a much smaller venue) that level is deem too loud (probably because all the speakers and the walls are all so much closer together) and so we usually see 75dB considered as a home theater reference... and to tell you the truth, I find even that too loud for a comfortable listening level. We ususally watch movies at about 5 to 10dBs down from that (my wife likes it even lower still).

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post #13 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 11:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by monomer View Post

I believe it would be more accurate to say that you "...could experience peaks of..."

Though reference in theaters is often stated as 85dBc taken at the center of the theater, I believe in a home environment (by far a much smaller venue) that level is deem too loud (probably because all the speakers and the walls are all so much closer together) and so we usually see 75dB considered as a home theater reference...

You're being a bit sloppy here. Technically, it's *always* 85dB SPL for a given signal level of -20dBFS ... regardless of the venue. 75dB SPL would correspond to a -30dBFS signal level.

What you really meant to say is that playing back the material at -10dB from "reference level" is often more appropriate for a home theater environment.

Don't confuse calibration levels with playback levels.
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post #14 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 11:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by craig john View Post

If you calibrate your speakers to 75, then the setting of the MVC, (Master Volume Control), you used when you calibrated is RL, ("Reference Level".)
Craig

Thanks Craig.

Also, not to be too nitpicky here, but depending on receiver it's really irrelevant what your master volume is set to at the time of calibration.

Especially since most AVRs/Pre-Pros have static noise at a given DB level.
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post #15 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 11:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eiger View Post

Thanks Craig.

Also, not to be too nitpicky here, but depending on receiver it's really irrelevant what your master volume is set to at the time of calibration.

Especially since most AVRs/Pre-Pros have static noise at a given DB level.

It's relevant if you want to know what level is Reference Level. On THX recivers, if "0" MVC is RL, then the negative numbers equal the number of dB's below RL. On a non-THX receiver, or one that uses positive volume scale deflection, you need to remember what the MVC was set at during calibration and then do the arithmetic to figure out the SPL relative to Reference.

If you don't care, then yes, it's irrelevant, (as long as it's set high enough to allow for calibration.)

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post #16 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by HDTVChallenged View Post

You're being a bit sloppy here. Technically...

I was my intention to bridge the gap between the technical and the practical. I sensed this is what was at the heart of the OP's confusion. In my way of thinking, reference doesn't set the average level SPL but rather sets the upper limit of the loudest SPL allowed thereby controlling the degree of dynamics possible in a sound track. This is always going to be 105dB for the sound mixer but for the home theater audience it will be determined by where they set the volume knob (I know, which is really gain for the electronics anal). If home theater typically uses 75dB as the target (if you don't mind, I'll call it a home theater reference so the less technically inclined are not confused) then they should not expect to get a 105dB maximum at the top of their dymanic range but rather it will be 10dB down... and so it would appear they will lose a little something in the dynamic range as well as with how the surround effects will be perceived but I believe because of the typically lower noise floor and the closeness of speaker and walls usually found in most home theater set-ups, that the reality is they will lose little to nothing in practice. And it is important to realize that reference should be thought of as setting the maximum dynamic range and therefore little is gained by cranking the volume past it and in fact I believe little will be lost going a few dBs below it and if you have the DynamicEQ feature turned on in your AVR then again, little should be lost by lowering the volume well below reference.

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post #17 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 12:22 PM
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I have an onkyo 606. On my receiver it goes from 0 to 80(max) where should i set it at to calibrate it, meaning the volume?
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post #18 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 12:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Nino1919 View Post

I have an onkyo 606. On my receiver it goes from 0 to 80(max) where should i set it at to calibrate it, meaning the volume?

Let Audyssey do it for you.

"For deep bass, the listener is not really listening to the speaker, but rather, is listening to the room as it is being played by the speaker."
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post #19 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 12:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Nino1919 View Post

I have an onkyo 606. On my receiver it goes from 0 to 80(max) where should i set it at to calibrate it, meaning the volume?

Use the receiver's auto calibration. It should be independent of the volume control.
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post #20 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 01:03 PM
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I don't care how big a room is compared to a small room, 105 db's is 105 db's. It should not matter if you listen at a theater or in your home. Assuming the rooms are treated or both are not treated. Whether it sounds good or not that loud will depend on speakers, equipment, and most important, the room.

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post #21 of 95 Old 05-27-2010, 02:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by monomer View Post

I was my intention to bridge the gap between the technical and the practical. I sensed this is what was at the heart of the OP's confusion.

I don't know what you're trying to say. Reference Level is one thing and one thing only: 105 dB mains/115 dB LFE. It is *defined* as that. There is no bridge to gap.

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Originally Posted by monomer View Post

In my way of thinking,...

There is no "way of thinking" about Reference Level. You can't have an opinion on it. It is what it is.

Quote:
Originally Posted by monomer View Post

...reference doesn't set the average level SPL but rather sets the upper limit of the loudest SPL allowed thereby controlling the degree of dynamics possible in a sound track.

Reference Level is not "the upper limit allowed". One can always playback above Reference Level. It's also not the "average level". It is the peak level in the recording process. In order to play back at that same level, the playback system needs to be calibrated for Reference Level.

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Originally Posted by monomer View Post

This is always going to be 105dB for the sound mixer but for the home theater audience it will be determined by where they set the volume knob (I know, which is really gain for the electronics anal).

Reference Level is *not* where you set the volume knob. It is 105 dB mains/115 dB LFE. Where you set the MVC to output RL is determined by where it was set when you calibrated.

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Originally Posted by monomer View Post

If home theater typically uses 75dB as the target (if you don't mind, I'll call it a home theater reference so the less technically inclined are not confused)...

You are confusing them even more. 75 dB is *not* Reference Level in a Home Theater environment, so don't call it that. 75 dB is -30 dBFS, (Full Scale), (105 dB minus 30 dB equals 75 dB.) 75 dB is the level of the test tones generated by the receiver. An SPL meter placed at the listening position should read 75 dB with such a test tone for each channel. The channel trims in the receiver should be adjusted so they read 75 dB while the test tones are playing. By doing so, you are ensuring that all the channels are equilibrated at 75 dB. This is called "calibration". Also, if the MVC is set to the same setting used during calibration, whenever a 105 dB signal (Full Scale) is sent, the speakers will output 105 dB, (assuming they are capable of it.)

(Actually, there is another determinant of Volume Level for Dolby systems called Dialnorm, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

If one turns the MVC below the point used for calibration, one is playing back below Reference Level. How far below RL is determined by how far the MVC is set below the point that was used for calibration. (Is it starting to make sense that THX uses "0" as the point for calibration? It becomes very easy to know where you are in relation to RL if you use "0".)

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Originally Posted by monomer View Post

...then they should not expect to get a 105dB maximum at the top of their dymanic range but rather it will be 10dB down... and so it would appear they will lose a little something in the dynamic range as well as with how the surround effects will be perceived but I believe because of the typically lower noise floor and the closeness of speaker and walls usually found in most home theater set-ups, that the reality is they will lose little to nothing in practice. And it is important to realize that reference should be thought of as setting the maximum dynamic range and therefore little is gained by cranking the volume past it and in fact I believe little will be lost going a few dBs below it...

You totally lost me. If you playback at -10, that means peaks sounds will be at 95 dB mains/105 dB LFE, (instead of 105/115 dB RL), and that is 10 dB less "Dynamic range" for the system than full RL. If that's what you were trying to say, then you're right.

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Originally Posted by monomer View Post

...and if you have the DynamicEQ feature turned on in your AVR then again, little should be lost by lowering the volume well below reference.

In order to properly use Audyssey's Dynamic EQ, (and Dynamic Volume), Reference Level needs to be established in the receiver, and retained. This is done as part of the calibration process. If the setting for RL is changed, Dyn. Vol and Dyn. EQ will not have the correct baseline and will not correct appropriately.

It is very important that we all use the same definitions when we use these terms. Reference Level is 105 dB mains and 115 dB LFE. Please don't use any other definition of this term, and don't try to simplify things. It actually gets more confusing when you do so.

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post #22 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 12:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by craig john View Post

It is very important that we all use the same definitions when we use these terms. Reference Level is 105 dB mains and 115 dB LFE. Please don't use any other definition of this term, and don't try to simplify things. It actually gets more confusing when you do so.

Exactly my point.
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post #23 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 05:21 AM
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Originally Posted by MKtheater View Post

85 db's is the average so if you are listening to 75 db's average then you are 10db's lower than reference(THX and DD reference levels).

There is no "average" when it comes to sound levels in movies. There are average dialogue levels which at reference level is between about 74db and 78db I believe.
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post #24 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 06:26 AM
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There is no "way of thinking" about Reference Level. You can't have an opinion on it. It is what it is.

I may start using this as my new "sig" line. That's great.

 

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post #25 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 08:08 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the information so far guys!

I have an Emotiva Processor that goes from 0-80 (I think, never turned it that high lol).

In order to figure out "reference", I need to use test tones, then play them back until I measure about 85db at my listening position, correct? Then just remember what volume it is set at on my Processor to obtain that level? I will probably run the subs a few db's hotter.

Second question: What frequency tones should I use when setting the mains to 85db? And the subs? Should I simply use the "pink noise" my Emotiva has built in?

Things are clearing up, or not ?

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post #26 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 09:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by combos99 View Post

Thanks for all the information so far guys!

I have an Emotiva Processor that goes from 0-80 (I think, never turned it that high lol).

In order to figure out "reference", I need to use test tones, then play them back until I measure about 85db at my listening position, correct? Then just remember what volume it is set at on my Processor to obtain that level? I will probably run the subs a few db's hotter.

Second question: What frequency tones should I use when setting the mains to 85db? And the subs? Should I simply use the "pink noise" my Emotiva has built in?

Things are clearing up, or not ?

This is the part that's leading to confusion. Test tone reference is typically 75db, not 85db. Run the Emotiva test tone generator and calibrate each channel to 75db on the SPL meter. Some of us do like to run the LFE channel a few db hot. That's a matter of personal choice.

I'm not sure what volume setting on the Emotiva corresponds to reference listening level. Maybe someone else can answer that.
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post #27 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 09:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by combos99 View Post

This has been bothering me for quite some time.

I know this is stupid, but how do I know what volume IS reference for the material I am watching? Once, I tried watching movies with my speakers calibrated to the 75db level, subs were about 80db and nothing even touched 100db (just an estimate)?

So, what does one do to enjoy a movie at reference? Whats all this talk about reference being in the 115-120db range? I just dont understand it.

Could someone please paint a picture for me? Or is it as simple as just cranking the volume to insane levels?

If I am watching a movie at 75db, are the peaks of the movie supposed to hit 110-120db?

HALP!!!!

What is reference level? Reference level is the volume output that is as close to normal sound levels as possible. Soft voices....Explosions....It doesn't matter. Now! Let the lecturing begin
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post #28 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 09:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TRT View Post

What is reference level? Reference level is the volume output that is as close to normal sound levels as possible. Soft voices....Explosions....It doesn't matter. Now! Let the lecturing begin

That's not correct Reference level is a very specific level established by THX in order to mirror the exact volume level used by moviemakers and sound artists in the studio.



http://www.thx.com/consumer/thx-tech...ference-level/
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post #29 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 09:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by combos99 View Post

Thanks for all the information so far guys!

I have an Emotiva Processor that goes from 0-80 (I think, never turned it that high lol).

In order to figure out "reference", I need to use test tones, then play them back until I measure about 85db at my listening position, correct? Then just remember what volume it is set at on my Processor to obtain that level? I will probably run the subs a few db's hotter.

Second question: What frequency tones should I use when setting the mains to 85db? And the subs? Should I simply use the "pink noise" my Emotiva has built in?

Things are clearing up, or not ?

From your manual:

Quote:


LEVEL CALIBRATION This is where you use the test tones to set the volume levels of your speakers and subwoofer. Emotiva recommends using a high quality SPL (Sound Pressure Level) Meter for this step. (Use this selection for manual set up only. Emo‐Q will set the levels for you.)

First set your sound level meter at your approximate ear level where you normally sit. Follow the instructions that came with your SPL Meter for optimum LEVEL CALIBRATION.

To do this, manually press the MENU button on the Remote Control. From the MAIN MENU scroll to SETUP, press ENTER. When the SYSTEM SETUP menu appears scroll to SPEAKER SETUP, press enter again. When the SPEAKER SETUP menu appears press enter when LEVEL CALIBRATION is highlighted.

The LEVEL CALIBRATION screen appears. You will see a picture of a home theater setup. A test tone will start in the left front speaker. Set your SPL Meter to 75 db. Press ENTER. The test tone will now go to the next speaker. Continue this until all your speakers are set to 75db. This will work with either a 5.1 or 7.1 setup.

Your processor uses -30 dBFS test tones. The level trims should be adjusted until your SPL meter reads 75 dB, not 85 dB. For the sub, if you're using a Radio Shack SPL meter, it is recommended to set the subwoofer trim to read 72 dB on the SPL meter. The RS meter reads subwoofer frequencies a little low. Setting the trim to 72 dB will compensate for that. (If you like your sub a little "hot", set it to 75 dB and it will be about 3 dB "hot".)

Craig

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Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."

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post #30 of 95 Old 05-28-2010, 10:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TRT View Post

What is reference level? Reference level is the volume output that is as close to normal sound levels as possible. Soft voices....Explosions....It doesn't matter. Now! Let the lecturing begin

You're joking, right? Normal conversation at 1 meter is usually between 40 and 60 dB SPL:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_pressure
Next time you're watching a movie at Reference Level, (if your system can actually produce Reference Level), try measuring the SPL of dialog. It's *way* louder than 40 to 60 dB SPL. Explosions? I don't know... I've never sat 12 feet from a building blowing up. However, Wiki says a stun grenade is 170 to 180 dB and a jet engine at 30 meters is 150 dB. Reference Level in an HT is, (theoretically), max about 123 dB... nowhere close to realistic levels of those sounds.

As I said above Reference Level is DEFINED as 105 dB mains and 115 dB LFE. It is the *standard* for maximum recorded level in a given channel in a Dolby or DTS encoded soundtrack.

Craig

Lombardi said it:
Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."

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