Poll: Can Your Audio System Reproduce the Rock Concert Experience?

Can your home stereo get as loud as a live rock concert?

This past Friday—April 7, 2017—I had the pleasure and honor of being a guest of Klipsch Audio at the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. A significant portion of the four-hour event involved performances by the inductees including Pearl Jam, Yes, and Journey-bands well versed at rocking giant venues.

During the show, I pulled out my phone for those guitar-drenched moments of extreme rock and roll and measured C-weighted average volume levels that ranged from 109 dB to 113 dB. That’s a bit lower than if the audience were at a real rock concert instead of at an awards show (typical loud concerts are in the 115-120 dB range), but it’s still intense.

At home the next day, with memories of the show fresh in my mind, I experimented with playing music at similar output levels. Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of hearing loss. At the induction, I plugged my ears for a sizable portion of those peak rock concert level moments. Similarly, at home I will not play a whole album at 110+ dB, but I’ll definitely check out a system’s ability to get to those levels and beyond.

I grew up in hip-hop and electronic music, so Snoop Dogg’s performance and Tupac’s induction were the moments I was most excited about.

Notably, my SPL threshold for electronica and rap is higher than it is for pure rock. I was not even sure what my preferred at-home listening level for this sort of rock music would be, so I checked by queuing up Pearl Jam’s “Given to Fly” and “Better Man,” only to discover that my Goldilocks zone for that sort of electric guitar is a mere 90-95 dB. When I hit 100+ decibels while listening to a performer like Bassnectar, the energy is concentrated at much lower frequencies than rock guitar, and to my taste, is easier to tolerate at higher levels.

The system used to test the rock tracks—a Power Sound Audio 2.1 system consisting of MT110 speakers and a 15V sub—has what it takes to replicate concert levels in a small or medium-sized room, yet is modest in cost and easy to execute. A mid-tier AVR running in 2.1 mode should be all you need. This got me thinking about the numerous AVS Forum GTGs (get-togethers) I’ve attended, as well as home theaters I’ve heard, which could easily reach rock concert levels and often blow past that effortlessly.

Clean high SPL output is addictive. With recordings that retain the dynamics of live performances, these systems are every bit as impactful as being in the arena, and without the crazy reverb “hall effect” you get from a 15,000-seat enclosed venue like the Barclays center. Also, home systems benefit from stereo imaging, which is something notably absent from the live concert experience.

Now, it’s indisputable that a recording cannot match the fidelity of a live, unamplified instrument, but rock and roll is amplified; after all, the electric guitar is the genre’s signature instrument. The simple fact that rock concerts rely on PA systems, levels the playing field versus the home listening experience—this is not a symphony orchestra in a purpose-built hall.

So, given that a home system of sufficient capability can replicate the dynamics of a rock concert, the question is whether your system can hit these volume levels and still sound clean and dynamic. And a related question: do you ever listen to music at such loud levels at home?

Please vote for both whether your system has rock concert volume level capability, and whether you actually listen to rock music at such levels.

Here’s the question: Poll: Can your system handle rock concert SPL & do you listen at those levels?

1. My system cannot reach rock concert levels. I have no need for that capability.
2. My system cannot reach rock concert levels. I wish it could.
3. Yes, my system plays as loud as a live rock concert. But, I don’t listen to music at those levels.
4. Yes, my system plays as loud as a live rock concert. I turn it up on occasion.
5. Yes, my system plays as loud as a live rock concert. I listen at those levels all of the time.

Click here to vote.