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Why Are Movies So Loud?

Have you ever been at the movies when the coming attractions start, and the sudden blast makes you jump out of your seat?  Movies can be so loud that some moviegoers cover their ears.

Why are movies so loud?  The short answer: because they can be.  With digital recordings and modern speakers, very loud sounds can now be reproduced with minimal distortion.

Making loud sounds louder than normal-and soft sounds softer than normal-is the opposite of what a person with hearing loss needs.  Someone with hearing loss may find it helpful when soft sounds are louder, but loud sounds should not be amplified at all. 

The real cause of jet-engine level noise blasting at us during movies, though, isn’t technical. Directors, sound mixers, film editors and theatres use sound to force the viewer to pay attention.  Their purpose is to make the film seem more exciting, more vivid.

Although there are state and federal regulations about sound levels in work settings and our communities, there are no regulations about sound levels in movie theaters.  But after receiving many complaints, several states are considering legislation.

The sound levels measured during movies support a need for regulation.  Sound levels of 85 to 105 decibels (A) are not unusual.  Action films such as Transformers have been measured at 120dB (A), which is like standing next to a jet engine.

But the real test should not be a sound level recording or a decibel scale.  It should be us-the viewing audience.  And have you ever heard a moviegoer say, “I wish they would make it louder”?


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