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  • Writer's pictureTina Van

Are You Listening To Music At The Right Volume?

Updated: Jan 2


Woman listening to music in the studio

When it comes to music production and mixing, achieving the perfect balance of sound is crucial. Engineers and producers strive to create audio that not only sounds great but also translates well across various playback systems. One fundamental aspect of this process involves understanding the Fletcher-Munson Curve, also known as equal-loudness contours, and how it pertains to determining the appropriate listening levels. This is especially important when it comes to mixing music.


Understanding the Fletcher-Munson Curve


Developed in the 1930s by Harvey Fletcher and Wilden A. Munson, the Fletcher-Munson curve represents the way the human ear perceives changes in loudness at different frequencies. It revealed a fascinating aspect of our auditory perception: we don’t hear all frequencies at the same loudness level, even when they are played at the same physical volume. In essence, the human ear has varying sensitivity to different frequency ranges.


I know you might be thinking - why does all of this matter and what does all this mean when it comes to music production? Let’s dive deeper!


The Key Takeaways

  1. Sensitivity to Bass and Treble: The Fletcher-Munson curve illustrates that our ears are less sensitive to low-frequency (bass) and high-frequency (treble) sounds at moderate to low volume levels. This means that when you’re mixing or listening to music at lower volumes, you might not hear some critical elements of the low and high-frequency range accurately.

  2. Improved Sensitivity at Higher Volumes: As sound intensity increases, our ears become more sensitive to bass and treble frequencies. When mixing or listening to music at higher volumes, you’re more likely to notice details in the low and high-end that may have been less perceptible at lower levels.


The Implications for Mixing Music


Mixing music

Now, let’s delve into how the Fletcher-Munson curve informs the way we should listen to music when mixing:


  1. Balanced Listening Levels: Mixing at moderate volume levels, where the equal-loudness contours are closer to flat, can help ensure that your mix translates well across different playback systems. This minimizes the risk of overemphasizing or neglecting certain frequency ranges.

  2. Critical Listening: When fine-tuning your mix, it’s beneficial to periodically listen at higher volumes to check the low and high frequencies. This can help you identify any issues or imbalances that might not be as apparent at lower levels.

  3. Ear Fatigue Prevention: Prolonged exposure to high volume levels can lead to ear fatigue, making it difficult to make accurate mixing decisions. The Fletcher-Munson curve encourages mixing at moderate levels to protect your ears and maintain consistent judgment.

  4. Reference Tracks: Using reference tracks with known, balanced mixes can be invaluable. Listening to these references at various volumes can provide insights into how your mix compares and whether adjustments are needed.


MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION


If all of this information seems a bit over your head, here is my quick and easy advice on how to put this into practice: listen to the music you are recording/mixing at the same volume every time. Find a comfortable listening volume that allows you to hear the low and high end and mark down that spot on your audio interface/speaker control/headphone amp so that you know where the sweet spot should be every single time. This takes the guess work out of the picture and will ensure that every mix that you do will translate across other listening mediums.


RECAP


The Fletcher-Munson curve is a valuable tool for music producers and engineers. Understanding how our ears perceive sound at different frequencies and volumes is essential for creating well-balanced and sonically pleasing mixes. By considering these equal-loudness contours in your mixing process and carefully choosing your listening levels, you can enhance the quality and accuracy of your music productions, ensuring that they sound great across a wide range of playback systems.


Hope this was helpful! As always, be sure to check in on the Free Resources section of the blog for downloadable content to help you on your creative journey. Also, feel free to leave a comment on the topics you'd like to see covered or questions you'd like to see answered.


Until next time - have fun creating!




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