We’ve all been there – sitting in the movie theater – waiting for the show to start. Then the coming attractions start and the sound starts blasting at us. For some moviegoers the loudness is so uncomfortable and painful they cover their ears. Why are movies, especially the coming attractions, so loud?
The short answer: because they can be. With digital recordings and digital projectors, high intensity sound levels can now be reproduced with minimal distortion. The dynamic range, the range from very soft to very loud, can be expanded. And it has been.
Making normal sounds louder than normal and soft sounds softer than normal is the opposite of what a person wearing a hearing aid needs. He or she needs soft sounds to be louder, but loud sounds not to be amplified. Digital hearing aids are able to do just that and keep most sounds in a comfortable range.
The real cause of the almost painful sound blasting at us during some movies, though, is not technical. Just because movies can be recorded and played at high intensity levels doesn’t mean they have to be. But directors, sound mixers, film editors and projectionists often use sound to force the viewer to pay attention. Their purpose may be to make the film seem more exciting, more vivid.
Although there are state and federal regulations about sound levels in the work place and the community, there are no regulations about sound levels in movie theaters. That may change. After receiving many complaints, several states are considering legislation limiting noise levels in movie theaters.
The sound levels measured during movies support the need for some kind of control. Sound levels of 85 to 105 decibels are not unusual. Action films such as Transformers have been measure at 120 dB, which is like standing next to a jet engine. An exposure level of 85 dB is the normal limit for an eight hour workday.
But the real test should not be a 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”?