Too Loud; What’d They Say?

The Real Problem

Most often, people complain: “I can’t understand a thing anyone is saying!”

A Monologue On Dialogue

This may be the most technical of articles that you read here. Or, it may be OK. Fair warning. You might have to read it a few times. I must say, it took a few times to write it correctly.

We might have been taught that the pitch of the sound of a typical man or woman’s voice is around 150 and 300 cycles per second…which is true. That pitch – those frequencies – are just about an octave below the sound from the center note of the piano.

But that is just a generalization. How about a specific.

Say the word “Notice” out loud. Notice that the ‘n’ sounds seems to start somewhere between the nose and mouth as a kind of ‘hmmm’, then the ‘o’ sound leaves the mouth directly, and the ‘t’ and ‘c’ sounds are all over the place with tone and force. In fact, there are many sounds in each word, many that are the high and low tones. These tones are what people use to make the words understandable.

The most extreme case, but one that happens all the time, is the ‘s’ sounds. Say the word “sibilance” and you’ll possible be saying and hearing frequencies as high as 8,000 cycles per second. Let’s see… Double the number for an increase of an octave; 150, 300, 600, 1200, 2400, 4800…that’s more than 5 octaves and well into the area that needs twice or more power to deliver the same amount of perceived sound.

So, when you turn down the volume control, it doesn’t only turn down the low notes or mid-tone notes. The center tones of the sound are turned down, but the human perception thinks that the high frequency sounds – the very tones that we use to differentiate words – is seems to be turned down far more.

This seems odd. This is counter-intuitive. This is worth knowing. Perhaps the solution is to move to a different seat, and tell them to “Turn it UP.”

We’ll branch off of this when we enter a more technical Part Two – The Apocalypse of Loud. But for now let’s continue with the simple stuff.

Part Five: Too Loud! Adverts Before Impact After.


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