Headphones - Typical Volume Settings?

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This may be a silly question, but what are typical volume settings used for headphones? I have a fairly well known standard set sources and headphones to reference. Sticking to mobile sources here because they have simple to measure volume settings and no chain to cause variables. Mobile Sources:
  • LG V40 Quad dac - volume range 1-12, 18 max
  • iPad pro 9.4 (first gen pro) 5-25%, 33% max
Max volume settings used are only for very brief moments. Headphones:
  • HD6XX
  • 17xx Go
  • Koss kph30i
So I have no idea what dB level I am listening to music at... Are my standard upper volume settings too loud for continuous listening? Too quiet so I am missing out on dynamic range, etc? I guess I’m just curious how my volume settings compare to others. Thank you
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Whitedragem
177
Mar 3, 2020
Interesting that no-one bites on this question (so far); I do feel that some are intimidated to post information that might go against the grain. (a recent article on What HiFi listing audio tweaks that cost nothing/next to nothing was heavily attacked as garbage by pundits, many saying that they now think of ‘What HiFi as a junk information site, and were quite nasty. Odd given I can personally vouch for majority as being great tweaks, certainly for the outlay. A bike innertube under equipment?! ;-) When audio starts getting personal, which it always HAS been- ‘SUBJECTIVE’ opinion, then people become very self aware. eg it is easy to post a review that agrees with what EVERYONE ELSE is saying, but to have a differing opinion? Audio volume levels is of course SUPER SUBJECTIVE. I’d say quite dependant on what we are listening to, and where we are listening to it as well. My partner and I recently got some Bose Frames to play with. Many reviews made comment that they are not loud enough for public transport etc. I seldom drive (them) above 65%. Ideally, below 50% as the Bass isn’t artificially boosted/has better sound. On a crowded train in peak hour? Perfectly fine. (and nowhere near top volume either) They obviously do not noise cancel the environment though, and so do have usage limitations (that my missus and I reckon are their best strength- not pulling our awareness from the environment around us. My child is always asking me when we go walking and talking ‘are you listening to music right now?’) Now, with regards to volumes... My child used to listen to the iPad/phone at super low levels when first setting out on the wonderful journey that is hifi sound. I did too, when I was sixteen years old. My flagship Sony Walkman would give 20 hours of music from tapes off a single AA battery into the earbuds it came with. If my volume was at 1/10th. 1/10th was fully immersive and allowed orchestral pieces/rock operas like War of the Worlds /JC Superstar to sound ‘very engaging’. 2/10th-3/10ths volume was definitely too much for the country living I had at the time. A few years later, riding my bike to school, and jamming pop/rock tunes I sometimes ramped it up to 5/10ths (half) volume. - and noticed my battery life drop! When my child started getting into industrial music, which also made a move to lossless files formats, the volumes started to go up. Not so much on the iDevices directly, but using outboard DAC/Amps like a Creative E5, all of a sudden music sounded good with some power behind it. For good hearing health, my child has never used in ears, and has only listened to some on ear Sennheiser Momentums. (I didn’t trust a seven year old with in ears, and the original DAP was a Sony (digital/modern) walkman, that I volume limited to ‘comfortable’ levels.) Recently my thoughts on volume into headphones has had a renaissance. All because of some Definitive Technology Symphony 1’s. I have owned, erm, ‘quite a few’ sets of headphones over the many decades I have been into sound. The Def Techs are a great price point for a ‘one can to rule them all’ headphone. Whilst I would never put ALL my music through one set of cans (my budget fi limitations/champagne taste on a beer budget forces this), having several sets of cans that do different genres well makes sense, and saves money. Open Backs for stuff that benefits from sound staging. Closed for EDM. Some easy general rules. Well- the Def Tech Symphony 1s are a ‘flatline’ sound closed back with a massive sound field. AS they have an inbuilt amp it is really easy to drive them to silly volume levels. And they sound REALLY GOOD doing so. Mostly because they are such great sounding headphones. This is the first time in thirty odd years of heaphonery that I am enjoying some ‘really high volume levels’ (Sometimes) to enjoy the music more. (genre dependant of course) I had some Sennheiser Amperiors that were super nice turned up as well, but most consumer-fi stuff is average quality at best (even towards the $300+ pricepoints) that turning music UP isn’t viable. The Sony DAP I used was an ‘S-master circuit’ (took me a couple of years to find at a price I was willing to shell out), and volumed up really well. I drove from it a full volume often, but then I live in Europe apparently (Australia) and we got the ‘volume limited’ version. (thanks France). Being S-master circuit I could actually drive the volume up non destructively via the equaliser to reclaim more of the volume ;-)~ I do believe that high quality audio and audio systems can be turned up in ways that does not make people cringe. A proceed preamp/valve mono blocks and some sensitive seventies Castle Acoustics Kendals speakers proves that music at stupidly loud volume levels is acceptible to my family in ways that a flagship THX ultra receiver just cannot achieve. So, maybe, depending on the quality of the sound and the headphones, we will ‘put up with’ louder levels (happily so). That being said- I own a few Sound Pressure Level meters and have done much ‘matching’ of headphone volumes when reviewing equipment as it is true that most people will perceive a slight volume boost as ‘superior’ sound. I mostly find with junk-fi (entry level stuff) that the volume turned up at all just makes it horrendous. Many amp circuits may run in a Class A amplification mode at low volume levels. This would prove the superior volume in most critical listening cases I would imagine. That being said, I am happy with the Android limits at the 10/15ths mark, for a lot of kit -12/15ths being full volume for my loud listening. My FiiO X5(III) I generally set to 85/120. (until I started using the Def Tech Symphony 1s, where I removed my 100 volume cap, and happily drive to 105). The 80 Ohm Beyer T90s I wouldn’t drive beyond 90(/120) Not that I can remember accurate numbers from the iDevices (mostly due to how horrible iTunes is as a music manager and it constantly wiping 100+Gb collections of music), but mostly well below half volume. Some Bowers&Wilkins P7s (and P5s etc) were clearly made for iDevices with an impedance to match. Probably the only headphones I have ever consistently driven from iDevices (as they get massive bass bloat on just about everything else). Anyhow I suppose that concludes my ‘writing as therapy’ session. Thanks for reading (anyone who did). It mostly does cover many audio principles relating to volume and music playback. Cheers!
HamishtheDog
66
Mar 3, 2020
Thanks @Whitedragem I really appreciate the response and information. Understanding the topic is one of great variance in personal taste and extremely subjective, I don’t expect much consensus on the matter. Volume had always been a difficult thing for me to quantify, especially moving between different environments, though I rarely encounter a noisy environment unless I am traveling. When flying, for instance, I typically use a pair of Sony WH-H900N cans due to noise cancelling, but with two separate volume controls, that is very hard to quantify. The same with using the MD x O2 and SDAC. I’ve tried some very non-scientific methods of measurement, such as shoving the microphone end of my phone into a headphone ear cup to measure spl with a crude (and free) dB meter. At my desk, I’ve been listening to a small 2.1 setup, Martin Logan Motion LX16 (gotta rep for my hometown LFK speaker company!) with a PSB micro sub. At volumes too loud to be comfortable, I normally get reading of low to mid 70db with the aforementioned meter. Normal listening measures in the low 60s to mid 50s in dB. Now it may be that I am sound sensitive. My wife tells me that in regards to other sources of sound. But, like most of us here, I love music and want to hear detail and dynamics as much as possible. I’ve searched around the old internet for info on dB output in general at different volume setting for specific devices, and have come up empty handed. Thus I turn to this site due to the concentration of enthusiasm on the topic of audio and vast amount of experience and expertise.