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What is the best volume to work with studio monitors for mastering and mixing tracks?

I own a pair of M Audio Bx8 Studio monitors and I always produce with the volume knob at the middle.... so here it goes...

Is it better to have a lower volume in the monitors and try to boost the volume for the track to sound at the same level than other tracks sound?

or

Is it better to have a greater volume in the monitors and get more detail while producing or mastering?

What volume do you recommend I use in my studio setup?

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Excellent question! btw, I removed your signature per the guidelines in the FAQ. –  BenV Feb 17 '11 at 4:42
    
Cool Benv.. tnx –  Fortes Feb 18 '11 at 4:41
    
Remember to always utilize good gain staging to reduce noise prior to setting overall levels. musicianstools.wordpress.com/2008/12/15/… –  Zeronyne May 19 '11 at 20:45
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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I am a lot more dynamic with the control room volume fader. Unless you're producing music for a very specific audience, then you need to make sure the mix is properly balanced at both high and low levels and everything in between.

One of many great lessons I picked on in mixing workshops years ago, was to frequently turn down the music to the barely audible. It is sometimes much easier to pick out channels that, perhaps unintentionally, sit at a much louder level than the other channels in the mix.

I also find that music tends to sound better or create a deeper emotional impact when played loud. So the mix and production I'm rocking out to while dreaming of Grammy awards at lawsuit-inducing levels might not actually sound so hot when heard at moderate levels.

Finally, I develop fatigue much faster when I mix at loud levels. For people with normal hearing, the ear and brain automatically adjusts to the general sound level in the environment over an incredible audible range. So while you might be able to pick out certain details in the music initially after cranking up the volume, your ears and brain will quickly adapt and you might not notice to begin with, or even worse, you'll find that you reach for the volume knob again and again to compensate.

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I like @Kim's answer very much. I'll just add my rule of thumb: I like to be able to talk over the music without shouting. If I can't have a conversation over it, I turn it down because I'm monitoring too loud. –  Ian C. Feb 17 '11 at 6:02
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Yes, I both change volume and monitors when mixing as well. Avoids fatigue and lets you hear the music on different levels and different types of monitors. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 17 '11 at 7:54
    
Thank you @kim for your answer –  Fortes Feb 18 '11 at 4:43
    
Will our ears fatigue slower if the volume is lower? –  Johnny Bigoode Mar 5 '12 at 16:28
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Whilst being true that you shouldn't limit yourself to one or another level, there is still a level you should be able to come back to. You should have a read through Equal loudness countour curves, or phons.

This are some curves developed some time ago (became known as Fletcher-Munson) that shows how messed up our hearing really is. It shows that our perception of high an low drastically change depending on levels. The higher you go, the flatter this is.

Now, since OSHA was so kind as to publish tables of how much we are damaging our ears and for how long we should expose them to certain levels, it's impractical to use a nice, flat curve of ie. 110dB, but I tend to go for something like 90dB.

If you are lucky enough to mix with something with a nice control room section (most modern NEVEs and SSL, most euphonix, D-Control/Command etc.) they will allow, for the same reason, for you to set a calibration level. It is good to reference at higher and lower levels now and then but you should have a common point to return to that you will be familiar with and confortable with. When I'm mixing in desks without this, I often take my lovely £20 SPL meter to have as a quick reference for the same exact reasons.

90dB SPL A-weighted seems to be a good point to stay at imo.

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This is probably more true for mastering than mixing, though. Mixing takes longer, and your ears will get tired on that volume. And you need to make sure it sounds good on all volumes. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 17 '11 at 7:57
    
hmm yes and no. Yes 90dB is louder than some people might think at first specially with musical material and smaller rooms but I do believe tiredness will come quicker from saturated material (ie. heavily compressed) than from consistency loud volumes. I do not agree that mixing will take longer. Chances are you will have to spit out a mix in 1 day, and come back for revision sake only. Same with mastering. –  jlebre Feb 17 '11 at 8:31
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Caution: In the US, workplaces are required by law to provide hearing aids for workers in environments with more than 85 dB SPL A-weighted. See osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/… –  Kim Burgaard Feb 17 '11 at 23:31
    
Thanks for your opinion @jlebre its good to have some numbers on the issue! –  Fortes Feb 18 '11 at 4:49
    
@Kim thanks for that update. I did not know about this! cool stuff! I was mentioning the level which is "safe" for 8 hours which is still 90dB by OSHA, right? osha.gov/dts/osta/otm/noise/standards_more.html. –  jlebre Feb 18 '11 at 6:34
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Listening to anything above 85db for longer than a few hours will cause hearing damage. I can discern levels better when the volume is lower - and I need all the help I can get.

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Several useful answers here.

For a perspective on how the broadcast world has attempted to deal with this, I suggest looking at the following PDF from the ATSC here

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Your link returns a 404 error, please check it and edit your post with the correct link! ... tnx –  Fortes Feb 21 '11 at 23:01
    
Shoot! I'll try to dig up a working version of it, as I cannot access it any more, either –  phasetransitions May 19 '11 at 14:58
    
Link now fixed! –  phasetransitions May 19 '11 at 16:58
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