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Ambient noise - How much is too much?

eyedrop

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The highway near my house has seen increased traffic noise, with new construction and semi trucks blaring all night long. I can hear my HVAC system turn on and off, my kids like to play, the dogs like barking, birds are whistling, etc.. It seems like noise is just a normal part of life! However, we all know those things can really spoil those special moments in a song where your in deep, and things get quiet and emotional. Then the noise creeps in and ruins it.

With these consistent high ambient noise levels and my imperfect room acoustics, I get the feeling I'm wasting my time critically listening to any speakers or open headphones.

Don't get me wrong, I love how my speakers sound, and I can still hear the "essence" of what they are capable of. And when the stars align and things are actually quiet (holidays at 2AM), and if I keep them turned down to not excite the room too much, they sound absolutely fantastic (yes I have treatments in a 11x15 room)...

But on the daily, even sitting here at home, I cannot deny my ANC headphones offer a deeper insight into the track, along with more convenience and a lower cost.

Maybe one day I'll retire to a deserted island so I can build a "guest" property with quiet hvac, no windows, and proper room dimensions with the tapered walls etc...


For some people, ambient noise seems to not bother them... I've been to plenty of noisy meets and while listening is still helpful in weeding out the obviously bad sounding gear, I always left wishing I could take those Abyss headphones into a quiet room for some nice intimate time ;)

Is there a maximum allowable threshold for ambient noise levels before it makes more sense to use isolating / ANC headphones to listen?

Where do you draw the line??
 

RayDunzl

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A little noise doesn't seem to bother Elwood.
 

Pretorious

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I’m in the same exact situation. My critical listening setup for speakers goes mostly unused during the week because of TV noise from elsewhere in the house, talking, HVAC, road and traffic noise, highway noise, airplane roars, and trains passing. Same goes for my headphone setup for critical listening, a pair of open headphones is useless, and just absolutely forget it in the warmer months if I have the windows open. Fresh air and listening do not mix.

Much like you it’s a shame because I enjoy the setups and love the sound they output. I’ve been forced to use a portable BT speaker in order to find a quieter room in the house where my stereo isn’t. Barring that, if it gets too noisy, the ANC headphones come out and those have been life-changing. As you said, the convenience of each is too great to deny. At least then I can enjoy the music and not be frustrated. The sound quality of these things is actually quite good now. Best to not worry and enjoy.

Having been through so much noise for years and years you would think I would get used to it, but that’s not the case. It has instead wore me down. I’m now sensitive to the least noise when trying to listen. So the sound of the vents or the road noise (even with windows closed) is enough to drive me bonkers and not be able to focus.

There was a study about ambient noise during performances of classical music in concert halls where it basically didn’t take much noise before people found it irritating. This is the study. I belive there might have been another study about this that expanded on it, but I could be wrong, and I can’t find another.

I imagine with homes being smaller and not acoustically optimized that the threshold for tolerance on the background noise is a lot smaller; and that perception might make it worse as we expect our homes to be quiet, but that isn’t the case.
 

Blumlein 88

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I don't think you'll find an answer. I have some noise cancelling phones that I use with power tools and at the rifle range. They have the option to feed them music. It is not so bad for listening to music while cutting grass for instance. Surprising it can be that good in the middle of lots of noise and the phones really aren't super good sounding. And while illegal (for the driver) they could be really useful in cars. Beyond quiet enough I don't know you'll get some definitive answer.

The music matters some too. Metallica only needs moderate quiet. Some chamber music is going to need a much quieter environment. Also, this is the real reason for compression. A modest amount won't ruin the music, and lets you hear it well enough in moderate levels of noise.

In general terms, if you listen around 80 db SPL at your ear, and we can hear 15 db into noise, and 50 db of dynamic range seems adequate usually, some music won't be bad with 50 db SPL noise. Other music probably needs 30 db SPL. Then what kind of noise? A diffuse whisper of wind and indistinguishable voices at low level are two different things. The voices will be incredibly annoying. The spectrum of the noise matters. We are most sensitive between 3-5 khz, and some areas that measure a poor 50 db SPL with a nice pink or brown noise characteristic will have a very low level of noise in that 3-5 khz range which might be only mildly disturbing.

Also as you age, and/or get mild hearing damage, your ear's ability to filter out noise to let you hear details worsens. Most noticeable perhaps when in crowded places with lots of crowd noise. A busy restaurant, sporting event that sort of thing.
 

DVDdoug

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Yeah, it's really a personal-psychological thing. It's rare for noise in a home environment to actually drown-out musical details (unless you are listening very quietly).

I've noticed that I'm not bothered by "normal" ambient noise... I can hear my ceiling fans at the moment. They are not loud but clearly audible. I wasn't noticing them until I read this topic. And I can hear the refrigerator when it cycles-on, or the furnace.

BUT, if I was hearing the noise from my speakers at the same level as my ceiling fans, THAT would be VERY ANNOYING! Psychology is a strange thing...

It's a BIG deal in recording/production because the noise gets-into the recording. And when you're recording (acoustically) you also have preamp noise from the high-gain mic preamps.

A little noise doesn't seem to bother Elwood.
One of my FAVORITE movies! Good music and good comedy! And for my tastes, it's the kind of comedy that's funny every time I watch it. (The sequel is good too.)
 

Dunring

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Ambient noise was the reason I switched to the Truthear crinnacle Zero IEMs to just seal off the AC noise and computer fans, etc. Also when the landscapers roll in each week it's a great escape. They make great daily drivers.
 
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