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Headphones Listening Levels: How to measure?


Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Mar 12, 2016

I have used headphones as my main transducers for now 9 years (?!? Time flies :eek:).. During these times I have had a slew of DAC and amps none of these as good as my current ASR Special combo ( Khadas Tone Board + JDS Labs Atom) .. The Atom drives any headphones I have with aplomb and some, to what I think are unhealthy ( but Oh! So enjoyable) levels .. I have come from sessions where my ears were buzzing a bit :( ... Having the sensation of real bass in headphones is addictive.. And it remains clean ..
How does one measure headphones SPL levels with a relative degree of accuracy. Not asking for laboratory grade measurements but something that tells me when to lower the volume ... Wouldn't mind using the rig/contraption for Equalizing too. miniDSP headphones rig? Anything else?
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Major Contributor
Jul 21, 2018
The Neverlands
Method 1

Take a cheap SPL meter (or phone)
Take a CD and put that against the earpad.
Put the mic against the CD hole. Preferably with some maleable eraser or something similar to get a good seal.
(Will be harder to do with a phone)
Realize that both sides have the same SPL.

Method 2

Play via speakers and measure SPL at the listening position.
Put the headphones on and off while adjusting the volume to match that of the speakers which you measured.
This method measures L+R and can be done with a phone + app.

Both methods above will give an indication of the SPL.

Method 3:

more accurate:
Use an oscilloscope or soundcard with oscope software.
Results from some experiments..
Measure the voltage peaks and calculate (with dB/V) the peak and average levels using DR ratings of that song.
Here a lot of dB/V numbers of most common headphones.
Below measurements of the amps output using music while testing the HD650.

A very comfortable listening level:

Below uncomfortably loud levels:

and even a step louder:

method 4:
Use a calibrated measurement rig.
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