How To Save Your Hearing

Throughout my career, I have been very careful about not listening to music at too loud a level for extended periods. I am appalled by how many people in this industry monitor at excessively high speaker levels (I use my smaller Auratone speakers about 50% of the day in the studio . . . I think that helps too).
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Here are the standard monitoring settings that I use for all my sessions, with specifics for two types of situations. To set these values I normally use a Simpson [Type 2] SPL Meter, but you can also use a Radio Shack Sound Level Meter, catalog #33-2050.

Mid-Field Monitoring (with Westlake Audio LC3W-12S)
For this, I placed the speakers on top of the meter over-bridge of the mixing console. To adjust the Westlake speakers for an SPL level of approximately 93 SPL (Sound Pressure Level):

1. Set SPL meter to “A” scale (OSHA), speed = slow (OSHA), and range = 90.
2. Play wide-range complex program material.
3. Set playback for +3 bus peaks on VU scale.
4. Observe SPL results (+3 bus peaks = 93 SPL peaks).
5. Mark your monitor level control for this setting.

This results in a good, loud level for mixing popular music that can be used for a total listening time of 4 hours of mixing per day. When I mix at this level for 2-1/2 hours and then take a 30-minute break, I don’t experience any ear fatigue when using my Westlake LC3W-12s. (Note: If you’ll be using lower record bus levels, adjust SPL resultant peaks accordingly; if absolute 0 VU bus peaks are to be recorded, then add 3dB of monitor level before marking the monitor level control.)

Near-Field Monitoring (with Auratones)
Again, these are placed on top of the meter over-bridge on the mixing console. To adjust the Auratone speakers for an SPL level of approximately 83 SPL:

1. Set the SPL meter to “A” scale (OSHA), speed = slow (OSHA), and range = 80.
2. Play wide-range complex program material.
3. Set playback for +3 bus peaks on VU scale.
4. Observe SPL results (+3 bus peaks = 83 SPL peaks).
5. Mark your monitor level control for this setting.

This lower level is recommended when using Auratones (or similar small speakers) with popular music. You can use this for a total listening time of eight hours per mixing day. The same note as above applies if you’re going to use lower record bus levels.

Bottom line: Permanent hearing loss can occur very quickly in a control room, especially with some of the new, super-high-powered monitor systems in use in modern studios. Do not monitor at extremely high speaker levels. You should be able to carry on a conversation in the control room while you are mixing. If you have to shout to be heard, turn down the speaker level. You only get one set of eardrums in your lifetime; treat them like the precious gifts that they are. Who knows, they might be worth a million dollars some day!