First Published on the Audio Undone Website, November 2010

I was fortunate enough last month to be asked to head out to Berlin to meet up with the chaps from Underworld. We were to play Berlin’s newly erected O2 World arena. It’s a big old place (a capacity of 17,000), but actually the sound of the room wasn’t too bad considering it’s a bloody great airline hanger with a bit of decoration. The show was called ‘We Are One’, which has something to do with Paul Van Dyk who I thought was Dutch but turns out he is actually from Berlin.

The PA was a Nexo GeoD system, which some of you may know is a line array type of system. I,am not the worlds biggest fan of line array, but I’m there to do a job so I’ll always do it the best I can. On the other hand, we did have an XL3 at FOH, and some nice little toys in the outboard rack that really did set us up for a good show.

Initially, we ran the sound up and it appeared to be what can only be described as rubbish. The typical bite you get from these PAs that I was expecting, just wasn’t there. For a big hall like that, with a full dance floor, the system would really need to have that harshness to cut though later, but would be softened when the audience was there. The sound was very flat and uninspiring, no real clarity in the mids, and basically no low mids which meant that the drive of the sound wasn’t really there. On the bright side there was, loads of sub. Well, when I say loads of sub, it was all in the middle and not a lot at the sides.

Where do you start at getting this right?  We played around with the graphic for a while to see what exactly we were missing, then went to ask what EQ they had over the whole system. Now, when I saw the EQ for the whole system I was horrified. There was a massive scoop over the entire top-end, and another scoop over the top of the other one at about 4-5kHz, reducing it to next to nothing. This is where all the harshness had gone.

The reason behind this was that the audience was going to be in the venue for about 10 hours. Which is an awfully long time to be exposed to a constant noise level. The engineers needed to decrease the exposure to high frequencies for the length of time, but in doing so sacrificed the sound of the whole system. The noise limit had been set at 99dBA over 30 mins, which is ok, but in the world of dance music is fairly quiet. You could take a stroll down the road to any of the other Berliner clubs and find systems pushing 110-115dBA for exactly the same period of time.

So my question is, how loud is too loud?

2 Comments

  1. At first there should be earplugs at the entrance so damage control is in their own hands.

    second is the dbA limit put there by law or just someone who thought it should be 99dbA if its not put there by law
    try to negotiate so you can play at a level of your comfort.
    what I usually do as a visitor in long venues is finding a (like I call it ) sweet spot; not too loud, decent sound and a clear view of stage.
    If the db limit is set by law and point of measurement is at the desk, if its like you say a hanger, most people will try to be close to the stage. i’d try to create a ” sweet zone or drop of zone (where the level drops)” further away from stage. if your comfort level is 103 dbA move the desk back a few feet till your in the 99DBA zone and put the desk there.

    if none of that works try to play very dynamic and increase en decrease the level in the songs and total songs to create drops under 99dbA to get the 30min leq A Down.

    thats what I think i’ll do.

    or what if seen doing before, put you jacket over the measurement mic. 🙂

    Greets Jimmy

  2. oops i didn’t answer the question.
    how loud is too loud? a hard one. It all starts at where and ho you measure if you punt your measurement mic at 1″ from the speaker and you are standing at a 100 feet 120 dbA measurement will be not so loud but the measurement says it bloody loud, other way around if you measure 120db at where you’r standing you will be bleeding from your ears.
    it’s too loud if you think it’s too loud, but keeping in mind at where your at, at the venue.

    greets jimmy

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