/ Travel & Leisure

Should cinemas turn down the volume?


For some, the sound levels at the movies can be unbearably loud. Our guest, opera singer Christopher Gillett, thinks cinemas should turn down the volume. Do you?

I may be of a certain age, nearly 60, but I’m no stranger to loud music. I’m a professional opera singer. Singing loudly is what I do for a living.

I’ve spent my career standing in front of massed choirs and full-sized symphony orchestras playing hell-for-leather through the very loudest works of Wagner, Beethoven and Britten. I really do know what loudness means and how it works in the field of entertainment.

Not so Lucky

At least I thought I did until I went to the Odeon cinema in Cardiff last week to see the film Logan Lucky.

The film isn’t to blame. It’s a good movie. And in the context of the mass of superhero films that make up the larger part of the cinemagoer’s choice of films these days, short on the crashes, bangs, booms and thuds that are the regular diet of the modern cinematic sound engineer.

The soundtrack isn’t symphonic. There are no wailing choirs or thumping timpani. No, the grievance I’m airing is that the volume level of the whole experience, especially the trailers and adverts, was set well beyond a Spinal Tap 11, all the way up to 19 or 20.

The cinema, a 400-seater or more, was empty save for five punters, yet the volume was cranked up as though we were sitting in a packed Wembley Stadium. It was physically painful – nauseating, even.

I was about to complain, but when the main feature began, the volume was lowered, although once or twice, as a song kicked in, it became unbearably loud again.

When characters whispered, they may as well have been yelling. A rustle of paper sounded like a hurricane through a palm tree. By the end of the movie my ears were whistling and hissing with tinnitus.

We spoke to an usher who agreed it was probably too loud, but claimed there was nothing they could do. The volume was ’set by the distributor‘. It seemed like an unlikely explanation.

Harmful to hearing?

I know parents of young children who will only take their kids to movies wearing ear defenders. They are complaining that their ears hurt after seeing Despicable Me.

This can’t be right. Hearing loss is already a problem among younger adults, thanks to long exposure to overamplified music in pubs and clubs. Now it seems we want to deafen our children when they visit the cinema.

The orchestras I stand in front of have taken strong measures to protect their players; some wear earplugs, others are protected by Perspex baffles.

I think it’s time for cinemas to show leadership in preventing hearing loss and turn down the volume.

If they don’t, I, for one, won’t go any more.

This is a guest post by Christopher Gillett. All views expressed here are Christopher’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?

Do you find the sound at the cinema too loud? Or do you think it’s just right and part of the experience?

Fiona Turner says:
7 August 2019

Definitely the volume should be turned down. I use ear plugs and still suffer with the volume and I am mid 70s! We hardly go to the cinema due to the loudness of adverts and the actual film.

Robin Hague says:
8 August 2019

Yes! Adverts and film always uncomfortably loud at my local Vue and Odeon cinemas. I’ve mentioned this to both, but to no avail.

Christine Heare says:
11 October 2019

Just come home from seeing a film at a Vue cinema, now I’ve got a headache and earache.
I asked if the volume could be turned down. Nothing seemed to happen, so I wore earplugs! I discussed this with an employee after the film and was told the films come with settings that can’t be altered. How can this be right. I had the same experience a couple of years ago, but forgot that this was the reason that I didn’t enjoy the experience. How can this be changed?

How can this be changed Christine ?—only by public uproar and legislation .
Unfortunately you are up against a group of gigantic media companies in the USA who insists on this long term ear destruction so its not about to change .
Having said that long term cases of hearing loss in the USA are increasing dramatically and a lot being blamed on movie theatres , this will have a US public backlash as children when they are in their 20,s-30,s are experiencing hearing loss well above the US national average so they are the ones that will eventually get action due to class action law suites.
I speak as someone with 30 years of attending hospital audiology dept,s this is something I know about intimately , unfortunately — money talks in the conglomerate media world.

Get back Christine and I can give you all the medical points of this subject.

Pippa says:
14 January 2020

I’d be interested in the medical points. I’ve just got back from a Vue cinema with ringing ears – even though I took my hearing aids out. Now I remember why it’s been 5 years since I last went to a cinema…
(If you have details on the effects of electric handdryers in public loos I’d also like to have them).

John Martin says:
12 October 2019

The sound is set far too loud, at eardrum bursting levels in Vue cinemas, especially during the trailers. Then, as a special bonus, some additional strobe-lighting effects to trigger a form of epilepsy . With cases of hearing loss increasing dramatically Vue could be held responsible and customers should vote with their feet.

Carol says:
18 October 2019

It is just not comfortable to go to the cinema because the volume is too loud and the adverts are impossible. WHY??

It is the will of a group of US media conglomerates who control 90 % of the western worlds media of all sorts Carol, I wont name them in case somebody takes offence but its part of the contract movie theatres have with those groups.
It takes 20 years or so for young children to feel the effects of deafness but once it happens , bar an operation to the auditory nerves to the brain to connect to an external hearing aid system all that’s left is normal hearing aids .
This has boosted many electronic companies profits round the world , share prices rise .

Rosie Brenton says:
30 December 2019

Most definitely, the dialogue and music is far too loud in a cinema. Damaged ears or what.Disgusting