/ Travel & Leisure

Should cinemas turn down the volume?

cinema

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?

Comments
Member

My problem is Dean, that some people, even with ear pain continue to attend movies not realising that there is no cure and no come back and that in years to come they will be deaf .This adds to the NHS bill so why shouldn’t movie houses not pay a percentage to the NHS ?

Member
Elizabeth Sylvester-Gray says:
29 September 2017

I have stopped going to the cinema just because of the high level volume. The last time I saw a film inside a cinema was the first Lord of the Rings and I had to leave the cinema early – I now believe that restaurants also think that loud music helps the digestion, but as far as I am concerned it makes me want to leave. Why is this still a common practice? I go to a restaurant to enjoy the food and the good company, but it is almost impossible to have a conversation without having to ask “sorry, can you say that again?” Why, oh why, do we need the constant noise….it’s bad enough having to listen to the traffic noises without having loud music and sound encroaching on what should be a pleasant meal out.

Member
Fay Gray says:
1 October 2017

I totally agree with the comments. My husband in particular can find the noise level painful and we have to leave early. My hearing is not so acute, but even I find it uncomfortable. I have asked for the volume to be turned down, and have had the same excuse – “the volume is set by the distributor”. The adverts are always louder than the film. Can Which investigate, or start a campaign for reasonable sound levels?

Member

Yes I find cinema sound far to loud. The pre film advertisements and trailers of future films is awful – I now take ear plugs that I use until the reason for being in the cinema eventually arrives. I say eventually arrives as the start time the main film is advertised for is seldom the actual time as the cinemas want your attention for other things as well.

Member

While it’s a relief to discover I am not alone in my discomfort, it is alarming to find out that this is such a widespread problem. Perhaps we all need to join Pipedown. Or Which? needs to get in on the act!

Member
TERENCE DAVINSON says:
2 October 2017

Totally agree. It’s certainly making me reconsider going to some of the cinemas I frequent!

Member

My husband and I have stopped going to the cinema because of the unbearable noise level. We also asked several times if the volume could be turned down and was told it couldn’t be done. My sister made the same request at her local cinema and was refused too.
I’ve just returned from a P&O cruise where there was loud or a pervasive level of music everywhere. When I asked where on the ship there was a quiet area the response was in the library which was open to the atrium where loud music was being played and where there were only 6 chairs!?! The one bar at the top of the ship which used to be a quiet place to read now has music too. You saw passengers huddled into chairs in a relatively quiet, but tiny, area trying to read their books. I’ll not be cruising with them again.
I don’t know why we have to have loud music everywhere. Companies are being wrongly persuaded by suppliers of these soundtracks that music makes people spend more or linger in shops longer. I think there’s evidence that proves this is contrary. Personally I do my shopping as quickly as possible & walk out of shops, particularly supermarkets, with blaring music. I know M&S introduced music but quickly turned it off after numerous customer complaints.
The Christmas period is purgatory and the staff have my sympathy.
In the days when people can choose to hear their music of choice through earphones from their phone or music player, why is the rest of the population forced to listen to music they do not enjoy and at an unbearable volume?

Member

For those fed up with TV noise scientists at Lancaster University have perfected a system that allows any object , including your cat to become a remote control. Selecting the pointer of your choice ( no remote ) like your cat you can adjust the volume its called the Matchpoint system.

Member
Michael Martin says:
4 October 2017

I agree. Cinema volume is deleteriously loud.

On the rare occasions that I go to the cinema these days, it’s usually to watch NTLive performances of plays at the National Theatre and similar venues: even for these, the volume is too high. I don’t think that is likely to be due to the imposition of distributors!

I think the trend in increased volume may have come about because of the obsession with sound effects these days, which is probably spurred on by the gaming fraternity. Effects seems to have become more important to some cinema goers than the storyline or dialogue, and perhaps distributors are concerned that we will miss them if we’re not blown out of our seat by them! Or is it just out of concern that we hear everything over the sound of others’ incessant talking and rustling of their crisp and sweet packets?!

I support the suggestion of a Which? campaign; and I’m grateful to Christopher Gillett for drawing my attention to Pipedown.org.UK.

Member

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the effect of modern cinema subsonic sound systems. Bass sounds have a great deal more energy than higher frequencies, but subsonics cannot be ‘heard’ as such but rather felt. Cinemas of the past had no such technology but with the rush to simulate realism in explosions, (or at least what the editors believe the audience expect them to sound like), the energy to which your hearing is subjected in a cinema can be significant. The other aspect of all this is that the higher frequencies, which are the more painful, are elevated dynamically, so it becomes something of a vicious circle.

Member

The only thing I have noticed so far is after complaining “strongly ” on Which about BLAZE an ardently US Freeview channel whose background NOISE ! was so loud it was a pure waste of time watching it and saying this is the UK NOT the US and we like to listen to dialogue not continuing NOISE —-they LISTENED and turned it down–a bit , so Which is watched/ listened to even though some say—its a “irrelevance ” – Which does work !

Member

That is, of course, if it wasn’t simply a coincidence (these things happen), something else changed, unconnected with…Blaze, or they simply used a different supplier. I suspect if you genuinely believe it was changed for everyone as a consequence of a single post you made in here, Duncan, you’re more of an optimist than anyone I know.

And BLAZE isn’t a US freeview channel: it’s a British television channel owned by A&E Networks UK, a joint venture between A&E Networks and Sky plc. Apart from that…

Member

It is American even publicises itself as such. , come on Ian you only have to get up the name to find its USA origins .. So its another “co-incidence ” is it ? they seem to continually happen on Which-surprising .

Member

From wikipedia: “Blaze is a British television channel owned by A&E Networks UK,” and that’s also the statement on Sky. You might want to label US, because the parent company is US-based, but it’s registered as British.

And yes, Duncan; I subscribe to the Occam’s razor school of logic which states that a coincidence is somewhat more likely than a multi-national company turning down its background sound levels because a single person has posted he finds it annoying on a smallish UK website, which is what you’ve clearly implied above.

Member

If you expect me to believe in co-incidence its never going to happen Ian Blaze has a parent in the USA just because its registered here its “British ” Ian never in my book it takes its orders from the parent company like all the others do . China has bought a lot of companies in the EU and keep Eu names do you call them EU companies when they carry out Chinese policy ? You clearly dont think much of WHICH conversations -I do , but lets ask the CEO does HE ? think this is a”no account website ” that’s only good as a joking plaything – if so I am on the wrong website -Well Ian ?? you are on the inside I am on the outside tell me . Put it plainly -no joking please..

Member

Please don’t put words into my mouth, Duncan; that’s unworthy of you and I’m certain you know that no one has a higher opinion of W?Cs than I do. And I’m bewildered as to where you get the phrase “no account website”. Who has said that?

But let’s get it straight about British companies. Of course many of the top UK-based companies have been bought by overseas investors – that’s how capitalism works. But if they’re registered as British then that’s what they are. If you apply your logic regarding ownership to the companies in the FTSE 100 then you would say there are almost no UK companies in existence.

But to return to the topic: are you seriously saying you believe that because you made a post complaining about a satellite TV company’s dynamics in here that that company then changed their policy?

Member

Ian because I have satellite I am able to watch Freeview or foreign channels . I have 2 choices for Freeview Aerial or satellite . The satellite I watch Freeview on is focused on Britain sp what technica;lly meant was- its British Freeview , its jusyt another means of watching British channels instead of via an aerial . IN Germany for example they dont patronise the people by making them think they are getting something for nothing . Being Democratic Socialists they pay for Quality programmes to be broadcast FREE with no condescending “getting something for nothing ” type of western propaganda and its much Superior. Whats on Freeview is absolute rubbish very US films cheaply made programmes of zero intellectual value but big advertising value by “advertising for the masses ” inc. So what I meant was a British land-based transmitter not a foreign one . Within one week after posting about the different cultures in the USA and UK when it came to noise Blaze had dropped the decibels , check up my posts on it check the dates , check when I re-posted you have it all at your fingertips Americans like LOUD , we dont and dont like permanent deafness . Being European we like to be able to hear the words and digest the verbal responses the US “couch Potato ” likes noise above all else as they dont have to think about anything only watch and eat big macs/ fries/ Dunkin Donuts /etc and believe me Ian Intellectual Americans AGREE with me . One group I am in contact with published a cartoon strip showing the crossroads of two paths – the sign above them said – free fries and reduced price cheeseburgers and the other end of the sign said FREEDOM –a 2 mile queue was waiting on the free food side pathway while nobody was on the freedom pathway .

Member

But you still haven’t answered my question.

Member
john trueman says:
9 October 2017

Has anybody contacted health and safety with repect to noise levels and if so what results if any?
Has which entered into the fray ie measured typical sound levels at different venues, or are these blogs effectively it.

Member

John -it is not so easy to determine loudness in a movie theater (cinema ) a VU meter is no use due to slowness and a PPM meter only registers the peaks .. I have been accused both of providing too much technical information and when I don’t I have been accused of not providing enough – so enough already ! you are going to get technical info that will appeal to Wavechange at least and don’t dare complain ! . US website – are movies too loud . : http://www.cinematechnologymagazine.com/pdf/movie%20loudness_Cinema%20June%2000.pdf

Member

That is 20 years old, Duncan. I remember reading it nearer the time and would argue that things have only become worse, or louder, since it was written. The pertinent paragraph ,however, is here:

“Sustained loudness can cause damage at much lower levels, though, and while there is no evidence to suggest that a two-hour movie once or twice a week is anywhere near damage (it is certainly way below the levels of rock concerts), there is material which suggests that mixing at the levels of current trailers could cause damage. ”

Sound Editors (he calls them ‘mixers’) have long resorted to attenuation systems when editing. That, alone, should tell us something.

Member

So what if it is 20 years old the same principles apply and you have quoted on one small part of it Ian. Just because a way was found 20 years ago to output LOUDNESS ( check into the technical facts on it ) doesn’t change anything .It was more than 20 years ago that people complained en masse in this country a bout the level of TV adverts —and WON ! Now with outright -LIberalisation of this country its open house on the general public. with intentionally weakened NGO ,s dealing with the public , come on Ian HMG admitted they were doing it as part of their political agenda ( dogma ) to “open up ” the country . Well they certainly “opened up our ears to noise . You carefully didn’t mention those that worked ijn movie theaters who long term would be affected by the noise levels . Cheap hi-fi amps from Japan in the 70,s Incorporated “loudness ” controls they were anything but distortion-less there to boost perceived increases of noise . Why didn’t you quote that it was found distortion due to many factors caused pain in the ear – actual equipment distortion / reverberation of sound in the hall ( acoustics ) and the means of achieving increased volume which,in itself is distortion of a straight – 20HZ- 20Khz audio signal deviating harshly from flatness by many decibels . I realise the US media is fighting against any change in their loudness to the public policy and try to puy it forward in a good light but increased deafness among the young is taking its toll while the hearing aid industry are clapping their hands ( using compression techniques of course ) . Excuses dont work – Ban It !.

Member

Agree with this thread. Went to see the new blade runner yesterday in a vue. Never again. I thought the cinema was bieng bombed. My seat was vibrating and i was wearing headphones to dampen the volume throughout. We should be able to choose and have ratings related to volume before we go in. Say 1 to 5, then i could avoid anything over 2!

Member

All 3 local cinemas crank it up too far ( the most up to date ar Whitely being the least offender) but also thetres, including some top grade. The worst is the Mayflower in Southampton where for me shows are spoiled by the painful sound levels. The problem goes beyond mere loudness as amplifiers are driven up into saturation distortion. This turns a top note into a loud crack (same in cinemas). Sound operators who sit at the desk in rear stalls or circle must be aware of this, so why allow it?
SpecSavers have done a nice line in free earplugs recently. I carry 2 pairs , use them in any cinema or theatre. They really help but the distortion of course remains.

Member
Peter Ward says:
19 October 2017

For 2 years I suffered slight hearing loss and tinnitus in my left hear – so slight that it hardly bothered me. Then last December I visited the Odeon Cinema in Manchester. When the adverts started it was like being hit by an explosion. I was tempted to leave. Unfortunately I didn’t follow my instincts and stayed to watch the film, my hands covering my ears for much of the time. As I left the cinema I was aware of a problem with my left ear. Since then I have had severe high frequency hearing loss in my left ear and an irritating, occasionally distressing level of tinnitus. These problems are continuing to worsen. It is appalling that cinemas are allowed to show films at a volume level that can permanently damage one’s hearing.

Member

Peter -it makes a fool out of audio regulations and specifications for the sake of large profit for the media giants. Its never going to be stopped because as far as they are concerned they aren’t braking the law just breaking your hearing for life and promoting hearing aid manufacturers . IN days gone by the public had some power now we are just media fodder for conglomerates.

Member
Phil Cawser says:
19 October 2017

Yes, too loud. My wife & I have complained many times for 20+ years, without success. We very rarely go now for that reason. It is painful. If i really want to see a new film immediately, i take ear plugs!

Member
Adriana PEIXOTO says:
19 October 2017

I agree the volume is very loud for both adults and children.
I especially hate the VUE advert that starts with a “shhhhh” just before the main film!

Member
Patricia Finn says:
19 October 2017

I wholeheartedly agree with the numerous comments above. My local cinema is the Odeon in Putney London and following my last experience when I went to see a movie in the afternoon I ended up leaving half way through as the volume was unbearable. It’s always been like this and I’ve now decided not to visit this cinema again and wait for my favourite movies to come out on DVD which I can watch in the comfort of my own home.

Member

I recently went to see Dunkirk and if loudness equals realism it was spot on! I’ve thought for sometime cinemas have been cranking up the volume but this was painful. Why should I pay top dollar to have what hearing I have left destroyed? I can do that for nothing by riding my motorcycle without wearing my earplugs. When businesses have a supposed duty of care, why is this dangerous practice allowed to continue?

Member
c bartlett says:
21 October 2017

I find cinema volume levels distressingly loud and rarely go to the cinema as a consequence.

Member

Absolutely it is. I went to see La Traviata at the cinema recently – three people walked out before the end of Act 1 as it was so loud, with such heavy bass that the seats were shuddering. I would never go to see an ‘action’ movie for this reason (and possibly because they are rubbish!). No wonder that people feel entitled to talk, text and eat all the way through. No, like others here, I will bide my time and get what I want to see on DVD. Then I can stay at home, watch on my own bigscreen, when I want to, as often as I wish, with a nice cuppa and without going out in the rain to be deafened. And don’t get me started on the filthy seats and floors!

Member

There is one benefit to loud music in shops and restaurants ~ you do not have to waste time going in to see if they have what you want. Most times loud pop or rap tells me that they do not. Maybe there should be an app to show hearing- friendly environments!

Member
wesley collins says:
21 October 2017

yes the noise level is way too high, high enough to have stopped me going anymore, I complained three times when I had to go with grandkids in London last year, but was told by various cinema (officials) that it was nothing to do with them, we left. A few months ago in Worcester I was asked to go again with my other grandkids but this time we took balls of compressed kitchen roll, it worked pretty good, I did complain again, but it was water of a ducks back, I did suggest that the management were leaving themselves open to hearing loss claims, but no luck . SO why not have a suggestion box in the foyey. so someone can see problem .

Member
Julia says:
23 October 2017

It is certainly far too loud particularly during the advertising.

Member
Michael H says:
23 October 2017

I usually go to see films that don’t involve loud explosions or rock music. But every single film at my local Vue is preceded by a 2 minute advert that demonstrates just how loud, boomy and annoying their sound system can go. Sound quality unimportant – it’s just the volume that matters. At least I can stick my fingers in my ears for a couple of minutes.

Member
Norman says:
24 October 2017

A few years ago I attended a showing of the 1955 film, Rififi. After a suspenseful safe-breaking sequence there came abrupt string chords, which were so loud that an elderly lady a few rows in front literally jumped in her seat. Nowadays, I find the sound so loud as to be distracting, if not painful. As a result I no longer enjoy the cinema and rarely go.

Member
Annie Power says:
24 October 2017

Yes! I’m 67 and although my hearing isn’t as sharp as it was, I find the sound volume in cinemas unbearably loud. So much so, that I always roll up pieces of tissue to make ear plugs. I adapt the amount of tissue used to the volume, until the sound is audible but bearable. Ridiculous to have to do this!

Member

Not just a problem with cinemas. I’ve experienced it at the National Theatre as well.

Member
Simon says:
26 October 2017

I took my 2 boys, aged 6 and 8 to the cinema last week to see the LEGO Ninjago Movie. About half way through, my eldest began to complain that the film was too loud. It was obviously hurting his ears as he began to cover them. Thankfully the peak volume appeared to wear off but between us we kept covering his ears as a remedy. The 6 year old was far too perplexed by the appearance of a real cat (in the animated film) to notice but the overall experience has made me doubt any return trips. I will probably now buy a much bigger TV and have ‘home movie’ nights.

Member

Wise move Simon , the FIRST allegiance of any parent is to the protection of that child’s health+ welfare . Some kids might like the loud noise but 20 years later will be saying -speak up or turn up the volume . You cant cure dead audio nerve endings . As a matter of fact I think a case could be made for Child Abuse.

Member
Hazel Taylor says:
26 October 2017

My two friends and I (all in our 60’s) enjoy going to the cinema regularly but have had to buy special, quite expensive, earplugs that reduce the sound level while maintaining clarity of speech because otherwise the volume is just too painful. The noise levels are totally unacceptable and they should be reduced.

Member
Sue McManus says:
26 October 2017

I was surprised by the comments you have received as we have had the opposite problem at our local Odeon. Several people thought the dialogue was difficult to hear at two of the last films I saw. When I mentioned it to a staff member he said they have a test to ensure the volume is at the correct level. I have very good hearing but it must be very difficult for people with reduced hearing,

Member
Lindsay says:
27 October 2017

Yes, even just dialogue, let alone music and action scenes, i found far too loud. Puts me off going back again!

Member

When I lived in Hertfordshire I had given up going to films, because of the uncomfortable, sometimes really painful, sound levels, except for French films shown in the local general purpose hall where the levels were reasonable. It was therefore in spite of reservations that a few years ago I accepted an invitation to join friends at our local cinema here in Woodbridge, Suffolk. To my surprise and pleasure the sound was not excessive and I have since found the same in another rural town cinema not far away. Before anyone assumes it is simply that they do not have the equipment I should add that, in spite of being a century old, they have modern surround sound systems, the films come on hard drives the same as anywhere else and one of them shows 3D versions (alternating with 2D). I suspect a major factor is that their survival depends on attracting and keeping a regular clientele, that many of those (and the on-site managers) live and work in much quieter surroundings than city-dwellers, so still have fairly sensitive hearing, and any complaint would be considered seriously.

Member
Noor says:
27 October 2017

Glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks cinemas are just too loud and that’s as someone in their mid twenties! I’d much rather watch in the comfort of my home where I can control the sound (and the snacks)

Member
Dorothy Clarke says:
30 October 2017

Far too loud! I desperately want to turn down volume cos it’s really painful & MUST BE harmful

Member
Nigel Benetton says:
7 November 2017

Cinema volume is often too loud – no question about it. My daughter recently tried attenuation earmuffs, which helped because they can be slipped off when the sound track gives way to dialogue passages. But it’s not ideal. Cinema chains like Cineworld, Odeon and Vue need to read up on home theatre set ups and apply them to the big picture. They probably install the best possible speakers but ruin the effect by thinking that louder is better. It isn’t. Instead, they force their patrons to cower in their seats, vowing never to go again.

Member
Lynn Beal says:
17 November 2017

The last time I went to the cinema my ears hurt and I stuffed tissue into them. I couldn’t believe the level of noise. It should be illegal. Afterwards I wrote to the cinema to complain and was given an apology and free tickets. They are still in a drawer somewhere. I don’t seek to be tortured.

Member
Sue Carr says:
19 November 2017

The noise level is much too high. If you don’t already suffer from a hearing problem then you soon will if you go to the cinema regularly. Many pop stars having hearing disorders due to them playing loud music. I often end up putting my fingers in my ears to shut out the excessive noise.