Surround Receivers

I Never Have My Receiver at 0dB – Am I Doing Something Wrong?

When you got your AV receiver and it was showing the volume in negative numbers, you were confused. Then you learned about “reference level” and you felt better. But now you’re concerned. You never have your AV receiver at 0dB. Never. Is something wrong? Have you messed up your configuration or settings? Let’s discuss!

0dB is Loud!

0dB or reference level is very loud. When you go to an IMAX theater, they are usually calibrated to reference level. Many traditional theaters actually keep the volume lower than reference. There are a lot of reasons for this (the time of the showing, the audience, how well soundproofed the walls are between the theaters, and more). If you’ve ever come out of a movie thinking, “Man, that was LOUD,” you’ve probably experienced reference level.

At home, your AV receiver will use its automatic calibration program to set up your speakers so that 0dB is reference level. Most people end up with their volume dials in the negative numbers. This is, of course, because there are differences in the mixing of the audio. Yes, movies should be mixed to reference level. But no other content is held to the same standard plus the different apps all seem to have their own volume levels. Even with movies, however, where reference level should be true, 0dB on your AV receiver is VERY loud. Most people don’t mind going to the movies and having the volume up that high (especially if it helps drown out people talking around you). At home, however, most people prefer the volume slightly (or even significantly) lower.

Technological Issues

If you’ve experimented with the 0dB setting on your AV receiver and have found that it not only is too loud, but it sounds bad, then you may have some other issues in your home theater. Here are some things to check:

Are Your Speakers Distorting?

At high volumes, speakers that are too small for your space or too far away can distort. Distortion is when your speakers (or amplifiers for that matter) reach the limit of their ability to play and are pushed further. Rather than getting louder, they start to create noise that can lead to listening fatigue and other issues. You may not enjoy 0dB not because it is too loud, but because your receiver or speakers are distorting.

Incorrect Calibration

No matter what your issues are with 0dB, they could be caused by improper calibration. If your system isn’t properly calibrated, then 0dB could be considerably louder (or softer) than reference level. Check out these links to double-check your setup.

Room Acoustics

If you’ve ruled out the calibration and your speakers/amps distorting, then it is time to take a closer look at your room. A bad room can make a good speaker sound horrible. If your system sounds bad or painful at reference level, then your room could be the issue.

Take Away

Honestly, the simple answer is that 0dB on your AV receiver’s volume dial is very loud. Most people don’t want their systems that loud all of the time. Movie night? Maybe. But just for watching TV with the kids? It’s usually too loud. If you like it lower, you aren’t doing anything wrong. You are just protecting your hearing!

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