I always carry cheap, disposable foam earplugs

Which I usually wear on the Tube.  However a while ago I used them in an unlikely situation – the cinema.  I went to see Avengers Assemble, and from the trailers realised that the volume was way beyond my comfort level.  I kept the earplugs in for the entire film and could still hear everything, although chewing popcorn was rather distracting.  At one point I used a (probably quite unreliable) decibel level meter app on my iPhone, which measured 85-90 dB throughout, with peaks of 100 fairly regularly.  I did write an email to the cinema chain enquiring about their policy on loudness levels, but I only received a reply informing me that it has been passed on to management.  It happened again when I went to see Prometheus and this time I went to speak to an employee who assured me that they would turn it down.  However I didn’t detect any difference, so again I emailed customer services, this time a bit more peevishly.  I decided to mention that I was acoustician and this prompted a much quicker response!  Apparently they always “play all films at recommended level correct for the size of the auditorium” but are investigating the matter further.  Most people reading this will probably think that I am acting like a whiney old lady, but hearing damage is irreparable and more common than you would think, and as someone obsessed with sound I intend to keep my ears functioning perfectly as long as I can.

(In case you wondered, the British Standards Institution has recommended that sound in the cinema not exceed 82 dB, which in my opinion is still rather excessive, but not nearly as damaging as the levels I experienced.)

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7 thoughts on “I always carry cheap, disposable foam earplugs

  1. I agree: Movie theatres play their films WAY too loud. Lately I’ve been avoiding seeing big blockbuster films because I usually come out with a migraine. Overstimulation from the flashing bright lights and loud loud soundtrack. I avoid loud bars and clubs because for me pounding music at the threshold of pain is just not my idea of a good time. I know I’m a minority in this sense, but really I think its just because I”m much more aware of the function of sound in my environment than most people.

  2. I am also increasingly getting migraines from the cinema, particularly at 3D films. It’s a shame, I’ve been wondering recently when this whole notion that louder = better came about? I’m guessing it has something to do with the emergence of youth culture and some kind of rebellion against quiet, but it seems to be getting a lot worse. Like you I avoid loud bars and clubs a lot now, but I worked in them for years – thankfully I still have perfect hearing, but every night I used to go home with a headache! I think it will take a lot to change the loudness culture, as you said we are aware of sound more than the average person, so some education is needed. I mean, I have considered buying a big box of cheap earplugs and handing them out at London Underground stations, just to get people thinking.

  3. Great post. The “loudness = excitement” way of thinking is pretty absurd at the cinema isn’t it? The use of silence in a movie can be quite intense. Less can be more. My current gripe is the volume of inane music played through tacky speakers at cafes and restaurants. It is contradictory to the idea of providing a space where people can communicate. Here in Australia some restaurant review sites now include a section which rates the noise level, so hopefully things are going to improve.

    • Exactly, in relation to the cinema, and also when listening to music, people don’t seem to realise that the quieter the sound is, the more detail you hear. Otherwise your ears just start to switch off because it’s too much to deal with. It’s totally not conducive to communication or relaxation, this music piped around restaurants. That’s an excellent idea to rate the noise level of venues, it would be good if that kind of thing became more widespread.

  4. Am not sure why the whole cinema should have the noise turned down for one person? Since you’ve found a solution in earplugs, then surely that’s fine. Added to that, the iPhone dB app is not accurate. Personally I would invest in some better earplugs like ours at Snorestore.

  5. You’re missing the point. If I pay £15 or whatever it is for the ticket, I don’t expect to have to wear earplugs – that kind of loudness is unnecessary. And if you read the post again, you will notice that I did say that the iPhone dB app is unreliable, I was merely using it as a guideline. Why don’t you bring your own accurate dB level meter into the cinema and record the ratings for yourself? Also, if you intend to use other people’s blogs to advertise your product, perhaps in future you should take a less arrogant and aggressive approach?

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