In the modern cinema, where sound plays a crucial role in delivering the message in each scene of a film, it can be difficult to find a balance when it comes to loudness. That’s why an AES committee, chaired by Brian McCarty of TC-SDCTV and Coral Seas Studios Pty. Ltd., is working to address this issue and create a set of standards when it comes to loudness in a cinema theater.
Since the introduction of the Digital Cinema Distribution Masters, movie theater sound has gotten consistently louder and louder, leading McCarty and his committee to study this issue and come up with solutions for this issue.
Hearing loss has remained a large concern within the audio world, as long exposures to high frequency levels can cause permanent damage. For audio engineers, not only do they have to consider the best way to preserve their own hearing, but also produce the soundtrack to avoid causing damage to the audience’s hearing as well.
During a presentation he gave at the recent AES Convention, McCarty told a story about a 17 year old girl who suffered permanent tinnitus while watching the movie Inception at a theater in Belgium in 2012. As a result, the Belgian government responded by placing a maximum level of 4.5 for large cinemas, and 4.0 in medium cinemas to help protect the hearing of audience members. This instance led the committee to look into the various sound levels at 24 movie theaters across the U.S. to see if there was some sort of consistency when it comes to movie theaters.
Concluding, the committee learned that there is not a consistency in loudness levels, which is why they want to propose a set of standards. During the study, loudness levels ranged between 3.5 and 5.0. This lack of consistency also affects the engineer for the film, as it can affect the mixing process, added McCarty.