Omnivore - Why restaurant music is so damn loud

It's often the recording itself that is to blame


  • www.flickr.com/photos/matthijs/3290859398/

I wrote yesterday about the ear-splitting volume of music at Tomatillos. In truth, loud music has become the norm in Atlanta restaurants. I always presumed this had to do with the way it affects diners, like consuming more booze, according to one study, or creating the sense of a vibrant ambiance.

As it turns out, loud music often has nothing to do with the restaurant.

Today, at another venue, I encountered insufferably loud music again. A diner, with even less tolerance than me, insisted that the manager lower the volume. As it happened, the man was in the music business himself. He explained that, to his great annoyance, most music today is literally recorded to be loud. Doing so is part of the so-called "Loudness Wars."

The problem is caused by extreme compression of the dynamic range of music. This sacrifices the subtle quality of music for the high volume that recording companies think most listeners like. Even if you turn down a track recorded with extreme compression, you still don't get high-quality sound. And, of course, if your volume is set at a "normal" level, the compressed tune is going blare loudly anyway.

So, next time you're in a restaurant with intolerably loud music, tell the server you don't appreciate the dynamic range compression.