Living With Equal Loudness

I want to try and clear something up.

I saw a post come up on my Instagram feed a while back talking about EQ’ing something. Somewhere in their chosen magical frequencies was a description of “compensating for Fletcher Munson”. To me, this is whacky idea.

So, here’s the deal. “Fletcher Munson” refers to the concept of Equal Loudness.

“What is Equal Loudness?” you ask?

It’s essentially a flawed/confusing term that wants to explain how our hearing works based on a bunch of studies done over the years. The basic gist is we don’t perceive all frequencies at the same loudness when those frequencies are reproduced at the same sound pressure level. We actually need to hear more or less of certain frequencies to perceive all frequencies as being equally loud. And on top of that, it’s also a moving target because that level-perception relationship amongst frequencies changes depending on overall sound pressure levels.

Confused, yet?

There are charts and graphs floating around that help explain and/or further confuse things. If we cut to the chase, though, the basic thing that happens is as sound pressure levels go up, we perceive things as being brighter and/or harsher. As things get quieter, they get warmer and/or darker in tone. So, in essence, it’s like our brain and ears have a giant hardwired dynamic EQ that adjusts our perception based on sound pressure level.

That’s it. Equal Loudness is all about how our ears and brains work.

Now, the concept of equal loudness IS NOT something to know so you can compensate for it.

You shouldn’t compensate for it. It’s just how our ears work.

In fact, you CAN’T really compensate for it because, as I mentioned, it’s a moving target depending on the listening level. In live sound, we can control the level at FOH, but we can’t control the level someone listens to at home. That’s someone’s personal preference so how ya gonna compensate for that?

You’re not.

On the other hand, if you start EQ’ing like a professional, you’ll just EQ things the way you want them to sound. Try not to overthink it.

Maybe that sounds a little too simplistic for you, though. Well, would you like to build up your EQ chops in 2022? Can you afford not to?

I’m starting to book training visits and sessions for next year, and I’d love to chat about how we’re going to help you move your audio production skills in the New Year. Please drop me a line on my contact page, and I will be in touch.

David Stagl

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Living With Equal Loudness