How loud is Loud Enough?

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The battle is almost as old as the church sound system.  It has always baffled me that the pipe organ can be played at 100dB, but that when the band plays at 100dB, it's often "too loud."  We're not here today to define how loud is "loud enough" or "too loud" for the acoustic volume of your worship service, but to help figure out how much difference there should be between what your congregation hears from the main sound system and what the congregation hears from the monitor speakers, instruments, and amplifiers on the platform, in order to hear the sound system with acceptable clarity. 
 
To allow optimal clarity of sound in the seating area, the main sound system needs to be about 25dB SPL louder than the volume from the monitors, instrument amplifiers, and acoustic instruments. That may not sound like a big deal, but it is. 
 
If the platform participants require monitor volume that spills over into the main seating area at 90dB SPL, your main speaker system must be about 115dB SPL to compensate. 
 
An average sound pressure level of 115dB is much too loud for long periods and impossible to attain in most settings, so it makes sense that the monitor volume (as it relates to the room) must be reduced in order to improve the overall clarity of the system.
 
Managing the acoustic sound from live drums, live instrument amplifiers, and associated monitor volumes can be a nightmare. Guitar amps sound best when they’re wide open (loud) and a guitar player’s sound is his or her signature. Same with the bass player and the drummer. 
 
Have you noticed how much more tone a drum set has when it’s played hard than when it’s played lightly?    Therein lies the problem. 
 
Everything sounds better when they’re loud enough. Unfortunately “loud enough” on stage often forces the sound technician to balance the “it’s too loud” snarls from the audience with making the mix feel good out front.
 
Make sure to see the companion article entitled "How can I reduce stage volume?" in the Resources section of our site.