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Do Home Theaters Still Rock? Why not Play it Loud?

The consumer audio industry offers many products that are capable of delivering high volume levels, but are installers utilizing these products' full capabilities?


Gibson reports that back in 1970 the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association measured a Led Zeppelin performance of “Heartbreaker” at 130dB. Are installers offering their clients home theaters capable of approaching that level of volume?

A couple of weeks ago Gibson ran down its list of the 10 loudest bands of all time and of course it included iconic rockers such as Motorhead, The Who, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Kiss.

It made me think back to some seriously loud home theater demos, and how installers can lower the sonic boom in people's houses like these bands do onstage.

In some ways the home theater market mimics the testosterone-driven mindset of Motorhead’s wall of Marshalls (amplifiers) backline through speaker systems from companies such as JBL Synthesis, Pro Audio Technology and others.

Installers can also assemble high-decibel (dB) home theaters using efficient speakers from companies like B&W, RBH Sound, Klipsch and others, in tandem with powerful amplifiers from companies like Krell, Bryston, McIntosh, Classe.

I once remember reviewing RBH’s modular T2 speaker system that employed its 92dB efficient T-1 enclosure mounted atop its 1010SEN woofer module. With my fairly modestly powered Bryston 9B-ST home theater amp I was able to push 105dBs of clean power before the 9B ran out of gas. The experience reminded me of when I saw Iron Maiden back in high school. Despite my sitting in the nose-bleed section of the Worcester Centrum (in Central Massachusetts), Steve Harris' bass and the twin guitar attack of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray's guitars left me deaf for a couple of days.

Now I know 105dB is far from the wall of sound that is Iron Maiden or the 136dB Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and the guys in Kiss makeup have reportedly hit, but it’s still pretty loud.

And I can recall attending system demos conducted respectively by Pro Audio Technology and Wisdom Audio that hit above 120dB.

I’m also sure that many installers still take pride in designing and installing home theaters that would make Lemmy Kilmister’s (Motorhead) ears bleed. The only question I have about these ear-splitting theaters is ... are they part of a bygone era or are homeowners still asking for home theaters with some muscle?

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Article Topics

Blogs · Audio · Amplifiers · Speakers · Acoustics · Home Theater · Gibson · Jimmy Page · Motorhead · · All topics

About the Author

Robert Archer, Senior Editor, CE Pro
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass.

4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  02/16  at  12:27 PM

The opening of The Last Waltz, featuring the last performance of The Band and a spectacular lineup of guests ... best rockumentary ever made:

“This film should be played loud!”

(forget the grammatical error)

Posted by paulcunningham  on  02/17  at  10:59 AM

AC/DC at MSG a few years back is hands down the loudest I have ever heard live. I had earplugs stuffed all the way in and it was still intense - for the entire show half of the people I saw had their fingers in their ears to keep from writhing in pain.

To answer your question, it’s a bygone era. Some customers still appreciate it, but they are rare.

Posted by Tom Hall  on  02/22  at  01:37 PM

We have always believed that a good system for a client begins with a stunning demo, and not that volume is the only criteria, but it does lead into a conversation with a client about ‘effortless reproduction’ at any volume.  Our old showroom had a theater that could produce over 120dB from 12-20K Hz and peaked at 132dB when the bass was tailed in to 20Hz, and a demo like that left an impression and sold a lot of clients on good home theater.  I am hoping clients continue to understand that dynamics and realism can only come from systems with high output capability.

Posted by Doug Johnson  on  02/22  at  01:46 PM

I would have to say that the loudest concert I have ever been too was back in the late 80’s (1987 to be exact) at Monsters of Rock in Kansas City.  There was bands like:

Bon Jovi
The Bailey Bros. was there as well.

Also - Metallica!  Let me tell you, when they hit center stage it was just CRAZY!!  Not only the loud guitar riffs, but the 100+ thousand fans all going nuts.  I was buy the right hand side of the stage with the speaker in my ear the whole time. 

First off, I thought I was gonna go deaf because of such loud volumes being pumped in my eardrum - believe me, after the show my friends had to more a less scream at me so that I could hear what they was saying, and they said I was screaming back (when I thought I was just talking normal).

If that wasn’t bad enough, my ears rang for 3-4 days AFTER the event.  So to me, the loudest I have witnessed would have to be Metallica with Kiss coming in right behind them!!!

Iron Maiden is also a loud performance!

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