Shhhhh....
February 15, 2011 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Cube-dwellers: I need recommendations for music that is enjoyable at very low volume.

I sit at the front desk so I need to keep my music turned way down. I'm finding that a lot of the songs I have on my ipod are not very enjoyable at a low volume... the music and vocals don't "match" in volume, so if I turn it up loud enough so the vocals are distinct the music is way too loud (and sometimes vice versa.)

A couple of examples: the Shins at low volume is all vocal, while turning down Badly Drawn Boy makes both vocals and music sound muddy and indistinct. Many classical songs have lengthy stretches of "quiet" music and then suddenly blast into a higher volume... if I have it quiet enough so the loud parts are not too loud, I wind up with lengthy periods of basically nothing I can hear, or else I have to fiddle with the volume constantly.

Things that have sounded the best:

The Ditty Bops (the clear high voices match the volume of the music)

Female choral music - Medieaval Babes, Anonymous 4

Things that sound pretty good:

Nirvana - Kurt's vocals and the drums are at about the same volume

Aimee Mann - voice and music are a good match volume-wise but her voice is not quite as clear as the higher-pitched ladies mentioned above.

I'm listening to my ipod on an inexpensive speaker setup, and don't really have the room (or the bucks right now) for a more elaborate system with an adjustable output.

So... what songs, artists or genres would you recommend for my quiet listening list?
posted by Serene Empress Dork to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
the catalog of She&Him.
posted by nadawi at 4:22 PM on February 15, 2011


What about using something like iVolume?
posted by circular at 4:24 PM on February 15, 2011


Artful, airy, down-tempo but rhythmic Kruder & Dorfmeister?
posted by taramosalata at 4:29 PM on February 15, 2011


I really like the "downtempo" and "ambient" Pandora stations for quiet work music.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:31 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


(sorry - better sample of K&D's work than that kinda-meh YouTube mix can be heard here.)
posted by taramosalata at 4:36 PM on February 15, 2011


....headphones?
posted by narcotizingdysfunction at 4:51 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Headphones. Big, ugly ones. My $60 set at work easily outperforms my very, very nice speakers at home in most regards. There are lots of reviews out there, though you'll probably settle on something by Grado.
posted by pjaust at 5:26 PM on February 15, 2011


Headphones are not an option. For one thing, I wear a headset. For another, my boss would crap a pile of gold bricks and kittens if she caught me wearing any sort of headphone or earbud while on duty.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:29 PM on February 15, 2011


The equalizer will help somewhat. Vocals are in the middle range of frequency, so if you turn that up and turn down the high and low ends of the spectrum, you'll have a higher ratio of voice to instruments without an overall increase in volume. (Subjective loudness varies with frequency too, but not that much.)

You can use the equalizer window in iTunes to see what the named settings on the iPod look like: for example, the "pop" setting emphasizes the mid-range, while the "rock" and "classical" settings emphasize the ends. There's even a "vocal booster" setting but I don't know if it's actually better than the others for that function.

(I have no idea how you can listen to music while also using a headset, but that's another story.)
posted by Chicken Boolean at 5:35 PM on February 15, 2011


I'm in a similar position - I wear earbuds, but only in one ear so that I'm able to hear what's going on around me, and I still have to keep the volume pretty low. In my non-work life I listen to music really, really loud, and I think most things sound kind of bad at a low volume. My solution is to listen to (talk) podcasts at work. I know that doesn't exactly answer your question, but it's one way to pass the time.
posted by ashotinthearm at 5:39 PM on February 15, 2011




Bonobo
posted by fso at 6:30 PM on February 15, 2011


2nding the Pandora idea, especially seeding it with an artist you feel works, like those above. I haven't noticed any problems with Pandora's volume oscillating, so it seems like a good idea.
posted by maryr at 6:50 PM on February 15, 2011


Have you tried any post-rock, like Godspeed You Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, or Mogwai? It's mostly instrumental and often long-form.
posted by tau_ceti at 6:58 PM on February 15, 2011


I haven't noticed any problems with Pandora's volume oscillating, so it seems like a good idea.

Watch out for ads. They're often much louder, in my experience.
posted by Netzapper at 7:28 PM on February 15, 2011


Many classical songs have lengthy stretches of "quiet" music and then suddenly blast into a higher volume...

Get Bach's Goldberg Variations played on overdubbed guitars by Kurt Rodarmer.

I would not use Explosions in the Sky. They tend to start out quiet and very gradually get loud.
posted by John Cohen at 7:36 PM on February 15, 2011


Ambient (or close to ambient) music. I go through a phase of liking it every now and then. There's some good stuff. Brian Eno's is perhaps the most accessible (such as Music for Airports). There's a whole channel of such music on di.fm 24/7.
posted by wackybrit at 7:46 PM on February 15, 2011


(I have no idea how you can listen to music while also using a headset, but that's another story.)

It's a headset that fits over one ear, hanging off of a headpiece. I listen to music off my ipod thru a small portable speaker set on my desk. I can't plug up the free ear with any kind of device because, as I mentioned, my boss would have a fit.

I can't do streaming off the Internet because (see above, boss prone to fits.) But Pandora would be a good idea to find other music similar to what is working, which I could then purchase from itunes.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:51 PM on February 15, 2011


Yeah I would check out Bonobo, Zero 7, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation, Amethystium, Tri-State, Andrew Bird, Andy McKee, Quantic, and Massive Attack.
posted by msbutah at 7:55 PM on February 15, 2011


Your situation reminds me of how Eno got the idea for ambient music -- after an accident he ended up in a hospital listening to a radio at very, very low volumes that he couldn't move enough to turn up. So Eno (e.g.) is obviously one suggestion, as others have mentioned. A few more:

Aphex Twin (no wait, don't skip to the next answer!): Selected Ambient Works '85-'92 (e.g.) and some parts of Vol. II (e.g.), though you'll have to program out the more fun-housey ones.
Boards of Canada (e.g., e.g., e.g.).
Tycho (e.g.).
Gas (e.g.).
Loscil (e.g.).
Chris Herbert (e.g.).
The Books (e.g.).
posted by en forme de poire at 8:35 PM on February 15, 2011


The Tallis Scholars are also a good choice. They record vocal music -- mostly early Baroque, e.g., Palestrina and Josquin and Monteverdi and Byrd.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:41 PM on February 15, 2011


If you liked Medieval Baebes you might also like Madrigaia, a (now-defunct) 8-woman group that took inspiration from all types of music. Two good discs; Viva Voce is my favourite. You can still order discs even though they're no longer together.

I agree that Boards of Canada are good at low volume, as are Stars of the Lid.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:01 PM on February 15, 2011


Thanks for the great suggestions everyone.

The Tallis Scholars were love at first listen, as was Kurt Rodarmer. Some of the others sound as if they will work for me as well, but I'll need to give a longer listen on the weekend when I have more time.

Again, thanks. It will be nice to have something new to listen to today.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:17 AM on February 16, 2011


Piano music, like the great Butch Thompson.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:55 AM on February 16, 2011


Vintage recordings - optimized for the tiny, crappy speakers of the era. It's all in the midrange! Stuff like Skiffle or Crumb's Blues, jazz & country.
posted by Tom-B at 7:31 PM on February 17, 2011


« Older Looking for a Mac program (or some other way) that...   |   Help me remember the underwater headlights... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.