One of the things that makes us human is our ability to have a conversation. Last week in London I had at least two bad experiences where there was no chance to have a conversation. One was in a gym and one in a restaurant.
Two reasons you go to the gym are to get strong and to stay healthy. Not to get tinnitus or a headache.
I’ve done weight training at lots of gyms over the years, and last week I tried out a chain in West London called Better. They have a green logo, and their gyms sound fabulous on their website. Note that the tagline is ‘the feel good place’.
When I was there they had the radio on pretty loudly. I went up to the reception and asked them to turn it down.
The answer I got was: ‘This is our normal volume and we have to accommodate all our customers, and therefore we need to keep the volume up.’ Then the man at the reception said: ‘I will let the management know about your complaint.’
I have a decibel meter on my smartphone, and I measured the volume when standing in the middle of the gym. It was between 73 and 78 decibels.
Ten minutes later when I was exercising at one of the machines, I suddenly noticed someone staring at me. It turns out that it was the manager. He asked me if there was a problem. ‘Yes, there is a problem. The volume is far too loud, can you please turn it down?’
The music is too loud for us to have a normal conversation, and we both speak really loudly to each other. ‘The manager’ looks at me and tells me: ‘We need to accommodate everyone who’s in the gym and this is our normal volume.’
I get really annoyed and tell him that the gym is discriminating against people suffering from hearing impairment and people who can’t spend too long in a noisy environment. And if people are not having any hearing problems now, they will later.
I was wearing my headphones at the time, and the next question I get asked is: ‘Do you want us to turn down the volume so you can listen to your own music in your headphones?’
‘That’s not the case,’ I reply, ‘but I would like to be in a gym that uses music as a background sound and not like it’s a frigging concert.’
I always listen to podcasts when I’m at the gym, and in this case I had turned up the volume to the highest setting and I still found it hard to hear the content. But the reason that I asked for the volume to be turned down was not only so I could hear the podcast.
In the end ‘the manager’ turned down the volume so it was between 69 and 78 decibels, so a slight improvement.
I left, and I’m pretty sure I will never set foot in any of the Better gyms again.
On Saturday evening, I was invited for dinner at Jak’s on Kings Road in West London. I arrive at 8.30 and sit down in the bar area. The venue is in a basement, and it’s a huge place.
Just after 9 pm, they turn up the volume, and it’s more or less impossible to have a relaxed conversation. I always have earplugs with me in my handbag, and I put them in, but they barely help.
I try my best and have a nice chat with some other guests. Next to us there is a big screen showing an Al Pacino movie, and eventually we all start to stare at the screen instead of talking.
Then I walk over to the restaurant area hoping for a better atmosphere. Wow, am I wrong. There is almost no difference in the noise level. I pick up my smart decibel meter and it shows that the volume is between 85 and 98 decibels.
I get back to my friends feeling really bad. I decide to go home. There is no chance that I could have enjoyed myself over dinner while screaming for a few hours.
Did the manager of Jak’s think that people were enjoying themselves? Some of the guests were probably too pissed to notice the volume, I don’t know, but music should enhance your experience of a venue, not drive people away.
Just after 10 pm, I took the bus to the nearest McDonald’s, had a cheeseburger and then I went to bed.
That was my Saturday evening.
- Disturbing sound equals interfering noise, aka noise pollution.
- To keep background music levels okay for people to talk you should not go over 55 decibels.
- Most guests and people working in hospitality want to be able to have a conversation many of them suffer from tinnitus and hearing loss.
- You can design the environment smarter so that noise is absorbed. Think tablecloths and better interior design.
- Many brands still don’t get the sound of their brand.
You might also like to read two articles I’ve written about sound:
Please support the movement of creating more public spaces with less noise.