I was at the Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix a fortnight ago and had cause for some work-relating discussion with some fellow fans. There was controversy in the air, with the new cars sounding like a throttle-jammed-open flat six with a tinnitus whine. Worse than that, they're quiet-ish. The agony of former years as the cars shot past, causing physical pain to exposed ears, is gone. Now, as a fan standing track-side, you can hear the PA system clearly and even hold a conversation for the most part.
For some, the thrill of physical impact is gone. For others, being able to actually hear the roar of the crowds (genuinely massive in Melbourne) adds an emotional element which was missing from the tech-heavy sport.
This got me to thinking in a broader sense about our attitude to noise levels. I've always loved feeling the impact of music and movies at home and keep the volume knob at a spot which delivers, but housemates and friends often prefer a more sedate level we can talk over. Perhaps it's my reluctance to multi-task, but I always feel as though listening is, or at least should be, a whole-brain activity. Pairing visuals to audio is great for context, but with great sound our brain can fill in that void on its own. Think of hearing a great call on the radio or listening to a beautifully performed audio book - the images happen even without a TV.
So why then the fuss over the noise of the F1 cars? Now the soundtrack is so much more complete for me, being able to listen to the call (I usually watch races with noise cancelling headphones to listen to the call regardless) at the same time as hearing the engines. The moments which pull your attention to the screen - crashes, overtakes and tight racing - are where the audio is less important than the image, and those aren't affected. So for me, it's a non-issue.
So this weekend with the race in Malaysia, turn the sound up and listen to the call and the crowd without your eardrums rupturing from the noise of the engines and tell me it isn't better. To help, here's a low-quality version of the end of qualifying in Melbourne - listen to the roar of the crowd!