November 14, 2012

Is Apple’s Palo Alto Store Noisy?

You know what they say: If it’s too loud, you’re too old.

Of all the elements of your health which people say is “the first to go,” hearing normally tops the list, somewhere among knees and a desire to understand This New Stuff the Kids Are Listening To.

Which isn’t to poke fun at Jean-Louis Gassée or presume that he is stereotypically “old,” but a recent blog post of his complaining about the volume inside the newest Apple store does paint him in a sepia-toned hue.

In his Monday Note blog, Gassée mentions that he recently stopped by Apple’s newest flagship store in Palo Alto, California. This store has only been open for a few weeks (since October 27) and is said to be a prototype for other stores. In appearance, it’s said to be much more beautiful than the existing Apple stores in the area. In terms of audible volume, Gassée and some of his friends have said it’s nearly unbearable.

Gassée says he stopped in the evening of the iPad mini launch to check out the new location and has called the glass store “unpleasantly, almost unbearably noisy.”

To build his case, Gassée also cites his friend’s wife who says she could only spend a few minutes in the store before fleeing “for fear of hearing loss.”

Another friend of his, the wife of an Apple employee, had nothing but unkind things to say about the new store and the recently ousted John Browett, saying: “‘How can you spend north of $15M on such a strategically placed, symbolic store, complete with Italian stone hand-picked by Jobs himself…and give no consideration to the acoustics? It’s bad for customers, it’s bad for the staff, it’s bad for business, and it’s bad for the brand. Apple appears to be more concerned with style than with substance!”

Gassée doesn’t build his entire noisy notion on a few opinions, though. Blaming the long, “great hall” layout of the building and the glass walls, Gassée did what any self-respecting Apple fan would do and took to the App store in search of a tool to measure just how loud the store was. He happened upon an app called SPL Meter (or Sound Pressure Level) to measure the decibels in the store. According to Gassée’s post, a normal conversation should register at 40 to 60 dB, while a passenger car from 30 feet should register between 60 and 80 dB. As he walked into the store and up the Genius Bar on what he called a “relatively quiet Saturday evening,” Gassée measured 76 decibels in the store. Returning to the street, he measured traffic at 65 decibels.

“It was 10 db noisier inside the store than on always-busy University Avenue!” exclaims Gassée. Later, he notes that the Apple store had their own, professional grade SPL meters set up around the store, while a few employees were wearing these meters on their shoulders. Perhaps Apple is already aware of the issue and is working to rectify it?

I decided to do my own little test with the same app Gassée used to determine what was loud and what isn’t. I listen to music at a moderate volume in my office when I work, nothing too loud so as to distract me. The music, combined with the noise of my quiet MacBook Pro keyboard, peaked at 58.7 dB during the writing of this article. (An average home should measure at 50 db)

I might be losing my hearing as well, but it seems hard to believe that my quiet writing environment is just 7 decibels lower than a busy street side.

Finally, in looking around the app, I found a handy guide complete with  the average decibels for common environments. The numbers Gassée lists are on the low side. While he says conversation should be between 40 and 60 dB, the guide in the app he used claims 60 dB. Most damning of all, the app Gassée used to measure the noise in the Apple store says curb side traffic on a busy road (such as University Avenue) is 80 dB, 5 dB higher than he measured in the Palo Alto Apple store.

Finally, going on nothing more than anecdotal evidence, my local Apple store is often very loud. In fact, were I to measure it with the same app he used, I’m sure I’d get measurements topping the upper 80s. It’s not a peaceful environment, but I wouldn’t leave from fear of hearing loss. The volume level in this store is certainly no louder than a busy restaurant on a Friday evening.

If it’s too loud, Mr. Gassée…

Image Credit: pio3 /

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