Would a logarithmic volume control surprise or shock users?

The lowest volume settings on a Mac, or on a YouTube video control the volume in a very heavy handed manner, and once you've turned the volume up past 50% a change in volume is almost negligible.

Is there any reason why these applications don't favour a logarithmic scale that would make effective use of the entire scale. It's awkward having the quietest setting be 'not all that quiet'.

  • 2
    Good question. And obviously the measure for sound (decibel) actually works this way.
    – PhillipW
    Jun 4, 2015 at 8:29
  • 3
    Humans hear the power of sound logarithmically, yes, the dB scale reflects the way we perceive audio intensity. So it's interesting that the fine controls of most volume controls are up in the "high volume" area and not either evenly-spaced or logarithmic. Jun 4, 2015 at 8:59
  • By logarithmic scale, do you mean in visually in the volume control interface?
    – Alan
    Jun 4, 2015 at 11:54
  • @AlanGeorge No. On a linear pot, 50% means 50% voltage (or sqrt(2) volume). On a logarithmic (or audio) pot, 50% means 50% volume.
    – Cole Tobin
    Jun 4, 2015 at 14:55
  • 1
    Was discussed here: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/101191/… Aug 8, 2017 at 14:28

5 Answers 5


Working as a sound designer in the games industry the response I have get from most programmers regarding this is that they simply don't realise that linear volume scaling is wrong. Once shown the difference they are converts (I've seen this multiple times).

It's an incredibly easy (one line) fix that will make your controls feel significantly nicer and more usable.

volume = Mathf.Pow(volume, 2f)

You can scale the power up to 3f, 4f+ for different curves. All of them will feel significantly better than a linear scale. As stated, few users care about the units but it will help them if the intention is to find the correct volume as easily as possible and feel nice then logarithmic is the way to go.

iTunes fixed this in later versions so I would assume (hope) that OSX has done the same.

(A reverse example would be to imagine a user trying to use an RGB slider with log controls, it'd be a nightmare :D)

There's lots of further reading on this here: https://www.dr-lex.be/info-stuff/volumecontrols.html

  • Thanks! It's nice to know that positive strides are being made in this domain! Mar 9, 2018 at 2:19
  • "RGB slider with log controls" - imagine each color by not one (0-255 range) but two, three bytes, so 1 million variations - I would like log control for that. Mar 22, 2019 at 9:56
  • 1
    Wow that link at dr-lex.be is fantastic! Very useful. Oct 2, 2019 at 7:29

The scale doesn't matter most of the time and the label of that scale almost never matters.

In a broad sense, the user only wants volume controls with 2 settings: Off and the correct/desired volume. If the user is adjusting things up or down it's because they are trying to reach whatever the correct volume is. Most likely the situation has changed and what was previously the correct volume is not longer acceptable.

The specific correct "value" for the volume control is not known ahead of time. The user's mental model is not "Turn the radio on and set the volume to 26.7dB" or "Someone just turned a blender on, I need to set my volume to 90dB." It's closer to "I can't hear my song anymore. It needs to be louder."

Regardless of the scale chosen for the control, the feedback loop to select the correct volume is the same. Is this loud enough? No? Turn it up one notch. Repeat. They aren't going to stop at 60% or 45db or any other predetermined number so the labels don't make any difference. They are going to stop when they can hear what they want to hear.

A good system would determine what correct volume is and try to make it happen without user input. You see this with automatic volume control (AVC) systems in cars where it detects the ambient background noise and adjusts the volume to compensate so that the user doesn't have to keep fiddling with the controls.


  • 3
    True, unless the control is divided into specific graduations that prevent this. Many controls are. And if they're not then often there is a hidden graduation at either the pixel level, or it's just physically not possible to adjust a physical control with such high precision. The question is why is the precision all at high volume, and no precision found at low volume. i.e. why don't they use a log scale. Mar 9, 2018 at 2:18

A harsh guess would be that it's just not financially worth it.

A more charitable guess would be that they assume that most people will want their volume at around the 5-8 mark (assuming a scale of 0-10) and therefore don't consider it practical to tinker about with the lower levels.

Other than that I can't think of any reason.

I should stress that, as mentioned, I have no evidence for these answers and, as such, they should merely be taken as suggestions for further research.

  • 3
    Not financially worth it? It's one line of code. People want the volume at whatever is comfortable, most users don't have a predisposition towards setting volume in the 5-8 range. They want control at any volume. With a linear volume control (even the one on a Mac with the F11 & F12 keys) you don't have fine control at the lowest settings. You have fine control at the high volume, where we don't need it. Jun 5, 2015 at 5:45
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    I completely agree with you but I've worked in large organisations before and they will happily spend more money discussing reasons not to do something than it would cost just to get on and do it. That one line of code to make it happen probably means that you'll need a Business Analyst, an Engineer, a UX Designer, a Visual Designer and a Project Manager before you even start - one line of code is often more expensive than a whole new feature. Jun 5, 2015 at 7:35
  • 1
    Indeed. It would be one line of code changed AND a new feature. Definitely something that would be discussed prior to implementation. It probably isn't changed because users are used to it. It's funny that just about every OS and video/audio streaming service has linear volume controls. Jun 5, 2015 at 10:02

The average person has a range that they can hear from comfortably with ambient sound. Computer (and audio) makers build their audio equipment to fit that area. For those of use who, say, use a laptop at the dead of night in bed may find the minimum volume still uncomfortably loud because of this.

If a logarithmic volume was used, then half of the volume settings options would be useless because most use cases for a laptop revolve around some ambient noise, including your typing on the computer.

  • 6
    Incorrect. A logarithmic scale doesn't make half of the volume settings useless. It would allow finer control at low volume at the expense of courser control at high volume. Jun 5, 2015 at 5:47

A simple answer: the vast majority of users think of controls in a linear scale.

It makes sense that 0% should be no output, and 100% should be the maximum output. This applies to any control (brightness, size, opacity, etc.), regardless of the underlying scale. Although humans hear frequencies and speakers output frequencies in the logarithmic scale, adjusting a control of variable increments would be jarring to the unfamiliar user.

  • This is incorrect. It is just the same as in any DAW, one end of a fader means no sound and the other means full volume. My question is about everything in-between, and why there is little control at low volume and a high degree of control at high volume, which is often of little use. Mar 9, 2018 at 2:15
  • You’re right, I answered this hastily without fully understanding the issue here.
    – Alan
    Mar 9, 2018 at 2:17
  • No worries, Nick Dymond just added quite a good answer and mentioned iTunes has added a log control! Very Cool! Mar 9, 2018 at 2:21
  • 1
    @Alan I think users want to control what they feel in a linear scale, in that you are right. So the controled parameters need to vary in whatever scale (log for hearing) as long as that scale results in a linear felt change.
    – Guimoute
    Nov 12, 2019 at 10:53

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