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I tried playing an MP3 file with VLC player and iTunes both with largest volume of the player and the Mac OS X system. The former seems to play a little louder (any way to quantitatively measure?) I am wondering if there is anything that only involve software settings I can do to make it sound louder.

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Sure there is a quantitave way of measuring that. Get a microphone and record it. –  Psirus Feb 24 '12 at 7:30
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In VLC select Tools->Effects and Filters->Audio Effects->Graphic Equalizer->Enable then increase the preamp and/or band sliders. Also try using the 2-pass option (it seems to work better for multi-channel DVDs than for two-channel video files/MP3s).

VLC Graphic Equalizer

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I just tested that on an mp3, increased everything there to max, no difference I could hear. –  barlop Feb 24 '12 at 3:49
    
I can't find the option in VLC on Mac OS X. I can only find i40.tinypic.com/o7r1pd.png Is that it? What should I set there? –  Problemaniac Feb 24 '12 at 16:33
    
Yes, that should do it (is there a preamp slider as well?) There should also be a Tools menu item to display the Effects and Filters dialog. You should also be able to display it with a hotkey (it’s Ctrl+E on Windows). (The Tools menu item did not exist in older versions, so make sure you are running the latest version—a good idea in general.) Also, you should be able to right-click on VLC and select Interface -> Effects and Filters. –  Synetech Feb 24 '12 at 17:17
    
Shift-Cmd-E brings up the window in your screenshot. So I just need to check "Enable" checkbox, and do nothing else? –  Problemaniac Feb 24 '12 at 19:19
    
Well you will need to adjust the preamp slider as desired. You can try the 2-pass option and the other sliders if need be (though usually the preamp alone is more than enough to make it too loud). –  Synetech Feb 24 '12 at 19:24
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