Here is my writeup for the STS-135 Atlantis NASAtweetup, an excerpt:
Once above the tower, the Shuttle elongates to a dark blob on the end of a matter-defying streak of pure light. It is unbelievably, eye-searing, bright. Then the sound of five engines drift over the water from three miles away. A force so strong, that if you were 400 yards away from the pad you would be incinerated and 800 yards away the acoustical wave would kill you. Three miles away, this force merely pushes you back; a low and steady bass which befuddles your mind into trying to figure out how the streaking blob and the animalistic scream fit together.
This is joy; joy of hearing a safe throttle back to relieve the astronauts of the massive gravity force; joy of hearing the throttle up command but knowing that in 1986 six astronauts and one teacher lost their lives at about this point; joy in hearing the CAPCOM call out in successive moments abort locations, knowing that the violent thrust behind the astronauts both increase altitude, and brings them into a safer orbit; joy that eight minutes and thirty seconds later the call, Press to MECO, is confirmed and the main engines cut off for the last time and the astronauts are in a safe, stable orbit.
Below is a Space Shuttle Atlantis retrospective from NASA: