Sound Levels – How Is Sound Measured In Decibels?

By Monica Cohen, June 2nd, 2010

Sound levels are almost exclusively measured with units called Decibels, abbreviated as dB.

That might sound familiar (pun intended)…

If you rekindle your knowledge of the metric system, you’ll find that by definition it is one tenth (“deci”) of a bel. The entire range of effective human hearing occurs between one and two bels — so a smaller unit is required.

Sound Level Decibel Meter

You may already know that sonic energy is expressed as a wave function. Wavelength and frequency mainly determine what you hear, not it’s volume. The eardrum vibrates as pressure waves strike it, causing the hairs of the inner ear area called the cochlea, to vibrate as sound level increases.

Decibels are the measurement of the exact levels of sound pressure reaching your eardrums. However, sound levels are a bit different from other metrics. It is a dimensionless unit, meaning that Decibels are not measured from some objective absolute zero value. Decibel sound level is found by comparing against a predetermined ambient pressure level.

That said, sound levels are a very subjective sort of sensory input. There is a lot of variation even between individual people, let alone animals — like dogs or bats whose hearing includes frequencies that the human ear doesn’t even register. Sound levels can also vary due to factors like the acoustics of one’s surroundings and individual hearing loss. What is loud to one person might be barely audible to his aging parents.

It’s painfully easy to damage one’s own hearing, too. Excessively loud volumes damage the cochlear hairs, especially if sustained for extended periods of time. You don’t have to be popping off shotgun rounds every week or working at the airport to do it, either. A loud stereo or engine can damage your hearing over time.

Common Decibel Levels – Using A Decibel Range Chart

Once you start getting close to 100 dB or so a set of relatively cheap ear plugs starts looking like a sound investment (pun intended again). Listen to your own ears… If something seems uncomfortably loud to you, that is your brain telling you “Turn it down!”

Sound Levels And Decibel Range Chart - Ear Plug Protection

Here are some common sound levels to give you a framework for understanding the different sound levels:

  • 170-180 dB – stun grenades bring about hearing tissue death occurs.
  • 140-150 dB – firearms, a jet engine nearby, the peak loudness of a rock concert.
  • 120-130 dB – jackhammers and some other heavy construction tools, a loud car stereo, band practice.
  • 100-110 dB – motorcycles, chainsaws, some nightclubs.
  • 80-100 dB – a subway train at 200′, a diesel truck nearby, a lawn mower or shop tools.
  • 80dB – alarm clock.
  • 60-70dB – most conversation, average street traffic, a TV set, dishwasher or vacuum cleaner.
  • 50dB – moderate rainfall, the average ambient sound level in one’s home.
  • 30-40dB – a quiet room or library, a whisper, the bedroom while sleeping.

HEAROS Ear Plugs Help You Reduce Hearing Damage Risks From Sound Levels

To help you minimize the risk of dangerous sound levels, HEAROS ear plugs have created several different ear plug styles and noise reduction ratings (up to NRR 33) to protect your hearing. HEAROS offers earplugs for loud noises, loud snoring spouses, shooting (hunting, target practice), motorsports and traveling. Also, HEAROS makes waterproof ear plugs to protect your ears from infections like swimmers ear.

Noise Cancelling Ear Plugs

To learn more about our HEAROS trusted ear plugs, please click here.

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