The Decibel Scale
The decibel scale gives an approximation of human perception of relative loudness. This is because the human ear has a logarithmic response to changes in sound level.
On the decibel scale, the smallest audible sound (near total silence) is 0 dB. A sound ten times more powerful is 10 dB. A sound 100 times more powerful than near silence is 20 dB.
The logarithmic nature of the dB scale means that each 10 dB increase represents a 10-fold increase in acoustic power. A 20 dB increase is therefore a 100-fold increase in power, and a 30 dB increase is a 1000-fold increase. However, an increase in acoustic power of ten times does not mean that the sound is perceived as being ten times louder. The ear perceives a 10 dB increase in sound level as only a doubling of sound loudness, and a 10 dB decrease in sound level as a halving of sound loudness.
The lower threshold of human hearing is around 5 dB. Normally speaking voices are around 65 dB. A rock concert can be around 120 dB.
Sounds that are 85 dB or above can cause hearing damage, and the higher the sound pressure, the less time it takes to cause damage. For example, a sound of 85 dB may take 8 hours to cause damage, whereas a sound of 100 dB may start to cause damage after only 30 minutes. A sound of around 150 dB can cause instantaneous hearing damage.
How loud is too loud?
Continued exposure to noise above 85 dBA (adjusted decibels) over time will cause hearing loss. The volume (dBA) and the length of exposure to the sound will tell you how harmful the noise is.
In general, the louder the noise, the less time required before hearing loss will occur.
The ‘reverberation time’ of a space changes the way the space ‘sounds’ and can affect the intelligibility acoustic information. A high reverberation time can make a room sound muffled, loud and noisy. Rooms designed for speech typically have a low reverberation time, whereas a higher reverberation time can add depth, richness and warmth to music.
The reverberation time of a room is defined as the time it takes for sound to decay by 60 dB after an abrupt termination. It is linked to the total quantity of soft treatments and the volume of the room.
Point of Reference
Points of Reference *measured in dBA or decibels:
- 0 The softest sound a person can hear with normal hearing
- 10 normal breathing
- 20 whispering at 5 feet
- 30 soft whisper
- 50 rainfall
- 60 normal conversation
- 110 shouting in ear
- 120 thunder
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