Friday AV Thought: “Is That Hearing Loss I Hear?”
I was doing a FOH (Front of House) mix recently and someone pointed to the SPL (Sound Pressure Level) meter and asked, “How loud is too loud?” To which I responded, “Wha? Huh?” I’m joking, I replied, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” Still joking. I called security .
That is an important question though. How loud is too loud?
There are some general guidelines that we can follow. For example, the maximum level for continuous exposure is 85 dB. That means that if you’re exposed to constant noise at that level, after eight hours you could start to experience hearing loss.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should never be exposed to noises above 85 dB. You can have shorter exposure to much higher levels without any damage. And louder the noise, the shorter the exposure can be.
So, if you’re at a rock concert, the level might be 105 dB for a few minutes, but it’s not going to cause any damage. But if you’re in a nightclub where the level is 105 dB (or higher) all night long, you could start to experience hearing loss.
The other thing to consider is the frequency of the noise. Higher frequencies are more damaging than lower frequencies. So, a loud noise that has a lot of high frequencies can be more dangerous than a lower-pitched noise.
There is no need to panic though if you find yourself in a loud environment. Just be aware of the levels and how long you’re exposed to them. And if you start to experience discomfort, it’s time to move to a quieter place. And if you’re ever in a situation where you can’t avoid exposure to loud noises, be sure to wear hearing protection.
Also, well-designed spaces and systems will keep loudness levels at a decent level without causing discomfort or damage – while allowing everyone in the space to experience content as intended. Here are two of the most important things that can help:
This will help to reduce the overall level of noise in a space. Using sound-absorbing materials and treating reflective surfaces can reduce ambient noise levels, reflections, and reverberations – which can make a space seem much louder than it actually is. This will allow for the overall level to be much lower without sacrificing quality or intelligibility.
Improving sound system design:
This will help to distribute sound evenly throughout space and minimize areas of high or low sound pressure levels. Good system design takes into account the size and shape of a room, as well as the listening area(s), and can make a huge difference in the overall loudness level – while improving clarity and fidelity.
You’re welcome to reach out to me – our team at Audio Design Solutions can do a free assessment of your needs if you want to upgrade your space and system. We can create a free customized proposal for you and your venue!
Finally, there are lots of apps as well that will measure SPL levels for you – download one. Keep it handy. And you can check levels wherever you are. You can find reference points online – below are two you can use right now
Wishing you an amazing weekend – of safe loudness level fun! Or even unsafe…with duration management and/or with hearing protection! Have a great one!
SPL (Sound Pressure Level in Decibels) and permissible exposure time before hearing damage:
- 115 dB ~ 0.47 minutes (~30 sec)
- 112 dB ~ 0.94 minutes (~1 min)
- 109 dB ~ 1.88 minutes (< 2 min)
- 106 dB ~ 3.75 minutes (< 4 min)
- 103 dB ~ 7.5 minutes
- 100 dB ~ 15 minutes
- 97 dB ~ 30 minutes
- 94 dB ~ 1 hour
- 91 dB ~ 2 hours
- 88 dB ~ 4 hours
- 85 dB ~ 8 hours
- 82 dB ~ 16 hours
From asha.org (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association):
Painful impulse noise – not safe for any period:
- 150 dBP = fireworks at 3 feet, firecracker, shotgun
- 140 dBP = firearms
Painful steady noise – not safe for any period:
- 130 dBA = jackhammer
- 120 dBA = jet plane takeoff, siren, pneumatic drill
Extremely loud – dangerous to hearing:
- 112 dBA = maximum output of some MP3 players, some rock concerts, some music venues, some dance clubs, chainsaw
- 106 dBA = gas leaf blower, snow blower, concerts, music venues, dance clubs
- 100 dBA = tractor, listening with earphones
Very loud – dangerous to hearing:
- 94 dBA = hair dryer, kitchen blender, food processor
- 91 dBA = subway, passing motorcycle, gas mower
Moderate – safe listening for any period:
- 70 dBA = group conversation, vacuum cleaner, alarm clock
- 60 dBA = typical conversation, dishwasher, clothes dryer
- 50 dBA = moderate rainfall
- 40 dBA = quiet room
Faint – safe listening for any period:
- 30 dBA = whisper, quiet library