How To Measure Loudness

Posted by : foongpc | Wednesday, August 27, 2008 | Published in


I went to the gym the other day and saw a few people working out with headphones on. It seemed that listening to their favourite music while working out helped to improve their workout performance. Or perhaps to cure their boredom.

Whatever the reasons, it was fine with me until a guy came next to me while I was doing some seated dumbbell presses. I could hear the strong rhythmic beats coming out from his headphones and he was standing a few feet away!

Now I am not complaining about noise pollution here. All I’m saying is, does this guy treasure his ears? If he’s trying to exercise his ear drums, it’s surely a damaging way of doing it!

There have been many reports stating that listening to loud music through headphones is a common cause of hearing loss. And what is worse is that you won’t realize you are losing your hearing because the effect is not instantaneous, but is progressive over time.

Hearing damage usually results after long-term exposure to loud noise, but according to Merck website, even brief exposure to extremely loud noise can permanently harm hearing.

So how loud is considered loud and damaging to our hearing?

Photo from Travelitis

Here’s how we measure loudness. It is measured in decibels (dB) based on a logarithmic scale. This means that an increase of 10 dB represents a 10-fold increase in sound intensity, and a doubling of the perceived loudness. Thus, 20 dB is 100 times the intensity of 0 dB and appears 4 times as loud; 30 dB is 1000 times the intensity of 0 dB and appears 8 times as loud.

For example,

0 dB - the faintest sound heard by human ear.

30 dB - whisper, quiet sound of a library.

60 dB - normal conversation, sewing machine, typewriter, ringing telephone

90 dB - lawnmover, shop tools, heavy city traffic
(8 hours per day is the maximum exposure without protection)

100 dB – chainsaw, pneumatic drill, snowmobile
(2 hours per day is the maximum exposure without protection)

115 dB – loud rock concert, car horn, sandblasting
(15 minutes per day is the maximum exposure without protection)

140 dB – gun muzzle blast, jet engine
(Noise causes pain and even brief exposure injures unprotected ears)

180 dB – rocket launching pad

Generally, protection is recommended for sound levels above 85 dB.

How would you know if you are not already suffering from some hearing loss? Well, if you experience the following symptoms, it may be serious enough to warrant an appointment with your ear doctor.

Ringing or buzzing in the ears
Difficulty in understanding speech
Slight muffling of sounds
Difficulty understanding speech in noisy places or places with poor acoustics.

So the next time you wish to listen to your favourite songs on the headphone, remember to turn the volume down a few notches!

(20) Comments

  1. HappySurfer said...

    I once read that if you could hear the music or sound coming from another's headphone, then that is considered too loud already.

    Nice post. Thanks for info.

    August 27, 2008 at 11:43 AM
  2. Anonymous

    i read that u shouldnt put on more than half the 'volume' on the scale of ur mp3..

    btw, why is this tags in front of all ur paragraphs?

    [if !supportEmptyParas]-->[endif]

    August 27, 2008 at 1:54 PM
  3. foongpc said...

    happysurfer, yes that's true. Thanks for your comments.

    cbenc12, I think that's good advice too. I don't see the tags - how come you see them?

    August 27, 2008 at 2:48 PM
  4. Anonymous

    I agree with Happysurfer..there are also drivers with really loud music blaring from their cars with their windows wound, that's way too loud. Also, ppl shouldn't exercise outdoors with their headphones on...dangerous as you tend not to hear or be aware of your surroundings.

    August 27, 2008 at 3:52 PM
  5. foongpc said...

    my bug life, drivers with loud music blaring - I don't know what's with them. Agree with you it's dangerous to use headphone while exercising outdoors.

    August 27, 2008 at 4:02 PM
  6. HappySurfer said...

    MBL, and I agree with you about the safety part of it.

    Foong, I see the tags too - probably because I'm using IE v6?

    August 27, 2008 at 4:05 PM
  7. Bengbeng said...

    for me, to help me pass the time in the gym, i do a lot of thinking. so i sometimes get 'surprised' when ppl interrupt me

    August 27, 2008 at 4:47 PM
  8. eastcoastlife said...

    And Nike is encouraging the use of iPods when running. It has specially created Nike Sports Music for download. I mention it in my latest post.

    August 27, 2008 at 8:31 PM
  9. Toni said...

    Sometimes, I can hear my neighbor playing music (actually making the music). So, I hear it through his window across 2 driveways and through my window. Now, you have to think that once the sound is outside it disperses some, so I can't imagine how loud it is in their house!

    August 27, 2008 at 9:39 PM
  10. Anonymous

    While he was taking care of the health of his body by working out, he was also destroying his hearing with loud music. With mp3 players becoming an essential of our life, it's no wonder some got carried away and tune the volume to the maximum. There should be a campaign to educate and remind people on this issue.

    August 28, 2008 at 12:58 AM
  11. Johnny Ong said...

    they won't know the damage until they become older ..... the ear drums will not function as well compared to those who didnt blast music into their ears

    August 28, 2008 at 2:28 AM
  12. Anonymous

    That certainly not a problem for me. I seldom use headphone or earphone. I do not even have a mp3 player. I would prefer just switch on my Hi-Fi, but of course with controlled volume.

    August 28, 2008 at 9:52 AM
  13. foongpc said...

    happysurfer, I still don't see the tags. I simply don't know why?

    bengbeng, what do you think about in the gym? What to blog about next? : )

    eastcoastlife, what Nike do is very dangerous. Listening to iPods while running is definitely a health hazard!

    toni, I guess the music must be deafening in your neighbour's house! They are going to suffer hearing loss if they keep doing that.

    cc, yes the Government should start an education campaign on this. Most youngsters love to listen to loud music.

    johnny ong, I guess most people will only realise this much later in life when they suffer from hearing loss.

    jam, good for you! I really think we should limit our use of headphones.

    August 28, 2008 at 10:28 AM
  14. Pete said...

    Ha Ha , very informative!

    August 28, 2008 at 12:44 PM
  15. Anonymous

    I used to listen to music on my walkman using earphones - full blast! Now if I go to clubs or to concerts, if the music's too loud, I would feel vibrations in my ears (left especially) and I would have to stick my finger in it. Not painful but uncomfortable and irritating. I think my eardrums damaged liao!!!

    August 28, 2008 at 1:41 PM
  16. eiling lim said...

    Yeah, headphones are bad for health when the volume is too high. I also hate drivers that drove past with loud blaring music!

    August 28, 2008 at 1:56 PM
  17. day-dreamer said...

    Whoa... madness!

    When I plug in my earphones, I can still hear people beside me talking. Yeah, I don't put it too loud because I was told to protect my ears (I was banned from owning stuff like walkman, discman, mp3 initially) before my parents gave their consent for me to buy one.

    So those people who think they can talk bad about me when I'm listening to my mp3 can think again! Haha.

    August 29, 2008 at 12:22 AM
  18. Tekkaus said...

    I wanted to have earplucks while jogging but till now still lazy (or couldn't afford) to get one. Ha =) that I know, perhaps will have to forgo those extras when jogging. Perhaps I should look around more. =)

    August 29, 2008 at 6:02 AM
  19. foongpc said...

    pete, thanks for dropping by : )

    suituapui, the damage is done I'm afraid, but I guess you can prevent further damage by letting your ear drum rest more often, ie. go to quiet places more.

    eiling, i dislike drivers with loud music blaring too.

    day-dreamer, looks like turning down the volume helps not only to protect your ears but actually you can eavesdrop on other people's conversation since they think you can't hear them - not bad! haha!

    tekkaus, no need to have headphones on during jogging. If you jog outdoors, the birds will provide the music : )

    August 29, 2008 at 10:12 AM
  20. peter

    Nice subject,

    i used a tool on
    there you can measure loudness in
    lufs upload a wav and return is al list of values measured.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:37 PM