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How Loud is Loud?

Submitted by on April 22, 2010 – 11:22 am5 Comments

I said, how loud is LOUD??  I work in an environment surrounded by music and movie soundtracks.  From subtle piano keys to loud explosions, I hear it all.

You should be able to enjoy your music and movies with the finest audio and video equipment, but don’t sacrifice your hearing by listening at damaging levels.  Our inner ears contain microscopic hairs that vibrate along with our ear drums so that we can translate frequencies within the air pressure in to sound.

Normal conversation in a quiet room is registered at around 50 decibels.  A decibel is a unit of measurement used to indicate how loud a sound is.  Exposure to decibel levels above 80 for long periods of time could be permanently harmful to your hearing.  Look at the bigger picture; stereos and home theaters are our least concerns (unless you listen to them at maximum volume).  Most men like to use power tools, and those power tools can be LOUD.  A typical lawnmower is 90 decibels, and a chainsaw is about 110 decibels.  Protect your ears from that and you’ll spend more time enjoying your audio system.

Here are 5 tips from the House Ear Institute to help prevent further or permanent hearing loss:

  1. Monitor your exposure time to sounds over 85 dB and take periodic 15-minute “quiet” breaks. Although the maximum time to safely be exposed to 85 dB is 8 hours, the maximum time to safely be exposed to 100 dB is only 15 minutes. See pie-chart for more information.
  2. Avoid hazardous sound environments. If you have to raise your voice to be heard, you are in a potentially hazardous environment for your hearing. This includes loud music performances, operating power tools and driving with the windows down at high speeds.
  3. Whenever you can’t get away from an extreme sound environment, wear hearing protection, such as foam, silicone or pre-molded earplugs, earmuffs or custom earplugs. Look for products with noise-reduction ratings (NRR) of at least 9dB. Most products provide a NRR of 22dB or greater. To hear music and conversation clearly, look for high fidelity hearing protection. They will reduce all sound frequencies equally, and can often make listening to music more enjoyable than without any protection. Shooter’s plugs combined with earmuffs should be used for hunting and target practice. All can be found over the counter at your local drugstore or sporting goods shop.
  4. Move away from on-stage monitors or amplifiers.  Position yourself so you are not directly in front of the speaker while performing or listening. Musicians should avoid practicing at performance levels when possible.
  5. If you suspect hearing loss or notice sudden changes in your hearing or have ear pain, see an otolaryngologist (ENT) or otologist. Also, have your hearing tested by a licensed audiologist. Common hearing tests include the pure tone threshold test, the otoacoustic emissions (“OAE”) test, speech audiometry and the Hearing in Noise Test (“HINT”), which was developed by HEI scientists to assess how well you can hear speech in real world situations, where background noise is present.

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Keep your ears healthy and you’ll enjoy your music for many years to come!

David Privitera



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About The Author:

David Privitera is an Audio Video, Lighting and Automation designer at Georgia Home Theater. David has been with Georgia Home Theater since 1997. David is known at GHT as the expert on Crestron design and implementation.