Sound Levels

Everyday sounds

It can be surprising how loud things really are.

Musical instruments and genres

Ever wonder how loud your piccolo is?

Educational environments

The cafeteria doesn't top the list.

In the same way we use a thermometer to measure dangerous temperatures, we use our sound levels chart to gauge how dangerous a sound source has become. As the loudness or intensity increases, the amount of time we can safely spend near the sound decreases. For some of the most intense sounds, there is no safe amount of exposure!

It is difficult to measure the exact level of different instruments and musical genres. This is because the level depends on how loudly a single instrument is being played and the ensemble in which it is being played. The combination of instruments being plaid in conjunction with one another will affect the safe amount of time one can listen to any given instrument or group of instruments and as such no recommended safe listening times are given. The levels listed below specify how loudly an individual instrument can be played Ė keep in mind that they are not played at this level all the time, but the instruments played with them can also make them louder than the level listed here.

Amount of Safe Exposure Per Day Sound Level (dBA) Example
No unprotected exposure is safe at this level 140 Rifle
< 1 sec 130 Jet Takeoff
1 sec 127 Air Raid Siren
3 sec 124 Magnetic Resonance Image Scanner
7 sec 121 Thunder Clap
14 sec 118 Ambulance Siren
28 sec 115 Diesel Truck
56 sec 112 Subway
112 sec 109 Jackhammer
3.7 min 106 Rock Concert / Sporting Event
7.5 min 103 Chainsaw
15 min 100 Snowmobile / Motorcycle
30 min 97 Farming Combine
1 hour 94 LawnMower
2 hours 91 Shouted Speech
4 hours 88 Snow Blower
8 hours 85 Blender

More information

Too much loud sound can be dangerous,
even from something we love.

Itís easy to recognize dangerous sound when we recognize it as noise, such as the roar of a plane when it flies overhead. It's much more difficult to consider sound safety when itís something we enjoy, like loud music or the roar of a jet ski.

In the same way we take steps to protect our teeth by brushing them or use sunscreen to protect our skin outdoors, hearing protection should be a growing part of our daily health routine. The thermometer above shows that as the level of sound grows the safe amount of time spent listening to it decreases. In this way, sound can be measured as a daily dose Ė a maximum exposure per day. For example, if you spend one hour listening to an intense sound, like a rock band playing live music, you may want to take steps to make the rest of your day relatively quiet. In this way, you can still enjoy the sounds you love without compromising your earsí ability to do their job. Your daily dose of sound has not been exceeded.

Three steps to maintain oneís daily dose:

  1. Step away from loud sounds.

    Even a few extra feet between you and the source can help.
  2. Limit the time spent around loud sounds.

    Alternating periods of quiet with periods of exposure can give your ears precious time to recover.
  3. Use hearing protection devices such as earplugs or earmuffs to decrease the overall level of sound getting into your ears.

    Some are even specially designed to use when listening to music!

Finally, use our handy rule of thumb to know when youíre potentially exposed: if you need to raise your voice to be heard by a person an armís reach away, chances are the sound is too loud!