How measure loudness of sound

How Do I Measure The Loudness Of A Sound?

Today, it seems like technology touches every aspect of our lives. From grocery shopping to physical fitness to even starting our cars, we use smartphones to make our daily tasks easier and improve the quality of our lives.

So it seems inevitable that technology available on smartphones would also offer apps and information to those with hearing loss. There are apps now that measure how loud a sound is?

How Loud is Too Loud?

  • Haven’t you always wanted to know how loud it really is in your favourite night spot?
  • Or if your neighbour’s dog is really barking that loud?
  • Maybe you recently dined in a noisy restaurant that made having a conversation very challenging?

Wouldn’t it be fun to find out how loud the environment is around you?

These sound level apps measure the sound level in your environment or from your streaming device and can tell you when you are being exposed to damaging noise levels. To use them well, it is useful to understand a few concepts.

What is a decibel?

The volume or intensity of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB), generally on a scale from zero to 140 (any higher than 140 and you are in trouble immediately). The higher the number in decibels, the louder the noise. The louder the noise, the greater the risk of hearing loss. Hearing loss can occur with regular exposure to noise levels of of 110 decibels or more for periods longer than one minute.

What happens as loudness increases is an important concept to understand? Decibels are measured on a  logarithmic scale, which means that the difference between values increases as the values get larger.

The list below gives you an idea of how noticeable a change in decibel level will be to you:

  • 1dB  –  Not noticeable
  • 3dB  –  Noticeable to humans
  • 5dB  –  Clearly noticeable change
  • 10dB  –  About twice as loud
  • 20dB  –  About four times as loud

How loud does it have to be to damage my hearing?

The risk of sound damaging your hearing is in fact based on how loud and for how long you listen to it. Continued exposure to noise at or above 80-85dB over time can cause hearing loss, however, the exposure length, in that case, would be hours.

Generally speaking, if you have ringing in your ear or your hearing seems dull after you have been exposed to sound (including loud music) or noise you have exposed yourself too much.

However, it is important for me to point out that you may still be damaging your hearing even if you don’t have these symptoms. If loud music ever feels way too loud or causes pain in your ears, leave the room or turn it down immediately.

Without noise measuring equipment it is impossible to tell what noise level you are being exposed to. So, a handy rule of thumb is that if you can’t talk to someone two metres away without shouting, the noise level could be damaging.

Download one of the sound level apps on your smartphone, and use it to understand the sound around you.

How accurate are these sound level apps? Are they as accurate as a $3000 sound level meter? They best used as a guide to what the noise levels are and give you some guidance. They don’t quite replace a dedicated high-quality system with a great microphone but they do give you guidelines so you start to understand how loud is too loud.

Now you have to use this information to make sure you are safe and looking after your hearing.

My recommendations are

  1. Get a hearing test either a baseline hearing assessment or a comprehensive evaluation of your hearing. Do you need to know just how good your hearing really is?
  2. Consider how long you are being exposed to any particular noise as well as the cumulative noise exposure per day.

Looking after your hearing, is not just about getting an app on your phone and measuring the level of the noise, it is also about understanding what you need to hear, how long you are going to be in that situation, what else you might be doing that day, how long you listen to music at a slightly loud level that day, what you need to hear and not hear and last but by no means least your personal genetic risk factor.

Over To You

Would you ever use a sound level app? And if so why?

Love to hear from you!



Nolene Nielson is an experienced Australian Audiologist who is passionate about hearing. This article was first published at