Decibel (DB): Meaning, Caculation & More

What is a Decibel?

A decibel (dB) is the unit used to measure the intensity of a sound. It quantifies how loud a sound is to the human ear. The decibel scale is logarithmic, meaning that an increase of 10 decibels corresponds to a tenfold increase in sound intensity.

The name “decibel” comes from Alexander Graham Bell, who was one of the pioneers of deaf education as well as the inventor of the telephone. The “bel” part of the word decibel is named after Bell himself. The deci- prefix means one-tenth, referring to the logarithmic scale.

In simple terms, the decibel is a way to measure how loud a sound is. The higher the decibel level, the more intense the sound is. Even small increases in decibels correspond to large increases in sound energy. Because the scale is logarithmic, a 10 dB increase actually represents a 10x increase in sound intensity. The decibel scale allows us to quantify sound levels precisely.

Decibel Scale

The decibel scale measures the loudness of sounds. It ranges from the threshold of hearing, which is 0 dB, to the threshold of pain, which is around 120-140 dB. The decibel scale is logarithmic, meaning that an increase of 10 dB represents a tenfold increase in sound intensity. Here are some examples of common sounds and their decibel levels:

Whisper – 20 dB

Normal conversation – 60 dB

Vacuum cleaner – 70 dB

Motorcycle – 95 dB

Power saw – 110 dB

Jet engine at takeoff – 140 dB

Prolonged exposure to sounds over 85 dB can cause gradual hearing loss over time. Sounds over 120 dB can immediately cause pain and hearing damage. It’s important to be aware of decibel levels in your environment to protect your hearing (Decibel Level Comparison Chart).

How Decibels Are Calculated

Decibels are calculated using a logarithmic formula that compares two sound intensity levels. The formula is:

dB = 10 log10(I1/I0)

Where I1 is the intensity of the sound being measured and I0 is a reference intensity. The reference intensity is usually the threshold of human hearing, which is defined as 0 dB.

This formula uses logarithms to compress a large range of sound intensity values into a more manageable scale. The bel, named after Alexander Graham Bell, is the logarithmic unit used. There are 10 decibels in 1 bel.

Some key things to note about the decibel formula:

  • Doubling the sound intensity increases the decibel level by 3 dB
  • Halving the sound intensity decreases the decibel level by 3 dB
  • Adding two sound sources of equal intensity increases the total decibel level by 3 dB

So in summary, the decibel scale allows us to quantify sound intensity levels on a logarithmic scale, making it easier to grasp the enormous range of intensities we can perceive (Source:

Real World Applications

Decibels have many practical uses in various fields and industries. Here are some of the key real-world applications of the decibel scale:

Acoustics and Audio Equipment: Sound engineers rely on decibels to measure sound levels and design audio equipment like microphones, speakers, and headphones. Decibels help determine the optimal volume levels and audio quality.

Environmental Noise Studies: City planners measure ambient noise in decibels to monitor sound pollution. This includes noise from traffic, construction, airports etc. Decibel readings guide local noise ordinances.

Occupational Noise Regulation: OSHA uses the decibel scale to determine safe noise exposure levels for workers. Noise above 85 dB over 8 hours can cause permanent hearing damage. OSHA mandates hearing protection based on decibel readings.

Product Testing: The noise levels of home appliances, vehicles, and other products are measured in decibels. Quieter products are more appealing to consumers. Decibel ratings help guide minimum noise standards.

Medical Equipment: Devices like hearing aids and sound therapy machines utilize decibel measurements. Doctors may also measure hearing loss levels in decibels.

Hearing Loss Risks

Prolonged exposure to noises over 85dB can cause permanent hearing damage. According to the National Council on Aging, noises above 85dB can harm the delicate hair cells in the inner ear that convert sound into signals to the brain (Source). Once these hair cells are damaged, they cannot regrow, leading to irreversible hearing loss.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association provides a chart showing the relationship between decibel levels and degree of hearing loss. They categorize hearing loss above 25dB in the better ear as disabling. Losses between 26dB and 40dB are considered mild, while 41dB to 55dB is moderate, 56dB to 70dB is moderately severe, 71dB to 90dB is severe, and 91dB or more is profound (Source).

Therefore, it is critical to wear proper hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs when exposed to loud noises above 85dB, such as power tools, sporting events, concerts, and more. Preventing noise-induced hearing loss from the start is key, as currently there is no way to reverse this damage. Taking steps to protect your hearing will allow you to continue enjoying music, conversations, and all the sounds around you throughout your life.

Measuring Decibel Levels

To measure noise levels in decibels, specialized sound level meters are typically used. These devices contain microphones and circuitry optimized to capture and analyze sound pressure levels across frequencies. Popular models used by occupational safety professionals include the Extech SDL600 and the 3M Quest SoundPro SE/DL dosimeters.

Smartphone apps can also be used to get rough measurements of sound levels in decibels. By using the built-in microphone on a smartphone, apps like Decibel X and Sound Meter can provide decibel readouts. However, accuracy can vary depending on the microphone quality of the phone. Typical accuracy ranges from ±3 dB to ±10 dB, while dedicated sound level meters are accurate to ±1.5 dB.

For occupational or regulatory compliance testing, a professional Type 1 or Type 2 sound level meter would be required. But for quick personal use, a smartphone decibel app can give a decent estimate of loudness and help raise awareness of potential hearing hazards.

Reducing Noise Pollution

There are several ways we can reduce everyday noise exposure in our lives. According to an article on PPS Thane, limiting our use of noisy appliances at home and work can help cut down on ambient noise. Turning off electronics and appliances when not in use is an easy way to accomplish this.

We should also be mindful of our use of personal audio devices like headphones and earbuds. Listening at excessive volumes and for prolonged periods can contribute to hearing loss over time. Take regular breaks from headphones and keep volume levels moderate. For children and teens, set limits on headphone use.

To reduce noise at home, add sound-absorbing materials like rugs, curtains, and foam padding to walls and floors. Double-paned windows and solid core doors also help block outside noise. At work, acoustic panels, screens, and plants can help absorb office noise. According to an article on, heavyweight building materials like brick and masonry work best for soundproofing, but lighter materials can also be effective.

Decibel Trivia

Here are some interesting facts about sound intensity and decibel levels:

The loudest sounds on Earth include rocket launches, which can reach up to 180 dB according to NASA (NASA). Blue whales are the loudest animals, with calls reaching up to 188 dB that can travel for hundreds of miles underwater (Kiddle).

Some of the quietest places on Earth include anechoic chambers, which are rooms designed to completely absorb sound reflections. These rooms can reach down to -9 dB, which is the limit of human hearing (NASA).

Other interesting facts:

  • Sound waves can’t travel through empty space since they require particles to vibrate and propagate the waves (Decibel Pro).
  • The human threshold for pain from sound is around 120-140 dB, which is about the level of a jet engine at takeoff (Deaf Education UK).
  • Whales and elephants can hear infrasonic sounds below 20 Hz that humans can’t detect (Decibel Pro).


Here are some frequently asked questions about decibels:

What is the difference between dB and dBA?

dB stands for decibels, which is a measure of sound pressure level. dBA refers to A-weighted decibels, which adjusts the decibel measurement to reflect how the human ear hears sounds. dBA gives less weight to very low and very high frequencies since human hearing is less sensitive at those extremes.

Is a higher or lower decibel level more dangerous?

Higher decibel levels are more dangerous to hearing. Prolonged exposure to sounds over 85 dBA can cause permanent hearing damage over time. Even short term exposure to extremely loud noises like fireworks (140-160 dB) can also be hazardous.

What are safe decibel levels?

For prolonged exposure, noise levels below 70 dBA are considered safe. Sounds under 85 dBA are safe for shorter periods. Loud noises over 100 dBA can be dangerous even briefly. Note that safe levels also depend on individual sensitivity and total exposure over time.

Do decibel meters measure accurately?

Most smartphone decibel meter apps are not lab-grade accurate, but can provide a general idea of noise levels. Professional sound level meters certified by agencies like OSHA are calibrated for accuracy. Either way, it’s best to avoid prolonged loud noise exposure.


In summary, decibels are a logarithmic unit used to measure the intensity of sound. We discussed the decibel scale, how decibels are calculated, real-world applications, hearing loss risks, measuring decibel levels, and ways to reduce noise pollution.

Understanding decibels is critical for protecting your hearing health. Prolonged exposure to noises over 85 dB can cause permanent hearing damage over time. Being mindful of your environment and using protective equipment like earplugs in loud settings is key.

There are many simple ways to reduce daily noise exposure. Turn down the volume, take quiet breaks, choose quieter devices and equipment, and use sound dampening materials at home or work. With some awareness and precaution, you can prevent unnecessary hearing loss.

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