What is a Decibel?


Units of measurement are used all the time in everyday life. Pounds and ounces are a unit of measure weight, while inches and feet are used to measure distance. These units of measurement are practical to us because we can see and feel the difference. We can feel if one object weighs more than the other. We can see if one object is further away from another. However, when it comes to measuring sound, the concept becomes a little less practical and a little more complex.

Typically, if you ask someone how do you measure sound, they will say that sound is measured in decibels. That fine, but what exactly is a decibel?

The Oxford definition of a decibel is: a unit used to measure the intensity of a sound or the power level of an electrical signal by comparing it with a given level on a logarithmic scale.

A logarithmic scale is a nonlinear scale often used when analyzing a large range of quantities. Typically the largest numbers in the data are hundreds or even thousands of times larger than the smallest numbers.

As decibels rise, loudness quickly increases. A 10-dB rise is a 10-time leap in loudness. So for example, a 20 dB sound is 10 times louder than a 10 dB sound. The level of noise in a quiet bedroom, 30 dB, is 100 times louder than 10 dB.

To give some practical comparisons, most dishwashers are within the 46 dB to 60 dB range. A normal conversation runs around 60 dB. Louder sounds like a lawn mower is about 90 dB, and a loud rock concert is about 120 dB. In general, sounds above 85 dB are harmful to your hearing, depending on how long and how often you are exposed to them. Wearing hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs can help prevent any type of permanent damage that can lead to hearing loss.

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