What Are Decibels? Understand The Essential Loudness Measurement Unit! (2023)

What Are Decibels?


To understand everything better when it comes to measuring your audio loudness, it is crucial to know the basics and the units that are measuring it. Every sound and its power of it is measured in Decibels, no matter how quiet or loud is it. So let’s actually see how the sound is measured and its separations:

First separation: Frequency – The primary measurement of the sound is done in frequency. In more common words, this is how high or low the sounds appear. Also known as the low-pitch or higher-pitched sounds.

Second separation: Amplitude – This is where our topic of decibels comes into play. The decibels measure the pressure of the audio, and with that – the loudness. In more common words, we are using it daily as the Volume of sounds.

What are decibels

So What are Decibels?

The decibel (abbreviated to dB) is the unit used to measure the volume of a sound. The decibel scale is slightly odd because the human ear is extremely delicate. Your ears can hear every little thing from your fingertip brushing calmly over your pores and skin to a loud jet engine.

Named after Alexander Bell, an inventor and communications pioneer. This abbreviation shows the 2 components of the word decibel, which means: ‘deci-‘, or one-tenth, and ‘-bel’, a unit symbolizing a ratio of sound pressure levels.

The more difficult definition of the decibel is a logarithmic way of describing the ratio of two values. Sound intensity is normally expressed in decibels as an alternative to bels because of the wide range of potential values. Using decibels makes it possible to precise large ratios utilizing a modest range of numbers.

When it comes to energy, the sound of the jet engine is about 1,000,000,000,000 times louder than the smallest audible sound. That is a big distinction!

On the decibel scale, the quietest sound (complete silence) is 0 dB. A sound 10 times louder is 10 dB. A sound 100 times louder than close to total silence is 20 dB. A sound 1,000 times louder than close to total silence is 30 dB. Listed here are some frequent sounds and their decibel ratings:

  • Regular dialog – 60 dB
  • Heavy metropolis traffic – 85 dB
  • Garden mower – 90 dB
  • Audio headset player at maximum levels – 105 dB
  • Sirens – 120 dB
  • Live shows – 120 dB
  • Sporting events – 105 to 130 dB
  • Fireworks – 140 to 160 dB
  • Firearms – 150 dB and more
Noise Levels in decibels
Source: hearinghealthfoundation.org

What is the safe range of regular listening decibels?

The impact of lower noise levels over lengthy durations is similar to louder noise ranges over shorter intervals. You need to use a sound level meter (SLM) to measure the noise around you. Free SLMs developed as smartphone apps can be found. A few of these apps can predict your most allowable each day noise dose to assist promote better listening to health and prevention efforts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest sustaining environmental noises beneath 70 dBA over 24 hours (75 dBA over 8 hours) to forestall noise-induced hearing loss. The EPA additionally specified limits for speech interference and annoyance at 55 dBA for outdoors and 45 dBA for indoor actions.

Hearing loss may end up from a single loud sound (like firecrackers) close to your ear. Or, more typically, hearing loss may end up over time from damage attributable to repeated exposures to loud sounds.

The louder the sound, the shorter the period of time it takes for hearing loss to happen. The longer the exposure, the higher the chance of hearing loss (particularly when hearing safety is just not used or there’s not enough time for the ears to relax between exposures).

Again, if you are asking yourself what decibel is dangerous, the answer will be – everything above 70dB is considered to be harmful to hearing. If you need to be exposed at this level, make sure to wear hearing protection and save yourself from problems later on.

Hearing protection

Best Listening Level for Mixing

We hear frequencies differently at varied volume ranges. So how loud do you have to monitor if you wish to nail your mix? OK – there isn’t actually a magical setting – but it seems setting your monitoring level to 85 dB is the sweet spot for bigger control rooms. It has grown to be a mix engineers’ adopted commonplace. 85 dB appears to provide the flattest hearing curve due to the equal loudness contours of the human ear – the way in which the mind interprets what the ear sends it.

To set the right level, you’ll need an SPL meter (sound pressure meter). In case you don’t already have one, there are a number of free SPL meter smartphone apps on the market. Radio Shack additionally sells a great inexpensive meter.

In case your SPL meter provides you with a selection of frequency weightings (A weighting, C weighting, or Z weighting) set the meter to “C weighted.” Bring up some pink noise. Most DAWs have a signal generator plug-in that can generate a pink noise signal.

Make sure you bypass any processing that is perhaps anywhere alongside your audio chain. Increase the pink noise level until your DAW’s meter reaches the 0db mark on the master output. Pan the pink noise to send it out to only one of your speakers – left or right, it doesn’t matter.

Now with the SPL meter on the listening position within the room (the point within the room where your ears are during a mix), turn up your monitors till the SPL meter reads 75 or 85dB depending on your room dimension. Put a little bit of mark right at that spot on the monitor management knob. Now you have got an idea of the perfect listening level for whenever you’re mixing.

SPL Meter

Other Terminology Around Decibels

Additionally, it is essential to understand the meaning of and variations between some of the frequent decibel models: dBu, dBV, dBFS, and dB-SPL. Some background is supplied just to have an idea in case you come across them.

dBu and dBV are decibel units particularly for measuring voltage. Not like the dB, they’re actually units because they are often transformed to a precise voltage worth. dBu is dB close to 0.775 volts; such that 0dBu = 0.775 volts. dBV is dB of 1.0 volt, or 0dBV = 1.0 volt. To rapidly convert between dBu and dBV note that dBu is at all times equal to dBV plus 2.21. The V in dBV is capitalized to offer clarity between V and U when writing it down.

dB-SPL is a measure of a sound pressure level within the atmosphere and is used to measure the amplitude of sounds (audio pressure waves) traveling through the air. 0dB-SPL corresponds to a sound pressure level that’s barely audible to the typical human. dB-SPL can also be a unit because it may be transformed into different units of pressure, like pascals.

dBFS, or decibels relative to Full Scale, is used when it comes to measuring digital audio levels. dBFS is one other dimensionless amount because it’s only a quantity and can’t be transformed into a different unit. In a digital audio system, 0dBFS refers to the most signal level possible, also called the clipping level. Because of this, dBFS values are always less than or equal to 0. -10dBFS corresponds to a signal that’s 10dB lower than the clipping level of the system.


So here we explained and provided some insights on what exactly is a decibel, what are the ranges of some common sounds around us, how can we use it to benefit our mixing, and some additional terminology around it. We now believe that you have a clearer image of it and that we answered some crucial questions.

In case you are having any questions about this topic, please let us know in the comment section below and we will be more than happy to elaborate!


Nikoloski is the founder and main content writer and editor of Mixing Tips. With his experience in audio engineering, mixing, and mastering for over 15 years, will provide hands-on experience and expertise in all the matters covered on this website.

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