Sound Pressure

Sound Pressure is the force of sound on a surface area perpendicular to the direction of the sound

Sound Pressure

The Sound Pressure is the force (N) of sound on a surface area (m2) perpendicular to the direction of the sound. The SI-units for the Sound Pressure are N/m2 or Pa.

Sound is usually measured with microphones responding proportionally to the sound pressure - p. The power in a sound wave goes as the square of the pressure.

(Similarly, electrical power goes as the square of the voltage.) The log of the square of x is just 2 log x, so this introduces a factor of 2 when we convert to decibels for pressures.

The Sound Pressure Level

The lowest sound pressure possible to hear is approximately 2 10-5 Pa (20 micro Pascal, 0.02 mPa), 2 ten billionths of a an atmosphere. The minimum audible level occurs between 3000 and 4000 Hz. For the normal human ear, pain is experienced at sound pressures of the order 60 Pa or 6 10-4 atmospheres. 

It therefore convenient to express the sound pressure as a logarithmic decibel scale related to this lowest human hearable sound - 2 10-5 Pa, 0 dB.

The Sound Pressure Level:

Lp = 10 log(p2 / pref2) = 10 log(p / pref)2 = 20 log (p / pref)         (1)

where

Lp = sound pressure level (dB)

p = sound pressure (Pa)

pref = 2 10-5 - reference sound pressure (Pa)

If the pressure is doubled, the sound pressure level is increased with 6 dB (20 log (2)).

The table below indicates the sound pressure level in decibel caused by some common sources.

Source Sound Pressure Level
(dB)
Threshold of Hearing
Quietest audible sound for persons with excellent hearing under laboratory conditions2) 0
Quietest audible sound for persons under normal conditions
Virtual silence
Audiometric test room
10
Rustling leaves 20
Noticeably Quit - Voice, soft whisper
Quiet whisper (1 m) 30
Home
Quiet room
40
Moderate

Quiet street
Whispered speech

50
Loud - Unusual Background, Voice conversation 1 m
Conversation at 1 m 60
Loud - Voice conversation 0.3 m
Inside a car
Passenger Car 80 km/h (15 m)
Vacuum cleaner (3 m)
Freight Train (30 m)
70
Loud singing 75
Loud - Intolerable for Phone Use

Automobile (10 m)
Maximum sound up to 8 hour (OSHA criteria - hearing conservation program)
Pneumatic tools (15 m)
Buses, diesel trucks, motorcycles (15 m)
Road with busy traffic

80
Motorcycle (10 m) 88
Food blender (1 m)
Maximum sound up to 8 hour (OSHA1) criteria - engineering or administrative noise controls)
Jackhammer (15 m)
Bulldozer (15 m)
Noisy factory
Newspaper press
90
Subway (inside) 94
Very Loud
Diesel truck (10 m)
Motor horns at distance of 7 m
100
Lawn mower (1 m) 107
Pneumatic riveter (1 m) 115
Threshold of Discomfort
Large aircraft (150 m over head) 110

Chainsaw (1 m)
Very noisy work - boilermakers workshop, etc.

117
Deafening, Human pain limit

Amplified Hard Rock (2 m)
Siren (30 m)
Pneumatic chipper

120
Jet plane (30 m)
Artillery Fire (3 m)
130
Upper limit for unprotected ear for impulses 140
Short exposure can cause hearing loss
Military Jet Take-off (30 meter) 150
Large military weapons 180

1) OSHA - Occupational Safety and Health Act - The OSHA criteria document reevaluates and reaffirms the Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) for occupational noise exposure established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1972

The REL is 85 dB, A-weighted, as an 8-hr time-weighted average (85 dBA as an 8-hr TWA). Exposures at or above this level are hazardous.

2) The reference level - 10-12 - for the decibel scale

Typical Subjective Description of Sound Pressure Level

  • 0 - 40 dB : quiet to very quiet
  • 60 - 80 dB : noisy
  • 100 dB : very noisy
  • > 120 db : intolerable

Related Topics

  • Acoustics - Room acoustics, acoustic properties - decibel A, B and C - Noise Rating (NR) curves, sound transmission, sound pressure, sound intensity, attenuation and more
  • Noise and Attenuation - Noise is usually defined as unwanted sound - noise, noise generation, silencers and attenuation in HVAC systems

Related Documents

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