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Propagation of Sound Outdoors

Outdoor propagation of sound - distance and attenuation

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The energy in the propagation direction of the sound is inversely proportional to the increasing surface area the sound propagates through and can be expressed as

Lp = LN + 10 log [(Q / 4 π) (1 / r12+ 1 / r22+ ...+1 / rn2) + 4 / R]                             (1)

or modified for a single source:

Lp = LN + 10 log (Q / (4 π r2) + 4 / R)                                (1b)


Lp sound pressure level (dB)

L= sound power level source in decibel (dB)

Q = directivity coefficient (1 uniform spherical, 2 uniform half spherical (single reflecting surface), 4 uniform radiation over 1/4 sphere (two reflecting surfaces, corner)

r = distance from source  (m)

R = room constant (m2)

Single Sound Source - Spherical Propagation

With uniform spherical radiation (1) can be modified to express the sound pressure level from a single sound source as

Lp = LN + 10 log (1 / (4 π r2

   = LN - 10 log (4 π r2)                                   (2)


= 1

R ≈ ∞

(2) can also be expressed as: 

Lp = LN - 20 log (r) + K'                            (2b)


K' = -11 (single sound source and spherical radiation) 

Single Sound Source - Hemi-Spherical Propagation

When the sound source propagates hemi-spherically with the source near ground, the constant can be set to 

  • K' = - 8

Note! When the distance - r - from a power source doubles, the sound pressure level decreases with 6 dB. This relationship is also known as the inverse square law.

Other factors that affects the radiation of the sound are the direction of the source, barriers between the source and the receiver and atmospheric conditions. Equation (1) can be modified to: 

Lp = LN - 20 log r + K' + DI - Aa - Ab                                 (3)


DI = directivity index

Aa = attenuation due to atmospheric conditions

Ab = attenuation due to barriers

Linear Sound Source

With a linear sound source, like a road or high-way with heavy traffic, (1) can be summarized (integrated) to express the sound pressure as

Lp = LN - 10 log (4 π r)                                   (4)

Note! When the distance - r - from a linear power source doubles, the sound pressure level decreases with 3 dB.

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  • en: outdoor propagation sound noise decibel pressure
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  • Engineering ToolBox, (2003). Propagation of Sound Outdoors. [online] Available at: [Accessed Day Mo. Year].

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