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AV Tip: Safe Listening Levels

by December 06, 2012
Tip of the Day: Protect Your Hearing

Tip of the Day: Protect Your Hearing

It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye, or in this case, their hearing. Even a modest sound system is capable of delivering sufficiently high SPLs to cause significant damage to your hearing over time. Investing in an SPL meter can be useful for things like system setup, but it is also an important tool to let you know whether you are indeed getting too much of a good thing. Have fun, but be careful!

You can stop by your local Radio Shack and pickup an SPL meter for about $50, or buy one online. As a cheaper alternative you can download an SPL meter app for your iOS or Android device; however, they are not as accurate as a stand alone SPL meter.

Once you are armed with your SPL meter, you can use the table below to help you gauge what is a safe listening level. 


115 dB SPL 15 minutes 28 seconds NONE
112 dB SPL 22 minutes 45 seconds 56 seconds NONE
109 dB SPL 34 minutes 28 seconds 1 minute 52 seconds NONE
106 dB SPL 47 minutes 38 seconds 3 minutes 45 seconds NONE
103 dB SPL 1 hour 20 minutes 7 minutes 30 seconds NONE
100 dB SPL 2 hours 15 minutes NONE
97 dB SPL 3 Hours 30 minutes 3 minutes
94 dB SPL 4 hours 36 minutes 1 hour 6 minutes
91 dB SPL 7 hours 2 hours 11 minutes 15 seconds
88 dB SPL 10 hours 30 minutes 4 hours 22 minutes 30 seconds
85 dB SPL 16 hours (protection) 8 hours 45 minutes
82 dB SPL 24 hours (continuous) 16 hours 1 hour 30 minutes
79 dB SPL 24 hours (continuous) 24 hours (continuous) 3 hours
76 dB SPL 24 hours (continuous) 24 hours (continuous) 6 hours
73 dB SPL 24 hours (continuous) 24 hours (continuous) 12 hours
70 dB SPL 24 hours (continuous) 24 hours (continuous) 24 hours (continuous)

Source: http://midimagic.sgc-hosting.com/spldose.htm


The table shows a comparison among three different organizations and what they think is the maximum amount of time a person can hear a sound before it is damaging. As you can see, the recommendations are different because the methodology is different, but each is based off of cumulative exposure over a period of time (ie. 24hr). Still, there are some general principles that are useful in the home theater realm. Never listen to anything >115dB for sustained periods of time and even loud scenes around 100dB should be severely limited in exposure. If you find yourself at an event that is too loud but you cannot turn the volume down, try a pair of tuned earplugs. The V-Moda faders are a cheap way to bring down the volume but maintain high sound quality.

Source: Steve81 & Cliff Heyne


About the author:
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Cliff, like many of us, has always loved home theater equipment. In high school he landed a job at Best Buy that started his path towards actual high quality audio. His first surround sound was a Klipsch 5.1 system. After that he was hooked, moving from Klipsch to Polk to Definitive Technology, and so on. Eventually, Cliff ended up doing custom installation work for Best Buy and then for a "Ma & Pa" shop in Mankato, MN.

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