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D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t

**Pressure Amplitude: Quantitative Measurement of Sound
**

As we will discuss in this section decibels are a means of creating a logarithmic scale relative to some reference. Decibel scales are by no means confined to acoustics, there are decibel scales defined for use in electronics and optics. Even in acoustics there are a variety of different definitions of the decibel scale depending upon the quantity being used as a reference. Thus, to begin our discussion I want to cover the question of what parameters are measured in determining sound levels. The most physically understandable quantity used in determining the size of a sound signal is the Pressure Amplitude. Pressure amplitude is a measure of the size of the variation in air pressure caused by a sound wave. In pure silence there is a constant pressure--atmospheric pressure. Atmospheric pressure is measured in newtons/meter2 and is approximately 105 N/m2. The atmospheric pressure varies a small amount over the space of hours or days--this is what they mean by high and low pressure centers on the weather map--however, we can consider it to be essentially constant on the time scale of sound waves.

f r ank. m t su. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. ht m r o 1/ 13

707 (equivalent to dividing by the square root of 2). For a pure tone--a pure sine wave--the averaging process leads to a pressure amplitude that is reduced from the maximum amplitude by a factor of 0. f r ank. The average size of the pressure variation away from the constant background level is the Pressure Amplitude of the sound wave. The real average is a root mean square average which you might be familiar with if you have done some electronics. The relation between amplitude of the sine wave (measured from the background level to one extreme) to the pressure amplitude (average pressure excursion from the background) is shown in the figure below. m t su. ht m r o 2/ 13 .9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t A sound wave creates a variation in the normally constant air pressure that oscillates above and below the normal atmospheric level of 105 N/m2. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. the pressure goes above (positive) and below (negative) the constant atmospheric background so a straight average would tend to give zero. I am hiding a bit of complication in the word average.

m t su. Our next concern is to address the question: how large is the pressure amplitude for typical sounds? To answer we begin by considering f r ank. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. ht m r o 3/ 13 . By applying known pressure variations to the microphone the electrical signal can be calibrated to directly measure the air pressure variations.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t It is fairly simple to understand how a calibrated measurement of the pressure amplitude can be made using a microphone to convert the pressure variations into an electrical signal. With suitable processing this pressure variation can be converted into the pressure amplitude. This function is performed by Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meters.

03% about the atmospheric background value. m t su. Of course the ability to hear also varies from person to person so this is an average for the human population. Remember the pressure amplitude is the average size of the pressure variation on the constant atmospheric background. ht m r o 4/ 13 .00000003%. Even loud sounds do not vary the background air pressure by even 1%! f r ank. This value is referred to as the threshold of hearing (for obvious reasons). This value translates to pressure variations of 0. The threshold of pain corresponds roughly to a pressure amplitude of 30 N/m2 (a million times larger than the threshold of hearing).9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t the pressure amplitude for the weakest sound that is audible to the average person. Pretty small. It is instructive to compare the threshold of hearing value to the background air pressure. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. our ability to hear is a strong function of frequency so the value is quite different at other frequencies. This is a standard value defined for a pure sine wave at a frequency of 1000 Hz. By taking the ratio of the threshold of hearing pressure amplitude to atmospheric pressure we see that the weakest audible sound waves only create a variation in the background pressure of 0. The pressure amplitude for the threshold of hearing is 2 x 10-5 N/m2. As we will see later in this class. Now how about very loud sounds.

and designated in our text and in this course by the symbol Lp. Lets look at two examples of how to move f r ank. P0 is an agreed upon value of 2 x 10-5 N/m2. You might recognize this value as the pressure amplitude for the threshold of hearing at 1000 Hz mentioned a couple of paragraphs above.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t Sound Pressure Level: A Decibel Scale defined in Terms of Pressure Amplitude Now that we understand pressure amplitude as one measure of the size of a sound signal lets look at the decibel scale defined for this quantity. This choice of reference values is of course intentional. Remember that I said at the beginning of this page that decibels are a relative measurement scale--in this case the sound pressure amplitude being measured P is determined relative to the value P0. typically abbreviated SPL. ht m r o 5/ 13 . m t su. Note that there is one quantity in the equation that I have not defined yet namely P0. The decibel scale for pressure amplitude is called Sound Pressure Level. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. The decibel SPL value for a sound with pressure amplitude P is given by the relation .

ht m r o 6/ 13 . Example 1 Find the decibel reading corresponding to a pressure amplitude P = 0. f r ank.2 N/m2. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. Decibels are not actually a measurement unit because the decibel value depends on the agreed upon reference.2/2x 10-5 = 10000 Next we take the log of this value log(10000) = 4 and multiply by 20 to get Lp Lp=20 x 4 = 80 dB. Note that in the first step of the calculation we divide one pressure amplitude value by another eliminating all units! Example 2 Find the pressure amplitude corresponding to a decibel reading of 35 dB. P/P0 = 0.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t from a pressure amplitude to a SPL decibel reading and from a decibel value back to the pressure amplitude P. Using the above definition for Lp we begin with the term in brackets on the right hand side of the equation by dividing P by P0. m t su. Note that we write dB standing for decibels after the final answer.

Note that our answer has the units of f r ank. Now the step that often stumps folks whose algebra is rusty--we want to remove the log from the left hand side. For the last step we race to our calculators. hit the 10x button. thus we can write the equation . To get P we first divide both sides by 20 to get .75.75 is P/2x10-5! Think this step through to make sure it's clear. m t su. The result is that . edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. Thus. put in 1.12x10-3 N/m2. 10 raised to the power 1. From our review of logarithms we saw that the log of a number is the exponent that 10 would have to be raised to to get that number.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t In this case we know the left hand side of the equation ands as always we know the value of P0=2 x 10-5. and then multiply by 2x10-5 to get the final answer 1. ht m r o 7/ 13 .

ht m r o 8/ 13 . Calculate the decibel reading for a pressure amplitude of P = 7 x 10-3 N/m2. 5.e. Again how are the two pressure amplitudes related? Notice a pattern? Intensity and its Relation to Pressure f r ank. Calculate the decibel reading for a sound with P = 1. This sound pressure amplitude is below the threshold of hearing.5 x 10-5 N/m2. 2. 1. Self Test #1 Try the following questions that test your ability to work with the SPL decibel equation. How are the two pressure amplitudes related? Calculate the pressure amplitudes for SPL readings of 56 dB and 50 dB. 3. Find the pressure amplitude that corresponds to the threshold of pain decibel reading of 120 dB. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. 4. Calculate the pressure amplitudes for SPL readings of 26 dB and 20 dB. 6. These questions also illustrate some important properties of decibel scales so make sure you work and understand the problems. P = 2 x 10-5 N/m2. Calculate the decibel reading for a sound at the threshold of hearing. i.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t pressure N/m2. m t su.

from a point source. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. Intensity is a measure of the sound energy that passes through a given area each second. In particular the energy in a wave is proportional to the square of the pressure amplitude. ht m r o 9/ 13 . From this discussion we concluded that in the free field limit the intensity of a wave drops off as the inverse square of the distance from the source.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t Amplitude Although pressure amplitude is one measure of the presence of a sound wave it is not the only one. m t su. In other words if I double the amplitude of the wave I quadruple the energy carried by that wave. The point that I want to make here is that the intensity is related to the pressure amplitude. A second important quantity in characterizing sound waves is called Intensity. the energy is spread over an increasingly larger area as the wave spreads out. In class we should already have talked about (or we will cover soon) the fact that waves carry energy and how. nor is it always the most convenient parameter to use. You will see how this relation becomes important in the coming comparison of the decibel scale defined with intensity to the SPL scale we have already f r ank. Now energy per second is measured in Watts (a 60 Watt light bulb gives out 60 Joules of energy each second) thus intensity has units of Watts/m2.

The reference value I0 is the threshold of hearing intensity at 1000 Hz and is 10-12 W/m2. Sound Intensity Level The decibel scale defined in terms of the sound wave intensity is given by the relation where I is the intensity of the sound wave and I0 is the reference value. The intensity decibel scale is called the Sound Intensity Level abbreviated SIL and. m t su. Because the SPL and SIL scales are both referenced to the threshold of hearing value the decibel reading for the two scales can usually be assumed to be identical in most simple situations. In practice there are some subtleties because the pressure amplitude at a point is the result of waves coming from all directions whereas the intensity implies that we have to define a surface and a direction through which the energy flows. in common with our text. the corresponding symbol is LI. We will not f r ank.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t examined. ht m r o 10/ 13 . edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. The form of the equation looks similar to that for SPL that we defined above except that the multiplier in front of the log is 10 instead of 20.

because the intensity is related to the square of the pressure amplitude we replace the pressure amplitude ratio squared with the intensity ratio. Self Test #2 1. Lets begin with the SPL definition but lets write 20 = 10 x 2. We will see in the next unit why it is sometimes easier to work with intensity rather than pressure amplitude. however. Look at Rule of Logarithm number 2. In the second step we took the 2 inside the logarithm and used it to raise the pressure amplitude ratio to the power 2. ht m r o What is the intensity of a 90 dB sound? 11/ 13 . We can understand the origin of the factor of 2 difference in the multipliers for the definitions of SPL and SIL using the square relation between pressure amplitude and intensity and our rules for logarithms. m t su.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t concern ourselves with these points but it's good to be aware that they exist. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3. Test yourself with these quick self test questions. Finally. the mathematics of manipulating the two equations is very similar because of the parallel forms of the equations. f r ank.

0063 N/m2. 1. f r ank. 4. 6. 3. 3. 0 dB.9 dB. 4.0126 N/m2 and 0. ht m r o 20 N/m2. 0. Answers to Self Test #2 1x10-3 W/m2. 12/ 13 . -2. edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3.5 W/m2? 2. One is double the other. Love the hat! Who's your friend? Answers to the Self Test #1 1. What is the SIL of a sound with 0. Again a factor of 2 between the SPL values that are 6 dB apart.5 x 10-12 W/m2.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t What is the intensity of a -3 dB sound? What is the intensity of a 0 dB sound? What is the SIL of a sound with intensity of 5 x 10-6 W/m2? 5. 117 dB.5 dB 4 x 10-4 N/m2 and 2 x 10-4 N/m2. 5. 10-12 W/m2. 3. 4. m t su. 67 dB. 50. 2. 5. 0. 2.

edu/ ~w ober t s/ l g_3.9/ 5/ 12 D bel Scal s: Sound Pr essur e Level and Sound I nt ensi y Level eci e t Previous Page Next Page f r ank. ht m r o 13/ 13 . m t su.

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