Believe it or not, the noisy technological world you now occupy wasn’t the norm even 25 years ago. And it sure wasn’t this way 50 years ago. Today we have a television in every room, and heck at a lot of gas station pumps. Your ears didn’t evolve to deal with the constant sounds they are exposed to on a daily basis—not even those sounds you think aren’t “too bad.” So how can you know when to protect your tortured ears from the threat of random noise pollution? Well, there’s an app for that.
In today’s noisy and technological world, our wonderful and useful ears are often exposed to loud and sometimes damaging sounds.And though you probably already wear ear protection at concerts or when you’re operating a jackhammer or waving out an F-35 fighter jet (Hey, it’s someone’s job), regular sounds like traffic and a hair dryer can also damage hearing if listened to for too long.
Because of the excessive noise from technology in today’s world we risk our hearing every day. Some sounds that are safe for ten minutes can become dangerous when listened to for an hour or more, especially if you are too close to them. So to protect your hearing you need to know three things about a noise: how loud, how long (will you listen to it), and how close (will you get to it). But all of these factors depend on the first—the loudness decibel (dB) level.
A decibel is a way to measure the loudness of sounds—the higher the number of a decibel the higher the sound. For every three decibel increase the chance for injury to hearing goes up and happens more quickly.
To help you understand better, a conversation between two people—assuming they are not shouting—is about 60 dB, a motorcycle is around 75 dB, and city traffic is around 85 dB. You can listen to 85 dB for about eight hours before it starts to damage your hearing. Below is a chart for reference on just how long you can be exposed to certain decibels before they become harmful.
Decibel (dB) How long you can listen
85 dB 8 Hours
88 dB 4 Hours
91 dB 2 Hours
94 dB 1 Hour
97 dB 30 Minutes
100 dB 15 Minutes
103 dB 7.5 Minutes
106 3.75 Minutes
Anything over 106 can do damage fairly quickly. And all of this is useful information, but most of today’s technology doesn’t come equipped with a decibel reader. If only. So in order to tell what decibel a sound reaches you need to use the very thing your ears are being damaged by—technology. Below is a list of the most popular and highly rated apps for your phone available today for measuring sound.
Sound Meter Pro: Sound Meter PRO works with Android phones to measure sound or decibel level. It can also measure sound pressure. All of Sound Meter Pro functions require access to Android’s microphone. This just means you need to give the app permission to access your microphone in order for it to work properly. Reading the meter is a snap if you’re familiar with decibel, and you are if you read the beginning of this post, as the meter shows the decibel level on a handy-dandy graph. (Ratings: 3184 users over 4 Stars. Cost: $1.99)
Decibel Meter Pro: Packed with features, decibel Meter Pro is available on iTunes and works with iPhone and iPad. This top-notch app sports some cool graphics that can make the display easier to read, which is probably one of the reasons it’s so highly rated. Decibel Meter Pro is great for determining the decibels in a room, from lecture hall to concert. (Ratings: 1096 five star. Cost: Free with ads, but $0.99 without ads)
Decibel 10th Professional Noise Meter: Decibel 10th works with a host of Apple products including iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Considered a professional grade sound meter app, it is known for its accuracy with decibels and with sound pressure. Having that level of accuracy is great especially since the app is free if you endure the ads. Still, for less than a dollar you can unwrap the app’s full potential. (Ratings: 2738 users on all versions of this app. 4 Star. Cost: Free with ads but $0.99 without ads)
iNVH app: This is a professional app that does have a learning curve, but it has some neat features once you get to know it. Like all of these apps, this one needs to use the microphone on your phone to measure sound level, but there is also a tool designed to calibrate sound which improves accuracy. With a user-friendly graphic interface, this app is an accurate and helpful safety tool for professionals who are around loud equipment or just your every day Joe or Jane. (Ratings: 771 users 4.0 stars Cost: Free)
Multi Measures 2: This meter names says it all. It really does serve multiple purposes. It can be used as a metronome, ruler, surface level, stopwatch, timer and most important for this blog post as a decibel or sound meter. The sound meter measures sound when you hold your phone or iPad toward the source of sound. This app is touted by the manufacturer as a “professional” tool. (Ratings: 332 all versions 4 Stars. Cost: Free with ads but $1.99 without ads)
SoundMeter +: Promoted as a tool that will keep your ears and your family’s ears safe, the SoundMeter+ can accurately monitor sound levels at home, work or out on the town. A simple tool, it might not come with all the flash of other sound monitors, but it does the job and is easy enough to understand. (Ratings: 31 users 4.5 Stars. Cost: $1.99)
SplMeter: Considered to be a “professional-grade” sound meter, this decibel meter measures several aspects of sounds, including ranges and decay rates. Although the average user might not need a meter that includes “ballistics, ranges, filters and decay rates” those measurements can provide a lot of insight about a room’s acoustics. Room acoustics have become a big deal in recent years as it’s been shown even someone with average hearing can have difficulty understanding a speaker when classroom acoustics or meeting room acoustics are poor. (Ratings: 449 users 4.5 Stars Cost: $0.99)
SPLnFFT Noise Meter: For iPad and iPhone this advanced monitor has many features including dosimeter and frequency analyzer. Frequency is defined as the number of waves a sound makes in a second. Unlike decibel, it is measured in hertz (Hz). This app, according to the maker, is the only Apple app endorsed by, “Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America”. This sound meter uses colors to make it easier to determine harmful sound levels. Orange and red are on the higher danger levels for hearing. (Ratings: N/A by consumer, but highly rated on professional websites. Costs: $3.99)
A majority of these apps have been adopted to work with Apple and Android products. Remember that in order to use most of these apps on your cell, you have to give them permission to use your microphone. One of the major complaints with the free versions of these apps was that they had way too many ads. So it might be worth a few bucks to get the app without any ads. While using any of these apps, remember to hold your phone toward the sound source, and it’s best to take a few measurements to make sure that the app is working correctly. If you have any other apps that you’ve found useful for measuring decibels, please let us know!