David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: performance, loudness, sound engineering, @musings info

How loud is too loud?

Safe exposure to loud noise, including music, depends upon the intensity of the sound and duration of the exposure.

When I first posted this article (in March 2004) I was advised by a correspondent that OSHA guidelines (retained below for comparison) are now considered too lax for adequate hearing preservation. I finally found the NIOSH guidelines (also adopted by ANSI) which are based upon actual sound energy. In other words a 3dB increase in sound level reduces the safe exposure time by a factor of two.

It's interesting to note that the NIOSH specs consider exposure to greater than 115 dB sound unacceptable for any duration. This sound level is achievable by many tube guitar amplifiers. What's more interesting is that sound in the 90 to 100 dB range, which is within the range that guitarists tend to consider "restrained", still has a remarkably short safe exposure time.

Also note that the OSHA guidelines spec A-weighted measurement which further underestimates the exposure level. At the sound levels of interest to guitarists a C-weighted measurement must be used.

Keep in mind that sound exposure is cumulative. You can look up the measurement techniques and formulas elsewhere if you care. Loud stereos, highway noise in an open vehicle, power tools and many other common noisemakers all contribute to your daily noise exposure.

As a musician, it's a good idea to take the following guide to heart if you want to preserve your most valuable assets: your ears. The first step is awareness: invest $50 or so in a sound level meter and bring it to rehearsals and gigs. The second step is prevention: get earplugs that will reduce the sound level to somewhere in the mid-80 dB range.

Earplugs are rated for how much they attenuate sound, also measured in dB. Fortunately the math is simple. A set of 20 dB earplugs reduces the sound at your ears by 20 dB from whatever it is in the room.

Because musicians complain of feeling "disconnected" when wearing high-attenuation earplugs, it's important to reduce the room SPL such that lower-attenuation plugs can be used.

Take care of your ears when attending concerts and clubs. There are no regulations regarding noise exposure in entertainment venues, yet some of the worst abuses occur in small halls and clubs. Assume the worst and wear high-attenuation earplugs when present at a venue which plays loud music.

NIOSH Safe Exposure Times vs. SPL
Duration per daySound level (dB, C weighted)
8 hr85
4 hr88
2 hr91
1 hr94
30 min97
15 min100
7 min 30 sec103
3 min 45 sec106
1 min 52 sec109
56 sec112
28 sec115
none> 115


OSHA Safe Exposure Times vs. SPL
Duration per daySound level (dB, A weighted)
8 hr90
6 hr92
4 hr95
3 hr97
2 hr100
1.5 hr102
1 hr105
30 min110
15 min or less115
7 min or less120
3 min or less125

Ref: OSHA 1910.95

June 22 2008 00:01:26 GMT