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How Loud Is 30 Decibels (dB)? (With Noise Comparison Chart)

person using sound level meter outdoor

Our ears have a remarkable ability to handle an extensive range of sound levels. However, the effects of noise levels on hearing vary from one person to another. Sounds that clock 30 decibels are among the lowest levels that most adults can detect. The noise level is equivalent to that of a whisper, not too loud to be uncomfortable but loud enough to be heard, especially in a quiet environment.

Loud noise levels can have temporary or permanent damage to your hearing. In fact, over 40 million Americans suffer from hearing damage due to exposure to loud noise.

In this article, we will discuss what decibel levels correspond to the sounds we hear daily. We will also investigate some common sounds in relation to their decibel scale through a comparison chart, factors influencing hearing damage, and how to protect your ears from loud noises. Read on to learn more.

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Sound Measure

Some people are very sensitive to loud sounds. What one person may be able to hear, another person may not. To express sound in a meaningful and manageable way, the levels are expressed in numbers with a logarithmic scale referred to as the decibel scale, abbreviated as dB. Decibels use a logarithmic scale, so it represents a ratio.

Sound is very complex and consists of vibrations usually traveling through a medium (air). Our ears can sense the vibrations in the air as sound pressure. 0 dB represents the threshold of our hearing capacity and is barely audible in extremely quiet environmental conditions. Exposure to such low sound frequency can even have unmitigated psychological effects on human beings.

On the other hand, 120 dB is the maximum threshold for comfortable sounds. If the dB scale exceeds 140, then you will experience pain in your eardrums. However, the most common sound range lies between 30 dB and 100 dB.

The decibel scale utilizes the sound power and sound pressure level to gauge exactly how loud a sound is to the human ear. Sound power level refers to the actual sound energy emitted by a source of the noise. On the other hand, sound pressure refers to just how loud the source of noise is from a given distance.

In normal atmospheric conditions, the maximum sound level achievable on earth is 194 decibels. This is because the oscillations of the sound waves cannot move in a vacuum created by sound pressure in the air. Yet, the highest sound levels can reach decibels higher than 194 decibels such as the volcanic eruption in Tambora in 1815 that produced an incredible peak decibel level of 347 dB.

man holding sound level meter
Image credit: Azja, Shutterstock

How Loud Is 30 decibels?

As you may have gathered, people are sensitive to different sound levels measured in decibels. While we can barely hear sounds with 0 dB and cannot stand the pain from 140 dB, just how loud is 30 decibels compared to everyday sounds?

Well, 30 dB is a relatively low sound level. It is considered just loud enough for some of us to detect without causing any significant damage to our ears. Compared to our daily activities, 30 dB is equivalent to the sound we hear when:

  • Someone whispers in our ears
  • The hum of a refrigerator
  • A pin dropping on a solid floor from a height of one meter
  • Sounds from nighttime in rural areas
  • Sound from the main hall of a library
  • Hum from a switched-on light bulb

As you can see, 30 decibels is not loud enough to irritate our ears but still loud enough for some people to detect. However, several things can make 30 dB seem softer or louder. For instance, if you are in a noisy environment, 30 dB may seem quite low. You may not even be able to detect it. Conversely, a whisper in quieter environments may seem too loud. In general, though, 30 decibels are not considered a loud noise.

The Sound Level Comparison Chart

Below is a noise level chart to help you better understand decibel levels and how they relate to sounds we encounter in our daily tedium. The dB levels range from 0 to 180 decibels because, above that, sound waves transform into shock waves that can literally blow out your ear drums.

Sound Pressure Level


Examples of Environmental Sounds Meaning of the Decibel Level Decibel Effect
0 Threshold of healthy hearing  0–30 dB, faint Almost not audible
10 A pin drop
20 Rustling leaves 1/16 as loud as 70 dB extremely quiet
30 Soft music, whisper 31–50 dB, faded
40 A babbling brook 1/8 as loud as 70 dB
50 Light traffic, fridge 46–70 dB, average One-fourth as loud as 70 dB
60 Conversational speech,
air conditioner
Half as loud as 70 dB, fairly quiet
70 Shower,
Upper 70s are irritatingly loud to some people
75 Toilet flushing,
vacuum cleaner
70–85 dB, moderate
80 Alarm clock,
garbage disposal
Twice as loud as 70 dB, possible damage in 8-hour exposure
85 Passing diesel truck,
91–100 dB, very loud 4 times as loud as 70 dB, likely damage 8-hour exposure
90 Squeeze toy,
arc welder
95 Inside subway car,
food processor,
belt sander
8 times as loud as 70 dB, serious ear damage, possible after 8-hour exposure
100 Motorcycle (riding),
handheld drill
105 Sporting event,
table saw
101–125 dB, extremely loud The average human pain threshold, 16 times as loud as 70 dB
110 Rock band,
115 Emergency vehicle siren,
Very painful, 32 times as loud as 70 dB
120 Thunderclap,
oxygen torch
125 Balloon popping
130 Peak stadium crowd noise
135 Air raid siren
140 Jet engine at takeoff 140+ dB, painful & Dangerous Eardrum rupture
145 Firecracker
150 Fighter jet launch
155 Cap gun
160 Shotgun
165 .357 magnum revolver
170 Safety airbag deployment
175 Howitzer cannon
180 Rocket launch
sound level
Image Credit: JRJfin, Shutterstock

Factors Influencing the Severity of Hearing Damage From Loud Noises

Prolonged exposure to loud noises can have adverse effects on your hearing. The extent of the damage will depend on several factors, including proximity to the sound source, level of noise, and duration of exposure to the loud noise. So, to better protect your ears, you consider the following factors.

1. The sound levels

This refers to the loudness of the sound you are exposed to and determines the extent of your hearing damage. Generally, sounds at 85 decibels are considered harmful to human ears. Researchers and authorities from the National Institute for Occupational Authority (NIOSH) deem this decibel as the loudest for human ears.

But to be on the safe side, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you should steer clear from noise that is higher than 70 dB. If exposed to 70 decibels noise levels, then limit your time to 24 hours to prevent hearing loss.

Listening to music or watching high-decibel movies at full volume can be very damaging to the ears. As a rule of thumb, you can protect your hearing by ensuring your volume is set at 60%. Furthermore, never listen to loud music or audio for more than 60 minutes per session.

However, some situations may not allow you to move away from the source or reduce the volume. In such a case, the best solution would be to use hearing protectors such as ear muffs and ear plugs. However, ensure that you choose a protector suitable to the type of sound you are exposed to. It should also be a proper fit for your ears for full protection.

sound wave pattern element
Image Credit: Jackie Niam, Shutterstock

2. Proximity

This refers to how close one is to the source of the noise. Usually, sound intensity changes depending on your proximity to the source. If the distance from a noise source doubles, the decibel level can drop by 6 dB. Furthermore, the closer you are to a noise source, the louder the sound will seem.

Therefore, moving away from the noise source is the easiest way to prevent hearing damage. For instance, if you are at a concert, simply move away from the speakers. You will avoid damaging your ears and possibly enjoy the music better.

3. Time

This is another important consideration, and it looks at the amount of time that one can spend exposed to a specific noise level. Exposure time can have a major impact on the severity of your hearing damage. If exposed to 85 dB for more than a few hours, you will most definitely damage your hearing. Noise levels above 85 decibels can affect your hearing faster than lower levels.

Since sound intensity uses a logarithmic scale, for every 10 decibels multiply the intensity 10 times. So, 95 dB will be ten times louder than 85 dB and 100 times louder (due to the multiplication) than 75 dB. If your noise levels exceed 100 decibels, consider limiting your exposure time to 15 minutes. Any sound levels exceeding 110 dB should be limited to 1-minute exposure to avoid damaging your ears.

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The term decibels can be quite confusing, especially if used in a statistic or if one is new to the sound industry. However, decibels (dB) simply refer to the unit of measurement of the amount of energy created by soundwaves as it travels through a medium. The lowest decibel level is 0 dB, with sounds barely audible to the ears. The loudest sound comfortable for the human ear is 85 dB, which is equivalent to the sound of an alarm clock. The louder a sound is, the higher the decibel level.

Even though our ears can pick up and process a huge range of noise levels, we must protect them from sound extremities. Sound levels shouldn’t reach uncomfortable or painful levels before we take the initiative to protect our ears. Prolonged or brief exposure to sounds with high decibel levels can permanently damage our ears.

Therefore, it’s best to avoid daily loud sounds such as yelling and screaming. If you cannot avoid the high-decibel sounds, usually from concerts, airplanes, or a leaf blower, consider investing in ear protection tools such as earplugs and earmuffs.

Featured Image Credit: Red_Shadow, Shutterstock

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