How Loud Is a Human When Speaking (dB)? Facts & FAQ
In contrast to many creatures living on the planet, humans can not only talk or yell but also whisper. Our throats are quite advanced and allow us to speak in a high or low pitch, change the tone, and even sing. However, we’re not the most “thundering” beings out there—far from that! So, how loud does human speech get? Well, the average level is 55–65 decibels.
Whispers usually don’t go above 30 dB; a regular conversation hangs around 55–60 dB. But when we scream, we often hit 100 dB, which is quite loud. How does the human voice compare to dishwashers, power tools, and car horns? When will you be at risk of hearing loss? This guide’s got it all covered!
Measuring Sound Intensity
How do you measure how loud or quiet a sound is? By using decibels, of course! It’s a logarithmic unit that allows for accurate measuring of sound intensity. Decibels are commonly used not only by sound engineers and technicians but also by the manufacturers of electronic devices like Smartphones, radios, and headphones to describe how loud these gadgets can get.
This is important: for every extra 10 dB, the sound becomes twice as loud. For example, if you go from 30 dB to 40 dB, the loudness will double. Thus, 40 dB will be four times louder than 20 dB. Does 0 dB mean absolute silence? Technically, no, but it is, indeed, the lowest sound that we, humans, perceive. Anything below that is called “total silence”. The dynamic range for human ears is 0–130 dB, by the way.
So, How Loud Do We Get During Conversations?
This depends on the person, but according to the CDC, a regular conversation is +/- 60 dB. If it’s a heated discussion, the dB levels can (and often do) reach 65 dB. But when we whisper, the sounds generated by our vocal cords rarely exceed 30 dB. Again, this depends on many factors, including the tone, pitch, and how calm or agitated we are, but that’s how loud (or, rather, quiet) a human can be.
And what about the other side of the spectrum—what’s the maximum decibel level for the human voice? When you scream at the top of your lungs, the meters will peak at 100–110 dB. If you do it while standing right next to someone’s ear, that will cause imminent pain (or even hearing loss if they’re exposed to it for two minutes straight).
The Loudest Human Scream: 129 dB
On average, men are louder than women, even though they do speak in lower-pitched voices. However, the loudest person in the world is NOT a man. Back in 2000, Guinness World Records registered Jill Drake, a classroom assistant from the United Kingdom as the person with the loudest (recorded) scream. She managed to reach 129 dB, topping the previous record.
It was set by a fellow British woman, Annalisa Wray. Back in 1994, she shouted the word “quiet” at 121.1 dB. And in 2009, Sergey Savelyev, a Russian man, won the #1 spot in a competition held in Thailand with 116.8 dB. However, that wasn’t nearly enough to compete with Drake or even Wray.
What Determines the Loudness of a Human Voice?
We are able to produce sounds thanks to a pair of vocal cords hidden inside the larynx. When they’re relaxed, the tone is deeper; in contrast, tense vocal cords produce high-pitched sounds. Essentially, the folds are thin muscles that open and close depending on the airflow. When we speak, we automatically push air from the lungs toward the larynx.
As a result, the cords vibrate, generating sound. To make your voice louder, all you have to do is increase the amplitude of the vibrations. That’s exactly why we can’t speak (or speak very softly) when we run out of breath: there’s simply no air to make the folds vibrate! There are many techniques for lasting longer. Music artists, especially rappers, often use them.
Hearing Loss: How Does It Happen?
In most cases, hearing loss is the result of continuous exposure to loud sounds. We’re talking about people that work in construction, mining, logging, and other industries that involve drilling and cutting. Hearing protection can help, but it’s not 100% effective. The louder the noise, the less time it takes to damage your hearing. That’s why abnormally loud sounds (like a jet plane taking off) can lead to hearing loss in less than a minute.
Now, for many people, audio devices are often the cause of hearing impairment. So, make a habit of turning your speakers, headphones, and other gadgets down to acceptable dB levels. Concerts, sporting events, and various shows can also damage your hearing. The same is true for power tools.
Common Sound Sources and Their DB Levels
Sounds are all around us. Alarm clocks wake us up; background noise grabs our attention during the day. When we go outside, we hear birds, people talking, traffic sounds, car horns, etc. How loud do all these sounds get, though? Will your ears hurt if you stand right next to a dishwasher for hours? What about a jackhammer or a chainsaw? Here’s a quick look at common sounds and their danger levels:
|Sound Source||Sound Level in dB||Hearing Damage Probability|
|Regular breathing||10 dB||No Damage (barely audible)|
|Whispering, background noise||20–30 dB||No Damage (barely audible)
|Noises in the library||40 dB||No Damage (well within acceptable limits)|
|Birds, ambient sounds||40 dB||No Damage (within acceptable limits)
|Relaxed conversation||50–60 dB||No Damage (slightly annoying)
|Dishwasher, washing machine||70 dB||Very Low (annoyingly loud)
|Traffic, factory noise, alarm clock||80–90 dB||Moderate (possible damage in 2 hours of exposure)
|Motorcycle, lawn mower, train||95 dB||Moderate (damage after 40–60 minutes of exposure)
|Car horn, jackhammer||100 dB||High (hearing loss probability in 15 minutes)
|TV or radio cranked up at maximum||100–105 dB||High (hearing loss probability in 5 minutes)
|Shouting in one’s ear, chainsaw||110–115 dB||High (average pain threshold, hearing loss in 2 minutes)
|Gunshot (handgun, rifle)||130–140 dB||Very High (ear injury and pain)
|Jet planes, firecrackers||130–150 dB||Very High (ear rupture and severe pain)
What’s the Loudest Animal on the Planet?
This might come as a surprise, but the loudest creatures in the world aren’t lions, tigers, or roosters. According to scientists, the sperm whale is the loudest of them all and can make sounds that reach 233 dB! These majestic beings are very big (up to 52 feet and 90,000 pounds) and live for 70 years (on average). They make a screeching noise by pushing air through their right blowhole/nasal passage.
It serves as long-range sonar. Oh, and sperm whales have a bigger set of brains than any other living-breathing creature known to mankind. Take a look at our list of the ten deafeningly-loud animals that are living among us right now.
Can You Measure dB Levels Manually?
Yes, there are many SML (sound level meter) devices available on the market. But you don’t even have to get one to measure the decibels. Instead, we recommend downloading an application that will do that through your Smartphone, tablet, or computer. The NIOSH app is an excellent choice. It is free, easy to install, and user-friendly. It’s only available for iOS devices, though.
For Android, go with Sound Meter, Sound Meter Pro, or Decibel X. To protect yourself from hearing loss, try maintaining the noise level in your home below 70 dB. When exposed to 85 dB for 8 hours straight, you will be at risk of damaging your hearing. If it’s 88 dB, the daily noise dose will be reached in 4 hours (2 hours for 91 dB and 30 minutes for 97 dB). This mostly applies to industry workers, of course.
When compared to bikes, lawnmowers, jets, and even some mammals, humans aren’t nearly as loud. With that said, we do tend to get rather vociferous when taken over by anger, fear, or happiness. This is equally true for men, women, older people, and children. Today, we discussed the average dB levels for whispering, everyday speech, and screaming.
We also covered the loudest animals on the planet and the best ways to measure a sound in decibels with a mobile app. That will help avoid problems with neighbors and the law! More importantly, we went over dangerous dB levels and the possible consequences of long-term exposure. Stay away from loud sound sources, protect your ears, and we’ll see you next time!
Featured Image Credit: People talking by 2704056, Pixabay