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How Loud Is Whispering? Decibel Comparison Chart & FAQs

Children whispering

Whispering is a polite habit for libraries, but you can’t always rely on it to keep your secrets safe. At around 20–30 decibels, whispers can be audible from over 30 feet away. They may be much quieter than standard speech, yet those hushed tones don’t guarantee that nearby parties won’t overhear your conversation.

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What Is a Whisper?

Whispering involves articulating without engaging your vocal cords. When you talk in a normal voice, your vocal cords vibrate, moving your speech between voiced and unvoiced segments to create the sounds of all 26 letters and project a unique speaking tone.

With whispering, the vocal cords are rigid and unmoving, leaving a gap to allow air to pass. Air turbulence from the narrow opening creates the noise, while the mouth, tongue, and lips move to configure the various letter sounds.

Since you’re eliminating the voiced side of speech by abducting the vocal cords, you’ll lose many individual letter sounds alongside your speaking voice. The air turbulence takes care of some noise creation that would otherwise occur through your vocal cords, such as vowel sounds. Otherwise, many letters sound like their voiceless equivalent. For example, a whisper will make a voiced “B” sound like a voiceless “P” and a “Z” sound like an “S.”

Two children whispering
Photo Credit By: eren-li, Pexels

How Loud Is Whispering?

Decibel Level Example of Noise
10 dB Breathing
20 dB Ticking watch
30 dB Whisper, rustling leaves
40 dB Running refrigerator
50 dB Dishwasher
60 dB Normal conversation
70 dB Car interior on the highway
80 dB Lawnmower
90 dB Subway train
100 dB Motorcycle

Decibels follow a logarithmic pattern of increasing intensity. Every 10 decibels equals a ten-fold boost in loudness. A 10-decibel sound is 10 times louder than 0 decibels, 20 decibels is 100 times noisier, and so on.

A whisper registers at roughly 20–30 decibels. That’s 100–1,000 times more intense than the lowest perceptible sound humans can hear at 0 decibels and 10–100 times louder than the sound of breathing. At around 60 decibels, a typical conversational speaking volume is 1,000–10,000 times louder than a whisper.

Perceived sound differences aren’t the same as the intensity changes with each 10-decibel increase. For instance, breathing is essentially unarticulated whispering, and most of us wouldn’t perceive a 20-decibel whisper as being 10 times louder than 10-decibel breathing.

Instead, humans hear every additional 10 decibels as double the volume, with our perception also following a logarithmic pattern. For instance, a 20-decibel noise sounds two times more intense than a 10-decibel noise, and a 40-decibel noise is eight times louder. By that measure, we perceive an average conversational volume as only 8–16 times louder than a whisper.

Two woman whispering
Photo Credit By: rodnae-productions, Pexels

How Far Away Can You Hear a Whisper?

The inverse square law tells us that noise intensity drops by 6 decibels every time you double the distance from the sound source. Following this rule, a whisper at 24 decibels from 3 feet away will be 18 decibels at 6 feet, 12 decibels at 12 feet, and 6 decibels at 24 feet. Depending on the ambient noise in the environment, whispering may become imperceptible at a shorter distance.

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Final Thoughts

A whisper is typically only 20–30 decibels, but anyone can make it louder or softer as they see fit. And in many cases, you can likely afford to dial down the volume. The next time you have a secret to share, keep these perspectives in mind to ensure it only reaches the intended audience.

Featured Image Credit: ron-lach, Pexels


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