TopTechnical DictionarySound intensity level

Sound intensity level

Sound intensity level is a sound “loudness” level measured in decibels. It is measured with a sound level meter (decibel meter).


Fig. 1. Example sound level meter


Sound pressure level can be determined from the following formula.


Sound pressure level formula:



Lp – sound pressure level,
p1 – sound pressure generated by the source in micropascals,
p2 – common sound pressure level reference point, the threshold of hearing for a human ear, 20 μP.


Sound level formula:



LI – sound pressure level,
I – sound intensity [W/m2],
I0 – reference sound intensity 10-12 [W/m2].


Fig. 2. Example sound characteristics


1 - silence
2 - sound

Other units used instead of micropascals include microbars [μb] and dynes/cm2.


The sound intensity level is 0 dB if the sound pressure p1 is equal p2, i.e. at the threshold of hearing.


The human ear have a logarithmic response to sound pressure, rather than a linear one. It can hear sounds in the frequency range of 16 Hz to 20,000 Hz.


However, no all sounds from this range can be heard properly. The pain threshold is approx. 110 dB to 140 dB.


The table shows common ambient sounds and the corresponding sound intensity level.


Sound source Acoustic pressure (Pa) Sound level (dB)
Absolute threshold of hearing 0.00002 0
Normal threshold of hearing 10
Rustling of leaves 0.0002 20
Recording studio 30
Silent apartment 0.002 40
Private office 50
Conversation 0.02 60
Traffic 0.2 80
Truck 2 100
Riveting press 20 120
Pain threshold 135
Helicopter 200 140
Jet engine 2000 160
Sound pressure at the distance of 3 m from the detonated 25 kg TNT 100000 194

Sound level is an A-weighted sound intensity level, i.e. modified by the properties of the human ear, which can hear properly in the entire frequency range at high pressure levels and may vary (depending on the frequency) at lower sound pressure levels.


Fig. 3. A-weighting curve for sound level


1 - sound pressure level (dB)
2 - frequency (Hz)

Phon is a unit of loudness level. The loudness of any sound expressed in phons corresponds to the sound intensity (in decibels) at 1 kHz - with the loudness equal to the loudness of the sound.


Fig. 4. Thresholds of hearing


1 - loudness level in phons [phon]
2 - threshold of hearing
3 - sound pressure level (dB)
4 - frequency (Hz)

As shown in the diagram (Fig. 4), the thresholds of hearing are slightly different at the range of frequencies audible to the human ear. The loudness curves show a relative decrease in ear sensitivity at lower tones (low frequencies).