Sound measurement terms - acoustic glossary
Guide to Common Sound Measurement Terms
Find out what the definitions are of some commonly used noise and sound measurement terms such as SPL: Sound Pressure Level, Leq: Equivalent sound level, and Cpeak, Lmin, Lmax and many more in our acoustic glossary.
We have compiled a guide to some of the most commonly used acoustic terms, definitions, weightings and statistics. They are listed alphabetically with a short explanation for each and with a link to sections or products on our website if relevant. Just click on the letter you want below.
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A-weighting – (correctly A-frequency-weighting). The frequency response of a sound level meter that makes its reading conform to a notional human hearing response. It is defined in various International standards such as the IEC 61672, as well as in various national standards such as ANSI S1.4. (USA). A-frequency-weighting is mandated all over the world for hearing damage risk measurements. Any approved sound level meter meeting IEC 61672 is mandated to incorporate at least an A-weighting filter. Measurements are commonly displayed as dB(A) or dBA or as LAeq, LAFmax, LAE – where the A shows the A-weighting.
Absorption – In acoustics, the changing of sound energy to heat. The sound wave impinges on a surface where it changes to heat and thus is not reflected back.
Absorption coefficient – The fraction of sound energy that is absorbed at any surface. It has a value between 0 and 1 and varies with the frequency and angle of incidence of the sound. A perfect absorber has a coefficient of 1.
Acoustics – The science of sound.
Acoustic Calibrator – An instrument that provides a reference noise source that is used to calibrate and check the performance of a Sound Level Meter.
Acoustic Fingerprint – An advanced system that allows triggers to be set up to start and stop audio recordings and markers. Triggers can be made up of a number of rules which can be based on noise level, rate of change or tonal noise and can use any parameter that is available in the instrument.
Acoustic treatment – Used in architectural acoustics to isolate noise or vibration and to correct acoustical faults in spaces by addition of absorption devices, reflectors or other devices, sometimes including electronic systems.
Ambient noise – Background or general noise level characteristic of a location, often used in comparison with a specific noise source. The metric most often used in the United Kingdom to describe this is the sound pressure level in dB(A) exceeded for 90% of the time, i.e L90, although L95, or even L99 are used as the measure of background in some regions.
Anechoic chamber – A room designed to suppress internal sound reflections. Used for acoustical measurements. Because there are so few reflections, any sound will come from one indirection only, it is used in microphone directivity measurements.
ANSI – The American National Standards Institute. They set USA standards, that in acoustics are usually VERY different to the International (IEC) standards and are often incompatible. The ANSI sound level meter standard is ANSI S1.4-1983 (R2006).
Attenuate – To reduce the level of an acoustical signal.
Audio spectrum – The range of acoustical signal perceived by the human ear, conventionally 20Hz to 20kHz, but many other ranges may be quoted. However, for Health and Safety work, 31,5Hz to 8kHz is usually quoted as the spectrum or range of interest.
Average Sound Level – See Equivalent continuous sound level.
Auditory system – The human hearing system made up of the external ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, the nerve pathways and the brain.
Bass – The lower range of audible frequencies. The term comes from music.
Bel – A unit used as a descriptor of the magnitudes of powers. The number of Bels expressing the relative magnitudes of two powers is the logarithm to the base 10 of the ratio of the powers. It is named after Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), Scots-born scientist. Because the bel is so large the decibel (bel x 0,1) is more commonly used.
Broadband – Noise measurements using parameters which include all the audible noise such as dB(A) and dB(C).
C-A – The LCeq-LAeq value over a measurement period. Commonly used to determine the required level of hearing protection using the HML (High, Medium Low) method.
C-weighting – (correctly C-frequency-weighting). The C-weighting looks more at low frequency sounds compared with the A-weighting, and is essentially flat or linear between 31.5Hz and 8kHz, the two – 3dB or ‘half power’ points. Peak Sound Pressure Measurements are made using the C- frequency weighting. Measurements are typically displayed as dB(C) or dBC. Or for example as LCeq, LCPeak, LCE – where the C shows the C-weighting.
Calibration – The process of measuring to determine the accuracy of your measurement chain. Noise meters are normally calibrated to 93.7dB, whereas personal dosemeters may be calibrated higher.
Calibration offset – The difference between the expected calibration level set in the instrument and the level measured by the instrument during calibration.
Coincidence – This occurs when the wavelength of the incident sound wave projected onto a surface matches the bending wavelength of that surface.
Class (of a sound level meter) – IEC 61672 divides sound level meters into 2 classes or performance categories. They were called ‘Types’ in earlier standards, such as IEC 60651 and 60804. Class 1 & 2 meters essentially have the same design goals:
Class 2 sound level meter is a general grade meter. It has wider tolerances and is thus slightly less accurate, but for most applications, the difference is very small.
Critical frequency – Lowest frequency when coincidence occurs. Critical frequency is raised for thinner and less stiff surfaces in the sound path.
Criterion Level – The maximum Leq sound level allowed over an 8 hour time period which corresponds to the 100% dose and Estimated % Dose. In the UK this is 85dB.
Criterion Time – The time over which noise meters calculate exposure and dose values.
Cycle – The sequence of changes which takes place during the period of a recurring variable quantity.
dB(A) – (often just referred to as dBA, or decibels A-weighted). This is the most commonly used standard frequency weighting. It’s the “metric” that a sound level meter gives when on A-frequency-weighting network. It was originally set as simulating the human ear response at a loudness level of 40 phons, but today, it is simply a standardised metric.
dB(C) – This is the standard frequency weighting used for Peak Sound Pressure Levels. It’s written is dB(C) or dBC. (See C-weighting)
dB(Z) – The is the flat frequency response weighting between 10 Hz and 20kHz (+/- 1.5 dB).(See Z-weighting)
Damping – The process whereby the amplitude of an oscillation of a system is diminished due to thermodynamically or other irreversible processes. In acoustics, it is often done by absorbent material.
Daily Personal Noise Exposure – The 8 hour average level of noise exposure calculated from the percentage dose. Written as LEP,d or LEX,8h
Data logging – The storage of measurement information into a sound level meter or noise dosimeter that can be downloaded into software on a PC.
Decibel (symbol dB) – One-tenth of a bel. Mathematically, the decibel and bel are strictly not units, as they are simply a ratio between two quantities and as such have no dimension. They are used to measure the intensity of sound or the power level of an electrical signal by comparing it with a given level on a logarithmic scale.
Diaphragm – Any surface that vibrates in response to sound or is vibrated to emit sound, especially in microphones and loudspeakers. Some people also apply it to wall and floor surfaces vibrating in response to sound or in transmitting sound.
Diffraction – Ability of a sound wave to pass round a screen or barrier. Lower frequency sounds can diffract around obstacles more easily because of their longer wavelength. In effect, the edge of the barrier acts like a new sound source
Diffusion – When reflecting surface or surfaces cause a dispersion of sound in a room, with no directionality of sound waves.
Dose – The permitted amount of noise, in Sound Exposure, multiplied by time (Pa2hr) that a person is exposed to and can be expressed in many ways. Dose limits are set by governments to limit the exposure of workers to noise and there are many ways of describing this exposure. The reality is that all “dose” systems allow a maximum Sound Exposure each day or week, but few use simple Sound Exposure as their metric. In Europe, the new ‘Exposure Limit Value’ sets a legal limit of 87dB(A) over 8 hours. This is the maximum permissible noise level exposure to enter the operatives ear (including the use of hearing protection). “Per cent” dose is a number laid down by politicians in a particular political region and is simply the ratio of the actual dose divided by the maximum permitted, multiplied by 100. This means 100% dose is NOT the same in all countries. “% dose” is easy to understand, but makes life difficult if the maximum exposure limit is changed, as all existing instruments have to be re-scaled or scrapped. To get around this problem, “dosimeters” were renamed as “Personal Sound Exposure Meters” (PSEM) and are described in IEC 61252. In the UK a 3dB Exchange Rate (Q) is used; a noise level of 88dB has twice as much energy as a level of 85dB and so a constant level of 88dB is a 200% dose.
Dosemeter (Dosimeter -- USA) - A noise dosemeter is a wearable, portable, wireless (cable-free), personal noise exposure meter for occupational and workplace noise measurements. They are designed specifically to monitor an employee’s noise exposure in order to comply with Health and Safety regulations.
Dynamic range – All noise instruments are limited in the range of levels that they can accurately measure by inherent noise at low levels and by overload at high levels. The Usable region between these two is the dynamic range of the instrument – expressed in dB.
Echo – the Reflected sound heard as separate from the initial sound, by virtue of the longer reflected sound path.
Equal loudness contour – A contour representing a constant loudness for all audible frequencies.
Equivalent continuous sound level (common abbreviation Leq) – If noise levels are rapidly changing then the average level can be a useful tool and it is usually called the “Equivalent Continuous Level”. However, it is properly known as time-average sound level (symbol LAT) but mainly only pedants use this, most people use the more common LAeqT. Formally, it is defined as twenty times the logarithm to the base ten of the ratio of a root-mean-square sound pressure during a stated time interval to the reference sound pressure, sound pressure being obtained with a standard frequency weighting and is expressed in decibels (dB). Being an average level, Leq can go up and down but the longer it is measured, the more stable it gets, as it measures all the noise from the beginning of the measurement.
Estimated dose (or Estimated % Dose) – This it the projected noise exposure for an 8 hour time period.
Exchange Rate (Q) – This is the increase in noise that corresponds to a doubling of the noise level. In the UK LAeq is always based on an Exchange Rate (or Q) of 3dB. (In the US the OSHA use an Exchange Rate of 5dB).
Exposure – This is measured noise over time expressed in Pa2h (Pascal Squared Hours).
Exposure Time – This is the actual time that an individual is exposed to noise (e.g. through a working day). It is used for calculation of LEP,d.
Fast – This is a time weighting (See also Impulse and Slow). It will be defined by the design standards of the instrument, such as IEC 61672, and it is one of three time factors (Fast, Slow and Impulse) which determines the ‘speed’ at which an instrument responds to changing noise levels. An instrument set to Fast will respond quickly to changes in noise levels compared with an instrument set to Slow. If the noise level is constant, both instruments will display the same noise level. Time weighting is applied to Sound Level, Maximum Sound Level and Minimum Sound Level. Time weightings also affect Ln Percentile levels which are calculated from Sound Levels. Measurement parameters that use time weightings will show this as LAFmax for example – where values are the maximum A-weighted Fast Time-weighted sound levels.
Flanking – Ability of acoustic energy to by-pass a sound barrier at the edges. Good air-borne sound insulation through a floor construction, for example, may be flanked by sound transmission down the walls or ducts.
Focusing – Acoustic energy can be reflected from concave surfaces into a concentrated focus. The effect is the same as focusing light.
Free Field Microphone – At frequencies above 1kHz the wavelength of sound is small enough for a standard half-inch microphone to ‘disturb’ or affect the sound field being measured. Free field microphones are designed to compensate for this effect.
Frequency – Frequency is the number of whole cycles of vibration per second. Note: Frequency may be expressed in hertz (Hz), kilohertz (kHz) of megahertz (MHz). Originally, it was simply described as “cycles per second” or cps.
Hearing loss – The decrease of a person’s hearing levels below the specified standard of normal hearing.
Hearing threshold level – A measured threshold of hearing, expressed in decibels relative to a specified standard of normal hearing.
Hertz – The unit of frequency; symbol Hz. It is the same as cycles per second. Named after the German physicist Heinrich Hertz.
Helmholtz resonator – A reactive, tuned, sound absorber. A bottle is such a resonator. Many good sound calibrators incorporate a Helmholtz resonator, to increase their equivalent volume. Named after Hermann von Helmholtz a German physicist.
IEC – The International Electro-technical Commission. They set and agree the world standards for many things, in particular for acoustics. The Standards are written by working groups, made up of academics, commercial companies and government laboratories and agreed by a plenary meeting of all interested countries. While the USA is a full member of IEC, in acoustics they usually do not take much regard to them. IEC standards describe the instrument’s performance NOT its method of use. IEC acoustic standards are all of the form IEC 6xxxx. IE standards can be bought 0n-line from www.iec.ch/
Impulse – This is a time weighting (See also Fast and Slow). It will be defined by the design standards of the instrument, such as IEC 61672, and it is one of three time factors (Fast, Slow and Impulse) which determines the ‘speed’ at which an instrument responds to changing noise levels. An instrument set to Impulse will respond very quickly to an increase in noise levels, but will take much longer to fall when the noise level decreases. Time weighting is applied to Sound Level, Maximum Sound Level and Minimum Sound Level. Time weightings also affect Ln Percentile levels which are calculated from Sound Levels.
Integrating Averaging Sound Level Meter – A sound level meter which accumulates the total sound energy over a measurement period and calculates an equivalent average value, usually displayed as an Leq.
ISO – The International Organization for Standardisation. They are a similar organisation to IEC, but ISO set standards for measurements methods NOT for the instrument. They are available from www.iso.org/
L10 - L10 is an Ln value. It is the level exceeded for 10% of the time. For 10% of the time, the sound or noise has a sound pressure level above L10. For the rest of the time, the sound or noise has a sound pressure level at or below L10. These higher sound pressure levels are probably due to sporadic or intermittent events. L10 is often used when assessing traffic noise and in planning applications for roads: L10 is the level exceeded for 10% of the time and takes account of any annoying peaks in noise. (See Ln values)
L50 - L50 is an Ln value. It is the level exceeded for 50% of the time. It is statistically the mid-point of the noise readings. It represents the median of the fluctuating noise levels. (See Ln values)
L90 - L90 is an Ln value. It is the level exceeded for 90% of the time. For 90% of the time, the noise level is above this level. It is generally considered to be representing the background or ambient level of a noise environment. For example, in BS 4142 ‘Rating Industrial Noise Affecting Mixed Residential and Industrial Areas’. (See Ln values)
LAeq – See Leq
LAeq,1s – An ‘A’ weighted 1 Second Leq value.
LAeq,t – See Leq
LAFmax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Fast Time weighting during the measurement period.
LAFmin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Fast Time weighting during the measurement period.
LAFTeq – Takt maximal sound level as defined by DIN 45641.
LAI – The Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Impulse Time.
LAImax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Impulse Time weighting during the measurement period.
LAImin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Impulse Time weighting during the measurement period.
LASmax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Slow Time weighting during the measurement period.
LASmin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Slow Time weighting during the measurement period.
LAT – See Leq
LAVG – The Time-Averaged Sound Level with an exchange rate other than 3dB.
LCE – Sound Exposure Level (SEL) with ‘C’ Frequency weighting.
LCeq,1s – ‘C’ weighted 1 Second Leq value.
LAeq,t – An Leq value measured with ‘C’ frequency weighting
LCF – The Sound Level with ‘C’ Frequency weighting and Fast Time weighting.
LCFmax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘C’ Frequency weighting and Fast Time weighting during the measurement period.
LCFmin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘C’ Frequency weighting and Fast Time weighting during the measurement period.
LCImax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘C’ Frequency weighting and Impulse Time weighting during the measurement period.
LCImin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘C’ Frequency weighting and Impulse Time weighting during the measurement period.
LCPeak – The Peak Sound Pressure level with ‘C’ frequency weighting
LCS – The Sound Level with ‘C’ Frequency weighting and Slow Time.
LCImax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘C’ Frequency weighting and Slow Time weighting during the measurement period.
LCImin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘C’ Frequency weighting and Slow Time weighting during the measurement period.
LE (SEL) – This is an Leq normalised to 1 second. It can be used to compare the energy of different noise events where they have different durations. LE is the sound exposure expressed as a log; Leq is LE divided by time.
LEP,d – Daily personal noise exposure. It is the average A-weighted exposure level over an hour working day. It’s calculated from the measured sound exposure, the time, and the reference of an 8 hour day.
LEP,w – A measure of the total noise exposure over a working week (40 hours – 5x hour days).
Level – the ratio, expressed in decibels, of the magnitude of the quantity to be measured to the reference magnitude.
Leq (Equivalent continuous sound level) – If noise levels are rapidly changing then the average level can be a useful tool and it is usually called the “Equivalent Continuous Level“; it is the most commonly used value to describe sound levels that vary over time. An Leq is the level that would produce that same sound energy over a stated period of time when using a 3dB exchange rate. However, it is more properly known as time-average sound level (symbol LAT) but mainly only pedants use this, most people use the more common LAeqT. Being an average level, Leq can go up and down but the longer it is measured, the more stable it gets, as it measures all the noise from the beginning of the measurement.
See Leq sound level meters from Pulsar here.
LIeqT – Impulse weighted Leq,t as defined by DIN 45641
Lmax – Maximum sound level
Lmin – Minimum sound level
Ln Levels - Ln values are statistical noise levels (or percentiles) used to assess noise levels (sound pressure levels) from fluctuating noise sources over time. Any statistical value between 0.01% and 99.99% may be calculated where ‘n’ is the percent exceeded noise level over a timed measurement period (T). For example, a sample of fluctuating noise levels taken once a second every second for an hour gives us 3600 samples. These samples can give us some helpful statistics: if we add all the samples together and divide by 3600 (T) then we will get the average or L50% value of the noise over an hour. The most commonly used Ln values are the L10 and the L50 or L90. Modern sound level meters like the Pulsar Nova (Model 45 & 46) do it all for you. They sample at more than ten times a second to improve the statistical accuracy if the sound levels fluctuate widely over time or are intermittent. We can also use the Ln values to tell us about n-percent of time a fluctuating noise exceeds a set level, for example, by analysing the total time of samples exceeding 85dB(A). For a varying sound, L10 is greater than L50 which in turn is greater than L90.
Loudness – An observer’s auditory impression of the strength of a sound. Note: It cannot be measured with a sound level meter; a special Loudness meter is needed.
Loudness level – The loudness level of a sound is measured by the sound pressure level of a standard pure tone of specified frequency that is assessed by normal observers as being equally loud.
Lp – Sound Pressure Level
Lw – Sound Power Level
LZE – Sound Exposure Level (SEL) with ‘Z’ frequency Weighting
LZeq,1s – A 1 second Leq value with ‘Z’ frequency weighting
LZeq,t – A Leq measured with ‘Z’ frequency weighting
LZF – The Sound Level with ‘Z’ frequency weighting and Fast time weighting
LZFmax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘Z’ Frequency weighting and Fast Time weighting during the measurement period.
LZFmin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘Z’ Frequency weighting and Fast Time weighting during the measurement period.
LZI – The Sound Level with ‘Z’ Frequency weighting and Impulse Time.
LZImax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘Z’ Frequency weighting and Impulse Time weighting during the measurement period.
LZImin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘Z’ Frequency weighting and Impulse Time weighting during the measurement period.
LZS – The Sound Level with ‘Z’ Frequency weighting and Slow Time weighting
LZSmax – The maximum Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Slow Time weighting during the measurement period.
LZSmin – The minimum Sound Level with ‘A’ Frequency weighting and Slow Time weighting during the measurement period.
Masking – The effect where the threshold of audibility of a sound is raised by the presence of another (masking) sound or sounds. Masking is most effective when the masking sound is of lower frequency than the sound to be masked. Masking using white noise is sometimes used as an aid to communication in offices.
Maximum Sound Level (Lmax) – The maximum noise level during a measurement period or noise event.
Membrane absorber – A component assembly whereby a solid thin panel is spaced away from a solid backing but by virtue of panel flexibility vibrates on the trapped layer of air. The frequency at which maximum absorption occurs depends mainly on the spacing panel to backing and the superficial weight of the panel.
Microphone capsule – The microphone capsule is the part of the noise measurement instrument that converts the acoustic pressure, or noise, into an electrical signal that can be measured and displayed by the instrument. This is often the most sensitive and fragile part of a noise measurement instrument as it has to deal with both very small and very large changes in pressure with great accuracy and precision.
Minimum Sound Level (Lmin)– The minimum noise level during a measurement period or noise event.
Mode – A room resonance. Axial modes are associated with pairs of parallel walls. Tangential modes involve four room surfaces and oblique modes all six surfaces. Their effect is greatest at low frequencies and for small rooms.
Natural frequency – The frequency of a free vibration.
Noise – Sound which is undesired by the recipient. Undesired electrical disturbances in a transmission channel or device may also be termed ‘noise’, in which case the qualification ‘electrical’ should be included unless it is self-evident.
Noise Floor – The self-generated noise of a sound level meter, usually due to the microphone or pre-amplifier. This is therefore the level below which the meter cannot read.
Noise criteria (NC) – Standard spectrum curves by which a given measured noise may be described by a single NC number.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) – This is a hearing impairment that occurs from exposure to loud sound. The impairment can include: loss of perception of a narrow range of frequencies; impaired cognitive perception of sound; or other impairment, including sensitivity to sound or ringing in the ears. (See Tinnitus). Hearing may deteriorate gradually from chronic and repeated noise exposure, such as loud music or loud background noise, or suddenly, from a short high-intensity noise. In both types, loud sound overstimulates delicate hearing cells, leading to the permanent injury or death of the cells. Once lost, hearing cannot be restored. Most NIHL, has historically occurred through occupational exposure; however, NIHL can also occur from unsafe recreational, residential, social, and military service-related noise exposures. It is important to understand that exposure to excessively high decibel levels from any sound source over time, can cause hearing loss.
Noise rating (NR) curves – An agreed set of curves relating octave-band sound pressure level to the centre frequency of the octave bands, each of which is characterized by a ‘noise rating’ (NR), which is numerically equal to the sound pressure level at the intersection with the ordinate at 1Hz. The ‘noise rating’ of a given noise is found by plotting the octave-band spectrum on the same diagram and selecting the highest noise rating curve to which the spectrum is tangent.
Occupational Hearing Loss – When exposure to hazards such as noise occur at work and is associated with hearing loss, it is referred to as occupational hearing loss. (See Noise-Induced Hearing Loss)
Octave – The interval between two frequencies having a ratio of 2:1 – where the highest frequency is twice that of the lowest frequency, for example, an octave filter with a frequency of 1kHz has a lower frequency of 707Hz and an upper frequency of 1.414kHz.
Octave Band Filters – When we need to find detailed information about complex sound then we can split the frequency range into sections, or frequency bands. A sound level meter might provide 1:1 (or single) octave band filters or 1:3 (or third) octave band filters.
Octave Band Leq,1s – The 1:1 Octave Band Filters shown numerically without frequency weighting.
Octave Band Leq,t (Graph) – The 1:1 Octave Band Filters shown graphically when an instrument is measuring noise. The cumulative Leq in each band is shown. No frequency weighting is applied.
Octave Band Leq,t (Numbers) – The 1:1 Octave Band Filters shown numerically when an instrument is measuring noise. The cumulative Leq in each band is shown. No frequency weighting is applied.
Octave Band LF – The 1:1 Octave Band Filters shown graphically. No frequency weighting is applied.
Overload – When the input to the Sound Level Meter is too high for the current measurement range.
Pa – Pascal. This is the SI derived unit of pressure.
Pa2h (Pa2h) – Noise exposure in Pascal Squared Hours
Peak Sound Level / Peak Sound Pressure – (symbol Lpeak) It is expressed in decibels. This is not the same as Maximum Sound Level, but they are often confused: Peak level is the actual peak of the pressure wave, whereas the maximum sound level is the highest sound level.
Peak Sound Level is the highest peak of the original pressure wave. This is commonly associated with C or Z frequency weighting, but has itself no time weighting. If the noise being measured is impulsive such as a hammer, then the Peak level may easily be 20dB higher than the maximum sound level, because of the time weighting being applied to the sound level. It is formally defined as twenty times the logarithm to the base ten of the ratio of a peak sound pressure to the reference sound pressure, peak sound pressure being obtained with a standard frequency weighting
To give some idea of scale. The time constant for “I” (Impulse) response is 35millisec. The maximum permitted acquisition time of Peak is 100 microseconds (0,1 millisec) . Clearly a very short pulse will read very differently on Peak and “MAX”.
Perceived noise level – The perceived noise level of a sound is measured by the sound pressure level of a reference sound which is assessed by normal observers as being equally noisy. The reference sound consists of a random noise between one-third and one octave wide centered on 1000Hz.
Permanent threshold shift – The component of threshold shift which shows no progressive reduction with the passage of time when the apparent cause has been removed. In effect permanent deafness
Personal sound exposure meter (PSEM) - see Dosemeter
phon – The unit of loudness level when the standard pure tone is produced by a sensibly plane sinusoidal progressive sound wave coming from directly in front of the observer and having a frequency of 1000 Hz.
Pink noise – A noise signal whose spectrum level decreases at 3dB per octave rate. This gives the noise equal energy per octave and is used to test many acoustic devices.
Pitch – Pitch is the frequency of a sound as perceived by human hearing. It is mainly musicians who use ‘Pitch’. Engineers use ‘Frequency’.
Plenum – A cavity usually absorbent-lined through which conditioned air is routed to reduce noise.
Porous absorber – Sound absorbing finish where the sound energy falling on it is dissipated by viscous losses within the pores of the material and converted to heat.
Preamplifier – An electronic circuit which takes the electrical signal from the microphone capsule and converts it into a signal that can be used in the sound level meter.
Projected exposure – The measured LAeq projected over a range of durations to give equivalent daily exposure values.
Pure tone – A pure tone is a sinusoidal sound of only one frequency, such as that generated by a tuning fork, electronic signal generator or an acoustic calibrator.
Q – See Exchange Rate
Random noise – A noise signal, commonly used in measurements, which has constantly shifting amplitude, phase and frequency and a uniform spectral distribution of energy. (White, pink and blue noise are all random noises)
Reflection – Sound energy returned after impact on a surface, rather than being absorbed as heat energy within the surface.
Refraction – The bending of sound waves travelling through layered media with different sound velocities. It is especially important in considering its effect at the edges of barriers.
Resonance – The natural vibration of an area of material or an object at a particular frequency as a result of excitation by a sound at that frequency. It is resonance that causes glasses to shatter with noise.
Reverberation – The effect whereby a sound builds up in a space or at a point in a space because of multiple reflections from surrounding enclosing walls, floors and ceiling and continues when the exciting source is removed.
Reverberation chamber – A room with hard surfaces used for measuring sound absorption coefficients. None of the surfaces are parallel.
Reverberant field– A sound field resulting from the superposition of many waves due to repeated reflections at the boundaries. This is the field produced in a reverberant chamber.
Reverberant sound – The sound in an enclosure excluding that which is received directly from the source without reflection.
Reverberation time – The time required for the mean square sound pressure of a given frequency in an enclosure, initially in a steady state, to decrease after the source is stopped, to one-millionth of its initial value (i.e. the time for 60dB decay). It is normally calculated by measuring a drop of 20dB and tripling the time (20dB method), or by measuring a drop of 30dB and doubling this.
Richness – A property of sound in an auditorium where there are many repetitions and reflections within a short period.
Sabine – The unit of sound absorption. Named after Wallace Clement Sabine, an American physicist.
Sine wave – A single frequency periodic wave having simple harmonic motion and is described by frequency and amplitude. Formally it is a mathematical curve that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation.
Slow – This is a time weighting (See also Fast and Impulse). It will be defined by the design standards of the instrument, such as IEC 61672, and it is one of three time factors (Fast, Slow and Impulse) which determines the ‘speed’ at which an instrument responds to changing noise levels. An instrument set to Slow will respond slowly to changes in noise levels compared with an instrument set to Fast. If the noise level is constant, both instruments will display the same noise level. Time weighting is applied to Sound Level, Maximum Sound Level and Minimum Sound Level. Time weightings also affect Ln Percentile levels which are calculated from Sound Levels.
Sound – Physically it is a fluctuation in pressure, a particle displacement in an elastic medium like air around the static pressure. This is called objective sound. Physiologically it is an auditory sensation produced in the ear and brain by variations in the pressure of air. This is subjective sound.
Sound absorption – Damping of a sound wave on passing into a medium wholly or partially. The property possessed by materials, objects or media of absorbing sound energy.
Sound absorption coefficient – Of a surface or material at a given frequency and under specified conditions: the complement of the sound energy reflection coefficient under those conditions, i.e., it is equal to 1 minus the sound energy reflection coefficient of the surface or material.
Sound calibrator – A sound source that normally gives a 1kHz tone at 94dB (1Pa) to correct any level error of the sound level meter. It has an IEC standard IEC 60942. Because of the differing microphone characteristics, a sound calibrator from manufacturer ‘A’ should NOT be used on a meter from manufacturer ‘B’ unless both manufacturers can provide any needed correction. Example of a sound calibrator.
Sound Exposure – The time integral of the square of sound pressure over a stated time interval or event. The units are pascal-squared seconds Pa2s and the symbol is EA.
Sound Exposure level – Ten times the logarithm to the base ten of the ratio of a sound exposure to the reference sound exposure, reference sound exposure being the product of the square of the reference sound pressure and the reference time interval of 1s. Sound exposure level is expressed in decibels (dB) and the symbol is LAE. It is often referred to as SEL.
Sound insulation – Means taken to reduce the transmission of sound, usually by enclosure. Of a partition: the property that opposes the transmission of sound from one side to the other.
Sound intensity – Sound intensity (I) is the sound power distributed over unit area. The unit is watts per square meter.
Sound level meter – An instrument designed to measure a frequency and time-weighted value of the sound pressure level. It consists of a microphone, amplifier and indicating instrument having a declared performance in respect of directivity, frequency response, rectification characteristic, and ballistic response. It is fully described and specified in IEC 61672 Part 1. There are three kinds of sound measuring instruments:
(1) a conventional sound level meter that measures exponential time-weighted sound level;
(2) an integrating-averaging sound level meter that measures time average sound level; and
Sound power – Sound power (P) is the rate at which sound energy is produced at the sound source. The unit is watt (W).
Sound power level (PWL) – The sound power level of a source, in decibels, is equal to 10 times the logarithm to the base 10 of the ratio of the sound power of the source to the reference sound power. In cases of doubt, the reference sound power should be explicitly stated. Note: In the absence of any statement to the contrary, the reference sound power in air is taken to be 10-12W (= 1 pW).
Sound pressure – Sound pressure (p) is the average variation in atmospheric pressure caused by the sound. The unit is pascal (Pa) Note: The term sound pressure may be qualified by the terms ‘instantaneous’, ‘maximum’, ‘peak’ or RMS, etc. The Root Mean Square (RMS) sound pressure is frequently understood by the unqualified term sound pressure.
Sound pressure level (SPL) – The sound pressure level of a sound, in decibels, is equal to 20 times the logarithm to the base 10 of the ratio of the RMS sound pressure to the reference sound pressure. In case of doubt, the reference sound pressure should be stated. In the absence of any statement to the contrary, the reference sound pressure in air is taken to be 2 x 10-5 N/m2, or 0,0002 Pa.
Sound propagation – The wave process whereby sound energy is transferred from one part of a medium to another, or simply one location to another.
Sound reduction index – Difference in decibel between the amount of energy flowing towards the wall in the source room and the total amount of energy entering the receiving room.
Sound spectrum – Sounds can be analysed to reveal their frequency content. This can be achieved by dividing the frequencies into octave or third-octave bands or even smaller bands and the sound pressure levels measured in those bands.
Sound transmission class – Single-figure rating used mainly in the USA for comparing partitions for general building design purposes. Sound transmission losses in sixteen test bands from 125 to 4KHz are compared with a reference contour.
Sound transmission coefficient – The ratio which the sound energy of a given frequency transmitted through and beyond a surface or partition been to that incident upon it.
Sound wave – A disturbance whereby energy is transmitted in a medium by virtue of the inertial, elastic and other dynamic properties of the medium. Usually, the passage of a wave involves only temporary departure of the state of the medium from its equilibrium state, just as the waves in the sea.
Standing wave – A resonance condition in an enclosed space in which sound waves travelling in one direction interact with those travelling in the opposite direction, resulting in a stable condition.
Temporary threshold shift, or TTS – The deviation, in decibel, of a measured hearing level in a person from one previously established. After a period where the subject is not exposed to high sound levels TTS will disappear.
Threshold Level – A number of occupational noise regulations (OSHA and MSHA) specify that for the measurement of noise at work, sound levels below a certain limit (the threshold) should be disregarded.
Time constant – A standardised time constant used in exponential time weighting for acoustical analysis. The standard time constants for sound level meters are Slow (100ms), Fast (125ms) and Impulse (35ms while the signal level is increasing or 1,500 ms while the signal level is decreasing).
Time History Rate – The speed, or rate, at which the noise levels are sampled and stored in the instrument. These samples, or time history, can be downloaded to Analysing software for graphical display.
Tinnitus – Tinnitus is the hearing of sound when no external sound is present. People often describe it as a ringing in their ears, but it may also sound like a clicking, hiss or roaring. The sound can be soft or loud, low pitched or high pitched and can appear to be coming from just one ear or both. Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom that can result from a number of underlying causes, one of the most common causes is noise-induced hearing loss. Most of the time, it comes on gradually. In some people, the sound causes depression or anxiety and can interfere with concentration.
Type 1 – Laboratory and Field Grade for Sound Level Meters defined in standards such as IEC 60651 and IEC 60804. These standards have been superseded by IEC 61672 which uses Class 1 rather than Type 1.
TW – Time weighting
TWA (Time Weighting Average) – Using a 5dB exchange rate, the total amount of workplace noise exposure expressed as an equivalent standard 8 hour working day. Used by the OSHA specification.
Under range – The input to a sound level meter that is too low for the current measurement range.
Velocity – Velocity is the distance moved per second in a fixed direction.
Wave – A regular variation of an electrical signal or acoustical pressure.
Wavelength – Wavelength is the distance between any two repeating points on a wave. It is related to the frequency and velocity by v= fλ
Weighting – Adjustment of response in the frequency or time domains of a sound level meter to achieve a desired measurement. The formal definitions of frequency and time weightings are:-
- frequency weighting is the difference between the level of the signal indicated on the display device and the corresponding level of a constant-amplitude steady-state sinusoidal input signal, specified as a function of frequency
- time weighting is the exponential function of time, with a specified time constant, that weights the square of the instantaneous sound pressure. Two time weightings are defined in IEC 61672 'S' having a time constant of 1s and 'F' having a time constant of 0,125s. I time weighting (35m) is no longer in the body of the standard and its use is not recommended
White noise – Random noise having uniform distribution of energy with frequency. It is used to test certain devices as well as a masking noise.
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Download the glossary here. Pulsar-Glossary-of-common-Acoustic-Terms.pdf