The Meaning of Decibels

The Decibel (dB), one tenth of a Bel, named I believe after Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, is a unit of power and sound level.

It can seem confusing because it is a nonlinear scale. Unlike the lengths, weights and temperatures with which we are more familiar, twice the number of decibels is a lot more than twice the amount of noise. In fact, every ten addtional dB means twice the amount of noise. The table below should give some idea of what different values mean.

Sound Level, dB Example
140 Threshold of pain
135 Jet engine at 25m
125 Jet takeoff at 100m
110 Rock group
100 Pneumatic drill
85 Busy street traffic
60 Normal speech
43 ETSU-R-97 statutory outdoor nighttime maximum
40 Living room, ETSU daytime outdoor maximum
35 ETSU single turbine limit and normal maximum
30 WHO bedroom limit
25 Recommended bedroom level
20 Typical rural nighttime
10 Practical limit of hearing
0 Theoretical limit of hearing