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Thomann's Cool Online Guides: PA Speakers

6. Decibels

Musicians talk freely about decibels, but very few of them really understand what the term means. Many of them know that an increase in
Volume1) In audio and music, the loudness or amplitude of a signal. 2) In computing, a fixed amount of storage space, addressed as a single entity ('C:', 'D:' etc). A physical drive may contain more than one volume, but a single volume may also span more than one drive!
volume
of one decibel is actually a very significant
TrimThe initial gain control on a mixer or other audio device such as a mic preamp, often labelled 'gain'. Trim/gain adjustment is crucial to maintaining a clean gain structure and good signal-to-noise ratio.
gain
, but they don’t really know why. It’s worth discussing briefly, not least because it might save your hearing if you know just how loud 118dB
SPLSound Pressure Level: acoustic sound volume, measured in decibels (dB).
SPL
might actually be!

Decibel is a term most often used as a measure of sound pressure, though its true meaning is far more subtle. It actually describes a ratio - that is, the relationship between two different quantities - so there is actually no such thing as a definite decibel; it depends on how it is being used.

Decibels are used in electronics and optics, but it is their use in acoustics and sound pressure in particular that concerns us here – dB
SPLSound Pressure Level: acoustic sound volume, measured in decibels (dB).
SPL
. When measuring sound pressure, a decibel shows the relationship between the sound pressure and the specified measure of zero. Usually, zero is taken to represent the point at which a sound is inaudible to a human ear, which means that strictly speaking, one person’s decibel may be another person’s zero, depending on the quality of your hearing.

In fact, the zero from which most decibel measures are taken is usually set at around 20uPa, the
NormalType of patchbay configuration in which a top row socket is internally connected by default to the corresponding bottom row socket; the connection may be broken by inserting a plug into one or both front panel sockets, depending on the type of normalling in use.
normal
lower end of the human audible range. Decibels make it easier to measure sound pressure because they are a logarithmic measure. If a simple measure was used, the figures would run into trillions - the decibel measure allows a more manageable way of expressing changes in sound pressure.

So how loud is loud? As we have seen, 130dB
SPLSound Pressure Level: acoustic sound volume, measured in decibels (dB).
SPL
is generally reckoned to be the pain
ThresholdThe parameter in dynamics processing defining the level which an input signal must rise above (or fall below) to activate the circuit. A compressor is activated above the threshold, whereas an expander or gate is activated below the threshold.
threshold
. Note however, that much lower levels can still be damaging, especially if they are sustained. Research in the field known as psycho-physics has shown that an increase of 10dB appears to equate to a doubling of
Volume1) In audio and music, the loudness or amplitude of a signal. 2) In computing, a fixed amount of storage space, addressed as a single entity ('C:', 'D:' etc). A physical drive may contain more than one volume, but a single volume may also span more than one drive!
volume
for most people. So be careful when working with decibels - they are not a simple measure, and they jump much higher and more quickly than you may think.

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