Written by: Audiotelligence
Find Your Quiet Place Challenge proves a real challenge
A few months ago, AudioTelligence joined SoundPrint’s Find your Quiet Place Challenge campaign along with dozens of organisations from around the world: tech companies, publications, and hearing professional associations to name just a few. We all came together to spread awareness about hearing health: we encouraged people to learn about safe noise levels and to realise how much noise they’re surrounded by when they’re out and about. The goal was to measure noise with SoundPrint’s decibel meter and submit that info so that it’s available for other users of the SoundPrint app. Each sound measurement taken is invaluable and enables SoundPrint to advocate for safe noise levels, help communities find quieter places, and protect the public’s hearing health.
It was also an excellent opportunity to do our own testing: our aiso™ technology can help reduce background noise so that users can hear conversations better. We were looking for environments around 65 – 70 dBA but we found that the world is far noisier than we envisaged…
We measured decibel levels during peak times in cafés and restaurants in Cambridge, at company get-togethers and pub outings after work. We also spent some time in London measuring noise levels in various neighbourhoods: from a café at Kings Cross station to the food court in Covent Garden. We even measured the noise levels on the tube…Here’s what we found.
In search of quiet, we found more noise
On average, we found that the noise levels were at least 75 dBA or higher in the various pubs, cafés and restaurants we visited. When background music (either live or via loudspeaker) was played, we found the noise levels rose to 80 – 85 dBA and we could barely hear one another, not to mention it wasn’t safe for us to even be in that environment.
What are safe noise levels..? The ideal sound level for normal conversation is between 55 dBA and 65 dBA. If you’re chatting in a fairly busy café or restaurant, you’ll have about 70 dBA of background noise to contend with. At this point, you have to raise your voice to be heard. At 75 dBA, the conversation is difficult and at 81 dBA, it’ll damage your hearing.
But how long you’re exposed to noise is also really important. The length of time you can ‘safely’ be exposed to sound over 85 dB without needing to use hearing protection depends on how loud it is. The safe exposure time for 85 dB is up to eight hours a day. You are, however, exposed to lots of different sounds that are 85 dB or over throughout the day, and this exposure time adds up. As sound intensity doubles with every increase of 3 dB, the safe exposure time halves.
You can be at risk of hearing damage after just 15 minutes when you’re in an average nightclub, which plays music at 100 dB…(Source: How loud is too loud? – RNID)
But why is it so loud in the first place?
Some pub owners ‘pump’ the music to force their customers to drink faster, as according to a study by French scientists, when the volume goes up, punters drink faster and consume more. (source: Pump up the volume: pubs profit from louder music | Psychology | The Guardian). Other owners want to create a sense of vibrancy to create a buzz, claiming that sitting in a quiet restaurant means little privacy… (source: Restaurant noise levels are climbing. Here’s how to fight back. – Vox. )
Another factor to blame is the modern decor adopted by cafés, bars and restaurants: high, exposed ceilings and almost no soft furnishings , such as curtains, upholstery, or carpets. These design features are a feast for the eyes, but a nightmare for the ears. No soft furnishings and tall ceilings mean nothing is absorbing sound energy, and a room full of hard surfaces serves as a big sonic mirror, reflecting sound around the room. (Source: How Restaurants Got So Loud – The Atlantic)
The general public struggles with noise
The people we talked to unanimously told us they have no idea what the acceptable safe decibel levels for hearing are… None of them have ever come across information regarding safe noise levels either… One person summarised the situation perfectly: “It’s not something that people talk about”.
They do however notice how noise affects them in social situations.
“It does put me off going to some environments if I know that you can’t have a good conversation with someone,” one lady said. Others mentioned that they notice the noise and it’s often too loud for them to hear what a friend is saying when they’re out socially.
Watch our video to hear more interviews here:
When you socialise, all it takes is a few tables of people talking loudly to push the ambient noise levels up to uncomfortable levels – and that’s without taking account of the background music… It’s a shame that there’s so little conversation in the mainstream media about hearing health and how noise can affect not only our hearing but our well-being in general.
So what’s the solution?
First we have to increase awareness of the damage that noise is doing to us all every day. We recognise environmental harms to our health such as pollution from vehicles and plastics, but noise pollution has not had the same publicity. We have to not only make the general public aware of the damage they are risking when in noisy places, but also campaign to get the owners of venues to turn down background noise and design their spaces with acoustic absorbency in mind.
The second part of the solution lies with technology.
The advances in hearing technology are blurring the distinctions between hearing aids and hearing assistance – which means that users don’t have to go down the hearing aid route in order to get affordable solutions which will help them to hear clearly in noise. Earbuds and phones are being developed with solutions that assist with hearing and the new Bluetooth LE Audio has the potential to completely change the audio/hearing tech landscape for consumers. Our aiso™ technology, which separates speech from background noise, is one of these innovations and it’s set to help millions of people worldwide join in the conversation.
Hear our aiso™ tech in action below: