Between An Aircraft Carrier and An Acoustic Testing Chamber: The Decibels Of Rock Music

If you like your music loud–which, let’s face it, is probably all of us–you should probably take a look at this FiveThirtyEight article that explains and charts the loudest sounds every recorded–proffered by a toddler, no less!

“Consider this piece of history,” says author Maggie Koerth-Baker, responding to a request by three year-old Kara Jo to hear the loudest sound in the world, before telling the story of a volcanic eruption on Aug. 27, 1883:

[R]anchers on a sheep camp…heard a sound like two shots from a rifle. At that very moment, the Indonesian volcanic island of Krakatoa was blowing itself to bits 2,233 miles away. Scientists think this is probably the loudest sound humans have ever accurately measured. Not only are there records of people hearing the sound of Krakatoa thousands of miles away, there is also physical evidence that the sound of the volcano’s explosion traveled all the way around the globe multiple times.

Going on to explain how this is possible with a very deft metaphor of a hip-check reverberating through a crowded subway, Koerth-Baker then listed a chart of decibels organized from quietest to loudest:

SOUND INFRASOUND? DECIBELS
A mosquito from 20 feet away 0
A whisper 20
Bird calls 44
Microbaroms 30-50
Conversation at home 50
Light breeze 55-70
Vaccum cleaner 70
Blender 88
Stiff breeze 70-90
A motorcycle from 25 feet away 90
Chelyabinsk meteor from 400 miles away 90
Jackhammer 100
Thunder 120
Mine crushing machine from 328 feet away 127
Deck of an aircraft carrier 140
NASA’s acoustic testing chamber for satellites 163
Krakatoa from 100 miles away 172
Sperm whale echolocation 174
Saturn V Rocket 204
All the sounds you can (and cannot) hear

Leaving aside the relativities of not being able to hear sound in space, and the fact that water density muffles an extremely high-decibel whale echolocation, the omission of electric guitar is noticeably absent. But thanks to a chart assembled on LiveScience, we have the figure of 150 decibels for a rock music crescendo–somewhere between the deck of an aircraft carrier and NASA’s acoustic testing chamber.

There is some practical advice about how to avoid deafness, such as using earbuds, and using a combination of drapes, carpeting, and rubber mats under appliances to muffle sounds in one’s home. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

J. Howard Rosier

J. Howard Rosier

J. Howard Rosier has a journalism degree from Columbia College. He is currently studying writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he also serves as News Editor for FNews.

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