Understanding Noise: Sound Power Vs. Sound Pressure

Sound Power and Sound Pressure have been covered a few other times here on the EXAIR Blog. Once here by Brian who made the visual correlation in regards to a speaker and a musical instrument. And here by Russ who breaks down how you calculate sound power level with the below equation!
Sound Power Equation
too lou Sound Power Level Equation
All machines generate sound when they are in operation. The propagated sound waves cause small changes in the ambient air pressure while traveling. A sound source produces sound power and this generates a sound pressure fluctuation in the air. Sound power is the cause of this, whereas sound pressure is the effect. To put it more simply, what we hear is sound pressure, but this sound pressure is caused by the sound power of the emitting sound source. To make a comparison, imagine for example a simple light bulb. The bulb’s power wattage (in W) represents the sound power, whereas the bulb’s light intensity represents the sound pressure.
Light Bulb
Sound power does not generally depend on the environment. On the contrary, the sound pressure depends on the distance from the source and also on the acoustic environment where the sound wave is produced. In the case of indoor installations for example, sound pressure depends on the size of the room and on the sound absorption capacity of the surfaces. For instance, say the room walls don’t absorb all the sound but reflect parts of it, then the sound pressure will increase due to the so called reverberation effect. (reverberation time is broadly defined as the time it takes for the sound pressure to reduce by 60 dB after the sound emitting source has been shut off). OSHA puts the following limits on personnel exposure to certain noise levels:
Working in areas that exceed these levels will require hearing protection.
EXAIR’s line of Intelligent Compressed Air Products are engineered, designed, and manufactured with efficiency, safety, and noise reduction in mind.  If you’d like to talk about how we can help protect you and your folks’ hearing, call us. Jordan Shouse Application Engineer Send me an email Find us on the Web  Like us on Facebook Twitter: @EXAIR_JS Light Bulb image courtesy of  josh LightWork  Creative Commons License

Measuring And Adding Sound Levels Together

What sound level do you get when you feed an EXAIR Super Air Nozzle at 80psig? What if there are two of them?  Or three?  Grab your scientific calculators, folks…we’re gonna ‘math’ today!

But first, a little explanation of sound power & sound pressure:

Strictly speaking, power is defined as energy per unit time, and is used to measure energy generation or consumption.  In acoustics, though, sound power is applicable to the generation of the sound…how much sound is being MADE by a noisy operation.

Sound pressure is the way acoustics professionals quantify the intensity of the sound power at the target.  For the purposes of most noise reduction discussions, the target is “your ears.”

The sound levels that we publish are measured at a distance of 3 feet from the product, to the side.  The units we use are decibels, corrected for “A” weighting (which accounts for how the human ear perceives the intensity of the sound, which varies for different frequencies,) or dBA.  Also, decibels follow a logarithmic scale, which means two important things:

  • A few decibels’ worth of change result in a “twice as loud” perception to your ears.
  • Adding sources of sound doesn’t double the decibel level.

If you want to know how the sound level from a single source is calculated, those calculations are found here.  For the purposes of this blog, though, we’re going to assume a user wants to know what the resultant sound level is going to be if they add a sound generating device to their current (known) situation.

Combined Sound Level (dBA) = 10 x log10[10SL1/10 + 10SL2/10 + 10SL3/10 …]

Let’s use an EXAIR Model 1100 Super Air Nozzle (rated at 74dBA) as an example, and let’s say we have one in operation, and want to add another.  What will be the increase in dBA?

10 x log10[1074/10 + 1074/10] = 77.65 dBA

Now, there are two reasons I picked the Model 1100 as an example:

  • It’s one of our most versatile products, with a wide range of applications, and a proven track record of efficiency, safety, and sound level reduction.
  • We proved out the math in a real live experiment:

Why do I care about all of this?  My Dad experienced dramatic hearing loss from industrial exposure at a relatively young age…he got his first hearing aids in his early 40’s…so I saw, literally up close and very personal, what a quality of life issue that can be.  The fact that I get to use my technical aptitude to help others lower industrial noise exposure is more than just making a living.  It’s something I’m passionate about.  If you want to talk about sound level reduction in regard to your use of compressed air, talk to me.  Please.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Sound: Explaining Power and Pressure

Sound Power…  When I hear that term all I can think of is the classic commercial Maxell®Sound made in 1983.  I was only a year old when that commercial graced the presence of everyone’s TV.  I did see it throughout the years and recall recording Casey Kasem’s Top 40 on Maxell cassettes.  Then, in college it was a classic poster you would see around the dorms.

1(Maxell / Retrontario, 2009)

Needless to say, this does show sound power and sound pressure which is the point of this blog. This video however is not an industrial environment that most of us are accustomed to when worrying about the sound power / sound pressure within an environment.

If you observe the video above the speakers and the driver of the speakers is the generator of sound power.  That is the energy rate emitted by a source.  This power then begins to fill a space which is equivalent to the sound intensity.  This is because the sound energy has a direction that is given to it, think of the speaker.  The speaker gives the sound energy a vector to travel.  Then when the vector hits surfaces that is the sound intensity.

This sound intensity can then be interpreted as the sound power transfer per unit of surrounding surface at a distance.  This will then give the information needed to convert the information to the Sound Pressure level.  This is the force of a sound on a surface area perpendicular to the direction of the sound.

With this information we can then observe the logarithmic unit (or value) used to describe the ratio of sound power, pressure, and intensity, the decibel.  The decibel is what all industrial hygienists and safety personnel are concerned with.   In the end, all of this is started at the point of power generation, when observing compressed air blowoffs, this is the exit point of air from the device.  If you optimize the point of use device to use the least amount of compressed air and be the most efficient then the amount of sound power being generated and eventually being measured as decibels at an operator’s work station, then the result will be lower ambient noise levels.

If you would like to see any of the math behind these conversions (an amazing blog by our own Russ Bowman), click the link. If you want to discuss optimizing your compressed air operations and lower the noise level of the compressed air products in your plant, please contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer




Video Source: Classic Maxell Cassette commercial – Retrontario – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk71h2CQ_xM


Understanding Decibels & Why OSHA Pays Attention to Your Noise Exposure

In the simplest of metric terms, a decibel is one-tenth of a bel.  But, historically, bel was a unit created to honor Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone.  In the early days with telephone wires, they noticed that the signal strength would decay over a long distance.  In order to determine power requirements to connect people for communications, they determined that they could use the ratio of power levels.  As a start, it had to be based on a minimum amount of power required for a person to hear on the telephone.  They found that the signal power level to generate an angular frequency of 5000 radians per second would be that minimum value as determined by an average number of people.  They used this mark as a reference point in the ratio of power levels.  Because of the large variations in values, they simplified the equation on a base-10 log scale and dividing the bel unit by 10.  Thus, creating the measurement of decibel.

Today, this same method is used to measure sound.  Like frequency waves that travel through the telephone wires, pressure waves travel through the air as sound.  This sound pressure is what our ears can detect as loudness, and it has a pressure unit of Pascals (Pa).  As an example, a small sound pressure would be like a whisper while a large sound pressure would be like a jet engine.  This is very important to know as high sound pressures, or loudness, can permanently damage our ears.

With sound pressures, we can determine the Sound Pressure Level (SPL) which is measured in decibels (dB).  Similar to the equation for the telephone power signals above, the SPL also uses a ratio of sound pressures in a base-10 logarithmic scale.  For a minimum reference point, an average human can just start to hear a sound pressure at 0.00002 Pa.  So, the equation for measuring sound levels will use this minimum reference point as shown in Equation 1.

Equation 1:

L = 20 * Log10 (p/pref)


L – Sound Pressure Level, dB

p – Sound pressure, Pa

pref – reference sound pressure, 0.00002 Pa

Why is this important to know the decibels?  OSHA created a chart in 29CFR-1910.95(a) that shows the different noise levels with exposure times.  This chart was created to protect the operators from hearing loss in work environments.  If the noise level exceeds the limit, then the operators will have to wear Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), or suffer hearing damage.  EXAIR offers a Sound Level Meter, model 9104, to measure sound levels in decibels.  It comes calibrated to accurately measure the sound to determine if you have a safe work environment.

Sound Level Meter

There is a term that is used when it comes to loud noises, NIHL.  This stands for Noise Induced Hearing Loss.  Once hearing is damaged, it will not come back.  To keep your operators safe and reduce NIHL, EXAIR offers many different types of blow-off products that are designed to decrease noise to a safe level.  So, here’s to Alexander Graham Bell for creating the telephone which can be used to contact EXAIR if you have any questions.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb


Photo of Telephone by Alexas_FotosCC0 Create Commons