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The phon is a unit of loudness level for pure tones. Human sensitivity to sound is variable across different frequencies; therefore, although two different tones may have identical physical intensities, they may be psychoacoustically perceived as differing in loudness. The purpose of the phon is to provide a standard measurement for perceived intensity. The phon is psychophysically matched to a reference frequency of 1 kHz. In other words, the phon matches the sound pressure level (SPL) in decibels of a similarly perceived 1 kHz pure tone . For instance, if a sound is perceived to be equal in intensity to a 1 kHz tone with an SPL of 50 dB, then it has a loudness of 50 phons, regardless of its physical properties. The phon was proposed in DIN 45631 and ISO 532 B by S. S. Stevens.
By definition, the number of phon of a sound is the dB SPL of a sound at a frequency of 1 kHz that sounds just as loud.[clarification needed][example needed] This implies that 0 phon is the limit of perception, and inaudible sounds have negative phon levels.
The equal-loudness contours are a way of mapping the dB SPL of a pure tone to the perceived loudness level (LN) in phons. These are now defined in the international standard ISO 226:2003, and the research on which this document is based concluded that earlier Fletcher–Munson curves and Robinson–Dadson curves were in error.
The phon model can be extended with a time-varying transient model which accounts for "turn-on" (initial transient) and long-term listener fatigue effects. This time-varying behavior is the result of psychological and physiological audio processing. The equal-loudness contours on which the phon is based apply only to the perception of pure steady tones; tests using octave or third-octave bands of noise reveal a different set of curves, owing to the way in which the critical bands of our hearing integrate power over varying bandwidths and our brain sums the various critical bands.
- William M. Hartmann, Signals, Sound, and Sensation, American Institute of Physics, 2004. ISBN 1-56396-283-7.
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