Sound pressure or acoustic pressure is the local pressure deviation from the ambient (average or equilibrium) atmospheric pressure, caused by a sound wave. In air, sound pressure can be measured using a microphone, and in water with a hydrophone. The SI unit of sound pressure is the pascal (Pa).
|Sound pressure||p, SPL,LPA|
|Particle velocity||v, SVL|
|Sound intensity||I, SIL|
|Sound power||P, SWL, LWA|
|Sound energy density||w|
|Sound exposure||E, SEL|
|Speed of sound||c|
A sound wave in a transmission medium causes a deviation (sound pressure, a dynamic pressure) in the local ambient pressure, a static pressure.
Sound pressure, denoted p, is defined by
- ptotal is the total pressure;
- pstat is the static pressure.
In a sound wave, the complementary variable to sound pressure is the particle velocity. Together, they determine the sound intensity of the wave.
Sound intensity, denoted I and measured in W·m−2 in SI units, is defined by
- p is the sound pressure;
- v is the particle velocity.
Acoustic impedance, denoted Z and measured in Pa·m−3·s in SI units, is defined by
- is the Laplace transform of sound pressure;
- is the Laplace transform of sound volume flow rate.
Specific acoustic impedance, denoted z and measured in Pa·m−1·s in SI units, is defined by
- is the Laplace transform of sound pressure;
- is the Laplace transform of particle velocity.
The particle displacement of a progressive sine wave is given by
- is the amplitude of the particle displacement;
- is the phase shift of the particle displacement;
- k is the angular wavevector;
- ω is the angular frequency.
It follows that the particle velocity and the sound pressure along the direction of propagation of the sound wave x are given by
- vm is the amplitude of the particle velocity;
- is the phase shift of the particle velocity;
- pm is the amplitude of the acoustic pressure;
- is the phase shift of the acoustic pressure.
Taking the Laplace transforms of v and p with respect to time yields
Since , the amplitude of the specific acoustic impedance is given by
Consequently, the amplitude of the particle displacement is related to that of the acoustic velocity and the sound pressure by
When measuring the sound pressure created by a sound source, it is important to measure the distance from the object as well, since the sound pressure of a spherical sound wave decreases as 1/r from the centre of the sphere (and not as 1/r2, like the sound intensity):
This relationship is an inverse-proportional law.
If the sound pressure p1 is measured at a distance r1 from the centre of the sphere, the sound pressure p2 at another position r2 can be calculated:
The inverse-proportional law for sound pressure comes from the inverse-square law for sound intensity:
hence the inverse-proportional law:
The sound pressure may vary in direction from the centre of the sphere as well, so measurements at different angles may be necessary, depending on the situation. An obvious example of a sound source whose spherical sound wave varies in level in different directions is a bullhorn.
Sound pressure levelEdit
Sound pressure level (SPL) or acoustic pressure level is a logarithmic measure of the effective pressure of a sound relative to a reference value.
Sound pressure level, denoted Lp and measured in dB, is defined by
- p is the root mean square sound pressure;
- p0 is the reference sound pressure;
- 1 Np is the neper;
- 1 B = (1/ ln 10) Np is the bel;
- 1 dB = (1/ ln 10) Np is the decibel.
The commonly used reference sound pressure in air is
which is often considered as the threshold of human hearing (roughly the sound of a mosquito flying 3 m away). The proper notations for sound pressure level using this reference are Lp/(20 μPa) or Lp (re 20 μPa), but the suffix notations dB SPL, dB(SPL), dBSPL, or dBSPL are very common, even if they are not accepted by the SI.
Most sound level measurements will be made relative to this reference, meaning 1 Pa will equal an SPL of 94 dB. In other media, such as underwater, a reference level of 1 μPa is used. These references are defined in ANSI S1.1-2013.
The main instrument for measuring sound levels in the environment is the Sound Level Meter. Most sound level meters provide readings in A, C, and Z-weighted decibels and must meet international standards such as IEC 61672 - 2013.
The lower limit of audibility is defined as SPL of 0 dB, but the upper limit is not as clearly defined. While 1 atm (194 dB Peak or 191 dB SPL) is the largest pressure variation an undistorted sound wave can have in Earth's atmosphere, larger sound waves can be present in other atmospheres or other media such as under water, or through the Earth.
Ears detect changes in sound pressure. Human hearing does not have a flat spectral sensitivity (frequency response) relative to frequency versus amplitude. Humans do not perceive low- and high-frequency sounds as well as they perceive sounds between 3,000 and 4,000 Hz, as shown in the equal-loudness contour. Because the frequency response of human hearing changes with amplitude, three weightings have been established for measuring sound pressure: A, B and C. A-weighting applies to sound pressures levels up to 55 dB, B-weighting applies to sound pressures levels between 55 dB and 85 dB, and C-weighting is for measuring sound pressure levels above 85 dB.
In order to distinguish the different sound measures a suffix is used: A-weighted sound pressure level is written either as dBA or LA. B-weighted sound pressure level is written either as dBB or LB, and C-weighted sound pressure level is written either as dBC or LC. Unweighted sound pressure level is called "linear sound pressure level" and is often written as dBL or just L. Some sound measuring instruments use the letter "Z" as an indication of linear SPL.
The distance of the measuring microphone from a sound source is often omitted when SPL measurements are quoted, making the data useless, due the inherent effect of the inverse square law, which summarily states that doubling the distance between the source and receiver results in a halving of the measurable effect. In the case of ambient environmental measurements of "background" noise, distance need not be quoted as no single source is present, but when measuring the noise level of a specific piece of equipment the distance should always be stated. A distance of one metre (1 m) from the source is a frequently used standard distance. Because of the effects of reflected noise within a closed room, the use of an anechoic chamber allows for sound to be comparable to measurements made in a free field environment.
According to the inverse proportional law, when sound level Lp1 is measured at a distance r1, the sound level Lp2 at the distance r2 is
The formula for the sum of the sound pressure levels of n incoherent radiating sources is
Inserting the formulas
in the formula for the sum of the sound pressure levels yields
Examples of sound pressureEdit
|Source of sound||Distance||Sound pressure*
|Sound pressure level|
|Shockwave (distorted sound waves > 1 atm; waveform valleys are clipped at zero pressure)||>1.01×105||>191|
|Theoretical limit[dubious ] for [clarification needed] sound at 1 atmosphere environmental pressure||1.01×105||191|
|Simple open-ended thermoacoustic device||[clarification needed]||1.26×104||176|
|.30-06 rifle being fired||1 m to shooter's side||7.27×103||171|
|9 inch party balloon inflated to rupture ||At ear||4.92×103||168|
|9 inch diameter balloon crushed to rupture ||At ear||1.79×103||159|
|9 inch diameter balloon popped with a pin ||At ear||1.13×103||155|
|LRAD 1000Xi Long Range Acoustic Device||1 m||893||153|
|9 inch party balloon inflated to rupture ||1 m||731||151|
|Jet engine||1 m||632||150|
|9 inch diameter balloon crushed to rupture ||0.95 m||448||147|
|9 inch diameter balloon popped with a pin ||1 m||282.5||143|
|Threshold of pain||At ear||63.2–200||130–140|
|Loudest human voice||1 inch||110||135|
|Vuvuzela horn||1 m||20.0||120|
|Risk of instantaneous noise-induced hearing loss||At ear||20.0||120|
|Jet engine||100–30 m||6.32–200||110–140|
|Non-electric chainsaw||1 m||6.32||110|
|Jack hammer||1 m||2.00||100|
|Traffic on a busy roadway||10 m||0.20–0.63||80–90|
|Hearing damage (over long-term exposure, need not be continuous)||At ear||0.36||85|
|Passenger car||10 m||0.02–0.20||60–80|
|EPA-identified maximum to protect against hearing loss and other disruptive effects from noise, such as sleep disturbance, stress, learning detriment, etc.||Ambient||0.06||70|
|TV (set at home level)||1 m||0.02||60|
|Normal conversation||1 m||2×10−3–0.02||40–60|
|Very calm room||Ambient||2.00×10−4–6.32×10−4||20–30|
|Light leaf rustling, calm breathing||Ambient||6.32×10−5||10|
|Auditory threshold at 1 kHz||At ear||2.00×10−5||0|
|Anechoic chamber, Orfield Labs (A-weighted)||Ambient||6.80×10−6||−9.4|
|Anechoic chamber, University of Salford (A-weighted)||Ambient||4.80×10−6||−12.4|
|Anechoic chamber, Microsoft (A-weighted)||Ambient||1.90×10−6||−20.35|
*All values listed are the effective sound pressure unless otherwise stated.
The relation between pressure waves and the production of X-rays in air dischargesEdit
Pressure and shock waves released by electric discharges are capable of perturbing the air in their vicinity up to 80%.  This, however, has immediate consequences on the motion and properties of secondary streamer discharges in perturbed air: Depending on the direction (relative to the ambient electric field), air perturbations change the discharge velocities, facilitate branching or trigger the spontaneous initiation of a counter discharge.  Recent simulations have shown that such perturbations are even capable to facilitate the production of X-rays (with energies of several tens of keV) from such streamer discharges which are produced by run-away electrons through the Bremsstrahlung process. 
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The computer company has built an anechoic chamber in which highly sensitive tests reported an average background noise reading of an unimaginably quiet -20.35 dBA (decibels A-weighted).
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- Köhn, C., Chanrion, O., Neubert, T. High-Energy Emissions Induced by Air Density Fluctuations of Discharges. Geophys. Res. Lett. (2018), vol. 45, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GL077788
- Sound Pressure and Sound Power, Effect and Cause
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- Table of Sound Levels, Corresponding Sound Pressure and Sound Intensity
- Ohm's Law as Acoustic Equivalent, Calculations
- Relationships of Acoustic Quantities Associated with a Plane Progressive Acoustic Sound Wave
- Sound Pressure and Sound Power, Two Commonly Confused Characteristics of Sound
- How Many Decibels Is Twice as Loud? Sound Level Change and the Respective Factor of Sound Pressure or Sound Intensity
- Decibel (Loudness) Comparison Chart