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Safety First: How Loud Is Too Loud?

We have to understand that sometimes turning it up to 11 is just too much.

By Mike Sokol July 28, 2015

But there’s a serious problem.

While an occasional 110-dB concert may only do minor hearing damage, a steady weekly diet of such levels can be devastating to the hearing of both the musicians and the congregation.

Note on the exposure chart below the sidebar how high an SPL a person can tolerate per day before hearing loss begins.

That 110-dB SPL mix in your church is going to start destroying hearing within the first 30 minutes (or sooner) of your music service.

And that doesn’t even take into account the hours of practice your band has been doing at that volume level.

No wonder your ears (and everyone else’s in your congregation) are ringing by the end of the service.

OSHA Sound Exposure Regulations

You can do a great rock mix at around 95 dB SPL (which is safe for up to 4 hours a day exposure) if you have control over the volume of the stage instruments such as electric guitar, bass and drums.

But without having the stage amps playing at a reasonable level to begin with (less than 85-dB SPL in the room) you’ll never be able to do a solid 95-dB SPL mix in the room.

It’s also worth mentioning that the above chart is based upon the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exposure limits which, while law and the standard I’ve referenced when referring to finite levels, is only one safety standard commonly followed.

NIOSH Sound Exposure Regulations

The chart to the left is produced by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) uses a more protective exchange rate which results in shorter allowable exposures at high SPL’s levels than the OSHA regulation.

While this chart isn’t the one refered to in the article, it’s worth realizing that the OSHA regulations aren’t the only ones out there, nor are they the regulations recommended by a majority of Audiological Institutes.

While questions regarding the calculation of exposure time are prime subjects for another article, mor information cal always be found on the websites of OSHA, NIOSH, and the House Ear Institute.

In the end, when dealing with loud volumes and competing standards, common sense, good judgement, and strict control of a master fader are your best weapon. Basically, the safe bet is that if it seems too loud to a seasoned professional, it is too loud. After all, is your hearing really worth that extra 3dB?

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) is the lead instructor for Live Sound Co, an AV integration and installation company in western Maryland, and lead writer of the Live Sound Advice blog. He’s also a veteran audio educator as well as an adjunct professor at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA. Visit www.livesoundadvice.com for Mike’s educational articles and videos.


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About Mike

Mike Sokol
Mike Sokol

Lead Instructor, Live Sound Co
Mike is the lead instructor for Live Sound Co, an AV integration and installation company in western Maryland, and lead writer of the Live Sound Advice blog. He’s also a veteran audio educator as well as an adjunct professor at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA. Visit www.livesoundadvice.com for Mike’s educational articles and videos.
http://www.livesoundadvice.com

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