Sound Pressure Level – What is it used for?

What is Sound Pressure Level?

Sound Pressure Level, SPL, is commonly written as Lp and refers to the root mean squared sound pressure of a sound relative to a reference value.

Sound pressure level is the logarithmic measure of the root mean squared (RMS) sound pressure of a sound relative to a reference value.

A simple sound wave may be represented by a sine wave. A diagram of a sine wave which would be the typical output signal of a single tone noise level (i.e. a calibrator tone), if shown on an oscilloscope. The fundamental parameters associated with a sound wave are Peak, Peak-Peak, Periodic Time, RMS (root-mean-square).
Sound Pressure Level Graph
Sound level meters measure acoustic pressure and by international agreement they are calibrated in decibels (dB). The sound pressure level (Lp) in decibels is defined as:
Sound Pressure Level Equation

  • P is the measured root mean squared (RMS) sound pressure
  • P0 is the reference RMS sound pressure (20µPa)

Note that the decibel is a ratio of two quantities which have dimensions of power and is not a unit.

The reference sound pressure (P0) is by agreement as 20µPa, which is the minimum audible pressure to a person with ‘normal’ hearing. The use of a logarithmic scale, such as the decibel, permits the wide range of audible sound pressures (approximately 1,000,000 to 1) to be compressed into a scale of 120 units. Hence a faint whisper may be measured as 20dBA where as a chipping hammer of a road workman may produce 105dBA.

Addition of Lp values can be accomplished by taking an anti-log of each Lp value to give a total Lp value, as shown in the equation:
Equation for Measuring Total Sound Pressure Level

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