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decibel

Contributor(s): Goran Devic

In electronics and communications, the decibel (abbreviated as dB, and also as db and DB) is a logarithmic expression of the ratio between two signal power, voltage, or current levels. In acoustics, the decibel is used as an absolute indicator of sound power per unit area. A decibel is one-tenth of a Bel, a seldom-used unit named for Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.

Suppose a signal has a power of P1 watts, and a second signal has a power of P2 watts. Then the power amplitude difference in decibels, symbolized SdBP, is:

SdBP = 10 log10 (P2 / P1)

Decibels can be calculated in terms of the effective voltage if the load impedance remains constant. Suppose a signal has an rms (root-mean-square) voltage of V1 across a load, and a second signal has an rms voltage of V2 across another load having the same impedance. Then the voltage amplitude difference in decibels, symbolized SdBV, is:

SdBV = 20 log10 (V2 / V1)

Decibels can also be calculated in terms of the effective current (amperage) if the impedance remains constant. Suppose a signal delivers an rms (root-mean-square) amperage of A1 through a load, and a second signal delivers an rms amperage of A2 through another load having the same impedance. Then the current amplitude difference in decibels, symbolized SdBA, is:

SdBA = 20 log10 (A2 / A1)

When a decibel figure is positive, then the second signal is stronger than the first signal. When a decibel figure is negative, then the second signal is weaker than the first signal. In amplifiers, the gain, also called the amplification factor, is often expressed in decibels. A circuit amplifies only if the decibel figure for the output-to-input power ratio (SdBP) is positive.

In sound, decibels are defined in terms of power per unit surface area on a scale from the threshold of human hearing, 0 dB, upward towards the threshold of pain, about 120-140 dB. As examples: the sound level in the average residential home is about 40 dB, average conversation is about 60 dB, typical home music listening levels are about 85 dB, a loud rock band about 110 dB, and a jet engine close up is 150dB.

Decibel units are commonly used in audio equalizers, both the hardware kind and the software kind, as a convenient reference point while editing. Boosting an equalizer band whose center point is 1000 by 3 dB means that you have raised the volume level of that frequency band by 3 dB as it relates to the other frequencies in the sound. A typical equalizer has a range for boosting or diminishing a sound level of +/-18 dB.

This was last updated in September 2005

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The Body Corporate in a housing development I live in have specified that an air conditioner compressor, at night, must not exceed 5dB over background sound or 40dB, whichever is higher. Our Government regulator specifies that no noise should be above 35dB(A) for 6 minutes, or 40dB(A) for 36 seconds. I am having trouble correlating these two figures to be able to tell the Body Corporate whether my air conditioner does or does not comply and what THEIR By-Law actually means in real terms. Any advice?

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