First off, let me say that I love my music loud! As I mentioned in an earlier post I take protecting my hearing very seriously so I like to know exactly how loud things are. Today I’m going to talk about Sound Level Meters or SPL Meters. They’re also known as Decibel Meters and are very useful in many situations.
An SPL Meter is usually a small handheld device that is used to measure the Sound Pressure Levels (SPL) of a sound wave in an acoustic environment. They basically have a microphone built onto the electonic measuring device that will then give you a metered display of your sound pressure levels measured in decibels. There are very inexpensive models starting at around $49 that have a digital or analog meter attached to the SPL device. You can get an SPL Meter loaded with feature for around $250. For basic SPL readings the cheaper SPL Meters will work just fine. Here are a 3 SPL Meters for you to check out with an assortment of features and prices:
Galaxy CM-130 Check Mate SPL Meter Digital Readout $49.99
Nady ASM-2 Analog SPL Meter Analog Readout $59.95
Galaxy CM-150 Check Mate SPL Meter Digital Full-Featured $224.99
I have the Nady ASM-2 Analog SPL Meter and it works perfectly for me. It will measure SPL’s from 50-126 dB’s. It has A and C weightings. The difference between A and C weightings is the range of frequencies that are measured. I use C weighting which measures frequencies between 32-10,000 Hz which contain most of the frequencies in live music.
I use the SPL Meter to check volume levels at shows that my band plays. It’s always nice to have a SPL Meter on hand to measure balance between the different instruments during soundcheck. It’s also nice to be able to show the club owners what decibel level you’re playing at in case you’re asked to turn your band up or down. It takes the subjectivity out of volume levels and gives everyone a solid number to work from. If a club owner says you’re too loud and you measure 90 dB’s you can turn down and show the owner that you’re now running at 80 dB’s. A lot of that is meaningless to club owners so what I usually do is measure the sounde level of the room without the band playing at all. It’s usually around 60-70 dB’s which is the volume level of a normal conversation. Then you can tell the club owner that at 85 dB’s you’re only playing 15 dB’s louder than a regular room anyway. Here’s a great chart comparing Decibel Loudness: Decibel (Loudness) Comparison Chart.
I’ve also had problems with the neighbors complaining about my band practices (always gotta be one…). Luckily I had my SPL Meter when the police came out and I was able to show them that we were well within city codes for dB Level limits.
I use my SPL Meter to set the surround sound volume levels in my home theater as well. I am able to get perfectly even speaker output from all speakers by using my SPL Meter and adjusting my surround amplifier volume levels.
For drummers and SPL Meter can really help you learn to conrol your dynamics. You get instant feedback on your actual volume level while playing. It was a real revelation for my drummer when I showed him how big a drums dynamic range was using my SPL Meter. Using a SPL Meter while your practicing can really help you develop your touch on the drums.
As you can see there are a lot of uses for a SPL Meter and they’re cheap enough that you really should have one in your sound equipment collection. So buy one today!