Sound Level Review

Sound Level Review

Nov 17, 2010

Have you ever been enjoying some kick ass music only to be interrupted by a knock on the door? You open it up and it’s the cops telling you your music is too loud? With “Sound Level” you won’t need to worry about that anymore because you’ll know beforehand whether or not you’re exceeding local noise ordinance laws. This app would have come in handy during college, “Excuse me officer but as you can see we are clearly within the legal decibel range.”

As you have probably already guessed, “Sound Level” is an app that uses your phone’s mic to measure noise volume in decibels(dB). I figured I might explore the realm of sound as it pertains to our ears since we have been talking a lot about music players lately. I stumbled upon this little app created by developer Android Boy and thought “cool,” let’s see just how loud my music really is. While browsing over the description I notice a “New Digital Sound Noise Level Meter” wedged between a Samsung Galaxy S and a Droid(?). You will soon realize this is the equipment he used do develop “Sound Level” and it’s evident when taking a look at the apps limitations and it’s accuracy.

First off there isn’t much to this app at its present stage of development but it functions exactly the way it was designed. The UI is extremely simple and really only has one function. The display is the familiar test gauge with a 0-140(db) range. Below the gauge is a reference list which shows you similar sound environments in which your current decibel reading would coincide with. The matching level text will be highlighted in red with a small triangular arrow for easy identification.

Before I go evaluating the actual performance of the app let me tell you that its functionality appears to be based off of a mid-range sound level meter so it’s apparent right off the bat that this should be used for general purposes and not any serious measuring. As soon as you start up the app it begins working by using your phone’s mic to pick up the surrounding sounds while displaying the current decibel levels in easy to read numerical values. You will also notice the red lines which indicate both the highest and lowest decibel reading the mic has picked up. You can reset the high and low by simply pressing the middle of the gauge. These visual markers and corresponding references are more than enough to give you a general idea of how loud your environment is.

How accurate is this app? Well it all depends. The developer does point out that in general, phone mics were aligned to human voice (300-3,400 Hz) and errors may occur depending on the model of phone you have. He also states that both the Motorola Droid and Samsung Galaxy S were calibrated using the actual sound meter so those two devices will have the greatest accuracy. I noticed the decibel level never dropped below 30db and I believe that is because of the “New Digital Sound Noise Level Meter” that was used by the developer. That particular meter has a measurement range of 30-130 Decibel.

I have a couple of other issues. First, most all sound level meters have their microphone positioned away from the actual device to cut out reflections, making for a more accurate measurement. I can’t help but feel you are going to lose some accuracy due to your phone’s mic placement. Secondly, I have no idea how the developer is managing to compensate for the fact that most every smartphone uses some form of noise reduction/canceling. This will definitely conflict with receiving an accurate sound pressure reading.

Unfortunately I did not have another sound level meter to test this against but I did give it the run around using various sounds from silence to blasting music. The levels were a great generalization of sound levels and can be used for that purpose only. It is a great, easy and informative app that makes you aware of your sound surroundings and if you are an audio conscious person who values his hearing this can help you decide if you need to move further back from the stage or insert some earplugs.

I forgot to mention the most important thing about this cool little app, it’s FREE! Can’t beat that considering even lower level sound meters cost around $30. So, if you’re curious about the sound levels going on around you or if you just want to use it to bust your local authorities “cogliones” when they show up at your party, this is an app worth checking out.

Sound Level Review Rundown

Appearance - Simple, clean with all necessary information easily viewable.
User Interface - A 10 only because of its simplicity, there really isn't much to do on the user end of things.
Functionality - For a free sound level meter it functions beyond expectations. Compared to the real deal there are too many handset variables and limitations to really make it an accurate way of measuring environmental sound pressure.
Lasting Appeal - Really depends on how the user plans to utilize the app. It's a good generalization of whether or not you will need to protect your ears but for most this app will fall in the category of "cool party trick apps."
Overall - For a free sound level meter it's great. Simple and easy to use. I would like to see an "averages" function. Currently plagued by handset limitations.

App available on the Google Play Store »

Vincent Messina
Self made billionaire, inventor of the Large Hadron Collider and owner of the New England Patriots soon found life quite boring. This kid at heart decided to trade it all to become the worlds first fun loving father, writer, musician with an ever growing obsession for little green robots.
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