Asia Noise News

Noise, Nuisance or Danger

As an introduction to this question some basic facts about noise.

Basic noise facts

Noise is typically defined as ‘unwanted sound’. The unit for sound is the Decibel which is a value calculated with logarithms from the pressure to get a scale from 0 to 120 dB where 0 dB is the hearing threshold for a young person with healthy hearing and 120 dB is the pain threshold.

We can state that noise is a type of energy created by vibrations. When an object vibrates it causes moment in air particles. The particles will bump into each other and will generate sound waves, they are ongoing until they run out of energy.

High and low tones are perceived by our hearing due to fast and slow vibrations.

Sound needs a medium to travel and the speed of sound is around 340 meter per second. Examples of typical noise levels:

Due to the nature of the calculation of Decibels we cannot just add them together.


3 dB + 3 dB = 6 dB


10 dB + 10 dB is not 20 dB but 13 dB

The Decibel (sound pressure level) for sound in air is relative to 20 micro pascals (μPa) = 2×10−5 Pa, the quietest sound a human can hear.

The human hearing system

The human hearing system is capable of hearing sounds between 20 Hz and 20000 Hz. Below 20 Hz is called infra sound and above 20000 Hz is called ultrasounds. Both infra- and ultrasound is not audible for us. Elephants however can hear frequencies as low as 14 Hz and bats can hear frequencies up to 80000 Hz.

A special noise weighting for the human perception has been introduced in the 1930’s and called the A-weighted Decibel, dB(A). This was introduced to align the noise levels with the sensitivity and physical shape of the human hearing system.

Basic human hearing system

When sound waves enter the ear, they travel up the ear canal and hit the ear drum, the ear drum will vibrate and the three smallest bones in the human body will transfer these vibrations to the fluid in our inner ear’s sensory organ the cochlea. The sensory hair cells will vibrate which will send nerve impulses to the brain, the brain will translate these impulses for us and we perceive sound!

Dangers of noise

Noise from certain music can be a very pleasurable sound for one person and a horrific noise for another. From this fact we can see that noise is not only an absolute value but also strongly depending on the receiver’s mindset.

However, there are some clear absolute values concerning the danger levels of noise.

  • Generally accepted as safe is spending 8 hours per day in an environment not exceeding 80 dB(A)
  • NOT safe would be to spend 1 hour in a disco with levels at 100 dB(A) which are easily exceed nowadays

Apart from the obvious hearing loss there are many other issues that can arise from exposure to (too) high noise levels such as:

  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Annoyance – stress
  • Immune system – psychosomatic

The positive side to remember is that Noise Induced hearing loss is 100% preventable!!

Worldwide solutions

Governments (especially in Europe) know the actual cost of high noise exposure and they concluded that protecting their citizens from high noise exposure (during working hours, recreation as well as during sleep) is far more effective than dealing with the costs of citizens enduring high noise related illnesses, demotivation, sleep disturbance etc.

They are investing in quiet schools (optimal learning environment), quiet hospitals (patients recover a lot faster in quiet wards), implement city planning to create quite zones.

Of course, they also have strong noise regulations that are being enforced.

Acoustical societies worldwide help to create awareness and leverage noise legislations with governments.

Noise in Asia

I have been living in Asia for the last 15 years and of course I noticed it’s noisy. Noise regulations (if exist at all) are very lenient and mostly not enforced. I’m very happy to see that Acoustical Societies are coming up in Asian countries and can convince governments to invest in setting up proper noise regulations and enforcing them. I’m very happy to be able to contribute to a quieter world by creating more awareness for the dangers of noise!

Building Accoustics

Researchers Develop ‘Acoustic Metamaterial’

Boston University researchers, Xin Zhang, a professor at the College of Engineering, and Reza Ghaffarivardavagh, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, released a paper in Physical Review B demonstrating it’s possible to silence noise using an open, ring-like structure, created to mathematically perfect specifications, for cutting out sounds while maintaining airflow.

They calculated the dimensions and specifications that the metamaterial would need to have in order to interfere with the transmitted sound waves, preventing sound—but not air—from being radiated through the open structure. The basic premise is that the metamaterial needs to be shaped in such a way that it sends incoming sounds back to where they came from, they say.

As a test case, they decided to create a structure that could silence sound from a loudspeaker. Based on their calculations, they modeled the physical dimensions that would most effectively silence noises. Bringing those models to life, they used 3-D printing to materialize an open, noise-canceling structure made of plastic.

Trying it out in the lab, the researchers sealed the loudspeaker into one end of a PVC pipe. On the other end, the tailor-made acoustic metamaterial was fastened into the opening. With the hit of the play button, the experimental loudspeaker set-up came oh-so-quietly to life in the lab. Standing in the room, based on your sense of hearing alone, you’d never know that the loudspeaker was blasting an irritatingly high-pitched note. If, however, you peered into the PVC pipe, you would see the loudspeaker’s subwoofers thrumming away.

The metamaterial, ringing around the internal perimeter of the pipe’s mouth, worked like a mute button incarnate until the moment when Ghaffarivardavagh reached down and pulled it free. The lab suddenly echoed with the screeching of the loudspeaker’s tune.

How acoustic metamaterial works – Geonoise Instruments
How acoustic metamaterial works – Geonoise Instruments

Now that their prototype has proved so effective, the researchers have some big ideas about how their acoustic-silencing metamaterial could go to work making the real world quieter.

Closer to home—or the office—fans and HVAC systems could benefit from acoustic metamaterials that render them silent yet still enable hot or cold air to be circulated unencumbered throughout a building.

Ghaffarivardavagh and Zhang also point to the unsightliness of the sound barriers used today to reduce noise pollution from traffic and see room for an aesthetic upgrade. “Our structure is super lightweight, open, and beautiful. Each piece could be used as a tile or brick to scale up and build a sound-canceling, permeable wall,” they say.

The shape of acoustic-silencing metamaterials, based on their method, is also completely customizable, Ghaffarivardavagh says. The outer part doesn’t need to be a round ring shape in order to function.

“We can design the outer shape as a cube or hexagon, anything really,” he says. “When we want to create a wall, we will go to a hexagonal shape” that can fit together like an open-air honeycomb structure.

Such walls could help contain many types of noises. Even those from the intense vibrations of an MRI machine, Zhang says.

According to Stephan Anderson, a professor of radiology at BU School of Medicine and a coauthor of the study, the acoustic metamaterial could potentially be scaled “to fit inside the central bore of an MRI machine,” shielding patients from the sound during the imaging process.

Zhang says the possibilities are endless, since the noise mitigation method can be customized to suit nearly any environment: “The idea is that we can now mathematically design an object that can block the sounds of anything”.