Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don’t have any surface noise. I said, ‘Listen, mate, life has surface noise.’ – John Peel
The sharper vinyl die-hard will fall back on the now famous John Peel quote the moment the big black disc’s most infamous flaw is dragged under the spotlight. Peel’s reasoning no doubt was that art is a little like life (and vice versa). Records have surface noise. So too does everyday life.
Noise cancelling headphones take some of the pain away for portable audio enthusiasts but for the loudspeaker listener at home, driver time alignment and room acoustics become the focus of DSP ‘correction’. Even when the kids are tucked up at the in-laws and/or the dog has traded in barking for sleeping, external noise can still interfere, quite literally, with our enjoyment of music.
I’ve experienced more than my fair share of the ‘life has surface noise’ maxim. More often that not over the years, I’ve lived next to a busy road. Noisy enough to force windows shut the moment some quiet time with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ The Boatman’s Call or Kings of Covenience’s Riot on an Empty Street is called for.
Not so in 2018 in Berlin where, on the six floor of a 20-year old office block, my split-level apartment is sealed in by concrete floors and walls and the proverbial pin drop is easily made out. Apart from the emergency vehicle sirens that hurtle down nearby Friedrichstr. at 3am, this Berlin Mitte pad could be the quietest place I’ve ever lived; or heard The The’s Dusk or El Perro Del Mar’s eponymous debut album through loudspeakers.
With how loud we listen covered in an earlier article, I turn my attention to the DAR(ko)haus’ noise floor height. Rather: how low does it go? I pulled up Android smartphone app Sound Meter for a rough n’ ready reading: with no music playing and all the windows closed, a steady 33db.
Let’s put this casual measurement into context. The average human breathing at rest would measure a 10db sound pressure level (SPL). The softest whisper might be around 20db. That’s twice as loud as 10db because SPL, as measured by decibels, is a logarithmic scale. 30db (twice as loud as 20db) would be what we might measure stood in a quiet field, miles from the nearest town. A library – 40db – is often used to communicate the idea of a quiet space. At 50db, a quiet suburb. A restaurant or an office, and not a crazy loud one, would come in at 60db – still 32 times louder than the 10db breathing we started with.
As you can see, my own lounge/listening room registers somewhere between what a scarecrow might ‘hear’ and a library. Not bad. And with my environmental noise floor so low, I don’t need to punch the volume ever northward to tease out the finer details within Paddy McAloon’s orchestral I Trawl The Megahertz or the subtle ticks locked deep inside Plaid’s Rest Proof Clockwork.
Some Darko.Audio readers might not be quite so fortunate. Time to find out. Sound Meter for Android devices is a quick, free download from the Google Play Store (here). iOS users should install Decibel X from the App store (here).
Those with families and pets might take longer to find their home quiet enough to take a reliable reading but if pet and kid noise is the norm for you, that’s the reading you should take. Just don’t forget to pause the music first!