If you've ever lived in an apartment complex, or in a college dorm for that matter, it's almost a given that at some point, you've had to deal with noise neighbors. Loud footsteps, late night vacuuming sprees, noisy parties and of course, sound systems loud enough to break your windows. And if you're like me, you've wondered, “Don't they realize how LOUD they're being?" And while it is true that many people do realize and simply don't care, some are honestly ignorant of the amount of noise they and their sound system are making.
Many people simply have no idea of how incredibly loud their home theater audio systems are or how much that level of noise can both distort sound and damage hearing. And if you're the proud owner of such a system and trying to attain optimal listening loudness, that can be a real problem-especially since high-precision measurement instruments can be utterly expensive, insanely huge and annoyingly hard to find. Fortunately for the discerning domestic audiophile, there is a solution: a sound pressure level (SPL, for short) meter. This handy, portable, lightweight, easy to use and generally affordable measuring instrument can help you get the most out of your aural home entertainment experience.
An SPL meter is of a handy size, usually about six inches long and two inches wide, and it has a corresponding weight of about six ounces. But don't let its size fool you-this little gizmo can be the answer to your home theater audio challenges. Here are the facts. The decibel, or dB, is the unit used to measure sound. On an SPL meter, both the dB output of a system and the effect of that output on the human ear are measured. This dual monitoring system allows the listeners to adjust their systems accordingly, and there you have it: a home theater audio system perfectly adjusted for maximum listening enjoyment. You'll be able to listen to car chases and explosions as loudly as possible without the annoying side effect of damaged ear drums.
This is, of course, a very basic description of the SPL meter's abilities. There are slightly different settings that should be used for specific situations, such as when measuring the sound of a HiFi system as opposed to a generic one. Still, the basic principle is the same. Just turn on your system, pick up your meter and point and shoot. Done deal.
As mentioned, SPL meters are easy to find and can be purchased at most electronics stores. Radio Shack carries them, as does Circuit City and a number of online stores like ProGear Warehouse and Elusivedisc.com. Some are more expensive than others and some have better accuracy and wider frequencies. But the most basic model is usually sufficient for the average home theater audio system owner. So if you want to watch your movies with the surround sound turned up as high as possible, but you still want to be able to hear your friends twelve months from now, invest in one of these. Your ear drums and your neighbors will thank you.
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