Best sound level meter

Audio & Video Accessories

When measuring decibels, it’s important to know that they don’t work on a linear scale but in orders of magnitude. This means that 20 decibels isn’t twice as loud as 10 decibels. It’s 10 times louder than 10 decibels.

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Which sound level meter is best?

There are dozens of reasons to want to know what a given sound level is, but the most important use for a sound level meter is to ensure you aren’t damaging your hearing. Once your hearing becomes damaged, there’s no way to fix or otherwise repair it.

The best sound level meter is the Reed Instruments Digital Sound Level Meter. This is one of the very best sound level meters that money can buy with a precision level within 1.4 decibels. It also conforms to both US and European CE requirements in addition to including a battery and carrying case.

What to know before you buy a sound level meter

Sound level meters

Sound as experienced by us can be described as a wave of pressure sent out by the vibrations of an object. Sound level meters contain an incredibly sensitive diaphragm that measures the change in air pressure caused by that wave. This information is converted to an electric signal, which is interpreted by a microprocessor before being delivered to the sound level meter’s display.

There are also virtual sound level meters, which is software used by tablets, smartphones and laptops to measure sound level using their built-in microphone. These microphones are of almost universally poor quality and can only read sound levels to within anywhere between 4-10 decibels, which is, at best, twice as inaccurate as a dedicated sound level meter.

Important terminology

Sound level meters are incredibly technical devices. There are a plethora of important terms to know and understand, from the simple frequency and decibels to more complex terms, like a-weighting.

What to look for in a quality sound level meter

Ranges

Sound level meters detect in two ranges, loudness in decibels and frequency in hertz. Typically, the decibel range is between 30-130 decibels, or a quiet conversation to aircraft engines. The frequency range is usually between 30-8,500 hertz. Higher-end models can frequently measure in lower and higher ranges. 

Display

Most sound level meters will have a backlit digital LCD screen, though some lower-end models might omit the backlighting. They could also have various buttons which achieve different goals or display different points of data, depending on the model.

Size

Sound level meters are typically a reasonable size. Very few sound level meters can be considered large, though there are a fair few available that proudly market their reduced size for easier portability. Note that a smaller size doesn’t always mean lower quality.

Battery

Most sound level meters use AAA or 9-volt batteries, though some feature a rechargeable option. A few also have auto-off functions to preserve power.

How much you can expect to spend on a sound level meter

Sound level meters can be found in an incredibly wide range of prices, starting at as little as $20 and possibly reaching close to $500. The $20 options aren’t always as reliable as other options, so you may want to spend closer to $50-$100 with the high-end options being priced between $250-$500.

Sound level meter FAQ

Do sound level meters need to be calibrated?

A. Yes, depending on your usage and needs. For personal use or getting quick readings in locations, then no, calibration isn’t necessary. However, any readings taken for legal reasons tend to require calibration. Calibration is typically accomplished with a calibrator that fits over the microphone of the meter, the cost of which tends to start around $100.

How accurate are sound level meters?

A. There are two standards when it comes to the accuracy of sound level meters, and they’re both determined by the American National Standard Institute, or ANSI. Type or Class 2 is accurate to within 2 decibels and Type or Class 1 is accurate to within 1 decibel. The best of the best also have National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) traceability. To put that in perspective, smartphones are typically accurate anywhere from within 4-10 decibels.

What ARE the best sound level meterS to buy?

Top sound level meter

Reed Instruments Digital Sound Level Meter

Reed Instruments Digital Sound Level Meter

What you need to know: This sound level meter conforms to both European CE and US requirements on top of being essentially flawless.

What you’ll love: A comprehensive data set is available when using this sound level meter that’s accurate to within 1.4 decibels.

What you should consider: Flawless isn’t an exaggeration. There are absolutely no downsides to this sound level meter.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top sound level meter for the money

Risepro Decibel Meter

Risepro Decibel Meter

What you need to know: If you want to save some money or only need a basic idea of how loud an area is, then this Risepro is the perfect option for you.

What you’ll love: An easy-to-read LCD screen combines with a solid 40-130 decibel range to make for a very solid low-cost choice.

What you should consider: The accuracy of this sound level meter can quickly fall under suspicion.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Parts Express Mini Digital Sound Level Meter

Parts Express Mini Digital Sound Level Meter

What you need to know: This is a highly portable sound level meter that doesn’t sacrifice any accuracy or sensitivity.

What you’ll love: Small enough to hold in one hand with a simple one-button trigger and backlit display for easy reading.

What you should consider: The power button can turn off and on inside a bag, so it’s recommended to place the sound level meter inside a case.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Jordan Woika writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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