The 10 Best Decibel Meters

Updated April 24, 2018 by Ezra Glenn

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We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. What's that? You can't hear us over all that noise? Well, maybe you need one of these decibel meters to determine if the sound level is harmful to your hearing. These handy devices are most commonly used in noise pollution studies, professional audio recording studios, and for the quantification of different kinds of noise, including industrial, environmental, and aircraft. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best decibel meter on Amazon.

10. Pyle PSPL25 Digital Handheld

The Pyle PSPL25 Digital Handheld can monitor various types of sound, making it suitable for musicians, audio technicians, theater directors, and even engineers. It's capable of taking both atmospheric and targeted measurements.
  • max mode stores highest reading
  • large backlit lcd
  • not always accurate
Brand Pyle
Model PSPL25
Weight 8 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

9. T Tocas Professional

The T Tocas Professional can be used to easily digitally monitor sound levels and sits at the intersection of quality and value. It is capable of storing your measurement data for transfer to a computer, a rare feature at this price point.
  • comes with cd-rom and usb cable
  • design is fairly bulky
  • included software is archaic
Brand T Tocas Professional
Model pending
Weight 8 ounces
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

8. Yacker Tracker Noise Detector

The Yacker Tracker Noise Detector is partially a novelty, and certainly not accurate enough for professional applications, but makes a fun and potentially useful addition to a noisy classroom. The traffic light-themed, color-coded system reminds kids to keep things quiet.
  • programmable audio levels
  • optional noise alarm feature
  • bulbs are hard to replace
Brand Yacker Tracker
Model 3030
Weight 2.9 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

7. Extech Instruments 407730

The Extech Instruments 407730 is sensitive enough to provide readings in increments of one tenth of a decibel, and is reliably accurate to within 2 dB for most sound sources. It's fully capable of measuring a wide range of noise types.
  • responsive visual bar graph
  • records max and min values over time
  • wind sock feels cheap
Brand Extech
Model 407730
Weight 8.8 ounces
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

6. Dr. Meter MS20

The Dr. Meter MS20 is easy to use and works well for applications ranging from measuring the sound level in your home theater to ensuring the kids keep things at a reasonable level while at play in your yard. It is lightweight and fits nicely in the palm of your hand.
  • auto shutoff conserves power
  • backlit lcd screen
  • not very sensitive on the low-end
Brand Dr.meter
Model MS10
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

5. Extech Instruments SL130W

The Extech Instruments SL130W can be mounted easily on a desk, a wall, or a tripod, or carried by hand. Its large screen makes it suitable for schools, hospitals, or worksites where it's important to be able to know how loud it is at a glance.
  • bright programmable leds
  • swiveling directional microphone
  • not very durably built
Brand Extech
Model SL130W
Weight 2.1 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

4. BAFX Products 3370

The BAFX Products 3370 is a best-selling model for two major reasons: it is relatively accurate and very low cost. It runs on a single included 9 volt battery and is small enough to slip into your pocket for readings on the go.
  • very simple to use
  • gives readings in just two seconds
  • difficult to recalibrate
Brand BAFX Products
Model FBA_BAFX3370
Weight 3.2 ounces
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

3. Meterk MK09

The Meterk MK09 uses an electric condenser microphone to provide accurate readings within 1.5 dB. It's quite simple to use, and impressively handy considering it only has three buttons, with minimum/maximum identification, a hold function, and a backlight.
  • built-in tripod mount
  • sturdy plastic construction
  • auto-off after 10 inactive minutes
Brand Meterk
Model pending
Weight 7.5 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

2. GoerTek Digital Mini

The GoerTek Digital Mini isn't much bigger than a cell phone, yet it can measure sound rated at anywhere from 30 to 130 decibels with a high degree of accuracy. It features an onscreen battery level monitor and is powered by three AAAs, which are, thankfully, included.
  • simple and intuitive operation
  • impressively sensitive for the price
  • for both professional and casual use
Brand GoerTek
Model GM1352
Weight 4.8 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

1. Reed Instruments R8050

The Reed Instruments R8050 features high and low modes for increased accuracy at both ends of the noise spectrum. It toggles easily between A and C frequency weighting for environmental and peak measurements, and meets all industry standards, so it's great for job sites.
  • includes a hard carrying case
  • comes with calibration instructions
  • nist certification
Brand REED Instruments
Model R8050-NIST
Weight 1.4 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

Pressure Through The Air

Understanding how a decibel meter works is only half the battle when evaluating the safety of a space for human hearing. The other half requires that we understand the scale on which these meters place their measurements. The decibel scale is logarithmic rather than linear, which means its units increase by powers of ten.

For example, where 20 inches on a ruler is only twice that of 10 inches, on a logarithmic decibel scale 20dB (the shorthand for decibels) is ten times the sound intensity of 10dB–but what exactly are decibels?

We know that sound waves are vibrations in the air, and that they resonate in our ears where a complex system of bones and nerve endings translates those vibrations into the signals our brains interpret as sound. We also know that the frequency of those waves has a direct effect on their pitch.

A decibel, though, is a measure of the pressure with which a source emits sound, which bears only a minuscule impact on the sound's frequency. The meters on this list utilize microphones that are especially sensitive to pressure, and they convert that into a decibel reading.

That 10dB readout is pretty close to the threshold of human hearing (which, by the way, is 0dB). 20db is about what you'd hear from a ticking clock. A loud conversation would register around 50dB, and loud highway traffic around 80dB. From there we get into ranges that pose a threat to human hearing.

Above 85dB for at least eight hours can cause hearing damage. Above 100dB for a mere 15 minutes will do the same. Anything above 120dB, and you can suffer damage immediately. Ever been at a loud concert and actually felt pain in your ears from it? That's your body acting as a crude decibel meter, since 120dB is the threshold of pain in the ear. Bring some ear plugs next time.

Turn That Music Down

It's easy to dismiss somebody for complaining that the band is playing too loudly. He or she is just too sensitive or "getting old" (for the record, I started remarking about this when I was 15). If I'd had one of these decibel meters at the ready, I could have easily proved it.

While measuring sound levels for their potential to cause harm to human hearing is important, I would have used one of these meters slightly differently. After all, pretty much any instrument in the room would have registered as a threat to human hearing, and I spent enough nights falling asleep to a bombastic ringing in my ears to know I'll probably be deaf by the time I'm 60.

What I wanted to quantify was more nuanced. I would have used the decibel meter to measure the specific output in different corners of the room from each individual instrument. That means I'd collect data on the vocals coming through the PA system, the guitars screeching through their half-stacks, the bass as it pumped along, and, of course, the drums.

I've heard enough bands in enough concert halls to know what the results would have been. The guitars would have registered close to 120dB, the vocals at around 110dB, the bass at roughly the same, and the drums anywhere between 100 and 120dB, depending on the quality of the kit and the force of the drummer. Recall the logarithmic explanation above to realize how broad a range of loudness this is.

Ask any audio engineer and they'll tell you that the two most important elements in a rock mix are the vocals and the drum pocket (bass drum and snare drum). If you look at the mix above, you'll see that the drums and vocals get buried behind a wall of distorted chords created by the egomaniac guitarists. It's awful for the live experience, and it's even worse for your hearing.

So, sure, you can grab one of these decibel meters to determine the safety of a given sound environment. That's what they're designed to do. But I'd encourage any musician reading this to get one into your practice space, to soundcheck with one of these meters, and to keep you stringed instruments and keys turned down below the natural levels of the drums and vocals. You'll be surprised how much better it all sounds.

Eliminate The Ear

The earliest government-sanctioned tests for the loudness of a space took place in 1929, when the New York Noise Abatement Commission gathered data on noise levels throughout New York City. These early detection and measurement methods relied on a device the technology for which came out of early telephone development, and it actually produced noise rather than taking it in to measure it.

An operator would raise the level of intensity put out by the device until it roughly matched that of the environmental sounds, judging the equivalence with his ear. Not only did this method rely heavily on the subjective senses of the individual tasked with measuring the sounds, it also added sound to the environment, inevitably muddying the discovery.

As microphone technology improved in the music industry, the sensitivity and accuracy of pressure-sensitive ribbons and diaphragms led to their incorporation into sound level pressure measurement. Still, those devices were only accurate to within several decibels, and their readouts couldn't be as specific as to display tenths of decibels as today's much more refined technology can do with ease.

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Last updated on April 24, 2018 by Ezra Glenn

Ezra is a writer, photographer, creative producer, designer, and record label-operator from New York City. He's traveled around the world and ended up back where he started, though he's constantly threatening to leave again.

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