Acoustics/Threshold of Hearing & Pain

Acoustics threshold of hearing.JPG

The threshold of hearing is the Sound pressure level SPL of 20 µPa (micropascals) = 2 × 10−5 pascal (Pa). This low threshold of amplitude (strength or sound pressure level) is frequency dependent. See the frequency curve in Fig. 2 below

Fig. 1: The Fletcher-Munson equal-loudness contours. The lowest of the curves is the ATH.

The absolute threshold of hearing (ATH) is the minimum amplitude (level or strength) of a pure tone that the average ear with normal hearing can hear in a noiseless environment.

The threshold of pain is the SPL beyond which sound becomes unbearable for a human listener. This threshold varies only slightly with frequency. Prolonged exposure to sound pressure levels in excess of the threshold of pain can cause physical damage, potentially leading to hearing impairment.

Different values for the threshold of pain:

Threshold of pain
SPL sound pressure
120 dBSPL 20 Pa
130 dBSPL 63 Pa
134 dBSPL 100 Pa
137.5 dBSPL 150 Pa
140 dBSPL 200 Pa

The Threshold of hearing is frequency dependent, and typically shows a minimum (indicating the ear's maximum sensitivity) at frequencies between 1 kHz and 5 kHz. A typical ATH curve is pictured in Fig. 1. The absolute threshold of hearing represents the lowest curve amongst the set of equal-loudness contours, with the highest curve representing the threshold of pain.

In psychoacoustic audio compression, the ATH is used, often in combination with masking curves, to calculate which spectral components are inaudible and may thus be ignored in the coding process; any part of an audio spectrum which has an amplitude (level or strength) below the ATH may be removed from an audio signal without any audible change to the signal.

The ATH curve rises with age as the human ear becomes more insensitive to sound, with the greatest changes occurring at frequencies higher than 2 kHz. Curves for subjects of various age groups are illustrated in Fig. 2. The data is from the United States Occupational Health and Environment Control, Standard Number:1910.95 App F

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