...is only applicable to audio equipment operating solely on digital signals. Humans don't hear digital signals, we hear pressure changes, so at some point, those digital signals need to be transformed into analog voltage signals to drive pressure transducers (loudspeakers). Those analog voltages are measured by a different reference, a standardized voltage, as opposed to the absolute max of a digital scale. Analog voltages are commonly specified in dBV or dBu (0 references of 1 volt and ~0.775 volts, respectively).
The majority of the pro audio gear I've seen interacts with analog signals. So at some point in a piece of gear that handles both analog and digital signals, you're going to have to define a reference point between your digital and analog levels. This can vary from one piece of equipment to the next. The professional audio gear worth it's salt that I've seen can handle analog signal levels of +18dBu or more. Consumer and pro-sumer audio gear have lower limits, and can vary wildly. So 0dBFS signal going into your USB audio interface might come out as a +16dBu analog signal, while the same digital signal going into a professional mixing console might come out as a +24dBu analog signal.
Edit: Grammar and spelling
In fact, all the digital VU meters I've looked at do account for positive values, so I definitely shouldn't have breezed over that aspect so quickly.
On the other hand, the Allen & Heath GLD has its meters labeled differently, and I'm not quite sure what they're referenced to (they go up to +12). This can be a bit frustrating, since I never know how close I am to digital clipping, but in practice I aim to get everything around 0 dB on the meters and I have at least 12 dB of headroom.
Wikipedia has a neat list of different analog reference levels for 0 dBFS.
1: Pro Tools metering - http://i.imgur.com/YcUBR6H.png
So many people totally omit the reference measure, which drives me abolutely batty, particularly when we're talking about sound.
In air, dB SPL is referenced to 20 micropascals. In water, it's 1 micropascal, so the medium matters.
Since loudness is a psychophysical percept, it's also dirty pool to speak of loudness in this way. Intensity can be quantified, loudness varies by listener.
It's worth noting that there are standards for loudness as well.
For example: The FCC broadcast spec for commercials uses ITU 1770, which involves a filter. The resulting measurement is then labeled in units of dB LKFS. (LK are filter params, which are fixed by the spec, FS is full-scale, ie this is done digitally. (As an aside, video streaming could sure use some more uniformity for its inline commercials too.))
I kinda doubt that anyone has consciously tried to make the commercials louder than the content. It's a tough problem to get right: The television industry has been at it a lot longer, and they still barely make it work. The digital outlets still seem to be finding their footing on this issue.
FD: My biz delivers commercial content to TV, digital and cable outlets (and we normalize the audio). Normalization used to be a bit of a black art, but failure to get the audio levels right results in FCC fines to the stations, so you have to work hard to make it happen.
right, that's why commercials are consistently louder than the "content".
7 years later..
Which is correct, because a gain is inherently unitless. It's a multiplier on an input signal strength. Likewise a signal/noise ratio is typically expressed as a pure dB measure. There are no units.
decibels are just a way to easily express ratios on a logarithmic scale. It's handy for all sorts of things.
- If we are talking about dB in context of amplitude 6dB more means twice as much amplitude, 6dB less (or -6dB) means half the amplitude.
- If we are talking about dB in context of power 3dB more means twice as much power, 3dB less (or -3dB) means half the power.
dB is often also used to measure attenuation instead of gain. Here a positive dB value would actually mean less output compared to reference value.
And: For dB values often a suffix is used, to denote to what the value is relative to. E.g. dBV is relative to 1V, dbm is relative to 1 milliwatt.
3dB = √2 which is the amplitude ratio which is equivalent to doubling the power, since power is square proportional to amplitude
6dB = 2, so a 6dB increase in power would be doubling the power, and a 6dB increase in amplitude would be 4x the power
a negative dB is just the reciprocal of the radio, so -6dB is equal to 1/2
Pretty sure this part isn't right. Decibels are about power ratios, not amplitude ratios. 10 dB is a power ratio of 10, so 20 dB is an amplitude ratio of 10. 6 dB is a power ratio of 10^(6/10) ≈ 3.981 or an amplitude ratio of 10^(3/10) ≈ 1.995.), while 3 dB is a power ratio of 1.995 or an amplitude ratio of 1.413.
(It's probably sometimes defined so that 3 dB is a power ratio of exactly 2, making 30 dB 1024 instead of 1000.)
Unfortunately I can't edit my comment.
> - If we are talking about dB in context of power 3dB more means twice as much power, 3dB less (or -3dB) means half the power.
Yes, and there's a reason for this relationship -- the two decibel scales (amplitude and power) are often interchangeable, because (in many contexts including sound waves in air and electrical waves in conductors) power varies as the square of amplitude. So the same decibel ratio can be used to express both amplitude and power.
"A decibel is a decibel is a decibel".
Eg, a filter that attenuates a certain frequency by 24 dB is well defined. Regardless of whether you're interested in the resulting voltage or power of the output signal.
Of course for absolute terms a reference like dBm is used.
In high school long ago I used to compete in Car Audio SPL competitions. Whenever we would compare notes about who has the highest readings, we would always reference spl at what frequency and where it was measured (windshield, kick panel or dash).
This is largely because in a pure SPL "Drag race" competitors typically compete on a single frequency rather than a song for example. It was instructive to compare frequency and spl because some cars resonant frequencies (fs) were better suited to different fs values of drivers (speakers) and then further down the line certain amplifiers optimized certain frequencies, down to understanding which MOSFETs they used.
So it was all about finding and matching the fs of your car, the drivers and the amps and then how much power you could push at once to make the whole system resonate the most optimally at a certain focal point in the car. Really mind boggling maths and physics when you really get down to it.
If anyone is interested in going deeper, John Hilliard did some amazing research into decibel understanding and managing SPL as part of the Apollo project. Basically he's the guy that made sure that the sound from the Saturn 5 engines didn't bounce off the deck and destroy the rocket on lift off.
• 0.1 bel
• +/-1 bel = +/-10 dB = factor of 10 increase/decrease in power
The Np seems to have be used for amplitudes (rather than power), and value/ref = e^Np. And 0.01 Np ~ 1.01 (+1%) which is probably less useful than it seems at first glance.
Although I am probably wrong, I always thought that "decibel" actually meant "decimal bel" because it represents a decimal logarithm and that the "bel" unit was devised as an afterthought to fit the SI prefix.
Still, it is a good way to remember that 10 dB = multiply by 10, because "deci" means 10.
It's named after Alexander Graham Bell, in 1928 at Bell Labs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decibel#History (Yes I worked there, it was part of indoctrination training... :)
> because "deci" means 10.
Really, it means 1/10. ("Deca" is 10.)
Ah, but it is: https://www.hgst.com/products/hard-drives/ultrastar-he12 (click the "Specifications" tab and scroll down to "Acoustics")
(Hmm, this doesn't say what the reference level is. I guess it's 20μPa.)