How to choose
the best sound level meter?

To choose the best sound level meter, consider factors such as accuracy, frequency range, data logging capabilities, and compliance with industry standards like IEC 61672. The ideal meter will depend on your specific needs, whether it’s monitoring workplace noise, conducting environmental assessments, or ensuring public safety in entertainment venues. Always check that the meter complies with relevant regulations to ensure reliable and legally defensible measurements.

What is the best sound level meter?

Determining the “best” sound level meter largely depends on your specific needs, the environment in which you’ll be using the meter, and what you’re willing to invest. If you require professional, standardized measurements, it’s crucial to follow the relevant procedures and standards that dictate the type of meter needed. For non-professional, casual noise measurements, a mobile application may suffice and offer a more cost-effective solution. However, for specialized applications such as occupational noise assessment or environmental monitoring, specialized sound level meters like dosimeters or noise monitors may be necessary. The accuracy, features, and capabilities of sound level meters can vary widely, so it’s important to select a device that meets the requirements of your particular application.

Reputable brands in the field of acoustic measurement include Bruel & Kjaer, Svantek, Rion, TSI Quest, Casella, Norsonic, Larson Davis, and NTI. These brands offer a range of sound level meters that vary in features, accuracy (Class 1 or Class 2), and cost.

sound level meters

How to choose the sound level meter?

To choose the right sound level meter, consider the noise environment, sound pressure level range, and your budget. For environmental noise, Class 1 meters are generally more suitable, while Class 2 meters are often used in industrial settings. The type of application you’re dealing with will largely dictate the class of meter you’ll need. Most sound level meters offer a range between 30-130 dB, but specific scenarios may require different ranges. For instance, environmental noise assessments might need a range that goes as low as 25 dB, while industrial settings could require a range that extends to at least 140 dB. Budget is another crucial factor; Class 1 meters are generally more expensive but offer higher accuracy.

This is just the starting point for selecting a sound level meter. To make an informed decision, you’ll also need to delve into other criteria such as key features, accuracy, frequency analysis, types, classes, software support, and traceability. Each of these factors plays a significant role in determining the most appropriate meter for your specific needs. Ensuring that the meter complies with recognized standards like IEC 61672-1 is also vital for obtaining accurate and reliable measurements.

Applications

In choosing a sound level meter, understanding the specific application is crucial. The application will dictate whether you’re focusing on acoustic sound measurement or noise measurement. At this juncture, you’ll decide if you’re conducting a simple survey to gauge “how loud” an environment is, or if you’re undertaking a standardized measurement that adheres to a specific methodology. For instance, a standard sound level meter can suffice for a basic noise survey in an industrial setting. Such preliminary assessments often lead to more detailed acoustic evaluations, for which a traceable, calibrated sound level meter is essential. The object or environment you’re measuring will also influence the features your meter needs to have, such as its measurement range, which commonly varies between 30-130 dB but may need to be broader or narrower depending on the application.

Standards like ISO and OSHA often provide guidelines for the features a sound level meter should possess for specific applications, including the class of the meter in accordance with IEC or ANSI standards. For example, workplace noise measurements following ISO or OSHA guidelines may utilize Class 2 sound level meters and Class 2 noise dosimeters. Environmental noise assessments often require noise monitoring stations. Building and room acoustics typically use Class 1 meters with capabilities for measuring reverberation time. Engineering sound measurements, which can include specialized tasks like machinery noise evaluation or product development testing, often require meters with advanced frequency analysis features like FFT or 1/3 octave band analysis. Each application has its unique challenges, necessitating specific features and capabilities from the sound level meter.

Table of Contents

Features

When selecting a sound level meter, the features you’ll need are largely determined by the specific application and its associated methodology. These features ensure that your measurements are not only compliant with relevant standards but also as efficient and straightforward as possible.

Traceability is a key consideration, particularly for professional applications. A meter that is type-approved or has been calibrated in an independent lab following IEC 17025 procedures sets professional equipment apart from basic or standard meters. Accuracy is another crucial factor, typically defined by the meter’s class according to IEC 61672-1 standards: Class 1 or Class 2. The frequency range is often predefined by the meter’s class, but certain applications may require an extended range, such as low-frequency environmental noise or high-frequency workplace noise. Measurement range is also application-dependent; for example, environmental noise may require a range lower than 30 dB, while industrial settings may necessitate capturing levels up to 140 dB Peak. Data logging is a common feature in professional meters, with modern devices offering vast storage capacities ranging from 8 to 128 GB. In contrast, standard meters often lack this feature.

Weighting filters like A and C frequency weightings are usually specified in the measurement methodology. While professional meters often allow for simultaneous use of multiple weightings, basic meters may offer only one or none. Specialized application-based features could include real-time 1/3 octave frequency analysis, reverberation time measurements (RT60), STIPA, and FFT-based tonality assessments, often dictated by ISO standards. Additionally, some meters offer connectivity to mobile or desktop applications for easier data transfer and analysis. While not mandatory, such features can significantly reduce the time required for measurements.

Types

When choosing a sound level meter, it’s important to recognize that manufacturers often design or configure specific types or versions of meters to suit particular applications. These specialized versions are essentially pre-packaged solutions that meet the equipment requirements for accuracy, ranges, and features necessary for specific types of measurements.

For example, most professional meters are of the integrating type and come with features like auto-calibration, multiple frequency weightings, and Fast and Slow exponential time weightings as standard. For occupational settings, noise level meters often take the form of wearable noise dosimeters equipped with extensive data logging, audio recording, and 1/1 octave analysis. Outdoor measurements, on the other hand, are best served by noise monitoring stations that feature extended temperature ranges, low-frequency coverage, 1/3 octave analysis, remote communication, and remote calibration. In the realm of building acoustics, specialized meters will typically offer short Leq logging in 1/3 octaves, reverberation time measurements (RT60), and mobile app support for insulation measurements. Standard meters, usually the most basic and affordable, often offer A-weighted dB measurements or SPL measurements with Fast or Slow time constants but may lack comprehensive calibration features. Understanding these specialized versions can significantly streamline the selection process, ensuring you choose a meter that is well-suited to your specific needs.

Classes

When selecting a sound level meter, it’s crucial to consider the class of the device, which is often dictated by national regulations and standards. While international standards like IEC 61672-1 provide a general framework for device accuracy and capabilities, these are often adopted and specified further at the national level. For instance, in Germany, the relevant standard is DIN 61672, in Britain it’s BS 61672, and in the United States, it’s ANSI ANSI/ASA S1.4 / IEC 61672.

It’s important to note that these are standards for the devices themselves, not for the measurements they are used to perform. Measurement standards, whether international like ISO or national like DIN, BS, or OSHA, often take precedence and can specify the class of meter required for a particular application. In some cases, an international standard may allow for either a Class 1 or Class 2 device, but a national standard may narrow it down to a single class choice. Therefore, understanding both the international and national standards applicable to your specific application is essential for selecting the most appropriate sound level meter.

IEC 61672 Sound Level Meters

The IEC 61672-1 standard outlines the performance requirements for professional sound level meters, categorizing them into Class 1 and Class 2 based on their accuracy and operational capabilities. Key components that must comply with this standard include the meter’s linear operating range, its frequency response, and its temperature operating range. Class 1 meters offer higher accuracy and are generally used for more critical measurements, while Class 2 meters are considered reliable for various applications but with slightly lower accuracy.

What's the difference between IEC 61672 Class 1 and Class 2?

The primary distinctions between IEC 61672 Class 1 and Class 2 sound level meters are in their frequency range, linear operating range, and temperature operating range. Class 1 meters offer a broader frequency range, extending from 16 Hz to 16 kHz, compared to Class 2 meters, which cover 20 Hz to 8 kHz. This makes Class 1 meters more suitable for measuring high-frequency sounds, such as those produced by machinery using compressed air.

In terms of linear operating range, both classes are required by IEC 61672-1 to have at least a 60 dB dynamic range. However, Class 1 meters often exceed this, offering greater versatility. The term “linear” is important, as it indicates that the meter’s measurements within this range meet the frequency response criteria. Regarding temperature, Class 1 meters are designed to operate in a wider range, from -10°C to 50°C, whereas Class 2 meters are limited to 0°C to 40°C. This makes Class 1 meters more suitable for environments with more extreme temperatures. Overall, Class 1 meters are more precise and versatile but are generally more expensive, while Class 2 meters are more limited in their capabilities and are usually less costly.

To choose the right sound level meter for your specific needs, start by identifying the application you’ll be using it for, as this will guide you toward the appropriate type or version of meter. Once you’ve determined the application, consult both international and national standards to identify the class of meter required. This is crucial for ensuring compliance and accuracy in your measurements. Sound level meters come in a range of noise level capabilities, typically between 30-130 dB, so consider the specific sound pressure levels you’ll be encountering. For environmental noise, you may need a range that goes lower than 25 dB, while industrial settings may require a range that extends to at least 140 dB. Budget is another consideration; Class 1 meters are generally more expensive but offer higher accuracy, while Class 2 meters are more budget-friendly and are often sufficient for industrial applications. Regardless of your choice, ensure that the meter complies with the relevant standards, such as IEC 61672-1, for reliable and accurate measurements.

The price of a professional sound level meter can vary depending on several factors, such as its level of accuracy and features. A high-end Class 1 SLM, which offers the most accurate readings and a wide range of features, can cost anywhere from $3000 to $9000. The most expensive Class 1 meters can cost upwards of $6000 to $9000. Mid-range Class 1 meters, which offer good accuracy and a limited set of features, can cost between $3000 to $6000. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, a Class 2 sound level meter, which is less accurate but still suitable for many applications, can be purchased for a price range of $1500 to $2000. Ultimately, the price you’ll pay will depend on your specific needs and the level of accuracy and features required for your application.

Buyers Guide

This buyers’ guide focuses on professional sound level meters that are digital, meaning they use an Analog-to-Digital (A/D) converter to display noise levels in decibels on a screen. Additionally, all the options presented here are integrated sound level meters, which calculate the average sound pressure level over a defined period and are compliant with IEC 61672 standards, ensuring traceable calibration.

When consulting this guide, consider factors such as the class of the meter, which should align with both international and national standards relevant to your application. Also, take into account the measurement range and frequency analysis capabilities, as these will vary depending on whether you’re measuring environmental noise, industrial noise, or other specialized sound levels. Each meter will offer different features tailored to specific applications, so understanding your own needs is crucial for making an informed selection.

Top-of-the-line sound level meter

The SVAN 979 stands as the top-of-the-line option for those seeking a Class 1 integrating sound level meter. Known for its exceptional accuracy and comprehensive feature set, this meter is a premium choice for a wide range of applications, from reverberation time measurements and occupational safety to applied acoustics. It has the unique capability to measure noise levels as low as 12 dBA, making it particularly effective for extremely quiet environments. Additional functionalities include a built-in program for sound insulation measurements, complete with a signal generator for both pink and white noise. The meter also has the versatility to measure vibrations when a vibration sensor is connected in place of the microphone.

Compliance with IEC 61672-1 ensures that the SVAN 979 is traceable and meets international standards for accuracy. Its applications are diverse, covering acoustic measurements, building acoustics, environmental noise, sound engineering, audio measurements, and voice measurements. This meter’s well-established and stable software further adds to its reliability, making it a robust choice for professionals in various fields.

The best price / performance

For those seeking a balance between cost and performance, the SV 977 serves as an excellent alternative to the more premium SVAN 979. While it may not offer all the features of its higher-end counterpart, such as the noise generator, it compensates by offering other features as optional add-ons. This makes it a cost-effective yet versatile choice, capable of reliable performance across various applications.

The SV 977 is configurable with a range of features including FFT, 1/1 and 1/3 octave analysis, audio recording, RT60, STIPA, and ultrasound measurements. It boasts a measurement range that starts from 16 dBA and a frequency range from 3 Hz to 20 kHz. Like the SVAN 979, it is suitable for a wide array of applications including acoustic measurements, building acoustics, environmental noise, sound engineering, audio measurements, voice measurements, and occupational noise.

The best class 1 sound level meter

For those specifically looking for a Class 1 sound level meter, the SV 971A stands out as the best choice due to its widespread popularity and global usage. Designed for users who primarily focus on noise measurements without the need for vibration analysis, this meter offers a compact form factor. While the small size limits the display, users can easily view all noise data on a smartphone or tablet through a dedicated meter app. Not only is the SV 971A the most budget-friendly among professional noise level meters, but it also offers configurable options like 1/1 or 1/3 octave analysis and audio recording.

The meter is traceable and compliant with IEC 61672, ensuring its reliability and accuracy. It is well-suited for a variety of applications, including occupational noise, noise in schools, building acoustics, environmental noise, and voice measurements.

Class 2 sound level meter

The SV 973 serves as a reliable Class 2 sound level meter, tailored for noise monitoring in occupational settings and educational environments. While its optimal operating temperature starts at 0°C and its frequency range is capped at 10 kHz, it maintains its status as a professional-grade instrument. The meter offers a variety of configurable options similar to Class 1 meters, including 1/1 or 1/3 octave analysis, reverberation time measurements (RT60), Speech Transmission Index for Public Address systems (STIPA), and audio recording capabilities.

Compliant with IEC 61672 Class 2 standards, the SV 973 is a versatile choice for applications where a Class 2 meter suffices, such as occupational noise monitoring, noise assessments in schools, general noise surveys, and environmental noise measurements.

Noise Dosimeter

The SV 104 serves as a specialized noise dosimeter, designed to monitor individual noise exposure in high-risk industries such as nuclear power, healthcare, manufacturing, and construction. Worn near the ear, these dosimeters help ensure that workers are not exposed to harmful noise levels, thereby aiding in risk assessment and the implementation of protective measures. They are also employed in research settings to gauge physical agent levels in specialized environments, such as zero-gravity airspace.

Compliant with IEC 61672 Class 2 standards, the SV 104 offers additional features like octave band analysis, audio recording, and Bluetooth connectivity. These features make it a versatile tool for a range of applications, from occupational safety to experimental research.

Noise Monitoring Station

The SV 307A serves as a comprehensive noise monitoring station, designed for continuous environmental noise measurement in all weather conditions. Utilizing patented MEMS microphone technology with a lifetime warranty, this station is equipped with smart features for internal temperature control and hardware failure detection. Its robust housing protects a Class 1 sound level meter, complete with 4G and GPS modems. The SV 307A captures a wide range of data, including noise levels, statistics, spectra, and audio files, which can be triggered based on level or time. Advanced triggering even allows for noise prediction, alerting the user before certain noise thresholds are reached.

For remote monitoring, the SV 307A connects to the SvanNET Service, providing all measurement data through a web interface. This service also enables users to listen to live noise directly from the station’s microphone. The SV 307A is compliant with IEC 61672 Class 1 standards, making it a reliable and versatile choice for long-term environmental noise monitoring.

Sound Level Meter Apps and Software

Sound level meter apps and software are necessary for calculations of final noise results and reporting. Here are the options for Svantek apps and software:

  • SvanPC++ Software: This is an advanced PC software that supports SVANTEK meters for post-processing of data collected during measurements.
  • SUPERVISOR Software: A free PC software package dedicated to the Svantek instrument family for health and safety data post-processing and reporting.
  • Assistant PRO App: This mobile app is designed for sound and vibration meters and extends the user interface of the SLM.
  • SvanNET App: This application configures Svantek monitoring stations for the connection to the SvanNET Cloud Service.
  • Building Acoustics Assistant App: This app supports Svantek building acoustic meters equipped with a Bluetooth® interface to guide through building acoustics measurements.

These apps and software can be helpful for various applications, such as work environments, outdoor monitoring, and building acoustics.

What type of noise level meter for occupational noise?

For occupational noise measurements, Class 2 sound level meters are commonly used and generally accepted, unless specific standards indicate otherwise. These meters provide sufficient accuracy for assessing workplace noise levels and are less expensive than Class 1 meters.

What is the difference between a sound level meter and a noise dosimeter? 

A sound level meter measures noise levels in an environment, while a noise dosimeter is worn by an individual to measure personal noise exposure over time. Noise dosimeters are generally small devices that clip onto a person’s clothing and follow IEC 61252 specifications for Class 2 sound level meters. In contrast, a sound meter is often a handheld or stand-mounted device used to measure noise levels in a specific location rather than personal exposure. Sound level meters are versatile tools used for various applications such as environmental noise monitoring, industrial settings, and building acoustics, while noise dosimeters are primarily used to assess the noise exposure levels of individuals in occupational settings.

How accurate is a sound meter app?

Sound meter apps on mobile devices offer approximate sound pressure level measurements but generally lack the accuracy and reliability required for professional use. They often do not meet the calibration standards set by international bodies like IEC 61672, making them unsuitable for formal assessments. However, they can be useful for preliminary noise surveys or for personal monitoring.

In contrast, professional sound level meters may interface with mobile apps but have dedicated hardware and software designed to comply with rigorous international standards for accurate and reliable measurements.

How accurate are dB Meters?

Decibel meters that meet IEC 61672 standards offer reliable accuracy and precision over time. Meters not adhering to these standards may produce unreliable results, which can be significant given that even a 3 dB error can double the perceived sound energy and a 6 dB error can double the sound pressure level. Thus, for accurate and dependable measurements, it’s important to use a decibel meter that meets recognized international standards.

What is a sound level meter?

A sound level meter is an instrument used to quantitatively measure sound in a standardized manner, typically consisting of components like a microphone, a preamplifier, a signal processor, and a display. Designed to adhere to international standards such as IEC 61672, this device captures sound through its microphone and processes the signal to display noise levels, often in decibels. It can measure various types of sound levels, including time-averaged or exponential time-weighted levels, and frequency-weighted noise levels. Hand-held sound level meters are commonly battery-powered and may feature a triangular tip and windscreen to improve accuracy.

What is a sound level meter

How sound level meter measures sound?

A sound level meter measures sound by capturing air pressure changes through its microphone, converting them into electrical and then digital signals, and finally processing these to display sound levels, typically in decibels (dB). The microphone detects fluctuations in air pressure created by sound waves and converts them into electrical signals. These electrical signals are then digitized via an Analog-to-Digital (A/D) converter. The digital signals are processed, often using a root-mean-square (RMS) circuit to turn the alternating current (AC) signal into a direct current (DC) signal, which is easier to measure and analyze. The most commonly reported measurement is the Sound Pressure Level (SPL), a unit expressed in dB that quantifies the magnitude of sound pressure variations. Some sound level meters can also measure the equivalent continuous sound level (LEQ), representing the average sound level over a defined period.

What is the difference between sound exposure and noise exposure level?

The difference between sound exposure and noise exposure level lies in their time frames and normalization. Noise exposure level (LEX) is an LAEQ value normalized to an 8-hour workday, calculated by noise dosimeters. Sound exposure level (LAE) is a time-averaged LAEQ value normalized to a 1-second interval. In summary, LEX is used to gauge long-term exposure over a workday, while LAE measures sound levels for shorter, specific time intervals.

Sound level meter calibration

Calibration is the process of adjusting a sound level meter to match a known reference source, ensuring that its readings are accurate and reliable. This is often done using a sound calibrator, which produces a sound at a specific frequency and amplitude for this purpose.

Difference Between Calibration Check and Calibration:

  • Calibration with adjustment: This involves actually changing the settings on the sound meter to align with the known reference sound level produced by the calibrator.
  • Calibration check (without adjustment): This is simply a verification process to ensure that the meter’s readings are still accurate without making any changes to its settings.

When to Calibrate and When to Check:
Calibration should generally be done before starting a series of measurements. After completing the measurements, a calibration check should be done to ensure that the meter’s settings haven’t drifted during the data collection period. This gives you an opportunity to confirm that your data collected remains accurate and reliable.

Periodic Testing:
Unless specified by local or industry-specific standards, it is recommended that the sound level meter undergo periodic testing in an accredited lab roughly every two years. This ensures long-term accuracy and compliance with regulations.

Choosing a Sound Calibrator:
For Class 1 noise level meters, the sound calibrator should conform to Class 1 specifications as per IEC 60942. For Class 2 noise level meters, the calibrator can conform to either Class 1 or Class 2 specifications.

Sound level meter: Key Takeaways

  1. Choosing the best sound level meter depends on various factors, including the specific application, environment, and budget.
  2. Professional sound level meters are necessary for standardized and accurate measurements, while mobile applications may suffice for casual use.
  3. Reputable brands in the field of acoustic measurement include Bruel & Kjaer, Svantek, Rion, TSI, Norsonic, Larson Davis, and NTI.
  4. The choice between Class 1 and Class 2 meters depends on the noise environment and application, with Class 1 meters typically suited for environmental noise and Class 2 meters for industrial settings.
  5. Additional criteria for selecting a sound level meter include key features, accuracy, frequency analysis, types, classes, software support, and traceability.
  6. Understanding the specific application is crucial, as it dictates the features and capabilities needed from the sound level meter.
  7. Compliance with recognized standards, such as IEC 61672-1, is essential for obtaining accurate and reliable measurements.
  8. Calibration and periodic testing of sound level meters are crucial to maintaining accuracy.
  9. Different specialized versions of sound level meters are designed to suit specific applications, such as occupational noise assessment, environmental monitoring, and building acoustics.
  10. The class of the sound level meter, often dictated by national regulations and standards, is an important consideration.
  11. Sound level meter apps on mobile devices offer approximate measurements but may lack the accuracy required for professional use.
  12. Decibel meters meeting IEC 61672 standards offer reliable accuracy and precision.
  13. Sound exposure level (LEX) measures long-term exposure, while sound exposure level (LAE) measures shorter intervals.
  14. Calibration ensures accuracy by aligning the sound level meter with a known reference source, with calibration checks verifying accuracy without adjustments. Periodic testing in an accredited lab is recommended.

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