From the definition „sound is a mechanical vibration of a medium in the hearing range“, we have already covered a part of a medium, but „what is the hearing range“?

The hearing range is the range between the lowest and the highest audible frequency. For a human, this is between 20 Hz and 20 kHz (20,000 Hz). Different animal species have different hearing ranges. For example, a mouse can hear from 1 kHz to 100 kHz and a chicken from 125 Hz to 2 kHz.

Now we have covered the whole definition of sound: we know what a medium is and how the speed of sound behaves in it, and we know what the hearing range is.


Previously we have said that a sound/signal is defined with two parameters: frequency and amplitude. As there is a definition for the hearing range in frequency, there are also limits in amplitude: what is the quietest sound we can hear and what is the loudest sound we can bear?

The amplitude range for a human hearing is defined between 0 and 120 dB, where 0 dB is the „loudness“ of breathing, and 120 dB is a threshold of pain.

dB is not really a unit, but a logarithmic way to define a ratio between a reference signal and a measured signal.

dynamics, dB

0 dB means that the ratio between a reference and a measured signal is 1:1, while 120 dB is 1:1,000,000, therefore we can't bear the sound that is a million times louder than our breathing. Another interesting ratio is 6 dB (1:2).

Just to give you a real life example of what dB means as a noise:

  • 0 dB – minimal perceivable sound
  • 30 dB – whisper
  • 60 dB – conversation
  • 98 db – hand drill
  • 115 dB – loud rock concert
  • 120 dB – pain treshold
  • 140 dB – jet engine
  • 180 dB – death of hearing tissue

dynamics, dB

In music notation, we use two extremes for the loudness definition: ppp (pianississimo, which equals to whispering) and fff (fortississimo, equal to yelling).

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