Introduction to Shots, Pops, and Sound Pressure Levels

This is a Larson Davis Class 1 sound level meter. With a response time of under 30 microseconds and sensitivity up to 177dB, this is the sort of instrument needed to accurately measure the sound levels produced by transient events like gunshots.
Larson-Davis LXT1-QPR sound level meter
Since I didn’t want to sink over $3,000 into a sound meter, I was able to rent one from Aimed Research, which has become my go-to company for ballistic research equipment and expertise.

I’ll be posting the results of my research shortly. This post explains the basic science needed to fully understand the methods and results.

We use a decibel amplitude scale to describe sound pressure using the formula dBSPL = 20 log10(peak pressure/ambient pressure). Since we will only be talking about sound pressure levels going forward we will assume that all dB values refer to dBSPL.

We will be looking at explosive noise events that we will call “pops:” sounds dominated by a single, rapid peak in air pressure. The human ear is not very good at assessing peak “loudness” of short pops.* But the magnitude of that peak can predict both the audible distance of the pop and its potential to damage hearing of nearby listeners.

The distance at which we measure a sound is as important as the dB value, because sound pressure decays linearly with distance. On the decibel scale, this means that the same sound measured from twice the distance will be 6dB lower. As is customary, unless otherwise stated, all dB measurements will be given for a distance of one meter from the source of the sound.

For reference, here are some typical pops and pressure effects.

Category Event dB
Bad Stuff 99% lethal overpressure   205dB
1 pound TNT   203dB
Tissue damage observed   185dB
Gunshots .338LM 25″ bbl w brake   177dB
.338LM 25″ bbl suppressed   145dB
.223 16″ bbl   166dB
.223 16″ bbl suppressed   132dB
.22LR 16″ bbl   148dB
.22LR 16″ bbl suppressed   126dB
Sonic Crack .308   152dB
.223   148dB
.22LR HV   144dB
Gun Actions AR-15 bolt release 123dB
10/22 bolt release   119dB
AR-15 dry fire   113dB
10/22 dry fire   105dB
Steel Hammer Nail into wood 133dB
Iron anvil   133dB

*For example, I’ve never been able to hear the “first-round pop” that tends to occur with cold suppressors. But in my test data I did find many cases where the first round peak was 3-4dB higher than subsequent shots.

One thought on “Introduction to Shots, Pops, and Sound Pressure Levels

  1. Pingback: Suppressed Subsonic Sound Levels | EmptorMaven

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *