How to Use a Sound Level Meter

By Candace Horgan

A sound-level meter is a way to measure how loud, in decibels, music is playing. Professional sound engineers often use one to check the volume coming out of a PA at a big stadium show, trying to get the sound to peak at a certain level. In home audio, a sound-pressure level meter can be used to help get the best sound out of your speakers.

Getting started

Insert the battery into the sound-pressure level meter. Point the microphone of the SPLM at the source and take the measurements of the sound coming out of the speakers.

Choose A-weighted on the SPLM when you want to measure specific frequencies, usually between 500Hz and 10,000Hz. Choose C-weighted on the SPLM when you want to get a measurement of the entire frequency range from 32Hz to 10,000Hz. Choose the response time, either fast or slow. Use slow to measure average sound levels and fast to measure peak levels.

Mount the SPLM on a tripod by screwing it into the mount threads on the bottom of the SPLM. Using a tripod will get you the most accurate measurements. Place the tripod at the listening position, generally where your ears are.

Calibrate your speakers by playing pink noise from a test CD, like Stereophile's Test CD (see References for link) through your speakers. You can take measurements on the SPLM to figure out whether you are getting sharp peaks or higher than average sound levels with the speakers placed in different parts of the room. Turn the volume up on your receiver until the SPLM reads 0.

Play the test tones on the Test CD and write down the measurements on the SPLM. Be sure to stand off to the side of the SPLM while doing this to ensure accuracy. Your goal should be to get a reading as close to 0 for each of the test tones. Fiddle with the speaker placement to get this. Some subwoofers, such as Infinity, use this system in conjunction with an equalizer to get the best bass response in your room.

Tip

Use the SPLM to check the sound coming from your speakers by turning the volume up to your normal listening level. At 90dB, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates you can listen to sound for up to eight hours without damage; at 100dB, that time shrinks to two hours.

About the Author

Candace Horgan has worked as a freelance journalist for more than 12 years. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Denver Post" and "Mix." Horgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and history.