If a car’s speedo was expressed in decibels, you’d be cruising at 10.000 mph

11 Apr '2017 Sound

We can imagine that the concept of sound is a bit hard to grasp. Therefore we love to expound all about the science of sound. Today’s subject: decibels! We express the quantity of sound in ‘dB’. But what exactly are those thingies?


The measurement of decibels (dB) is a relative scale compared to a certain reference. Adding decibels works the same as how a swarm of bacteria multiplies. The reference is 0 dB and every 20 decibels added, multiplies the pressure of sound by 10.

Let’s project this theory to a speedometer. Just for now, imagine we build in a Knops-speedometer in your car and the speed is measured in decibels. Without any further math, let’s say the reference for your car is a reasonable 1 mph and this new speedometer can go from 0 to 80 dB.

Alright, let’s drive!

Now imagine it’s Monday morning. We get into the car and start moving out of the driveway at 0 dB. Remember: this means we are at 1 mph. That’s like crawling, right? Your granny will catch up easily to hand you the sandwich you’ve forgotten.

As we turn our car into the streets we continue at a speed of 20 dB. As we explained above, this is ten times the reference: 10 mph. Not much happening there, right? But as we drive out of the neighborhood and take a turn to a larger avenue, we accelerate until this new speedo says 40 dB. Wait, what? That means another multiplication with 10. And 10 x 10 = 100 mph. Oh wow, you must be in a hurry!

You ride onto the beltway to reach 60 decibels. Can you do the math? 10 x 10 x 10 = 1000 mph! Your common car is now overtaking fighter jets… You’re creating a big sonic boom, shattering all windows in the area.

The beltway merges into the freeway, and you speed it up to 80 dB. If this is how you’d speed up in your car, you would now be doing 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 10.000 mph! This would be faster than incoming space shuttles and meteorites. Your car is creating this big ball of fire and you are scorching the interstate highway. Oops!

Well, at least you arrived at work on time.

Loud means loud

It’s a bit silly to explain this stuff with a story like this, but we hope it helps you to get a grip on how this theory of decibels works. Loud music is REALLY loud, with pressure waves hammering on your eardrum. So, try not to hug the speakers, wear Knops to protect your pretty ears and tune in at the volume level that suits the occasion.

Image: Tom Eversley @ Unsplash

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