How bad is 120dB?

Sound is an integral part of our daily lives, but not all sounds are created equal. Some can be pleasant and soothing, while others can be loud and potentially harmful. One sound level that often raises concerns is 120 decibels (dB). In this article, we’ll explore how loud 120 dB is, what common sources generate this level of noise, and the associated risks to your hearing.

What is a Decibel (dB)?

Before we delve into the intensity of 120 dB, it’s important to understand the decibel scale. The decibel is a unit of measurement used to quantify sound intensity or loudness. It’s a logarithmic scale, meaning that each 10 dB increase represents a tenfold increase in sound intensity. Therefore, a sound at 20 dB is 10 times more intense than a sound at 10 dB.

How Loud is 120 dB?

At 120 dB, a sound is very loud and can be physically felt. Here are some common reference points to help you understand the loudness of 120 dB:

  1. Normal Conversation: Normal conversation typically occurs at around 60-65 dB. Therefore, a sound at 120 dB is significantly louder than a typical conversation.
  2. Traffic Noise: Heavy city traffic noise can range from 70 dB to 85 dB. A sound at 120 dB is substantially louder than the noise generated by busy traffic.
  3. Live Concerts: Live concerts often reach sound levels exceeding 100 dB, and 120 dB is even louder than the already intense volume levels experienced at such events.
  4. Jet Engine Takeoff: A jet engine takeoff at close range can produce sound levels approaching 130 dB. While 120 dB is not as loud as a jet engine, it is still considered very loud by any standard.

Common Sources of 120 dB Sound

There are various sources that can produce sound levels of 120 dB or higher. Some common examples include:

  1. Firearms: The sound of gunfire can easily exceed 120 dB. Hearing protection is crucial for anyone using firearms, whether for sport or self-defense.
  2. Concerts and Music Events: Live concerts and music events often reach sound levels of 120 dB or higher. Ear protection is recommended for both musicians and concertgoers.
  3. Construction Equipment: Heavy machinery used in construction, such as jackhammers and bulldozers, can produce sound levels at or above 120 dB.
  4. Emergency Vehicle Sirens: The sirens on emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks can generate sound levels exceeding 120 dB to alert other drivers.

Risks and Hearing Damage

Exposure to sounds at or above 120 dB can pose significant risks to your hearing health. Prolonged or repeated exposure to such high sound levels can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) or tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears. The risk of hearing damage increases as sound levels and exposure duration rise.

It’s important to use hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, when you anticipate exposure to loud sounds, especially those at or above 120 dB. Protecting your hearing is crucial to maintaining good auditory health and preventing long-term hearing problems.


120 dB represents a very loud sound that can have detrimental effects on your hearing if you are exposed to it for extended periods without protection. Understanding the potential risks associated with loud sounds and taking proactive measures to safeguard your hearing is essential. While loud sounds can be thrilling or even necessary in certain situations, your hearing is a valuable and irreplaceable sense that deserves protection and care.

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