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This isn't a home improvement question, but one that applies to buying any product that makes noise or sound: how can you ask reviewers to compare the noise level of a product with some reference noise levels that are about the same across most people, places and situations?

An example to help explain my question better: I want to buy a window A/C unit. Every single one I see reviews for on Amazon has contradictory opinions across the decibel spectrum, from "It's quiet" to "It's so loud I have to crank up the TV".

Unlike with dimensions, the vast majority of people don't have a sound level meter. If they didn't have a ruler, you could ask them "How big is it in relation to a CD", since all CDs have the same diameter (12cm). What are some sound levels that are reliably about the same?

I've looked at this table of common decibel values, but ranges like "50 - 65" for normal conversation are way too imprecise, given that an increase of 10 db means a doubling of the perceived loudness and "every increase of 3 dB represents a doubling of sound intensity, or acoustic power". Also, the logarithmic nature of the decibel scale makes it too confusing to consider about asking random reviewers to think in any terms other than some common sound levels that are approximately the same everywhere (hence why I'm not posting this on Physics.SE).

Some ideas:

I realize that any sound will be perceived differently depending on the acoustics of the room but let's hope that reviewers can mentally map these "reference sounds" to the condition of the room they (and the appliance/product) are in. A soda can pop will sound much louder in a hardwood floor small room than in a larger carpeted room but when I think about that volume level, I think of it in the context of the room I'm in.

  • Don't the specs for that AC unit have an entry for noise level? – Hobbes Jun 27 '17 at 7:31
  • @Hobbes: for A/C units, some do, some don't. On Amazon, specs are a rarity in general. For other products, noise is often an ignored byproduct, as is blinding LED light that can keep some awake at night. – Dan Dascalescu Jun 27 '17 at 8:17
  • Try looking on the manufacturer's site instead of Amazon. They often have more detailed specifications. – Hobbes Jun 27 '17 at 8:44
  • @Hobbes: This is from Friedrich's website on why they don't list dB ratings: "There is no industry standard for measuring the sound of room air conditioners or an independent agency to verify the ratings. We follow the guidelines set by AHAM (Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers), but these guidelines do not list decibel ratings for home appliances. Without an accepted industry standard, each manufacturer can "test" for sound ratings using whatever methodology they prefer. And without a common testing method, none of the results provide accurate comparisons." – Dan Dascalescu Jun 28 '17 at 3:50
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Here's an answer that I would downvote if I could: ask the reviewer to install a specific sound level meter app that you also have. The problem with this is that Android devices can be quite different from each other, and the same app can give wildly different readings. Right now in my quiet room, the Sound Meter app reads 27 db on my Galaxy S7 Edge, but 43 (!) on my Google Pixel.

There are better apps though - the Sound Analyzer App differs by only 4 dB between my two phones. The donwside is that it's probably too technical for the average reviewer (even I have no idea what "LAF" is, but I presume that's the value I want from the reviewer).

The situation may be better for iPhones given their homogeneity.

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