What factors influence our perception of loudness?

The perception of sound varies greatly and depends upon several factors, the intensity of the sound being one of them. The term “Perceived Loudness” is commonly used in audio engineering to explain the physical and psychological aspects of our hearing system. This phenomenon revolves around how individuals perceive the loudness of various frequencies and pitches.

Decibels and dBFS


At the base level, the loudness of a sound can be measured in “decibels” (dB). It’s the standard unit to quantify the intensity of a sound. Interestingly, the human ear’s perception of loudness doesn’t grow linearly with the increase in decibels.

In the digital audio world, the term “dBFS” (decibels relative to full scale) is used. It indicates the peak amplitude of a signal compared to the maximum which can be handled by a device without distorting.


Human Perception of Loudness


The human ear perceives different frequencies in varying ways – we are most sensitive to frequencies between 2 to 4 kilohertz. This plays a significant role in how we perceive loudness.

One can have two sound waves with the same amplitude, but the one at a frequency of 3kHz will sound louder than one at 100Hz, despite them being the same volume technically. This is due to our ears’ increased sensitivity to certain frequencies – resulting in a higher perceived loudness.


Factors Influencing Perceived Loudness


In addition to the frequency and amplitude of the sound, several other factors such as duration, the listener’s hearing ability, distance from the sound source, and ambient noise level can significantly impact the perceived loudness.

Perceived loudness also increases with the duration of the sound. Shorter sounds are often perceived to be quieter than longer sounds, even if the amplitude or frequency is the same. Again, this shows how our hearing system works in complex ways.


Measurement of Perceived Loudness


The subjective nature of perceived loudness makes it tough to measure in an accurate and standardized way. However, scientists and audio professionals often use the unit “phon” to measure perceived loudness. The phon scale takes into account the frequency response of the human ear, providing a more accurate picture of loudness as we perceive it.




Understanding the concept of perceived loudness can be very helpful, especially for audio and acoustics engineers, as it provides insights into how the human ear interprets sound. This knowledge allows for better mixing, mastering, and overall sound design, therefore creating sounds that are more pleasing to the listener.