Baby, saxophone or jack-hammer, which is worse?

Here's one for your blog and/or anyone you may know who may know about this...

Now I'm a dad of a newborn, my spouse is concerned about our baby being in the same room when I'm playing and it being too loud and damaging his ears. I'm told that adult e
ars can comfortably deal with sound up to 90 decibels (we could be way off on that, I’m not sure) and that that should be ok for babies. My question is does a saxophone's average decibel level at a comfortable/reasonable distance between player and the another person go above that? I play tenor with a 9 metal otto link tone master... but still in my band I'm not able to really be heard above the guitar amps and drums, etc. without a mic, unlike the trumpet and bone. I need to report back to my baby's momma on this. Any help you could provide would be awesome.
Thanks homie!

Thanks for the good question Adam. I was just talking to a friend about this very question. He thought that his Jumbo Java mouthpiece was blowing out his ears. I found some interesting answers to your question. Babies do have more sensitive hearing due to smaller ear canals, the decibel levels that they can take are slightly lower than adults. That said, a babies cry can easily hit 115 on the decibel meter, far above the safe level of 90 decibels. Saxophones aren't much louder than 100 decibels, maybe an Otto Link metal 9 might get you up to 105 decibels if you play triple forte. Adults can take 90 decibels for up to 8 hours safely. If you were to practice for 8 hours at triple forte in the same room with a screaming baby then you both should wear some good earplugs. Hearing loss is very common among musicians, and you would think babies, but there are ways to prevent it. Invest in some good earplugs made for musicians, these will allow you to hear well enough to play while protecting your hearing. If you're playing in the same room with your baby at a mezzo-forte for an hour or two at a time, your baby should be fine as long as you don't blast or play for hours at a time. If you want to be overly cautious you might consider using some wax in your baby's ears and earplugs in yours. Remember that cute little baby of yours can do more damage to your hearing than a jackhammer, so next time you're changing a diaper you may want to think about putting in some earplugs. It seems like you should put earplugs in a crying baby's ears too.

Don't take chances with your hearing! Be especially careful when you go into the recording studio. My teacher Ray Brown had his hearing severely damaged by a bad engineer's headphone mix.
Don't wait until your ears hurt before taking action. Hearing damage can be almost instanteous or it can be cumulative over years. Either way, musicians can't afford any hearing loss. DCV

Question: Which sound has greater potential to damage your hearing - a baby's cry or a jackhammer? If you answered the former, a baby's cry, you were right, according to information provided by a representative of the Center for Hearing and Health.

At 115 decibels, the sound of a baby's cry can begin to cause hearing damage to a person next to the child after just 15 minutes, reported Dorie Watkins, an industrial audiologist for the Center for Hearing Health. The jackhammer doesn't quite measure up, measuring "only" 105 decibels, she noted; but that level of sound also can cause damage to the inner ear after one hour, according to medical and science standards.

Decibel Levels of Daily Noises

NIOSH has compiled a list of the decibel measurements (dBA) for common noises you might be exposed to each day at home, work or during recreational activities. A decibel is a unit that expresses intensity or power. See what your exposure is to unsafe noises with some of the following examples:


  • 50 dBA - Refrigerator
  • 50-80 dBA – Electric shaver
  • 50-80 dBA – Electric shaver
  • 60-95 dBA – Hair dryer
  • 75-85 dBA – Flushed toilet
  • 80 dBA – Ringing phone
  • 110 dBA – Crying baby
  • 135 dBA – Noisy squeeze toys


  • 40 dBA – Quiet office/ library
  • 65-95 dBA – Power lawnmower
  • 90-115 dBA – Subway
  • 105 dBA – Snow blower
  • 120 dBA – Ambulance
  • 140 dBA – Airplane take-off
  • 180 dBA – Rocket launching from pad


  • 70 dBA – Freeway traffic
  • 95-110 dBA – Motorcycle
  • 110 dBA – Car horn
  • 117 dBA – Football game (stadium)
  • 150 dBA – Firecracker
  • 157 dBA – Balloon pop
  • 170 dBA – Shotgun


  • 0 dBA – Softest level the human can hear
  • 10 dBA – Normal breathing
  • 60 dBA – Normal conversation
  • 110 dBA– Shout in the ear
  • 120 dBA – Thunder
How Much is Too Much?

NIOSH states that the maximum amount of time a person can be exposed to 85 dBA without experiencing hearing damage is 8 hours; this is the average level of noise a person hears every day. However, continuous exposure to 85 dBA beyond the 8-hour limit will cause hearing loss. If a person is exposed to level above 85 dBA, the risk of hearing loss increases in a shorter amount of time. The maximum time allowed for 110 dBA (e.g. a crying baby) is 1 minute 29 seconds. If a person is exposed to a noise that has a measurement of 140 dBA (e.g. airplane departure), immediate inner ear damage would result.

How loud are the activities that you enjoy?

Some Examples of Dangerously Loud Recreational Activities

  • Noise levels at video arcades can be as high as 110 dBA.
  • Firecrackers create sound levels from 125 - 155 dBA at an average distance of 10 feet.
  • Sound levels at live music concerts can be measured at 120 dBA and beyond.
  • The noise level of gunshots can be measured at 150 dBA -167 dBA and hearing loss can result from just a few shots of a high powered gun, if appropriate hearing protection is not worn.
  • Noise levels at movie theaters have been measured up to 118 dBA.
  • Sound levels in health clubs and aerobic studios can be as high as 120 dBA.
  • Personal stereo systems with headphones produce sounds as loud as 105 - 120 dBA if turned up to maximum levels.
  • Sound levels at a sporting event can be measured up to 127 dBA.
  • Motorboats emit sound levels ranging from 85 - 115 dBA.
  • Motorcycles have been measured at levels ranging from 95 - 120 dBA.
  • Noise levels of snowmobiles are as high as 99 dBA.
  • Many children's toys emit sounds which are measured at 135 dBA -150 dBA.
  • Noise levels from 'Boom Cars' have been measured at 140dBA and beyond."


MonksDream said...

Hey Dave,

This is a really interesting posting. I had heard that the trombone was the loudest band instrument, but after doing some googling, I discovered an article at: http://www.unt.edu/northtexan/archives/p01/thesoundofhealing.htm
that maintains that the lead trombone in the big band suffers the most noise exposure, of 85-114 decibels, from sitting in front of the lead trumpeter (isn't that a surprise uh NOT!) There's some other interesting stuff I've read that loud sub-woofer type noise can damage your internal organs and that, those ravers who combine ecstasy (which not surprisingly kills brain cells,) kill them at an exponentially greater rate when combining the experience with flashing lights and the loud thump thump dooka dooka, that they like to listen to. Which is probably why I never became a raver, and have had a couple of funny experiences accidentally showing up at raves for the late night session, thinking it would be some type of jam session.

cheers, Bill

Adam said...

Wow! Thanks David. I couldn't ask for a better response anywhere else. You're right: a crying baby over your shoulder during a burping procedure is some serious loudness! My boy's got lungs! - Adam

My band did a blog entry for us on Nov. 28th at uptones.com

Anonymous said...

Ponder this. You've been living on a dirt road way out in the country with five neighbors around all your life. Environment noise is 40dB, if that - complete silence. Your neighbors are peaceful, quiet folk. A business man defrauds the government into building a pond wetland under the purpose of preserving wildlife and nature. Then he plants baby ducks and all the children feed them and take pictures as a class project; giving every bird a name. Hunting season comes and sixtten "Land Rovers hunters" encircle the pond meters from their vehicle and start blasting away. Visiting ducks (suckers for a non-flying decoy, living duck) create sport as some fly. The others are just shot in the water. My wife and I are wakened by this gunfire, 150 meters away, as it seems to go on forever and ever. The noise level was measured at 79dB, but was further away from the real distance normally where they shoot. It was raining and wind direction was off to our right. We are told that 79 dB is acceptable for a firing range (because it only happens now and then. So my home, after living here all my life in the peace of a valley my parents settled in, is now considered a shooting range and legally this man can continue shooting (as he said on film; "Until we have killed every duck!"). Local authorities spent tax dollars to give this man an income, as he advertises, seeking out hunters (for a price) to go duck hunting. I live now in the Valley of Death as this man has destroyed the envoronment, slaughtered wildlife and traumatized the children, but 79 db is acceptable. WHAT?! A telephone is 80dB, but you can shut that off after the first or second ring. But one cannot shut off sixteen hunters shooting multiple rounds. My one neighbor lives 15 meters from the shooting (I live 150), but a measurement of dB was not taken there because the business man rents that and will not give legal permission for a measurement there, because he knows the dB level would be at the threshold of pain level. Local authorities see nothing wrong with this man's enterprise. Any comments or suggestions?

David Carlos Valdez said...

Ouch, that sounds as bad as having triplets. How about having a friend pay to go duck hunting at you neighbor's pond while your getting a dB reading. Have that guy use the loudest legal possible gun available.
Have him shoot from the nearest spot to your property to make it even louder.

Other than that that you could join in and kill off those ducks once and for all as soon as possible....

Anonymous said...

wow! thanks Dave i figured out...........how i can waste my time in another way.