Acoustics

How restaurants got so loud

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Kate Wagner, writing for The Atlantic Monthly, discusses the architectural and interior design changes that make restaurants so loud. At the moment, restaurants are full so there is no economic incentive for restaurateurs to make them quieter. Just as there was no economic incentive for restaurateurs to make restaurants smoke-free.

In many restaurants, ambient noise is high enough to cause auditory damage. And in most others, it is high enough to make it impossible for anyone with hearing loss, which includes most Americans over age 65, to participate in conversations.

I used to think that if enough patrons complained about restaurant noise, the restaurateurs would make restaurants quieter. But now I think that, as with getting smoke-free restaurants, legislation is needed.

Think globally, act locally. If anyone has a friend or family member serving on a local city council or town meeting, please ask them to take action to make restaurants quieter.

I can guarantee that people will still patronize restaurants when they are quieter. In fact, I think business will probably increase when people see that they can enjoy their steak frites without a side order of hearing loss.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Open plan offices, what are they good for?

Photo credit: K2 Space licensed under CC BY 2.0

Absolutely nothing. And so the collaboration lie falls, as research by two Harvard student researchers shows that “although companies are increasingly calling for barriers in the workplace to be removed, staff are less likely to speak to fellow employees when they can constantly see them.”

A fascinating study about restaurant noise

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Restaurant noise is a problem for patrons trying to converse with their dining companions, and a common complaint in the Zagat survey.

When ambient noise is loud, people raise their voices to increase the speech to noise or signal to noise ratio to help others hear what they are saying. This creates a positive feedback loop, where everyone increases how loud they are speaking, until it’s so loud that no one can understand anything being said. The phenomenon, called the Lombard effect or cocktail party effect, has been known for a long time.

This study in the world’s most prestigious acoustical journal, the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, adds to our knowledge of how restaurant noise affects understanding of speech. The researchers studied speech in a sound booth at different ambient noise levels. The sound level of speech increased as ambient noise increased. Subjects reported disturbance of speech beginning at 52.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA), with vocal effort beginning to increase at 57.3 dBA. The researchers noted that as background noise increased, it triggered a decrease in the willingness to spend time and money in a restaurant. The researchers concluded that restaurants should have ambient noise levels of 50-55 dBA. That’s a much lower sound level than that in most restaurants.

The study is quite technical, and I have two quibbles with it.

First, it was done in a sound booth. That is ideal for research, but I would be interested to see the study replicated in a real or simulated restaurant environment.

Second, the average age of the subjects was 21, with a range from 18-28. I would like to see the study repeated, even with the same methods, in a population age 58-68, with an average age of 61, or even 68-78, with an average age of 71.

I suspect the findings would be similar, but the decibel numbers would be significantly lower.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Restaurant noise is still a problem

Photo credit: Navjot Singh licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This recent article in the Chicago Tribune discusses the problem of restaurant noise, and what can be done to solve it.

Controlling restaurant noise can be a challenge. There has to be a balance between a reasonable amount of noise, and the ability of patrons to converse each other, but not so much quiet that everyone can hear what others are saying at the next table.

Some restaurant noise is unavoidable, e.g., the conversation of patrons, noise from the street, and the clatter of dishes at the tables, but kitchen noise can be isolated by an interior window if a visible kitchen is desired, and background music doesn’t have to be turned up to rock concert levels.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to restaurant noise. But acoustic science is up to the challenge and quieter restaurants are entirely feasible.

DISCLOSURE. Dr. Fink serves as Medical Advisor to SoundPrint, which is mentioned in this article.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Silence, please! Is it really possible to mute the world?

Photo credit: Kat Jayne from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In a word, no. But this fascinating essay mentions a 1957 science fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke predicting a machine that does that, and now scientists are working on actualizing that idea.

We’ll see how successful they are, and of course how much the new technology costs. But it seems to me that it’s much simpler to use existing technologies, or even just to enforce existing noise ordinances, than to try to develop a whole new technology. Acoustic technology is highly developed. Reduce noise at the source by design and material choices, and if that can’t be done, insulate, isolate, reflect, or contain the sound. And laws to reduce harmful and unwanted noise have long existed, including building codes, zoning codes, federal laws about vehicle mufflers, local laws about horn use, etc.

As noise pioneer Arline Bronzaft PhD wrote many years ago, it’s a matter of will, not of way, to make the world a quieter and more enjoyable place for all.

I sent these remarks to Dr. Bronzaft as a courtesy, to make sure she wanted to be quoted and to make sure I got it right. She replied with a wonderful insight: people don’t want silence, they want quiet so they can hear others talk, hear the raindrops fall, hear birds singing.

Of course, she’s right!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Should appliance makers pay more attention to sound?

Oh look, an orchestra.

We would say yes, but no to singing washing machines.  While we appreciate sound artist and designer Yuri Suzuki’s desire to “‘propose ways for sound to not turn into noise but rather help enhance harmony and comfort” in our surrounds,” can we suggest that designers consider reducing the whirrs and rumbles of domestic appliances, allowing us to enjoy our homes in quiet?

Technological solution no substitute for governmental action

Introducing open window noise cancellation technology. The Daily Mail (sigh, we know) reports that “scientists” have created “[a] window that can reduce noise pollution by 50 per cent, even when open.” If you click the link, be prepared to fight through the visually noisy Daily Mail site to get to the short answer.  Namely, researchers essentially are using “active noise control” technology like that “found in many high-end noise cancelling headphones.” Makes sense, as do the claims that this device–which the developers claim uses very little electricity–will save money as people can open windows again to help cool a space rather than rely on air conditioning.

Technology is great, and if this device works as claimed, no doubt many people will gratefully buy them. But maybe we should be demanding that our local governments fulfill their responsibility to manage our cities and towns by regulating noise instead of resorting to the gadget du jour? Because this solution can only be enjoyed by those lucky enough to have the means to employ it, or, as Futurism put it: Noise-Cancelling Windows Are Perfect For People Already Rich Enough To Find Quiet in the City.

 

 

The only instance where having noisy neighbors is a good thing

Photo credit: Anker A and Grave S licensed under CC BY 3.0

Noisy shrimp may be helping gray whales find their prey.  Jes Burns, OPB.org, writes about snapping shrimp, a variety of shrimp researchers at Oregon State University have heard, but not seen. How do these shrimp make so much sound?  Burns writes:

There’s a popping static created by thousands of shrimp claws pushing out jets of water at extremely high speed. The speed and disturbance create a tiny bubble that immediately collapses, creating a noise so loud and strong it can to stun prey a few inches away.

The researchers noticed that “the rocky areas where the shrimp live are also home to swarms of tiny zooplankton that whales love,” which made them wonder whether the whales use the shrimp as a tool to find food since they use sound to find prey. More study will be done to determine whether the hypothesis is correct.

And if, in the interim, you want to hear was thousands of snapping shrimp sound like, click below:

Listen to “What Snapping Shrimp Sound Like” on Spreaker.