My son is just about 8 months old. He has gone through a major step of his young life. He has left the comfort of his little crib next to his mummy for a proper big boy cot, in his own bedroom across the hall. Obviously, my wife and I are quite anxious about his well-being. One of our worries is the railway outside his window and the trains that whizz by days and nights. When MobileTechTalk was offered the opportunity to test the Dr Meter MS10, I happily volunteered for the review. As it happens, I am seriously considering replacing the windows in my son’s bedroom for triple glazed ones. Some sound measurements could very well impact our decision before we spend £1k or £2k worth of glassware. A novel use case!
The Dr Meter MS10 is a sound meter level. It measures how noisy an environment is, in decibels (dB). It comes with a (cheap) 9V battery. Normally, engineers and health inspectors use these type of devices to measure noise levels in factories, hospitals, theaters, etc.
The specifications of this product are as follow:
- Measurement range: 30 dB to 130 dB, at frequencies between 31.5 Hz and 8 kHz
- Accuracy: +/- 1.5 dB
- Resolution: 0.1 dB
The device contains 3 buttons:
- power on/off (crazy!)
- Data “hold” function
- Min/Max sound level measurement.
Basically, when you power on the device, the measurement begins and the sound level appears on the screen. The data is updated twice a second, and “holding” the data freezes the display. The Min/Max button gives you the ability to see the range of a given measurement. Overall, the device is very basic, which makes it extremely intuitive.
Acceptable noise levels and experiment
Now that I have got hold of that mighty device, it’s time to set up the conditions for my little experiment. According to the WHO’s Night Noise Guidelines (a long and fairly technical read, good luck if you want to deep dive into the noise science), here is a small table summarizing how noise levels can affect sleep.
|Decibel Level||Sounds Like …||Impact on Sleep|
|Under 30 db||A whisper, rustling leaves|
Although individual sensitivities and circumstances may differ, it appears that up to this level no substantial biological effects are observed
|30 to 40 db||A computer|
A number of effects on sleep are observed from this range: body movements, awakening, self-reported sleep disturbance, arousals. The intensity of the effect depends on the nature of the source and the number of events. Vulnerable groups (for example children, the chronically ill and the elderly) are more susceptible. However, even in the worst cases the effects seem modest
|40 to 55 db||A refrigerator|
Adverse health effects are observed among the exposed population. Many people have to adapt their lives to cope with the noise at night. Vulnerable groups are more severely affected.
|Over 55 db||A conversation|
The situation is considered increasingly dangerous for public health. Adverse health effects occur frequently, a sizeable proportion of the population is highly annoyed and sleep-disturbed. There is evidence that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases.
The experiment is simple: I will measure the sound level in my son’s room when a train goes by:
- if the sound level remains below 30 dB, we’ll stick to the existing double glazed windows
- if the sound level exceeds 30 dB, my wife and I will seriously consider buying triple glazed windows.
What will it be? The suspense is unbearable!
Using the Dr Meter MS10 in practice
Within seconds after opening the package, the device is ready to go. At a first glance, it is sturdy and inspires confidence. It does not look sexy. At all. I wouldn’t exhibit this in my front room. However, it definitely feels like a professional device. I would have expected some sort of box with it, although I guess this would have an impact on the price. No matter – it will end up in my toolbox next to the hammers and the screwdrivers.
After fiddling with it a bit, I turned the Dr Meter MS10 on, and… bazinga! The sound level never goes below 39.8 dB. I diligently went to my son’s room and furiously measured the noise in the room, including his snoring. Still 39.8 dB. Fair enough. I had higher expectations, considering he purrs like a kitten drowning in porridge.
A bit idle, I looked up the next train leaving the nearest station on https://www.nationalrail.co.uk. Apparently, I will have to wait a good 15 minutes to conduct the long awaited experiment. In the meantime, I downloaded a small and free “sound meter” application on my Android phone. As you would expect, the only viable course of action from here was to shout random words at both the phone and the MS10. Surprisingly enough, the phone and the MS10 make relatively close measurements (+/- 5 dB)… as long as the gobbledygook exceeds the 40 dB mark.
But here is the train. I quickly reset both sound meters and start the experiment:
- Dr Meter MS10: from 39.8 dB to 39.8 dB. True to itself!
- Phone: from 1dB to 33dB.
Unfortunately, the Dr Meter MS10 was not suitable for my needs and did not provide any conclusive answer to my initial problem. Neither did the free Android phone application. In all honesty, I do not really trust a random application with questionable calibration.
I am unsure why the Dr Meter MS10 showed no value lower than 40 dB. The specifications clearly mentioned a range from 30 dB to 130 dB, which is a surprising contradiction. However, I am no sound expert, and I suspect there are some technical subtleties I do not fully grasp.
Although I obviously find the product mildly disappointing, my (failed) experiment does not imply the Dr Meter Ms10 is a bad product. My conclusion is simply that this tool is not adequate to measure the sound levels in quiet environments. To be fair, Dr Meter’s marketing team describes the MS10 as the “perfect” tool to measure the sound levels in offices, theaters and factories. These environments tend to be noisier than babies’ bedrooms. In these contexts, I would expect it to do a better job. For the price (less than £12), you shouldn’t be taking huge risks.