Almost everyone reading this knows that guns are loud. As we’ve discussed in articles previously, a single gunshot will cause permanent hearing damage. Will suppressors change that and make guns Hollywood quiet?
Sound levels are measured in decibels (dB). The measurement scale is logarithmic and the general rule of thumb is that every 3 dB is a doubling of sound intensity. So for example, if you were to compare a rifle that has a db reading of 145 dB vs one with 148 dB, the one with 148 dB gunshot would be twice as intense as the one with 145 dB. This is a difficult concept to put into practice as what each individual hears is somewhat subjective.
To make this easier, I created a scale of references for how the loud situations we commonly encounter actually register in dB’s. I thought about doing a video comparing different sounds, but video cameras have a difficult time showing the difference between sounds. They have built-in compression and limiters that tend to make all sounds similarly loud. They’re not a good reference for the comparison of suppressors or sounds.
Any sound over 140 dB will cause pain and permanent ear injury at a minimum. If you limit it to an impulse or impact, 140 dB is the bare minimum that you could argue an impulse or gunshot might be hearing safe.
Most firearms are between 140-175 dB
150 dB – Jet taking off at 25 meters
140-150 dB – Firecrackers
130 dB – Thunderclap
120 dB – Chain saw
The CDC claims that constant sounds over 110 dB cause hearing loss in less than two minutes.
110 dB – Shouting, Live rock concerts, Automobile horn at 1 meter, Steel mills, Riveting machines, Jackhammer
Sounds that are constant, like a stereo, and between 105 and 110 dB can cause hearing loss in less than 5 minutes.
105-110 dB – Snowmobiles, Jet flyover at 100 feet
The CDC says that sounds that are 100 dB cause hearing damage after 15 minutes.
100 dB – Car horn at 16 feet, Stadium-style football games, Jet flyover at 1000 ft, Motorcycles, Farm tractor
90 dB – Boeing 737 at one nautical mile, Motorcycle at 25 feet
80 dB – Garbage disposal, Freight train at 15 meters, Propeller plane flyover at 1000 ft.
70 dB – Freeway 50 ft from pavement edge at 10 a.m., Vacuum cleaner, washing machine
60 dB – Normal conversation
30 dB – A whisper
20 dB – Ticking watch
10 dB – Breathing
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Those sounds should give you some reference for comparison purposes.
Earplugs and hearing muffs give NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) ratings. For example, many over-the-ear muffs are 22 dB NRR. That means that they reduce the noise by 22 dB. So a 16 inch AR-15 unsuppressed is 165 dB, then 165 – 22 = 143 dB. Still pretty loud and likely not enough to completely prevent hearing damage.
According to the American Suppressor Association, most suppressors, on average, reduce decibels by between 20-35 dB (check the individual specs for each suppressor).
A 16 inch AR-15 suppressed with supersonic ammunition will be around 132 dB which makes it impulse hearing safe but certainly not silent (thunderclap).
A 9mm pistol shooting 147g subsonic will be around 126 dB (chainsaw).
With the smallest and quietest calibers, like an integrally suppressed .22, you’re still going to be around 110 dB’s (auto horn or shouting).
A lever action Red Ryder BB gun is 97 db.
To answer the question, do silencers make guns silent, the answer is a resounding No. Even if you could get a suppressor to suppress to 100 dB, which would be pretty impressive, it would still be as loud as a jet flyover at 1000 feet. You’re certainly going to be able to hear it.
The biggest and most important benefit of suppressors is to protect the hearing of the people shooting the guns. Silencers don’t make guns Hollywood whisper silent but they do drop them to levels that don’t instantly cause hearing damage.