Signal-To-Noise Ratio

Signal-To-Noise Ratio Explained

Gianluca Uncategorized 3 Comments

Here’s a familiar scenario.

You’re out for dinner with a group of people you haven’t seen in a while, and you’re excited to catch up with them. You’ve been looking forward to this dinner for weeks. You want to let your hair down and have a laugh, but the restaurant is NOISY. As soon as you sit down, you know it’s not going to be easy. But you’re determined. You put on your best smile and try to follow the conversation.

Jane, sitting next to you, picks up that you’re tense and asks: “It’s hard to hear in here, isn’t it?”

FINALLY someone understands how I feel.

“I struggle with noise, too,” she says. “It’s terrible, I can’t hear a thing.”

Then she turns to the table, and for the rest of the evening, she obviously hears EVERY SINGLE THING.

And you don’t.

Your partner-in-crime left you as quickly as she came.

What is the deal here? Did Jane just lie to you? Why did she say she struggles to hear when she seems to effortlessly speak to everyone at the table, even to the ones at the far end?

Thing is, people with perfect hearing need a lower Signal-to-Noise Ratio.

The Signal-to-Noise Ratio is the gap in decibels between the sound you want to hear (Signal) and the Noise, which is the sound you don’t want to hear, like ambient noise, or simply someone else’s voice in the room. The greater this gap (Signal much louder than the noise), the easier will be to hear what’s being said.

Let’s look at this table:

Signal-To-Noise Ratio Explained Table

The numbers are an indication to illustrate the concept. Let’s look at the Excellent section first. A 24db SNR might be in a 1-1 conversation in quiet, where you have a TV going in the background, but in general, the room is reasonably quiet, and the person speaking to you is close—closer than the TV.

As you see, the gap has to narrow A LOT for the person with perfect hearing to have poor understanding. While we hearing aid users start missing out much sooner.

This is why people like Jane hear less in a restaurant, but on a scale, she hears much better than us.

The SNR is one of the most important factors you need to be aware of if you want to hear better. If you find yourself struggling, think of ways to increase your SNR. Even a small change like asking the waiter to turn down the music in the restaurant, can make a big difference in your ability to hear enough to join in the conversation.

PS: this piece went out of my Friday newsletter. If you’d like to receive my next thoughts via email, click on this link to join.

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  1. Check out the SoundPrint app. It rates restaurants based on noise level. You can share your rating and see other people’s ratings.

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