- Technical Blog From My Notebook

Sunday, June 19, 2016

VU and decibel meters

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In high-fidelity equipment, especially the more sophisticated amplifiers (“amps”), loudness meters are sometimes used. These are calibrated in decibels, a unit that you will sometimes encounter in reference to electronic signal levels. A decibel is an increase or decrease in sound or signal level that you can just barely detect, if you are expecting the change.
Audio loudness is given in volume units (VU), and the meter that indicates it is called a VU meter. Usually, such meters have a zero marker with a red line to the right and a black line to the left, and they are calibrated in decibels (dB) above and below this zero marker (ref fig).

The meter might also be calibrated in watts rms, an expression for audio power.
As music is played through the system, or as a voice comes over it, the VU meter
needle will kick up. The amplifier volume should be kept down so that the meter doesn’t go past the zero mark and into the red range. If the meter does kick up into the red  scale, it means that distortion is probably taking place within the amplifier circuit.

Sound level in general can be measured by means of a sound-level meter, calibrated in decibels (dB) and connected to the output of a precision amplifier with a microphone of known, standardized sensitivity (Fig. 3-13). You have perhaps heard that a vacuum cleaner will produce 80 dB of sound, and a large truck going by might subject your ears to 90 dB. These figures are determined by a sound-level meter. A VU meter is a special form of sound-level meter.

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