Table of Contents
General Alarm Technology
An electronic audible alarm produces an audible warning sound using electronic means. This is in contrast to electro-mechanical alarms that produce sound by mechanical means. Examples of electro-mechanical alarms include the old clapper type alarm clocks, school bells, and car horns. Examples of applications that use electronic audible alarms include smoke detectors and microwave ovens.
Buzzers, beepers, audible signals, piezo’s, sounders, alerts, audio alarms, indicators, transducers, and various combinations of these terms (audio alerts, piezo indicators, etc.).
Audible alarms work by using electronic components to convert the user’s input voltage into an appropriate oscillating signal that drives a metal sounder diaphragm. This metal sounder diaphragm then physically flexes up and down producing air pressure waves that the human ear interprets as sound. For a more detailed description, please read the Article titled, “Audible Alarm Basics” and see Technical Application Guide, "Piezoelectric Alarm Operation".
Sound level is measured in decibels (abbreviated dB). The dB scale is an arbitrary scale that reflects the loudness of the sound that is being measured. It ranges from 0 dB (threshold of hearing) to 130 dB (threshold of pain). For a better understanding of the decibel sound level scale, see Technical Application Guide, "Decibel Sound Level Scale".
The audible alarm should be at least 10 dB louder than the ambient back ground noise so that it can be easily heard. You can estimate the ambient background noise by using the chart found in the Technical Application Guide, “Decibel Sound Level Scale" or you can use a sound level meter to measure the actual ambient noise level.
Every time the sound level increases by 10 dB, it will sound twice as loud to the human ear. For example, an alarm specified as 90 dB at 2 feet will sound half as loud as one specified as 100 dB at 2 feet.
Sound level falls off over distance. We intuitively know this because we have to talk louder (or even shout) when people are farther away. The rule of thumb is that every time the distance doubles, the sound level drops off by 6 dB. For example, if an audible alarm measures 60 dB at 2 feet, by the time it reaches 4 feet, it will only be 54 dB. By the time it reaches 8 feet, it will only be 48 dB, and so on.
Unfortunately, there is no one standard distance for specifying the sound level for audible alarms. However, there are some common distances such as 2 feet (60 cm), 1 foot (30 cm), and 10 cm (4 in). An excel spreadsheet has been developed to convert among the most common distances used. The link for the spreadsheet is in our TECHINCAL RESOURCES webpage.
For example, if you want to compare an alarm that is specified as 100 dB at 10 cm and one specified as 88 dB at 2 feet, you must choose one distance that you want to use to compare the parts. Using the distance conversion spreadsheet, you would find that 88 dB at 2 feet equates to 103 dB at 10 cm, so the alarm specified as 88 dB at 2 feet is actually louder than the other one when they are compared apples to apples.
Most people can only distinguish a sound level change only when it increases or decreases by 3 decibels. For example if a person was listening to an audible alarm that changed from 90 to 92 dB, that person would most likely say that the alarm did not get louder. If the sound level changed from 90 dB to 93 dB, the person would say that the sound level is slightly louder. If the sound level changed from 90 to 96 dB, the person would say that the sound level is significantly louder. If the sound level changed from 90 to 100 dB, the person would say that the sound level is twice as loud as before.
dB is the abbreviation for decibels which is how the sound level of audible alarms is measured. The “a” in dBa means that the sound level was measured on an A-Weighting scale. The A-Weighting scale was developed to compensate for the fact that the human ear is not a perfect microphone. By applying the A-Weighting scale to sound level measurements, you put the different frequencies (pitches) that the audible alarms produce on an even basis (i.e. comparing apples to apples). Mallory always uses A-Weighting for their sound level measurements, but not all audible alarm manufacturers are this diligent.
UL Listed means that a piece of equipment has met the requirements spelled out by UL for that type of equipment. UL Recognized means that the individual component has met the requirements spelled out by UL for that type of component. The main difference is that equipment is UL Listed while components are UL Recognized. Since Mallory alarms are components, they are only required to be UL Recognized in order to be used in UL Listed equipment. Check Mallory's UL or cUL on-line Yellow Cards in the TECHNICAL RESOURCES webpage to determine which alarms are UL or cUL Recognized and therefore can be used in UL Listed equipment.
Mallory is not aware of anyone who has ever had a shelf life issue with our alarms. That being said, some alarm models contain aluminum electrolytic capacitors. The recommended shelf life for these capacitors is 5 to 10 years depending on how they are used. Our application of these capacitors is not especially sensitive to the shelf life issues of these components, so we would expect that they would last 8-10 years or longer in our alarms just sitting on the shelf (no voltage applied during that time).
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