If you’re fed up with shouting secrets across the table or leaving a meal with your ears ringing, there’s an app for that. SoundPrint from founder Greg Scott crowdsources decibel readings from users and generates a rating from quiet to very loud, giving people who’d prefer less din with their dinner some guidance.
Scott works in finance and is an analyst. SoundPrint became is his passion project. “The app started because I have hearing loss and when dating in New York City, it was very important to me to find quieter spots,” he says. “When I was struggling to sometimes hear what people were saying, it made me more cognizant of the issue.”
His lightbulb moment came after he started taking decibel measurements on his smartphone and recording results in a notebook, generating a “quiet list” he’d send to friends with hearing loss and friends with normal hearing who kept requesting the information.
Though his mission with the app was initially to help others with hearing loss or people with sensory disorders like autism, the majority of users have normal hearing. “They love going out, but they’re tired of yelling,” Scott says. The app launched in April and so far it’s caught on most in New York, Chicago, and D.C. There have been 40,000 “reviews” tallied so far using the following scoring system:
Seventy decibels or less is quiet, safe for hearing, and great for conversation; 71-74 decibels is moderate, safe for hearing, and feasible for conversation; 76-80 decibels is likely safe for hearing but difficult for conversation; and 81 decibels or more is very loud and could contribute to hearing loss.
City Paper took SoundPrint for a spin last night at restaurants in CityCenterDC between 6 and 8 p.m. and found that Momofuku CCDC was the loudest at an an average of 80 decibels, followed by Centrolina at 78, DBGB Kitchen and Bar at 75, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse at 74, and Fig & Olive at 73.
To achieve the best possible reading, Scott says to hold your phone away from talkers at the table, record for at least 15 seconds, and make sure there aren’t any objects immediately surrounding your phone’s microphone, such as a glass of water. In addition to obtaining a decibel reading, the app lets you submit additional feedback such as whether tables are too scrunched together or whether the restaurant is well-lit—something of critical importance to the hearing impaired.
If a decibel reading returns an alarming result, Scott recommends bringing it up with the restaurant’s manager. “Most of the time they’ll be responsive,” he says. “Maybe only 2 or 3 percent of the time does management not accommodate a request.”
Scott emphasizes that he’s not trying to turn restaurants into libraries, but notes that there are some simple steps restaurants can take to make their dining rooms more safe and appealing such as controlling the volume of background music and installing some design elements.
What he’s found so far has been illuminating. “When we started digging into this, we realized we had interesting data that no one had compiled,” Scott says. One particular study of 2,300 New York City restaurants found that 78 was the average decibel score. They segmented the data by ethnic cuisine and found that Mexican, American, Spanish, Mediterranean, and Korean restaurants were the loudest while Indian, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants were the quietest.
Scott also publishes digital “quiet lists” based on the crowd-sourced data and personal experiences. He’s tackled eight cities so far and that number will climb to 15 in the coming months. The District’s list isn’t out yet, but the following restaurants already made the cut: 1789 Restaurant, Plume, Iron Gate (patio), Cedar, Bombay Club, Siroc, Trattoria Al Volo, New Heights, Obelisk, and Opaline.
As for his end goal, Scott hopes SoundPrint helps make people aware of the dangers of noise. “People in their 60s and 70s start to lose their hearing now, but the younger generation may start losing their hearing in their 40s and 50s,” he says. “Those are prime earning years.” Ideally he’d like to see venues adjust their decibel reading levels by two or three points. “The step now is increasing noise pollution awareness, and restaurants are the perfect place to do it.”
If Scott had one wish, it would be that restaurant critics throughout the country include decibel counts in their reviews. Post critic Tom Sietsema already does it.