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Blog>The Quietest Place on Earth - Orfield Labs
Neil Middlemiss 10:37 AM 12-18-2007


In a world where something is always happening, people are always moving, and equipment is always buzzing, most people don't know what silence really is. But in Minnesota, real silence can be found in a room. In fact, the anechoic chamber found at Orfield Laboratories Inc. is the Quietest Place on Earth, as awarded by the Guinness Book of World Records.

[more]


How does one achieve The Quietest Place on Earth? Start with a room within a room, within a room: the Orfield Labs six sided anechoic chamber is a small room floating in a pit on I-beams that are on top of springs. A five sided chamber of identical construction surrounds it on the edge of the pit. Both chambers are made of double wall steel-insulation-steel. The anechoic chamber was manufactured by Eckel, the largest anechoic chamber builder in the country.

Both steel chambers are held within a larger room that was built with solid one foot thick concrete walls and ceiling panels. The smaller room is filled with 3.3 feet thick fiberglass acoustic wedges. This approach led to the anechoic chamber found at Orfield Labs being measured by engineers on January 21st of 2004 at negative 9.4 dB (with A-weighting), thus earning it the title of Quietest Place on Earth. By comparison, the low threshold for human hearing is considered to be 0 dB.


Silence is a truly rare thing. All reverberation is removed? all sounds that aren't coming from your own body disappear. After a few moments in the anechoic chamber, you'll begin to feel a touch jumpy. Hearing your heart beat, your blood pulse, the sound of your own ear buzzing and your body functioning like you've never heard before has a tendency to be a bit unnerving. And in complete silence, you lose all sense of space and surroundings. The absence of reflected sound and reverberation makes "feeling out" the room impossible.

The anechoic chamber is federally certified by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) under their NVLAP (National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program) This certification is the reason that Guinness accepted the claim and it is the only certified anechoic chamber (other than private corporate chambers) in the U.S.


Orfield Labs has a very interesting history beyond the anechoic chamber. They purchased Sound 80, a studio where Bob Dylan once recorded tracks for his comeback album "Blood On the Tracks". Sound 80 went on to become the first multi-track digital recording studio. Orfield Labs is also behind a radical concept called Architectural Dynamics: variable lighting, sound, and temperature that can simulate different moods in the workplace, ideally leading to improved worker efficiency and satisfaction. Orfield Labs has a strong background in acoustic research for a wide range of products, including motorcycles, dishwashers and artificial heart valves.

All this makes Orfield Labs one of the coolest places to stop by in the Minneapolis area, and definitely the quietest.


*Thanks to Steve Orfield of Orfield Labs for providing the information contained in this article.

Doodaddy 11:31 AM 12-18-2007
So negative dB are possible? This I must google.
Dave Kay 02:34 PM 12-18-2007
Supposedly those chambers can even be painful to some people. Our ears aren't designed for that kind of environment.
lukas 02:41 PM 12-18-2007
I spoke with Steve Orfield on the phone and I could seriously talk with him for hours about what he does. Really nice guy and he's just full of extremely interesting information regarding audio.

He said they have an ongoing bet for a case of beer regarding the chamber. If someone can last 45 minutes in there by themselves with the lights off, then they get a case of beer. If I remember correctly no one has been able to make it past a half-hour yet.

Basically with such a lack of sound the body and mind start freaking out. Imagine your heart beat being the loudest thing in the room. He can go into much more detail than I, but I found that extremely interesting.
Doodaddy 06:31 PM 12-18-2007
I would like to give that a shot. Seems very intriguing.

They should be hired out for solitary confinement chambers. :P
aCiD 06:49 PM 12-18-2007
Doodaddy, remember bels are measured on a logarithmic scale. It's not negative sound, it's just less than 1 (on an absolute linear scale).

-dB is =1
Doodaddy 09:07 PM 12-18-2007
That I understood, but logic told me that an absence of sound would be 0dB. I wasn't thinking in terms of negative sound.
DonovanM 09:11 PM 12-19-2007
I think it would be easier if you thought of sound measurement in dBs as equivalent to temperature measurement in degrees. Especially Fahrenheit. 0 degrees Fahrenheit isn't the absolute lack of motion by molecules, -278F is. 0dB is absolute silence perceived by the human ear, as the article suggests.

Crazy stuff though... I'd love to give sitting in there a shot.
ydarg 08:15 AM 12-28-2007
sometimes i ponder if silence i.e. 0db is just a negative wave canceling out what you observe. meaning. that there is no absolute silence. just an opposite osolation at high. db which allows u to not perceive it. but its still there. intangible.
givmedew 07:36 AM 01-16-2008
Its funny that you are saying people cant last 45 minutes in there. I read about studies that suggest that people diagnosed w/ schizophrenia may have problems turning raw data such as unperceived sound into information about the surrounding they are in.

I have been in quite rooms and it is a very weird out of body feeling while you are in the room. You do not sound the same. The person you are talking to does not sound the same. Also the complete lack of reflection makes it hard to even pinpoint sounds that are being created in the room.

I don't see how that room could make you run out of it after 45 minutes especially someone who has a strong will. But Im sure it would not be a fun experience.
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