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The Most Killer Speaker System in the World is for Rocket Science

The Netherlands' Large European Acoustic Facility has inadvertently become home to the most lethal soundsystem ever.

by Dan Wilkinson
Feb 27 2014, 2:10am
Engineer Kees van Zijtveldt standing beside the largest sound horn. Image: ESA

Having the loudest soundsystem around is how all great showmen have built their reputations: from the early dub reggae shows and pirate raves in the nineties, to those speakers with the sound that make you shit yourself. The ability to blast out the loudest sound is one of the best illustrations of how much power your music can hold, and now there's an unlikely contender for the loudest soundsystem in the world.

The Large European Acoustic Facility (LEAF) in the Netherlands has inadvertently become home to the most lethal soundsystem ever. They don’t strictly use it for music, instead blasting powerful, spectral noise to test if a rocket can withstand the sheer force of a takeoff. I ended up chatting to the project’s technical manager Riccardo Rinaldi, who talked me through a machine that could blow my ears off, and how good music can’t quite beat loud music.

What is the acoustic chamber used for?

Riccardo: It’s a big chamber, used to simulate the environment that a spacecraft will come into contact with. It’s an environment with a lot of noise, which no human could withstand.

Sounds dangerous. What’s the maximum it could go to?

154 decibels.

How loud would that actually be? I

t’s louder than a firecracker exploding right in your ear. If you were up close to a jet taking off, that would be wouldn’t be nearly as loud as we are. We are four times louder than that.

Second Galileo Full Operational Capability (FOC) satellite following acoustic testing simulating the extreme noise of a rocket launch Image: ESA

Well, we don’t know the full effects of what such high levels of sound would do to a person. But I’d take a guess that you’d explode by the ears. 

What would happen if I was in the acoustic chamber and I heard the sound at full blast?

Well, you’d already be dead from the lack of oxygen in the room with the amount of nitrogen that we have blown into it to simulate the launch off.

Okay, lets say I didn’t need to breathe.

Well, we don’t know the full effects of what such high levels of sound would do to a person. But I’d take a guess that you’d explode by the ears.

So, not like that Maxell commercial?

I haven’t seen that.

What kind of sound would the chamber make?

It’s just noise. You could connect an iPod to the overall amplifier, but the echoes going around the room might be too strong for anyone to truly hear. 

The Test Center of the European Space Agency (ESA), based in the Netherlands

If you could play any music over the soundsystem, what would you play?

I like the rock and pop music, so something like that.

Don’t you think it’d make a good attraction for people to come to?

If they could survive it, but it’s just noise? Why would they want that?

You obviously haven’t heard Tiesto’s latest song.

Even the shape of the noise we make isn’t natural.

How loud is music usually?

A music show should be around 80db, so we would be over 70db louder than them.

How does it feel knowing you have potentially the loudest soundsystem around?

That is not it’s purpose, but I guess it’s a good thing. We are the loudest!

This story originally appeared at Thump, our sister website at. You can follow Dan Wilkinson on Twitter here: @KeenDang

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