Noise floors


I'd like to address an issue that every single audiophile experiences, that being inherent/ambient steady state noise floors. Here we spend so much effort and money on our equipment in order to lower noise floor and increase resolution, transparency, only to lose some percentage of it on relatively high ambient noise floors. By this I mean the noise generated internally by home, hvac systems and so much more, add to that external, outside the home generated noise. Measuring over many years, over large variables, lowest readings of mid 20db to highest mid 50db in my dedicated listening room, these are steady state readings, any particular system in house may activate and or outdoor generated noises, which are even more variable, may kick in raising if from here.

And so, while we can address both these internal and external generated noise floors to some extent, we can't rid ourselves entirely of them. I presume there are widely varying levels of these noise floors for each of us, and it should be accounted for in reviews or evaluations of equipment. And could be reason for trusting only long term reviews, with varying noise floor levels within one's listening room, short term listening could have taken place during time of best or worse case room noise floor.

But mostly what bothers me is, here all this effort and money spent on equipment in attempt to lower noise floor, and so much of that lost by relatively ridiculous levels of steady state and/or ambient noise. Makes one think about getting closed back headphones, or moving out to extremely remote area to home with minimal internally generated noise. To think how much better  the very system I presently have would sound in that environment!


sns
I love this post!

I had a great conversation with a member of the Colorado Audio Society about noise pollution. It really is something that he, an engineer and audiophile, believes is something which is as much a collective problem as one we can individually solve.

Here's an interesting article on the health effects of noise pollution:
Is Noise Pollution the Next Big Public-Health Crisis?
Research shows that loud sound can have a significant impact on human health, as well as doing devastating damage to ecosystems.
By David Owen
May 6, 2019, The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/05/13/is-noise-pollution-the-next-big-public-health-crisis

https://www.nonoise.org
Here's a non-profit attempting to deal with the problem: https://www.nonoise.org/index.htm

Like so many other problems, it takes all of us working together to solve a big problem.
So true, just this morning measured my room. Steady state near 40db, with noises from active outdoor environment, into 60's. And I live in relatively quiet suburban area. Busy roads, tires on pavement, amazingly loud, can't imagine living close to that kind of noise disaster. Loud vehicles are so popular today as well, some of these measure well over 100db near vehicle.

Quietest time for me, winter, late at night, as long as wind isn't blowing, furnace off, snow really blunts outdoor noise. A nice snow storm, no vehicles moving, audio bliss.
Where is nonoise when really needed?
Modern double/triple vinyl windows are surprisingly effective at keeping out external noise.
We recently replaced our gas furnace (located in an interior room) with a 98% efficient model with a 2 speed fan. I knew it’d be quieter than our retired 24 year old unit but happy to find that we seldom hear it running. Same with the central air.
These are expensive home upgrades that will cut into an audio budget but they are money savers in the long term of energy efficiency with the side benefit of a quieter living space and increased property value.
Of course it helps if you live in a relatively quiet area to begin with.

Over the next few decades as electric vehicles are replaced by internal combustion should make a big difference. The real question is when will internal combustion get outlawed so the fast and furious idiots get off the freeway. We live a half mile from the freeway and those idiots produce so much noice it is unbelievable.

i suspect this transition will occur faster than anyone thought… well has to.
The neighborhood had a power outage two days ago. The silence was deafening. 

Frank
The real question is when will internal combustion get outlawed so the fast and furious idiots get off the freeway.
Never! Electric cars are too impractical.

Battery life span too short
Battery charge capacity too short
Time to recharge Battery Too long
Years spent in landfill after battery fails (6-10 yrs) too long
Extra load on an overworked electric grid too much.

Its nice and quiet at my house. And I really enjoy my Corvette’s V8 engine, especially on the curvy mountain roads.
@artemus_5 ‘

Time to wake up. 
Once again I really wish more could come and hear for themselves. It would be so much easier than having to explain over and over again how off base so many of these questions are.

Whatever it is you are calling the noise floor, if you think having it be dead quiet to the point you can't hear anything even with your ear up to a driver, mine ain't that. At a good listening level you can clearly hear the noise floor from the listening chair. Then the needle drops and the groove noise is even louder. So loud you forget all about the noise floor. Groove noise is the new noise floor.

Then the music starts and within a few minutes you are wondering what in the world you were thinking. The music seems to come from an absolute black background, so that when someone stops singing you hear the ambient echo reverb to infinity. Many times you can hear this even without the music stopping. A singer or instrument will light up the venue, and you will hear this same ambient signature. 

This is because the noise level is a MacGuffin, a red herring, a canard. At least it is the way you are thinking of it, which is not it at all. The noise level is not all this obvious hiss and whatnot. The noise level is ringing, resonance, distortion, all interwoven into the signal.

Better components, better wire, better vibration control, better field control, all these things together lower the noise floor. But not the weak concept of the noise floor as obvious hiss, A/C, traffic and stuff, but the strong meaningful noise floor of sounds that stop and start instantaneously as they should.

Clean up your system with an everything matters approach, you will be surprised how much better the noise floor will sound even without doing a single thing to the room. Not because this other stuff doesn't matter. But because it matters a whole lot less than you think.


Millercarbon gets it ...

Once the noise floor reaches a certain level, things stop being about the equipment and start being an actual performance in the room. 

Frank

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Same here ZERO there is no floor noise. Turn mine all the way up on any source including my phono stage. No hiss nothing. You can turn the Lpads all the way UP on my speakers (they can be a noisy), the treble and bass, all the way up, no noise from any driver at 1 foot..

You can hear me blowing on the stylus if I do that.. Otherwise, silence.

Routing usually fixes any issue I have.. Except the cable box.. POS noisy Power supply.

Even my C20 (Samra Touch) 60 year old Preamp is dead quiet..
DEAD quiet.. Good quiet matched valves.. Magic..
Where is nonoise when really needed?
I really wish I could add to the conversation but alas, I'm a byproduct of my environment and quite used to noisy, background, ambient noise pollution.

I've simply adjusted to my dilemma all these decades and you'd be surprised at how much one can lower the noise floor on ones system and still appreciate it. We humans are great at being human and can adapt to many a situation.

Yes, I'd love to experience a dedicated listening room with a tomb like noise floor but practically speaking, that's impracticable. And, a bit too extreme for may tastes. I can't think of any venue I've been too with live music where there was anything approaching such a thing.

Granted, I could do with a quieter place and have no distractions from the outside world, but I have to make do with what I have.

All the best,
Nonoise

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Ambient noise in my domiciles is from mid 20 to 50 just like the OP

The shops high 20s to 75 or more. There is a railroad and a shipping lane to Stockton and Sacramento under 1/4 mile away. Any Tule fog. LOL It’s loud.. Dead of summer HONK! No listening then or the heavy commute detours via by my house, train, tule fog, emergency sirens and overhead choppers.. Holy $hit it’s loud.

I got a neighbor I been torturing too, UP HIS AMBIENT, noise.. LOL
BUT I like his girlfriend.. She bakes me angle food cake..

Regards
@millercarbon, 

"Groove noise is the new noise floor." That is where I am at. Low 20's in DB measured in the room. Lifetime of playing around, career related, and hobby stuff got me to build a dedicated listening room that is quiet. In this hobby, there are unknowns, and there are unknown unknowns, but, we all know when it is noisy when we experience it:) 

Glad that I have not had to deal with any spurious noises, hisses, hum, EMI, RFI lately...only the loudness of the groove noise between musical tracks which I control with my volume setting. I have about 90 tubes in my system too.  
Some of you are totally misunderstanding what I'm saying. I am not talking about the noise floor of the audio system. This is ONLY about the noise floor of one's listening room. With the stereo system OFF, I can measure the in decibels on my decibel meter noise. Since I'm measuring noise that noise does exist in my listening room. Whatever that measurement is, is the ambient or steady state noise floor. Now, that steady state level of noise is not maintained long term, cars go by, gusts of wind, furnace turns on, etc. So now we have a higher level of noise which I can measure on my meter. So, the noise floor is a combination of noise your house generates and what outdoor environment adds.

For instance, some recent listening sessions have been interrupted by fire works, certainly my system masked that noise at higher volumes, but during quiet passages, boom, boom, boom. Wow, that really made for a great listening session, And you're trying to tell me the noise floor of my listening room doesn't matter, just increase the resolution of my system. Ok, if that gets your rocks off. Now, the fireworks thing is an extreme example, but there are many other noise events that may intrude upon listening sessions, some may be masked, others not, depends on volume of noise event and volume of audio system.

Bottom line is. there is a noise floor in listening rooms with audio systems off, there is a steady state or ambient level and there is an acute or short term level caused by short term events from within home and from external environment. And then there is a ratio of stereo system volume to listening room noise level, both the steady state and short term. This ratio is constantly changing based on setting of volume knob, dynamic changes in recording, and the short term and or ambient noise floor of room. The greatest ratio, or best case scenario would be when volume of system and music is greatest and room noise is lowest, worst case, soft passages in music, room noise level high. Now some music listened to at high volume and recorded at high levels and with high levels of compression may work for you with a crowed freeway next door. Would music from a small jazz ensemble or classical quartet recorded with high dynamic range work for you? Again, an extreme situation, however, this constantly changing or dynamic contrast between room noise and audio system volume is always present. Do you seriously believe none of these environmental noise events doesn't impact your listening environment and enjoyment of music!
Another thing, how much more ambient noise  is added when you measure ambient sound with your system is on, no music, just idling. Is it 15db, 20db, 5db, if it was you'd have one lousy system. I bet it adds virtually nothing, and I hear people complaining about hum and other residual sounds from systems. I guarantee you with my system in this state I'll hear virtually every single noise event from both indoor and outdoor sources that I'd hear with system off.
So, assuming there is a listening room noise floor, would a room with 0db ambient noise level be best, would it have to be an anechoic chamber? There have been a couple posts here with practical advice for lowering listening room noise levels, thank you. As for further measures within listening room, how about double layers of drywall with the best absorptive materials between walls, same with ceiling, cement slab floor. Any room treatments to try to limit external noise would likely be detrimental.

Another funny thing, some ridiculing this post are Schumann Resonator fans, a piece of equipment designed to mask earth's  background electromagnetic noise, shazam, a device used in audio systems to block ambient, steady state noise within listening rooms.
I think that is what most here are addressing. Ambient, Gear and Shock sound. The occasional noisier than usual car or helicopter or fog horn or gun shots or fireworks, or dog barking or the neighbor being a dick or Or OR.. LOL

Total noise is total noise, just like grove noise it's there just depends on the record, it's as simple as that.

I don't like dead quiet rooms that is for darn sure.. Clap test ready I say..
No heavy report, your close.
We live a half mile from the freeway and those idiots produce so much noice it is unbelievable.


Yeah, you may want to consider the wisdom of living so close to the freeway if you wanted quiet. 
Step One:  Install AC filter chokes in your components.  Plitron makes great chokes if you want to go all out.

Happy Listening.
I no longer experience noise. Whisper quiet split AC unit verses central air duct. Triple pane 4" thick windows. 3" thick solid wood door, sound proof walls and ceiling construction on concrete floor. I see the outdoors but never hear it. Even construction trucks passing by 50 feet away. Without music playing it can get spooky. I even recently had to add a screen door because the room is so sealed I have to aerate it a half hour once a day because the C02 levels get out of whack at the end of each listening session. It's always something.
Room geometry also matters to one's perception of noise. No, I don't know why, but that's what I experience: the HT is just as quiet as the listening room, but it's a different sonic space. It's quite obvious the moment you enter.
I live in a quiet area & my music room is in the basement of our house. It is absolutely quiet until my wife flushing the toilet. She does that a lot. 
Absolutely wonderful thread, really enjoyed reading everybody's thoughts.

As for me and my system, the next home that I buy, I will also make sure I build a dedicated listening room for my equipment.
@artemus_5    

"And I really enjoy my Corvette’s V8 engine, especially on the curvy mountain roads."
They are right. Ignorance is bliss.
That external noise floor is something I recently noticed is gone with my RAAL SR1a headphones. Which are really 2 speakers strapped to my ears. If you are a 2 channel person then you really need to hear these headphones. Drive them with a powerful 2 channel amp.

I went a little crazy a few weeks ago by setting up the RAAL system with the quietest gear I had. I used an Audience FrontRow speaker wire, 2 Benchmark AHB2 monos, and a CODA 07x preamp, with a couple of DACs that measured great (BM DAC3B and Gustard X26 Pro). By eliminating the external noise and reducing the internal noise to what seemed like 0, I heard some of the best sound from any system I have encountered.

My Benchmark gear is very quiet. So much so that I cannot hear any noise with my ear against the floor stander tweeter. The new Topping pre90 is a preamp I sometimes use when I want something quieter than the CODA 07x.
Speaking of vehicles, noise and internal combustion engines. I have 2021 Ducati Supersport S, Suzuki DRZ400 and 2011 Mustang GT modded to no end. They all make lots of noise, I may be guilty of imposing on someone's listening session. Still,I'm relatively tame when it comes to aftermarket exhausts, not obnoxiously loud.

As for electric vehicles, was up Northern MIchigan on Ducati, nephew on his Aprilia RSV4, got behind a Tesla X (1,020 hp) on a beautiful very little traveled winding and hilly road. The Tesla saw us behind him, decided to race, we got up to speeds well in excess of 100, fun times if you don't mind danger.  That Tesla is one torque monster, and that torque is always on tap. My nephew had to hit over 150mph to pass the Tesla, I'm not quite the risk taker my nephew is, I was happy to stay behind.
Don't laugh at electric vehicles, they will supplant the internal combustion engine, performance freaks need not fret. Sure, they don't make the sound and the diy mechanic (as I am) will likely not have much to work on. But they will outperform the internal combustion engine, offer more reliability, and be more durable. The present greatest defects, specifically range, charging time and available charging stations will be solved. I'm a gear head and not scared and or hateful of the electric car future. And then we'll have all that silence to behold, good for the listening room.
I live 4-5 miles from Nellis AFB. When they are doing exercises some of the jets make enough sound to rattle my windows.

I love it.
As I understand it, "noise floor" does not really refer to what the OP was asking about, which might better be described as "ambient noise." Millercarbon's comment is relevant to the concept of "noise floor," which refers to the capacity of one's system for resolving very subtle sounds--not just quiet sounds, but subtle sounds. The decay of a resonant acoustic after the performers stop playing. The difference in timbre between an oboe and an English horn. These subtleties are easier to perceive in a quiet environment, but a good system will resolve them in thrillingly audible ways even when there is a plenty of measurable ambient noise (for instance, surface noise from vinyl). 

In fact, there is a theory in psychoacoustics that a certain amount of low-level noise actually enables the brain to distinguish subtle differences better than complete silence would. I'm not at home at the moment, and can't tell you the name of this theory (I don't have my main laptop with me here in Dalmatia), but I think it's a plausible explanation for why so many people find vinyl to sound "better" than a digital signal that measures better.

That being said, the OP's question is still extremely important to happy audiophilia, IMO. Before we moved to our current house, which is on a mountaintop in the country and has a listening room with gorgeous acoustics (and ambient noise in the low 20db range), we lived in a house with a "great room" which shared the same space between the living room, where the stereo was, and the kitchen, where the refrigerator was. I eventually went shopping for a new fridge--it's being quiet the only important criterion. The salespeople were amused to be told that replacing my fridge would be the single best improvement I could make to my stereo system. And even now, I sometimes turn the HVAC system off when seriously listening. We have a very good, and very quiet HVAC system, but I still notice every time it comes on, and I can be distracted by it during quiet passages of music.

Of course ambient noises are distracting! Of course one would wish to limit them as much as possible. Serious lovers of "classical" music disdain the Hollywood Bowl, even though it's such a crowd pleasing venue: distant freeway noise, planes randomly flying overhead, etc. etc. There's no way to control an outdoor acoustic in a big city. Even the Ojai Music Festival, as wonderful as it is, has to deal with that problem, and is inevitably compromised by it. This, it seems to me, is what the OP is asking about. And yes, it makes perfect sense to control the extraneous noises one can control in one's environment. Hurray for quiet refrigerators! 

Ambient noise only becomes an issue above a certain level, although some noise is more invasive than other.

If you have an ambient noise problem arising either from your home or from outside, first big steer is to listen at night when noise is way down.

Second, choose the location of your room if you can.  Mine is in the basement of a stone built house.  With the system down my room is very very quiet.

If you have a/c, switch it off while listening, as in many theatres and concert halls.

Remember also that room treatments absorb sound coming from outside the same as sound coming from inside.
I do not understand all this, apart from identifying that if there is much snow on the ground outside, then the sound inside is great
The neighborhood had a power outage two days ago. The silence was deafening.

Frank

Others have said the same thing.  My view is you don't get many power outages!  I live in an area where they are common, and I assure you, after five minutes, every generator within listening distance fires up, including my own. It's like a symphony of bad lawn mowers.
Tyre/ road noise far worse than anything else for me (has got worse over the years with wider and lower profiles and more traffic)- no-one seems to have done much about it

Apart from that  the weekend motorbike groups with their stupid loud pipes.
I'm not really sure I agree on the greater the system resolution, the less ambient noise floor should matter. As I've attained ever increasing levels of resolution, the more these ambient noises bother me. I tended to listen at higher volumes when system less resolving. Also, as my system's dynamics, resolution, transparency have improved I"m listening to much wider range of music genre, greater macro and micro dynamics mean quiet passages are that much quieter (system wise), higher level of ambient noise means I can't make out those minute micro dynamics quite as well as the macro, this phenomenon is very noticed in my room and system. Lower ambient noise levels would allow that minutiae to be heard better. At the level of system resolution I'm talking about every single little link in chain matters. I'd suggest listening room may be single most important component in audio systems. Even though I have dedicated listening room that's been judiciously treated with room acoustic devices, I'd now consider my room to be the weak link in system.

And I often hear the old adage, my system sounds better late at night. Usually you hear cleaner AC as the reason for this improvement, I'd also suggest it may have as much to do with lower ambient noise floor in listening room. Much less human activity, all activity makes some level of noise.

As for the snow thing, do you know that snow can be an insulator, ever heard of snow forts, may save you if lost in wilderness. Tires over pavement much louder than tires over worn down snow, yes, new snow will make crunching sound, not worn down snow. And if piled up around house may reach quite high on first floor of house, this insulates the house somewhat. And then we have much lower traffic volume and decreased speed during snow events. For many of us, traffic noise is likely the bulk of what makes up this ambient noise level.
Don’t laugh at electric vehicles, they will supplant the internal combustion engine, performance freaks need not fret.
Not laughing at the elec vehicle. They have been with us since the cars beginning. They are as impractical as tits on a boar hog. Will they become more practical? Maybe. But I wonder what the consumer is going to react in 6-10 yrs when the battery has to be replaced. Besides the cost of the battery $5-10K plus installation, there will be the recycle fee for all those dangerous heavy metals which go into these batteries and will be filling the landfills at an alarming pace. Then there is the charging stations which will be powered by fossil fuels. So how much have we really lessened our dependence on fossil fuels? And how many other problems have we created? Meanwhile my wife’s Avalon beats the torque monster Tesla X in a 500 mile race with ease. But that’s the long view of things. We Americans don’t consider the long term results anymore.
i agree that in the grand scheme there's very little an individual can do to lower the "noise floor." you can control resonances in your room, you can install separate power lines, you can get the greatest cables ever, blah blah blah but outside of these things you're ultimately at the mercy of your broader environment. there's only so much you can control. i agree with the people saying it's a misguided concern.

 if someone who lives in midtown manhattan can manage to put together a wonderful sounding stereo system, and i'm mad because my neighbor in the burbs runs his lawnmower outside my window once a week, then it might be time to re-evaluate my goals with this hobby. or like the OP said, simply buy some killer headphones  
I have high frequency noise that is beyond annoying and I can’t find it or isolate it and that’s when not listening to music. Music is all that helps. Sometimes it stops. Find an article in the Atlantic about people living near server farms as an extreme example of this. They hear a high frequency comstant tone 24/7. It drove some crazy enough to move. And no ,my ears are ok. The rest I can deal with noise wise. 

@rickderuter


Seriously? That sounds terrible. You live in a house or apartment? Is it inside or outside? This cannot be good for you. I would be hunting it down.
“G.M. has set a goal of selling one million E.V.s a year by 2025. It also hopes to produce only electric cars and trucks by 2035.”


‘Ford promised that all of its passenger cars in Europe would be “zero-emissions capable all-electric or plug-in hybrid” by mid-2026, before ramping up its ambitions to be “completely all-electric by 2030”.”

”The government of Japan is looking to set a goal of ending sales of gasoline only fueled cars by the mid-2030s”

Hyundai Unveils EV Platform, Will Have 23 Global Electric Vehicles by 2025”

“INTRODUCING THE ALL-ELECTRIC FORD F-150 LIGHTNING”

I worked in Wuxi, China where most of the 7 million residents travel by motor scooter. All electric.





OP,
I get where you comin' from:
" This is ONLY about the noise floor of one's listening room. With the stereo system OFF"
My dedicated room with double walls and blah blah blah registers an
18 on my iPhone with the FREE NIOSH app.
It is so quiet that standing perfectly still 2-3 feet from the iPhone and exhaling gently as if you want to clean your glasses causes it to jump into the 20s.  That is freakin' quiet.
Go ahead gentleman tweak away, start with lowering the "noise floor"
of your environment.  Then and only then will you be able to hear what you are setting out to accomplish.  All the rest is just noise. 
Regards,
barts  
In order to mitigate or solve a problem, one must first identify that it is in fact a problem. Once identified as problem, you have a number of choices. You can ignore the problem, they say ignorance is bliss. You can admit there is a problem, decide there's nothing to be done to solve or mitigate, fixate on problem which brings suffering, at this point you can choose to keep on suffering or end it by not subjecting yourself to the suffering (give up the audiophile game). Finally, you can either solve or at least mitigate problem.


I've chosen to mitigate problem by choosing to listen at certain times of day, treating my room to minimize outside noise, minimize home generated noise. As for the remaining noise I can't eliminate, I've chosen the ignorance route. Sometimes putting things into the empty section of the brain is best choice.
Glad I have tinnitus, no more worries about that remaining noise you can't eliminate, it will always be there anyway 🙂

Worrying about what you cannot control seems to be a waste of time and it subtracts from enjoying one’s audio system.  If non-audio system ambient noise is bothersome then maybe headphones better, but like most/all things audio there are trade offs.  
I agree with barts.100%
Very interesting post and reply’s.

I live in a very quite area so I think and I am going to take some measurements tonight.

@baylinor way to make a positive out of that.
Glass half empty, glass half full, count me in for the latter.