You might think the quietest place on earth is at the top of a mountain or at the south pole. Maybe your bedroom at night seems particularly quiet. Even in the quietest place you can imagine, there are still some noises, like distant sounds you can faintly hear or reverberations or echoes bouncing off the objects around you. The Guinness Book of World Records has an entry for the quietest place on earth, and the location may surprise you.
What’s the Quietest Place on Earth?
The quietest place on earth is actually a man-made room. It’s at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. This room is an “anechoic” chamber, which means it doesn’t create any echoes or reverberations. For example, if you clap your hands in the room, the sound dies immediately without echoing against the walls or bouncing back at you.
This anechoic chamber is used to test the sound quality and other noise coming from Microsoft products. Microphones, headphones, receivers, computers, tablets, gaming consoles, and speakers all get tested in this room. The absolute quiet lets developers test the sound quality, and hear any unwanted clicking, buzzing, or humming coming from the products.
Other anechoic chambers in independent labs are used to test many kinds of products like car parts, appliances, heart valves, sleep-apnea machines, and even hearing aids.
What’s the Sound of Silence?
Out in the real world we’re never truly in silence. There are always some faint noises in the environment around us. But when you step into the anechoic room, even the air pressure is reduced, and there are absolutely no detectable sounds. The remarkable design of the room reduces decibel levels to below 0, or below the human threshold of hearing.
If you stay in the room for long enough, you will find the absence of sound upsetting. You strain to hear any faint sounds, and before long you may in fact detect some sound. However, these aren’t sounds coming from the room around you, they’re sounds within you. For example, you may hear a tinnitus sound, or a ringing or buzzing sound coming from in your ears.
Because there are absolutely no other sounds in the room, you’ll also be able to hear the sound of movement. For example, when you swing your arm or turn your head, you’ll actually hear the sound of your muscles, joints, and bones as they move! You will also hear your breathing and heartbeat, and in the silent room these sounds may seem deafening.
Complete Silence is Eerie
Anyone who’s been inside an anechoic chamber describes it as an eerily experience. From the moment you step inside, you feel strange because your body doesn’t sense any of the sound waves that usually bombard you in your daily life. Microsoft staff who use the chamber say no one wants to stay in the room for too long. Most people want to leave the chamber after a couple minutes, and almost no one will stay inside for more than half an hour.
Turning Out the Lights
Turning off the lights in an anechoic chamber provides a whole new experience. This lets your experience sensory deprivation, where both your eyes and your ears don’t get any information about the space around you. If you try to walk while the lights are off, you’ll probably lose your balance. That’s because your body gets disoriented. With no lights on, and no sounds to indicate where your body is in space, your brain has a hard time keeping track of which way is up.
Experiencing Quiet with Hearing Loss
If you have hearing loss, you don’t experience quiet in the same way as others. You have a harder time adapting to the silence, and you may not enjoy being in a room that’s too quiet. In fact, a quiet room can make your tinnitus seem louder and more uncomfortable.
Are you ready to find out what you can hear when it’s very quiet? During a hearing test you’ll sit in a sound-treated room or booth that blocks out other noise. We’ll play a series of tones at different pitches and volumes, and you can let us know what sounds you hear. This measures the softest sounds you can hear, and shows you exactly what sounds you’re missing.