According to research from Spendiarian & Willis Acoustics & Noise Control LLC, paddle impacts have a narrowband spectrum, with a fundamental frequency of around 1,000 to 2,000 Hz and up to 200 or 300 feet away. In this range, humans can hear sounds with the greatest clarity. With complaints about the noise level from pickleball games and their spectators, some pickleball players have found themselves in a pickle (pun intended😀).
As an avid fan, I’ve been on three sides: playing, supporting, and hearing the noise from home with an annoyed look on my face. But I’ve grown accustomed to it, other community members, not so much. Let’s take a sound check on pickleball, the distance it travels, how it affects the community, and ways to reduce the noise.
How Far Does Pickleball Noise Travel?
At a distance of 100 feet, the typical decibel level near pickleball courts is between 80 and 160. As evaluated from 200 paces away from the game, the decibel level drops to the 60-80 range. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, hearing loss can occur after eight hours of exposure to sound at 90 decibels or higher.
Normal dialogue is roughly 60 decibels, whereas background noise in a typical community is around 45 decibels.
Let’s look at the Frequency Range of Human Hearing
Audiologists use frequencies and decibels to quantify sound. The decibel scale measures the loudness of a sound. On average, a person’s ear can detect sounds between 0 and 140 decibels.
However, sounds louder than 80 dB can cause permanent hearing loss, thus extended exposure should be avoided. Ambulance sirens, pyrotechnics, and tractor horns are all examples of everyday noises that fall outside of this range.
Characteristics of Pickleball Sound
The main source of noise from pickleball courts is the hard plastic ball crashing into the paddles. An impetuous sound, as seen by its sharp beginning and swift end, is what we have here. Paddle impacts have restricted spectral content, with a fundamental frequency of around 1,000 to 2,000 Hz.
This is right about the sweet spot of human hearing.
Characteristics of Sound Reverberation
The sound generated by a pickleball hitting a paddle has a very short direct path time, often in the range of 2 ms (0.002 seconds). This defines it as a form of impulsive sound. Usually, the paddle impact’s spectral content has a center frequency of anywhere between a thousand and two thousand hertz. A hazy sense of pitch, like that of a wooden block musical instrument, is conveyed, despite its failure to meet conventional standards for tonal prominence.
The paddle’s radiation pattern is roughly a dipole, meaning that the sounds emitted from its front and back are of opposing polarity and cancel each other out in the paddle’s plane. If the courts are set up so that the path of play is outward from noise-sensitive locations, then it can help. When a pickleball or paddle is struck, the resulting sound power spectrum might take on one of two fundamental forms.
While there is no absolute calibration, the curves can be compared to one another. Spectrum analysis of the direct strike reveals a very narrow band. As a rule, the peak frequency is somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 Hz.
In the case of the dull strike, the concentration of energy is lower but still noticeable from 1,000 to 2,000 Hz.
How is Pickleball Ball Noise Measured and is it Correct?
Sound pressure level metrics that average over a longer period, such as impulse time weighting (LAI), maximum fast exponential time-weighted level (Lmax), and equivalent-continuous level (Leq), misrepresent the loudness and annoyingness of the paddle impact and impact processes in general, since they average over too short a period. With a 125 ms time constant, the quick growth time weighting filter is an initial order filter that’s lowpass, which is added to the square of the sound pressure waveform. Following two milliseconds of exposure to a tone burst, the filter output can only reach a level 18 dB below the equivalent-continuous noise level of the input signal.
Although a listener may identify the paddle strikes as the major sound source, when evaluating Leq or Lmax, it is typically not able to separate them from the ambient noise due to the estimation in the sound signal, which considerably dampens the brief impulse. Measurements with a shorter time window are required to achieve a stronger relationship with the real response of the local neighborhood to this kind of noise. Pitch and duration of exposure to the sound are more accurate measures of the sound pressure generated by a paddle’s impact (SEL).
If you want to use the sound level of exposure, you’ll need to “window” the observed sound pressure over time so that it only accounts for the sound of the paddle hitting the water and any surrounding surfaces making noise. Once the windowed impact’s equivalent-continuous level of noise is adjusted to the window’s length, the resulting value is a measure of the impact’s inherent energy. The following section will detail how to make the necessary modifications to the impacts to account for the impulsive nature of the sounds they produce.
Adjustment factors for varying sound kinds (impulsive, tonal, time of day, etc.) are typically included in acoustical guidelines for sound pressure levels for ethical land use. When compared to broadband audio, which does not change in volume or content of frequency over time, each of these types of noise has a unique effect on the surrounding community and can be more or less annoying depending on the context. The correction factors are designed to bring these frequencies up to a standard, broadband noise level.
That’s why it’s fair to compare them to, say, the average decibel level of background noise. Sounds generated by impact activities are often labeled as “highly impulsive” and given a 12 dB boost to account for their rapid onset. Pickleball paddle strikes should be treated as highly impulsive noises, as this has been found to help achieve more realistic performance targets when designing noise abatement strategies.
Recurring complaints, tense interaction with residents, legal action, continuous engagement from authorities, retrofitting, and even demolition expenditures to enhance the abatement in the future are all possible outcomes of subpar abatement treatment.
How Communities Respond to Pickleball Noise?
Across the country, while many pickleball players have been serving each other, some irate community members have been serving local authorities with lawsuits claiming breaches of the noise abatement act. All across the country, from California in the West to Arizona, all the way over to Miami, a handful of distraught people have been voicing their concerns about the noise level. However, their numbers are minuscule in comparison to those in support of the game and even lobbying local government for more pickleball courts.
Pickleball is a popular sport in which players hit a little rubber ball at a much larger one in a series of rapid-fire volleys over a net. However, the same plink annoys many residents of nearby homes because they are so close to the courts. Most of the tennis courts scattered across residential areas have been transformed into pickleball courts.
Some people will be thrilled by this new form of entertainment, while others will be very unhappy about it. Whereas before just two to four tennis players might come to the court in silence, today there is often a big number of eager (and often noisy) pickleball players present. The sounds that we can or cannot stand vary greatly depending on the individual.
The auditory environment of a neighborhood makes this point very clear. For parents keeping an eye out, hearing their kids playing and joking together in the yard is a source of great joy. However, for a neighbor wishing for a peaceful Sunday, that very noise can be a source of considerable frustration.
The sounds that result from our actions are usually seen favorably, but when they are produced by others, we view them as an annoyance that must be quickly prohibited.
How to Effectively Reduce Pickleball Acoustics?
Many pickleball court noise mitigation plans have been created by Spendiarian & Willis. Some of the experience gained from using this source of sound throughout the years is summed up below. The octave band over one thousand hertz must be effectively attenuated for a sound wall to be designed.
Pickleball sound walls and fences can be built out of just about any material with an STC rating of 20 or more, providing standard noise barrier building procedures are followed. Even if people don’t mind the larger, busier groups that pickleball draws, the game’s acoustics can still be annoying to those who live nearby. However, pickleball gear is constructed of hard plastic as opposed to the softer materials used in tennis gear.
The tennis ball makes less of a sound when it hits the racket because of the softer materials utilized in the sport. Overwhelmingly, humans prefer less intense shocks of sound than more intense ones.