In the Earth’s Quietest Room, You Can Hear Yourself Blink

Background noise in the custom-built chamber is actually measured in negative decibels, which means it’s below the threshold of human hearing

Anechoic Chamber
The world’s quietest room registers a background sound of -24.9 dBA. Julian Walter

Everybody seems to be looking for a little peace and quiet these days. But even such a reasonable idea can go too far. The quietest place on Earth, an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, is so eerily noiseless that visitors have used it to see how long they can stand the sound of their own bodies.

Inside the room, it’s silent—so silent that the background noise is measured in negative decibels, meaning it’s below the threshold of human hearing. In 2004, the room clocked in at -9.4 A-weighted decibels, or dBA (the weighting allows for a closer representation of actual human hearing), and after improvements to the space, eight years later it had a reading of -13 dBA. But it was temporarily unseated as the quietest place on Earth when, in 2015, a chamber in Redmond, Washington, set a new record at -20.35 dBA. Orfield Laboratories took the record back in November 2021 with a measurement of -24.9 dBA.

With no audible background noise to cover it up, visitors report hearing the sound of blood pumping in their heads or moving through their veins, according to Caity Weaver of the New York Times Magazine. Or, as Casey Darnell writes for the Star Tribune, you can even hear the sound of your eyelids shutting upon blinking.

“When it’s quiet, ears will adapt,” Steven Orfield, the lab’s founder, told the Daily Mail’s Ted Thornhill in 2012. “The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You’ll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly. In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.”

Finding Minnesota: Orfield Laboratories

The chamber is called “anechoic” because it’s designed to stop sound waves from reflecting off the walls, silencing any echoes of noise. It’s a box with steel walls, suspended by springs inside a larger box with steel walls, tucked inside the full laboratory that has concrete walls a foot thick. Inside the chamber, visitors are surrounded by rigid brown fiberglass wedges that absorb sound on all sides—even the floor, so they stand on a suspended mesh. For her New York Times Magazine story on the room, Weaver spent three hours in the space.

The room isn’t just for adventurous visitors. Companies test their products in it to find out just how loud they are. LED displays have been placed in the room to make sure they are not too noisy, and Harley-Davidson used the room to make its motorcycles quieter while maintaining their signature sound. NASA has sent astronauts into a similar chamber to help them adapt to the silence of space.

For you and me, however, the room is a deeply disorienting place. Without the familiar hum of everyday life, people have trouble feeling oriented and even standing. “How you orient yourself is through sounds you hear when you walk. In the anechoic chamber, you don’t have any cues,” Orfield told the Daily Mail. “You take away the perceptual cues that allow you to balance and maneuver. If you’re in there for half an hour, you have to be in a chair.”

If reading about the chamber isn’t enough, you can experience it with four other people for an hour at a cost of $75. If visitors want to learn more about the chamber and Orfield Laboratories, they can take an hour-and-a-half group tour of the space for $200. (The building, constructed in 1970 as a recording studio, has a rich history, hosting iconic musicians including Bob Dylan and Prince.)

The group tour includes a 20-minute session in the anechoic chamber. If even that doesn’t seem like enough time, for $400 you can spend an hour in the room in a private session—and really get in tune with your inner self.

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