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Basic sanity-check question: if I have a digital microphone with a sensitivity of -26 dBFS (say, this one), does this mean that the max dB SPL it can handle is 120 dB SPL?

My thinking is that if the sensitivity is measured at 94 dB SPL and the max output is presumably 0 dBFS, then that 26 dBFS sensitivity would bring us up to 120 dB SPL. Is that right?

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Mostly yes. See http://www.analog.com/en/analog-dialogue/articles/understanding-microphone-sensitivity.html

You need to be aware of the difference between peak and RMS level. The max SPL for a sine wave would indeed by 120 dB SPL. However the max SPL for something like a trumpet would be significantly lower, at least if you define SPL as "what I would see on an SPL meter.

The difference is the crest factor of the wave form: for a sine wave with an RMS of 120 dB, the peak level is 123 dB. For a trumpet with 120 dB RMS, the peak level will be around 140 dB or so. So the microphone will clip way earlier on a trumpet as compared to a sine wave.

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  • $\begingroup$ One question: if the peak level for a 120 dB SPL sine wave is 123 dB SPL, wouldn't the max non-clipping SPL value for a sine wave then be 117 dB? $\endgroup$ – Rogare Jan 22 '18 at 15:44

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