Gregory Scott Farber was born hearing normally, but a battle with meningitis early on in his life left him permanently deaf in one ear and mostly deaf in the other. He’s been struggling to find quiet restaurants, bars, or cafés ever since.
One day, during a meal with his mother it hit him–wouldn’t it be great if people could crowdsource reviews on how loud or quiet a restaurant without having to go there themselves? So he launched an app, dubbed SoundPrint, in April to help other hearing-impaired folk find quieter spots that were more conducive to conversation and to warn others of eateries that might be damaging to their hearing.
“There’s not a lot of noise pollution awareness out there. People don’t think about the effects of noise on your body, it stresses your body out,” says Farber.
It was a hit. People with normal hearing who were looking for a good date spot, a quiet location to study, or simply a place to rest and relax after a long day loved the idea (“I really hope it catches on and spreads wildly. Restaurant noise levels are ridiculous,” one user wrote in the App Store). This was little surprise to Farber, who says that the top gripe of diners is the noise levels inside of a restaurant. Submissions started pouring in once Farber released the app for the public.
Next to New York, DC has received the highest number of submissions from everyday users. Of the 1,000 venues surveyed so far, Farber has identified 30 quietest venues in DC for his Quiet List. So far, Iron Gate, Obelisk, Bombay Lounge, Alhambra, Marcel’s, and Opaline are on the list, among others.
SoundPrint is easy to use. The app opens up to a map of eateries; the ones that have already been measured for sound levels display their decibel score, while the spots that have yet to be checked are labeled with a gray bubble. A cursory glance around DC reveals that while most restaurants land in the moderate to loud categories, a couple hotspots are dangerously in the red. Farmers Fishers Bakers, Founding Farmers, Le Diplomate, and Zaytinya were classified as unhealthily loud. Frequent exposure to levels above 81 decibels can impact long term auditory health.
Although many places in downtown DC have already been measured, neighborhoods in the Northeast, Southeast, and Arlington are crowded by gray bubbles. Good Samaritans interested in adding to the sound database can do so using the meter built into the app. Farber says the meter has been tested and declared accurate by acoustic design engineers.
But Farber has other plans for the data aside from helping the hearing-impaired and stressed Washingtonians find a quiet place to eat or drink. Farber–who daylights as a research analyst–used the SoundPrint data from New York to publish a noise study on 2,376 different restaurants and bars in the Journal of Social Sciences. He’d like to do something similar with DC, even going so far as to break down the data to compare sound levels by neighborhood–for example, Adams Morgan versus the Wharf.
“We need as many submissions as possible to make the data more robust and valid,” says Farber. At the moment there are over 1,000 submissions in DC, about 1,500 away from the sweet spot of a robust database.
For restaurants who haven’t made it on the Quiet List or has been classified as Dangerously Loud, Farber has some quick fixes: Designate corners for quieter conversations. Install noise mufflers around the room, like carpets or tablecloths. And the most obvious of all–lower the background music.