The Big Bang Theory: What You Really Get with Fireworks

Optimus Sound Level Meter displayed with fireworks

Diwali, Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve. Three events that are synonymous with fireworks. They would not be the same without the whizz, bang and wallop. However, some fireworks can be more of a damp squib than out of this world when it comes to the big bang factor. That is why we put some of the most popular fireworks to the test to see which ones deliver more bang for your buck.

More than £100m is spent on fireworks in the UK every year. We bought a standard selection box of fireworks from a well-known supermarket for £20. The idea was to test 20 different fireworks to see what noise levels were reached, with some surprising results.

Legislation on Firework Noise Levels

Strict legislation governs the fireworks’ fire power that manufacturers can sell to the general public. Guidelines on how far away members of the public should be to protect them from a variety of hazards, including hearing damage are included. Home-use fireworks are supposed to have a noise limit of 120 decibels (dBs) when fired from 15 metres away. Anything above this noise limit cannot be sold to the general public.

The Results of our Firework Noise Measurements

The firework noise monitoring was completed using an Optimus Green Class 1 Sound Level Meter.

We decided to use the LAFmax parameter to determine which firework was the loudest. LAFmax is the maximum sound level during the measurement period, which has been ‘A’ Weighted to reflect the response of the human ear to noise. We also used the LCPeak to tell us the actual Peak during the measurement.  Download ‘A Guide to Noise Measurement Terminology’ to learn about the most common acoustic terms.

class 1 sound level meter monitoring firework noise outdoors

Of the 20 fireworks tested, the Viper Rocket came out top with a LAFMax (dB) reading of 111.7 with a Peak noise at 140.4 – the equivalent of a plane taking off.

Second came the 8 Shot Barrage, a series of small rockets released in quick succession, that registered 103.8 dB, with a Peak of 131.7 – equal to a pneumatic drill in use.

In third place came the Dancing Butterfly – a ground based sparkling shower effect – packing a powerful punch of 99.9 dB and a Peak of 124.2. This made more noise than a chain saw or electric drill – and lasted a very respectable 20 seconds into the bargain.

Rockets obviously delivered a big bang for your buck but didn’t last that long. On average between 15-20 seconds. The other fireworks from our repertoire often came in only marginally quieter but lasted twice, sometimes three times as long. In that respect, they give you much more value for money.

Measurement # Firework Name Duration MM:SS LAFmax (dB) LCPeak (dB)
11 Viper Rocket (grounded) 00:16 111.7 140.4
2 8 Shot Barrage 00:27 103.8 131.7
15 Dancing Butterfly 00:20 99.9 124.2
10 Viper Rocket (central lift off) 00:32 99.8 127.6
3 Moon Shadow 00:29 99.6 125.1
8 Tomb of Treasures 00:20 98.4 123.8
17 Flower Pot 00:51 96.5 121.5
12 Opal Orchard 00:36 96.1 104.1
16 Shanghai Surprise 00:42 95.9 124.1
4 Clustering Butterflies 00:23 94.9 121.8
9 Viper Rocket (off-course) 00:16 92.8 122.1
6 Serpents 00:19 92.3 121.3
5 Stealth Command 00:14 91.7 122.6
18 Spring Flower 05:01 91.7 116.4
13 Magical Castle 00:14 80.4 107.4
19 Saxon Wheel 00:18 76.9 90.3
7 Crackling Snow 00:27 70.1 100.2
20 Sparklers 2nd version 01:03 67.8 92.1
1 Sparklers 05:07 65.4 83.2
14 Summer Fountain 00:29 63.4 94

Fireworks’ Fact File:

  • China is the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world. 90% of all fireworks originate from here
  • The first recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486
  • The largest firework rocket was 13kg and was produced and launched in Portugal in 2010
  • A rocket can reach speeds of 150mph, however the shell can reach as high as 200 metres
  • A sparkler burns at a temperature over 15 times the boiling point of water
  • The record for the largest firework display consisted of 66,326 fireworks and was achieved in Portugal in 2006
  • At first fireworks were only orange and white. In the Middle Ages new colours were achieved by adding different salts. The hardest colour to create is blue

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