How Long Could You Endure the World's Quietest Place?

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
May 5 2014 10:26 AM

How Long Could You Endure the World's Quietest Place?

1018pxanechoicchamber2
Your typical mesh-floored, wedge-lined anechoic chamber, complete with weird gray head thing.

Photo: Andrew Eckel/Creative Commons

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Silent spaces ordinarily induce calm, but the world's quietest place tends to freak people out. 

Orfield Laboratories, an acoustics and architecture test facility in Minnesota, is home to a room that's Guinness-certified as the quietest place on Earth. The anechoic chamber — "anechoic" meaning "echo-free" — is behind two heavy vault-style doors and encased in double walls of steel and foot-thick concrete. Inside, the floor is mesh and the walls are lined with three-foot-thick fiberglass acoustic wedges.

Advertisement

It doesn't seem like a potential torture chamber until those vault doors close behind you and the lights go off. That's when the noise level plummets to -9 decibels — quiet bedrooms and libraries are around 30 decibels. With no sounds coming from your surroundings, your attention turns to your own body, which suddenly seems to be a cacophony of digestive gurgles, whistley breathing, and a heartbeat that could be the intro to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man".

Orfield Labs owner Steve Orfield likes to challenge visitors to endurance tests in the chamber. Most can't stay longer than about 20 minutes and emerge disoriented and unsettled. Orfield himself has trouble staying in the room beyond the 30-minute mark.

When not being used to spook people, the anechoic chamber serves as a test room for product manufacturers, who use the quiet room to gauge the volume of switches, displays, and other components.

Other locations where the silence is haunting:


View Orfield Laboratories in a larger map

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 1:52 PM Julian Casablancas’ New Album Sounds Like the Furthest Thing From the Strokes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.