Particle velocity

Sound measurements
 Sound pressure  p, SPL
 Particle velocity  v, SVL
 Particle displacement  δ
 Sound intensity  I, SIL
 Sound power  P, SWL
 Sound energy  W
 Sound energy density  w
 Sound exposure  E, SEL
 Acoustic impedance  Z
 Speed of sound  c
 Audio frequency  AF
 Transmission loss  TL

Particle velocity is the velocity of a particle (real or imagined) in a medium as it transmits a wave. The SI unit of particle velocity is the metre per second (m/s). In many cases this is a longitudinal wave of pressure as with sound, but it can also be a transverse wave as with the vibration of a taut string.

When applied to a sound wave through a medium of a fluid like air, particle velocity would be the physical speed of a parcel of fluid as it moves back and forth in the direction the sound wave is travelling as it passes.

Particle velocity should not be confused with the speed of the wave as it passes through the medium, i.e. in the case of a sound wave, particle velocity is not the same as the speed of sound. The wave moves relatively fast, while the particles oscillate around their original position with a relatively small particle velocity. Particle velocity should also not be confused with the velocity of individual molecules.

In applications involving sound, the particle velocity is usually measured using a logarithmic decibel scale called particle velocity level. Mostly pressure sensors (microphones) are used to measure sound pressure which is then propagated to the velocity field using Green's function.

Mathematical definition

Particle velocity, denoted v, is defined by

where δ is the particle displacement.

Progressive sine waves

The particle displacement of a progressive sine wave is given by


It follows that the particle velocity and the sound pressure along the direction of propagation of the sound wave x are given by


Taking the Laplace transforms of v and p with respect to time yields

Since , the amplitude of the specific acoustic impedance is given by

Consequently, the amplitude of the particle velocity is related to those of the particle displacement and the sound pressure by

Particle velocity level

For other uses, see Sound level.

Sound velocity level (SVL) or acoustic velocity level or particle velocity level is a logarithmic measure of the effective particle velocity of a sound relative to a reference value.
Sound velocity level, denoted Lv and measured in dB, is defined by[1]


The commonly used reference particle velocity in air is[2]

The proper notations for sound velocity level using this reference are Lv/(5 × 10−8 m/s) or Lv (re 5 × 10−8 m/s), but the notations dB SVL, dB(SVL), dBSVL, or dBSVL are very common, even if they are not accepted by the SI.[3]

See also


  1. "Letter symbols to be used in electrical technology – Part 3: Logarithmic and related quantities, and their units", IEC 60027-3 Ed. 3.0, International Electrotechnical Commission, 19 July 2002.
  2. Ross Roeser, Michael Valente, Audiology: Diagnosis (Thieme 2007), p. 240.
  3. Thompson, A. and Taylor, B. N. sec 8.7, "Logarithmic quantities and units: level, neper, bel", Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI) 2008 Edition, NIST Special Publication 811, 2nd printing (November 2008), SP811 PDF
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