Microsoft's Building 87, the quietest place on Earth (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)

Microsoft’s Building 87, the quietest place on Earth (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)

What do you hear in the quietest place on Earth? The beating of your heart as loud as Edgar Allan Poe’s tell-tale organ; the gurgling of your stomach like an angry animal’s growl. The anechoic chamber (meaning a place without echoes) at Microsoft’s Building 87 in Redmond, Washington, was crowned the world’s quietest place last month by Guinness World Records, reaching a new depth of total silence.

Detail of the sound-absorbing walls at Microsoft's anechoic chamber (courtesy Microsoft) (click to enlarge)

Detail of the sound-absorbing walls at Microsoft’s anechoic chamber (courtesy Microsoft) (click to enlarge)

As Guinness World Records stated, two independent sound specialists carried out two tests, measuring -20.6 dBA and -20.1 dBA. To put that in perspective, humans don’t hear noises below zero decibels (abbreviated as dB, the “A” designates sound pressure). Previously, the record was held by Orfield Labs in Minneapolis, where a measurement in 2012 was -13 dBA. That’s still a sanity-testing silence for humans, where all the noise inside the chamber lined with sound-absorbing wedges comes from you. When filmmaker Sam Green, for his 2014 documentary The Measure of All Thingsinterviewed Steve Orfield in the chamber, the ticking of Orfield’s artificial heart valve made a noticeable racket in the space.

George Foy described his experience in the Orfield Labs chamber for the Guardian in 2012:

As the minutes ticked by, I started to hear the blood rushing in my veins. Your ears become more sensitive as a place gets quieter, and mine were going overtime. I frowned and heard my scalp moving over my skull, which was eerie, and a strange, metallic scraping noise I couldn’t explain. Was I hallucinating? The feeling of peace was spoiled by a tinge of disappointment — this place wasn’t quiet at all. You’d have to be dead for absolute silence.

Why does Microsoft need such a place of extreme quiet? It’s an ideal lab to test the audio functionality of devices, both microphones and speakers, as well as their digital assistant Cortana by experimenting with different voice recognition commands and interfering background noises. According to Reuters, Eckel Noise Control Technologies, which created the anechoic chamber at Orfield, designed and built the Microsoft space. It’s detached from other buildings, to eliminate any vibrations from foot traffic or other movement, and every element designed to be a consistent place of silence.

You can take an animated 360 degree tour of the chamber online at Microsoft, and watch a video exploration below. In it, Principal Human Factors Engineer Gopal Gopal says: “You can’t get any quieter because that’s just the air particles moving. We are at the edge of what is the limits of physics in that sense.”

YouTube video

Learn more about the “world’s quietest place” online at Microsoft.

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...