Hidden deep within Building 88 on the Microsoft campus lies what’s officially certified to be the quietest room in the world.
Really — the company recently won the Guinness World Record for it.
While I was in town this week, I got to spend about five minutes in there with Gopal Gopal, principal engineer at Microsoft’s audio lab.
And I thought I was going to lose my mind.
Microsoft built this completely silent room, called an “anechoic chamber,” to help it do all kinds of science — from building better speakers for its Surface tablets and laptops, to improving Skype call performance, without noise contamination from the outside world.
But Microsoft didn’t just want a quiet room…it wanted the quietest. Gopal tells me that the absolute quietest that anything on this planet can ever get is negative 23 decibels, since that’s the sound level made by air molecules bouncing off each other.
Microsoft’s main anechoic chamber goes down to negative 20.3 decibels. “Right at the edge of physics,” as Gopal put it.
Once the door to the chamber is sealed, you immediately notice the difference: Your voice stops carrying, at all, because it’s not bouncing off the walls. All background noise totally fades out. Just talking normally felt like shouting into a pillow, as the noise barely travelled at all.
Then, Gopal asked for total silence for 20 seconds. It was oppressively quiet, and a weird humming came up just on the edge of my hearing. After 20 seconds, I thought my head was going to cave in just from the oppressive sense of isolation.
My tour guides, I found out after the fact, felt it too.
That disorientation lingered even after Gopal started talking again, explaining how the total silence is a huge boon when you’re trying to do the necessary science to ensure that the super-quiet, super-subtle sounds of your Surface Book’s power supply or fan kicking on don’t ruin your Kanye West listening party.
All I can say for certain is that if I spent much longer in that room, I would have gone totally nuts.