We’ve all been annoyed by drive-bys from loud, booming stereos — but you haven’t really heard loud.

Never take a ride in Craig Butler’s Chevy Astro Van. Any sound above 150 decibels (about what you’d experience standing next to a Boeing 747’s jet engine) is going to hurt you, stop your heart or blow your eardrums out. But the infotainment unit in Butler’s virtually undrivable beast puts out more than 182 decibels. That's 36,000 watts! No, you can’t sit in it and listen to "Born to Be Wild" with the stereo cranked up — sound levels are monitored with instruments.

Craig Butler's 182-db Chevy Astro van. Listen to music in there and you die.

Craig Butler's 182-db Chevy Astro van. Listen to music in there and you die. (Photo: CarAudioPanama.com)

Butler’s van weighs something like 12,000 pounds because of the inches-thick windows, pneumatically sealed doors, soundproofing and concrete reinforcing in the floors. He’s invested a fortune in the thing, but it’s won him dominance in the IdBL category of the International Auto Sound Challenge Association (IASCA). Yes, there’s a contest where you get prizes for having a super-loud car stereo.

That’s a big issue for Noise Free America. Ted Rueter, the group’s director, wants to stomp out loud stereos in general, but ultra-loud stereo competitions in particular. “This is a culture of noise,” he told me. “They’re promoting loudness. Scaring people with their thumping and booming is the whole goal. We call that encouraging anti-social behavior, violating local anti-noise ordinances and disturbing the peace.”

Butler reaches 182.4 db

Butler's monster machine reaches 182.4 decibels. (Photo: CarAudioPanama.com)

Moe Sabourin is director of IASCA, and he thinks his folks are getting a bad rap. “IASCA is an organization devoted to promoting mobile electronics,” he told me. “And what we promote first and foremost is respect for those who don’t want to listen to loud music. We promote ‘safe sound,’ and we’re not representative of those people who drive around blaring music at all hours of the day and night. We agree with Noise Free America about that behavior.”

Still, IASCA competitions are certainly about loud. Wanna try Bass Boxing? “It’s based on actual boxing classes,” the group says, “and each class represents how big of a sound system you have; this way, a person with two 12-inch subwoofers isn’t competing against someone with four 15s ... fair across the board and fun for everyone!”

And then there’s the Sound Quality Challenge, where how the darn system actually sounds carries weight. The winner, who showed off his car at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, was a fellow named Ryan Mitchell. His Chevy Cruze was decked out in a "Walking Dead" theme. The stereo was mighty loud, but people were invited to sit in the car, and nobody walked away with bleeding ears.

Bloomfield Indiana noise ordinance

Bloomfield, Indiana, goes after loud stereos. (Photo: Adam Lederer/Flickr)

Noise Free America nods approvingly at towns that have taken action against sound polluters. IASCA members should stay away from Elkhart, Indiana. The city’s noise control police officer issued an unprecedented 1,200 tickets in 2009, collecting $273,000 in fines. Rueter pointed out that the city’s noise control officer also did more drug busts than any other Elkhart cop, which doesn’t surprise him. “People who blast music are advertising their anti-social proclivities, so fighting loud stereos is a great way to fight crime,” Rueter said. 

Meanwhile, here's a video of Butler winning the ultra-loud car stereo competition. Look at that db meter!

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