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Q: Why are airbrush compressors expensive?

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A: You're paying for the lack of noise.

In-Depth


Airbrush compressors are expensive because making noise is easy and making a mechanical device that doesn't make a lot of noise, isn't.

You can do the comparison and see for yourself.

Walk through the aisle of your local hardware store.  The compressors there aren't that expensive.  Not only that, but they have a lot of power.  They can move a lot of air and pump it up to high pressures quickly.  Sounds great doesn't it?

Ahh, but sound is the catch.

Turn on one of these inexpensive beauties and you'll understand immediately what it means to be unable to hear yourself think.  In fact, most compressor manufacturers don't attach decibel ratings to their products.

Decibels are a method of measuring noise intensity.  These compressors are intense when it comes to noise.

On the other side of things is the quiet and silent compressors

Quiet compressors generally top out around 55-60 db (decibels).  But what does that compare to exactly?

  • Your refrigerator hums at roughly 40 db
  • You carry on normal conversations at roughly 60 db
The decibel scale is logarithmic.  That simply means that for every 10 points higher on the scale the sound is 10 times louder.  The reverse is also true.  For every 10 points you drop on the scale the sound is 10 times softer.

So the difference between 60 db is 100 times louder than 40 db.

Silent compressors top out between 50 and 55 db.  The price also goes up by roughly 4 times for the quieter compressor.

Embarrassing Story Time


I was working on a Mako Shark compressor.  First, I made sure it was working and pumping air.  Second, I needed to drain the air from the air tank.  I opened the air valve underneath the tank and drained out the water and oil.

After 20 seconds the air was still coming out.  I made sure the green switch was turned off but still couldn't figure out why the compressor still had air in it.  The compressor was off!  Compressors don't have this much air inside them!

I asked Kirk what was happening.  He rolled his eyes at me and flipped off the power strip where the compressor was plugged in.

The compressor obediently stopped pumping air.

Umm, yeah...whoops.  I never forgot that there are two switches on a Shark compressor.  One for the fan, the other for the compressor.  The fan is the loudest part on these compressors (about as noisy as your computer fan) and I'd been working on a compressor pumping air without realizing it.

So the moral of the story is that quiet compressors really ARE quiet.