Choosing Fireworks: Quiet & Low Noise Displays
For those times when you want fireworks but need to keep the volume level down!
Consumer demand in recent years has driven a huge explosion (no pun intended!) in low noise fireworks. All of the main UK firework brands and importers now include many low noise options in their line-ups. In this article I’ll run through what’s available for using fireworks but keeping the noise level down.
Table of contents:
When to consider low noise fireworks
It’s likely that if you’ve found this page then you already have a reason why you want to keep the noise level down, but for those browsing the site or who are still unsure, here’s a few cases where low noise is the way to go:
You’re displaying out of season: Away from Bonfire Night or New Year’s Eve means less expectation of noisy fireworks from neighbours. Unless you can warn everyone in earshot then consider keeping it quieter.
Late night displays: I don’t encourage late night displays but in the summer months you may have little choice. The later your display is the more likely it is to cause a problem if it contains noise. Note that it is illegal to let fireworks off after 11pm and that applies to any kind of firework, not just quiet ones!
Displays for young children: Younger kids especially can be frightened by a non-stop barrage of bangs. It’s not too bad in a large display because the distance is enough that kids see the flash and are warned of incoming bangs (fingers in the ears time!). However in the garden fireworks can sound that much louder. It’s sad to see terrified kids – escorted by a parent – disappear indoors during the fireworks after you spent hours setting up. Use bangs sparingly if there are a lot of young kids watching and make sure any bangs have a pretty effect associated with them.
Displays for older people: Specifically, care homes and the likes. I don’t mean this suggestion in an ageist way, but in my experience most care homes request quieter fireworks in order to focus on visual effects rather than noise. Bear in mind too, bangs and other sounds may be lost on people in this age group – and many spectators would watch from indoors anyway.
You’re in a built-up area: It can be hard to give everyone advanced warning of your fireworks if you’re in a built-up area, so if that applies to you, consider keeping the noise level down.
There’s more advice on using fireworks appropriate for your time and location in my Responsible Fireworks Use article.
What is a low noise firework?
Let’s start by talking about the terms “low noise” or “quiet” when applied to fireworks. The reality is that it’s somewhat of a loose definition, since most fireworks make some noise when they’re going off.
Low noise fireworks will therefore sit somewhere on a spectrum of sound levels as follows:
Silent or nearly silent: Actually very few fireworks could be classed as silent. Ground based strobes, some smaller fountains and sparklers would be examples.
Some minor noise when firing: Larger fountains (a “whoosh”), wheels and perhaps very small bore candles.
Noise when firing, but not from the effects themselves: Anything that launches shots into the air will create “thuds” as each ejection charge goes off. So low noise cakes and barrages will still make some noise and this can seem quite loud in the garden but it isn’t a sound that will travel far.
Crackles: Moving up the noise level we come to crackles. Some fountains crackle (again, this will sound quite loud in the garden but it won’t travel far), and a vast number of barrages contain crackling effects, either from the tail of the shot as it goes up (known as a “comet”), or from the burst itself.
Whistles: Whistling and screeching is about as loud as you can get whilst staying short of outright bangs.
The fireworks you’ll choose then will be determined by how quiet you want to keep things. If you simply want to have a “no bangs” display then you’ll have the biggest choice since you can pick any low noise firework that might crackle or whistle. If you’re wanting a near-silent display then your options are more limited, though you still have some nice fireworks to pick from.
Bear in mind with low noise fireworks that in keeping the sound down you also sacrifice explosive power. It’s not uncommon for a beginner to ask for a “spectacular effect like a huge rocket but without the bang”. But you can’t have one without the other. The nature of explosives is such that to eject effects a great distance you by definition need a large explosion!
If any of the firework types mentioned above or elsewhere in this article are unfamiliar to you, have a read of my Firework Types section which runs through each type of consumer firework available in the UK and what they do.
I’ll explore each type of consumer firework now in more detail and look at the low noise options:
These are great for quieter displays since no fountain contains bangs. At the quieter end of the scale look for coloured star (or “jellybean”) effects, or fountains that contain a single effect such as silver sparks. These will “whoosh” when in use but this sound won’t carry far. Also for those doing very small displays with cheap and cheerful selection boxes – say from the supermarket – you’ll find most of the fountains in this type of box will be quiet and short duration.
Strobes (also known as blinkers) are also virtually silent. However this specialist effect is something you should use sparingly for example the start of your display.
Multi-effect fountains are likely to contain crackling sections or a crackling ending. These can seem pretty loud in the garden but the sound is still significantly less than a bang. These are great for added impact though be wary if you’re displaying to noise sensitive toddlers.
The biggest impact with fountains will be from the large conic fountains that contain crackling effects. In addition to creating a large (20ft+) plume of sparks they will also make a lovely sound. These bigger fountains are what you should be using for displays to larger audiences or in larger spaces.
Cakes and barrages
This type of firework is the main part of any larger display. Cakes (also known as barrages) launch multiple effects high into the air where they go off, usually with a bang, but not in the case of those specifically containing low noise effects. To make life easier, most retailers now clearly label low noise cakes and barrages as such. And do watch any video provided to ensure you’re happy with the noise level. Here are some examples of low noise effects found in cakes:
Coloured stars: The cake fires up stars of various colours which don’t do anything else. The only sound from these would be from the launch of each shot.
Crossettes: Here a star (usually coloured) then splits into three or four other stars. This is a beautiful effect and the breaking of each shot is more of a “knock” than a bang.
Crackles: The staple of low noise barrages, crackling can be created in the tail of each shot as it rises, or the shot can dissolve into crackles.
Whistles: At the smaller end of the scale you have “missile cakes” or “pen lid cakes” which contain dozens or even hundreds of small plastic projectiles that fire up – usually somewhat haphazardly – whistling tracers, often ending with crackles or glitter. They’re great fun and not hugely loud, though they still have good impact when viewed in the back garden. They can be a bit lost in bigger displays unless you use a few together.
Then at the larger end of the scale, bigger bore whistles can create some impressive screeching and howling effects, though you might find some of the larger ones are quite loud. Also look out for novelty whistle effects such as multi-tones and howlers.
Spinners: Here the shots dissolve into spinning tops that make a hissing sound as they eject their glitter. This is a great low noise effect to include in a display.
Fish: These shots dissolve into wriggling silver or coloured stars that resemble fish, another beautiful low noise effect.
Horsetails or falling leaves: These dissolve into bright coloured stars or gold and silver embers that hang in the air, resembling falling leaves or a horse’s tail. The video below shows a larger cake with this type of effect, which also demonstrates that even silent cakes are still accompanied by the sound from the launch of each shell into the air. Although it sounds loud here (filmed in a back garden) it won’t travel far.
There are many more low noise effects available so I would, as always, encourage you to explore your firework supplier’s video clips to help you choose.
One of the advantages of cakes is that low noise effects can be fired rapidly or fanned (or both) which can add to the visual impact. So it really is possible to have quite a stunning display – without bangs – from what’s currently on the market. That said, you will find a much better range of low noise barrages from a specialist fireworks shop; supermarkets and seasonal sellers tend to carry a smaller range.
Firework videos are useful to get an idea of whether a firework contains bangs, crackles or whistles, but don’t rely on them for an absolute measure of sound levels. This is because so many variables affect the sound level on a video clip. For example, whether the mic level was high or low (or on “auto” which causes a characteristically loud first shot then quieter subsequent shots as the mic adjusts to compensate). The quality of the mic can affect the perception of sound and even local terrain can have an impact. I’ve seen video footage of the same firework at the same event from four different set-ups and they all sounded different!
Like barrages, candles shoot effects up into the air. However the effects are stacked on top of each other in long vertical tubes (in barrages it’s one shot per tube) and tend to be of a smaller bore. For low noise effects this is significant because the smaller bore size lends itself very well to quieter effects, particularly if multiple candles are fused to fire together (known as a candle bundle).
One other thing that works well with candle bundles is arranging them in a V shape and firing two or more together to get multiple columns of effects. I cover this in my Setting Up Cakes And Candles section.
A broad range of effects are available in candle bundles with the most common being coloured star effects. Shot counts can be from 56 shots, say, up to several hundred and with a duration of 30 seconds or so you can appreciate the rapid fire – but still very quiet – nature of these.
Not all candle bundles are quiet of course, so as with cakes the advice is to check out video clips before buying.
These popular fireworks whoosh into the air and then explode into an effect. The key word here is “explode”; quiet rockets generally speaking don’t exist since you need an explosive effect to spread the effect out. For this reason you don’t usually see “low noise rockets” on sale.
That said, some of the smaller Category F2 rockets tend to “pop” rather than bang in what can only be described as a somewhat underwhelming effect. You need to be careful here though, look for 1.4G class smaller rockets – anything classified as 1.3G is more powerful and likely to be very loud.
My article 1.3G or 1.4G fireworks? has more information on what these classifications mean. However if you don’t want to get bogged down hunting for weaker rockets my advice would be simply to skip rockets completely if you’re looking for low noise fireworks. You don’t need them in view of the extensive range of cakes and candles that will produce an aerial effect.
Mines are a “one hit” firework designed primarily for impact. As such, most are unsuitable for low noise displays. There are one or two exceptions (like glitter or crossette effects) if you’re willing to watch retailer video clips and hunt down specific effects.
Although more suited to back gardens than larger venues, wheels are a fantastic low noise firework. Like fountains, wheels don’t contain bangs so you can’t really go wrong here, other than being wary that some also crackle or screech in case you’re trying to avoid noise completely. Be aware that most wheels do come with loud swearing (from them not spinning, or setting fire to the fence – we’ve all been there!).
Not technically a firework but nonetheless the ultimate “no noise” sky effect. These very pretty lanterns take off and glow golden yellow as they drift in the wind, often for many miles. Which is the main problem combined with many cheaper versions on Ebay which often sport poorer wicks (which can drip) or metal wire (a disaster for animals and livestock).
As a result these have fallen out of favour in the UK although I should point out they are still legal and still on sale. If you can source good quality lanterns and satisfy yourself that there isn’t a fire risk (i.e. it’s not the middle of a “dry spell”) then by all means consider them but do fully think it through first. Check out my Chinese Lanterns guide for more advice.
This is a ground-based firework consisting of dozens of small fountains (called “gerbs”) mounted on a wooden frame in order to spell out a word such as “GOODNIGHT”. They’re very quiet in operation though expensive and usually only recommended for bigger budget displays.
Putting it all together
From all the advice above I can make a few suggestions to get you started:
For very small displays for noise-sensitive toddlers or if you’re testing the water then stick to fountains, wheels and sparklers (note a minimum age of 5 and up to hold sparklers). Or try a very small – say £10-ish – supermarket selection box.
For bigger back garden displays using separate items, warm up with some sparklers then start the main display with some fountains or strobes, then use roman candle bundles and low noise barrages as the bulk of your display. A wheel or two will also provide something a little different to watch.
For displays in bigger venues or for public displays, avoid smaller fountains as usually only the front row can see them. Put most of your budget into barrages and roman candle bundles. The latter can be arranged in fans for greater visual impact.
With any type of low noise display, firing multiple items can help increase the visual impact, useful for the ending which should usually be more spectacular. However once you start watching video clips of various barrages you will see many are quite spectacular in their own right, especially fanned effects. You can also increase the impact by using crackles, whistles and other sound effects whilst stopping short of bangs.
Low noise professional displays
A professional display is where you employ a team of professional firers to provide, fire and clean up, usually for bigger events such as public displays or weddings and with budgets of £500-£1000 and upwards. For more help on understanding the differences between consumer and professional fireworks and which would be more appropriate for you, have a read of my DIY or Professional Fireworks? guide.
If you are employing a professional company and specifically need quieter fireworks, they will have no problems doing this for you. A wide variety of quieter effects are available to professionals including fountains, set pieces, cakes and candles. Although aerial shells do make a noise, they can be saved for the very end or a smaller calibre used.
It is important with professional displays to decide whether you simply want a “quieter” display, a “low noise” display or a “silent” display because these three types of display can look completely different. For example, some venues stipulate low noise when all they mean is “none of those really loud maroons”. In that case aerial shells can still be used and will significantly enhance the visual effects.
However even if you have to be nearly silent in terms of loud bangs, advances in professional displays over the last few years have resulted in some spectacular shows. A good example is with single shot sequences synchronised to music. These are fired digitally in time to the music playing, often at various angles and including many pretty colours to create a stunning effect.
The other Choosing Fireworks sections might also be of help in case your display also falls within the scope of those too.
If you’re a complete beginner and some of the terms used in this page are unclear then head over to the Beginners Start Here! page for a run-through of both fireworks and the extensive guides on my website.
The next step after narrowing down your choice of fireworks is buying them, arguably the most fun part! The Buying Fireworks sections will help you.
Finally, if you have any questions or want to chat about fireworks with like-minded people, head over to my Fireworks Forum, the UK’s best online community for fireworks chat. I’d love to hear from you and answer any queries you might have.