So I am writing a voice activated recording program, and one of the things I would like it to do is plot the current and past volume level on a JPanel.

Write now I am simply reading one byte from the audio buffer, converting it to an int, taking its absolute value, and more or less directly plotting the value on a JPanel. Things more or less work, but I get the feeling that my method is not very orthodox.

So my question basically boils down to the following:
how is audio data typically interpreted when used to represent the current volume level?

Here are some bits of code:

In the following code the byte read from the microphone input is converted to an int, and sent to the JPanel osc, for drawing.

int bufferSize = (int)format.getSampleRate() * format.getFrameSize();
        byte buffer[] = new byte[bufferSize];


while (running) {
              int count =
      , 0, buffer.length);
              if (count > 0) {

                out.write(buffer, 0, count);

The following is the actual JPanel code used to plot the int.

public void addLevel(int i)

    public void draw()
        g = getGraphics();
        int bottom = getHeight();
        //int mult = bottom/128;

        int edge = getWidth()-1;
        for(int c = columns.size()-1; c>-1;  c--)
            System.out.println(edge+" "+bottom+" 1 "+columns.get(c));

The previous code results in this:

And the actual audio format:

float sampleRate = 8000;
        int sampleSizeInBits = 8;
        int channels = 1;
        boolean signed = true;
        boolean bigEndian = true;

So how should this be done? Should I read more bytes? Should I take an average of several bytes? Or is using plain byte information for the volume level foolish altogether?

It depends on why you are displaying the level - if it's to ensure the signal is loud enough, you can just pick a subset of the samples (say 10 / sec) and average them. If you're trying to avoid clipping you need to check every sample and keep the max. value (once again in maybe 10 values / second).
Check out this WikiP article which gives links to useful data on how to scale the output and what time constants to use for different needs.

Alright, that is helpful information. I think that is all I need to know for my purposes, thanks for the help.