Acoustics is the branch of physics that deals with the study of all mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids including topics such as vibration, sound, ultrasound and infrasound. A scientist who works in the field of acoustics is an acoustician while someone working in the field of acoustics technology may be called an acoustical engineer. The application of acoustics is present in almost all aspects of modern society with the most obvious being the audio and noise control industries.
Hearing is one of the most crucial means of survival in the animal world, and speech is one of the most distinctive characteristics of human development and culture. Accordingly, the science of acoustics spreads across many facets of human society—music, medicine, architecture, industrial production, warfare and more. Likewise, animal species such as songbirds and frogs use sound and hearing as a key element of mating rituals or marking territories. Art, craft, science and technology have provoked one another to advance the whole, as in many other fields of knowledge. Robert Bruce Lindsay's 'Wheel of Acoustics' is a well accepted overview of the various fields in acoustics.
The word "acoustic" is derived from the Greek word ἀκουστικός (akoustikos), meaning "of or for hearing, ready to hear" and that from ἀκουστός (akoustos), "heard, audible", which in turn derives from the verb ἀκούω (akouo), "I hear".
The Latin synonym is "sonic", after which the term sonics used to be a synonym for acoustics and later a branch of acoustics. Frequencies above and below the audible range are called "ultrasonic" and "infrasonic", respectively.
In the 6th century BC, the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras wanted to know why some combinations of musical sounds seemed more beautiful than others, and he found answers in terms of numerical ratios representing the harmonic overtone series on a string. He is reputed to have observed that when the lengths of vibrating strings are expressible as ratios of integers (e.g. 2 to 3, 3 to 4), the tones produced will be harmonious, and the smaller the integers the more harmonious the sounds. If, for example, a string of a certain length would sound particularly harmonious with a string of twice the length (other factors being equal). In modern parlance, if a string sounds the note C when plucked, a string twice as long will sound a C an octave lower. In one system of musical tuning, the tones in between are then given by 16:9 for D, 8:5 for E, 3:2 for F, 4:3 for G, 6:5 for A, and 16:15 for B, in ascending order.
Aristotle (384–322 BC) understood that sound consisted of compressions and rarefactions of air which "falls upon and strikes the air which is next to it...", a very good expression of the nature of wave motion.
In about 20 BC, the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius wrote a treatise on the acoustic properties of theaters including discussion of interference, echoes, and reverberation—the beginnings of architectural acoustics. In Book V of his De architectura (The Ten Books of Architecture) Vitruvius describes sound as a wave comparable to a water wave extended to three dimensions, which, when interrupted by obstructions, would flow back and break up following waves. He described the ascending seats in ancient theaters as designed to prevent this deterioration of sound and also recommended bronze vessels of appropriate sizes be placed in theaters to resonate with the fourth, fifth and so on, up to the double octave, in order to resonate with the more desirable, harmonious notes.
The physical understanding of acoustical processes advanced rapidly during and after the Scientific Revolution. Mainly Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) but also Marin Mersenne (1588–1648), independently, discovered the complete laws of vibrating strings (completing what Pythagoras and Pythagoreans had started 2000 years earlier). Galileo wrote "Waves are produced by the vibrations of a sonorous body, which spread through the air, bringing to the tympanum of the ear a stimulus which the mind interprets as sound", a remarkable statement that points to the beginnings of physiological and psychological acoustics. Experimental measurements of the speed of sound in air were carried out successfully between 1630 and 1680 by a number of investigators, prominently Mersenne. Meanwhile, Newton (1642–1727) derived the relationship for wave velocity in solids, a cornerstone of physical acoustics (Principia, 1687).
The eighteenth century saw major advances in acoustics as mathematicians applied the new techniques of calculus to elaborate theories of sound wave propagation. In the nineteenth century the major figures of mathematical acoustics were Helmholtz in Germany, who consolidated the field of physiological acoustics, and Lord Rayleigh in England, who combined the previous knowledge with his own copious contributions to the field in his monumental work The Theory of Sound (1877). Also in the 19th century, Wheatstone, Ohm, and Henry developed the analogy between electricity and acoustics.
The twentieth century saw a burgeoning of technological applications of the large body of scientific knowledge that was by then in place. The first such application was Sabine’s groundbreaking work in architectural acoustics, and many others followed. Underwater acoustics was used for detecting submarines in the first World War. Sound recording and the telephone played important roles in a global transformation of society. Sound measurement and analysis reached new levels of accuracy and sophistication through the use of electronics and computing. The ultrasonic frequency range enabled wholly new kinds of application in medicine and industry. New kinds of transducers (generators and receivers of acoustic energy) were invented and put to use.
Acoustics is defined by ANSI/ASA S1.1-2013 as "(a) Science of sound, including its production, transmission, and effects, including biological and psychological effects. (b) Those qualities of a room that, together, determine its character with respect to auditory effects."
The study of acoustics revolves around the generation, propagation and reception of mechanical waves and vibrations.
The steps shown in the above diagram can be found in any acoustical event or process. There are many kinds of cause, both natural and volitional. There are many kinds of transduction process that convert energy from some other form into sonic energy, producing a sound wave. There is one fundamental equation that describes sound wave propagation, the acoustic wave equation, but the phenomena that emerge from it are varied and often complex. The wave carries energy throughout the propagating medium. Eventually this energy is transduced again into other forms, in ways that again may be natural and/or volitionally contrived. The final effect may be purely physical or it may reach far into the biological or volitional domains. The five basic steps are found equally well whether we are talking about an earthquake, a submarine using sonar to locate its foe, or a band playing in a rock concert.
The central stage in the acoustical process is wave propagation. This falls within the domain of physical acoustics. In fluids, sound propagates primarily as a pressure wave. In solids, mechanical waves can take many forms including longitudinal waves, transverse waves and surface waves.
Acoustics looks first at the pressure levels and frequencies in the sound wave and how the wave interacts with the environment. This interaction can be described as either a diffraction, interference or a reflection or a mix of the three. If several media are present, a refraction can also occur. Transduction processes are also of special importance to acoustics.
In fluids such as air and water, sound waves propagate as disturbances in the ambient pressure level. While this disturbance is usually small, it is still noticeable to the human ear. The smallest sound that a person can hear, known as the threshold of hearing, is nine orders of magnitude smaller than the ambient pressure. The loudness of these disturbances is related to the sound pressure level (SPL) which is measured on a logarithmic scale in decibels.
Physicists and acoustic engineers tend to discuss sound pressure levels in terms of frequencies, partly because this is how our ears interpret sound. What we experience as "higher pitched" or "lower pitched" sounds are pressure vibrations having a higher or lower number of cycles per second. In a common technique of acoustic measurement, acoustic signals are sampled in time, and then presented in more meaningful forms such as octave bands or time frequency plots. Both of these popular methods are used to analyze sound and better understand the acoustic phenomenon.
The entire spectrum can be divided into three sections: audio, ultrasonic, and infrasonic. The audio range falls between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. This range is important because its frequencies can be detected by the human ear. This range has a number of applications, including speech communication and music. The ultrasonic range refers to the very high frequencies: 20,000 Hz and higher. This range has shorter wavelengths which allow better resolution in imaging technologies. Medical applications such as ultrasonography and elastography rely on the ultrasonic frequency range. On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest frequencies are known as the infrasonic range. These frequencies can be used to study geological phenomena such as earthquakes.
Analytic instruments such as the spectrum analyzer facilitate visualization and measurement of acoustic signals and their properties. The spectrogram produced by such an instrument is a graphical display of the time varying pressure level and frequency profiles which give a specific acoustic signal its defining character.
A transducer is a device for converting one form of energy into another. In an electroacoustic context, this means converting sound energy into electrical energy (or vice versa). Electroacoustic transducers include loudspeakers, microphones, hydrophones and sonar projectors. These devices convert a sound pressure wave to or from an electric signal. The most widely used transduction principles are electromagnetism, electrostatics and piezoelectricity.
The transducers in most common loudspeakers (e.g. woofers and tweeters), are electromagnetic devices that generate waves using a suspended diaphragm driven by an electromagnetic voice coil, sending off pressure waves. Electret microphones and condenser microphones employ electrostatics—as the sound wave strikes the microphone's diaphragm, it moves and induces a voltage change. The ultrasonic systems used in medical ultrasonography employ piezoelectric transducers. These are made from special ceramics in which mechanical vibrations and electrical fields are interlinked through a property of the material itself.
An acoustician is an expert in the science of sound.
There are many types of acoustician, but they usually have a Bachelor's degree or higher qualification. Some possess a degree in acoustics, while others enter the discipline via studies in fields such as physics or engineering. Much work in acoustics requires a good grounding in Mathematics and science. Many acoustic scientists work in research and development. Some conduct basic research to advance our knowledge of the perception (e.g. hearing, psychoacoustics or neurophysiology) of speech, music and noise. Other acoustic scientists advance understanding of how sound is affected as it moves through environments, e.g. Underwater acoustics, Architectural acoustics or Structural acoustics. Others areas of work are listed under subdisciplines below. Acoustic scientists work in government, university and private industry laboratories. Many go on to work in Acoustical Engineering. Some positions, such as Faculty (academic staff) require a Doctor of Philosophy.
Aeroacoustics is the study of noise generated by air movement, for instance via turbulence, and the movement of sound through the fluid air. This knowledge is applied in acoustical engineering to study how to quieten aircraft. Aeroacoustics is important to understanding how wind musical instruments work.
Acoustic signal processing is the electronic manipulation of acoustic signals. Applications include: active noise control; design for hearing aids or cochlear implants; echo cancellation; music information retrieval, and perceptual coding (e.g. MP3 or Opus).
Architectural acoustics (also known as building acoustics) involves the scientific understanding of how to achieve good sound within a building. It typically involves the study of speech intelligibility, speech privacy, music quality, and vibration reduction in the built environment.
This subdiscipline is concerned with the recording, manipulation and reproduction of audio using electronics. This might include products such as mobile phones, large scale public address systems or virtual reality systems in research laboratories.
Environmental acoustics is concerned with noise and vibration caused by railways, road traffic, aircraft, industrial equipment and recreational activities. The main aim of these studies is to reduce levels of environmental noise and vibration. Research work now also has a focus on the positive use of sound in urban environments: soundscapes and tranquility.
Musical acoustics is the study of the physics of acoustic instruments; the audio signal processing used in electronic music; the computer analysis of music and composition, and the perception and cognitive neuroscience of music.
Acousticians study the production, processing and perception of speech. Speech recognition and Speech synthesis are two important areas of speech processing using computers. The subject also overlaps with the disciplines of physics, physiology, psychology, and linguistics.
Ultrasonics deals with sounds at frequencies too high to be heard by humans. Specialisms include medical ultrasonics (including medical ultrasonography), sonochemistry, material characterisation and underwater acoustics (Sonar).
Underwater acoustics is the scientific study of natural and man-made sounds underwater. Applications include sonar to locate submarines, underwater communication by whales, climate change monitoring by measuring sea temperatures acoustically, sonic weapons, and marine bioacoustics.
This is the study of how mechanical systems vibrate and interact with their surroundings. Applications might include: ground vibrations from railways; vibration isolation to reduce vibration in operating theatres; studying how vibration can damage health (vibration white finger); vibration control to protect a building from earthquakes, or measuring how structure-borne sound moves through buildings.
Acoustic music is music that solely or primarily uses instruments that produce sound through acoustic means, as opposed to electric or electronic means; typically the phrase refers to that made by acoustic string instruments. While all music was once acoustic, the retronym "acoustic music" appeared after the advent of electric instruments, such as the electric guitar, electric violin, electric organ and synthesizer. Acoustic string instrumentations had long been a subset of popular music, particularly in folk. It stood in contrast to various other types of music in various eras, including big band music in the pre-rock era, and electric music in the rock era.
Writing for Splendid, music reviewer Craig Conley suggests, "When music is labeled acoustic, unplugged, or unwired, the assumption seems to be that other types of music are cluttered by technology and overproduction and therefore aren't as pure".Acoustical engineering
Acoustical engineering (also known as acoustic engineering) is the branch of engineering dealing with sound and vibration. It is the application of acoustics, the science of sound and vibration, in technology. Acoustical engineers are typically concerned with the design, analysis and control of sound.
One goal of acoustical engineering can be the reduction of unwanted noise, which is referred to as noise control. Unwanted noise can have significant impacts on animal and human health and well-being, reduce attainmen by pupils in schools, and cause hearing loss. Noise control principles are implemented into technology and design in a variety of ways, including control by redesigning sound sources, the design of noise barriers, sound absorbers, suppressors, and buffer zones, and the use of hearing protection (earmuffs or earplugs).
But acoustical engineering is not just about noise control; it also covers positive uses of sound, from the use of ultrasound in medicine to the programming of digital sound synthesizers, and from designing a concert hall to enhance the sound of an orchestra to specifying a railway station's sound system so announcements are intelligible.Architectural acoustics
Architectural acoustics (also known as room acoustics and building acoustics) is the science and engineering of achieving a good sound within a building and is a branch of acoustical engineering. The first application of modern scientific methods to architectural acoustics was carried out by Wallace Sabine in the Fogg Museum lecture room who then applied his new found knowledge to the design of Symphony Hall, Boston.Architectural acoustics can be about achieving good speech intelligibility in a theatre, restaurant or railway station, enhancing the quality of music in a concert hall or recording studio, or suppressing noise to make offices and homes more productive and pleasant places to work and live in. Architectural acoustic design is usually done by acoustic consultants.Audio engineer
An audio engineer (also known as a sound engineer or recording engineer) helps to produce a recording or a live performance, balancing and adjusting sound sources using equalization and audio effects, mixing, reproduction, and reinforcement of sound. Audio engineers work on the "...technical aspect of recording—the placing of microphones, pre-amp knobs, the setting of levels. The physical recording of any project is done by an engineer ... the nuts and bolts." It's a creative hobby and profession where musical instruments and technology are used to produce sound for film, radio, television, music, and video games. Audio engineers also set up, sound check and do live sound mixing using a mixing console and a sound reinforcement system for music concerts, theatre, sports games and corporate events.
Alternatively, audio engineer can refer to a scientist or professional engineer who holds an engineering degree and who designs, develops and builds audio or musical technology working under terms such as acoustical engineering, electronic/electrical engineering or (musical) signal processing.Beat (acoustics)
In acoustics, a beat is an interference pattern between two sounds of slightly different frequencies, perceived as a periodic variation in volume whose rate is the difference of the two frequencies.
When tuning instruments that can produce sustained tones, beats can be readily recognized. Tuning two tones to a unison will present a peculiar effect: when the two tones are close in pitch but not identical, the difference in frequency generates the beating. The volume varies like in a tremolo as the sounds alternately interfere constructively and destructively. As the two tones gradually approach unison, the beating slows down and may become so slow as to be imperceptible. As the two tones get further apart, their beat frequency starts to approach the range of human pitch perception, the beating starts to sound like a note, and a combination tone is produced. This combination tone can also be referred to as a missing fundamental, as the beat frequency of any two tones is equivalent to the frequency of their implied fundamental frequency.DTS (sound system)
DTS, Inc. (originally Digital Theater Systems) is an American company that makes multichannel audio technologies for film and video. Based in Calabasas, California, the company introduced its DTS technology in 1993 as a higher-quality competitor to Dolby Laboratories, incorporating DTS in the film Jurassic Park. The DTS product is used in surround sound formats for both commercial/theatrical and consumer-grade applications. It was known as The Digital Experience until 1995. DTS licenses its technologies to consumer electronics manufacturers.
The DTS brand was bought by Tessera in December 2016, then Tessera changed its name to Xperi.Decibel
The decibel (symbol: dB) is a unit of measurement used to express the ratio of one value of a power or field quantity to another on a logarithmic scale, the logarithmic quantity being called the power level or field level, respectively. It can be used to express a change in value (e.g., +1 dB or −1 dB) or an absolute value. In the latter case, it expresses the ratio of a value to a fixed reference value; when used in this way, a suffix that indicates the reference value is often appended to the decibel symbol. For example, if the reference value is 1 volt, then the suffix is "V" (e.g., "20 dBV"), and if the reference value is one milliwatt, then the suffix is "m" (e.g., "20 dBm").Two different scales are used when expressing a ratio in decibels, depending on the nature of the quantities: power and field (root-power). When expressing a power ratio, the number of decibels is ten times its logarithm to base 10. That is, a change in power by a factor of 10 corresponds to a 10 dB change in level. When expressing field (root-power) quantities, a change in amplitude by a factor of 10 corresponds to a 20 dB change in level. The extra factor of two is due to the logarithm of the quadratic relationship between power and amplitude in most systems. The decibel scales differ so that the related power and field quantities change by the same number of decibels.
The definition of the decibel is based on the measurement of power in telephony of the early 20th century in the Bell System in the United States. One decibel is one tenth (deci-) of one bel, named in honor of Alexander Graham Bell; however, the bel is seldom used. Today, the decibel is used for a wide variety of measurements in science and engineering, most prominently in acoustics, electronics, and control theory. In electronics, the gains of amplifiers, attenuation of signals, and signal-to-noise ratios are often expressed in decibels.
In the International System of Quantities, the decibel is defined as a unit of measurement for quantities of type level or level difference, which are defined as the logarithm of the ratio of power- or field-type quantities.Echo
In audio signal processing and acoustics, echo is a reflection of sound that arrives at the listener with a delay after the direct sound. The delay is directly proportional to the distance of the reflecting surface from the source and the listener. Typical examples are the echo produced by the bottom of a well, by a building, or by the walls of an enclosed room and an empty room. A true echo is a single reflection of the sound source.The word echo derives from the Greek ἠχώ (ēchō), itself from ἦχος (ēchos), "sound". Echo in the folk story of Greek is a mountain nymph whose ability to speak was cursed, only able to repeat the last words anyone spoke to her. Some animals use echo for location sensing and navigation, such as cetaceans (dolphins and whales) and bats.Fisheries acoustics
Fisheries acoustics includes a range of research and practical application topics using acoustical devices as sensors in aquatic environments. Acoustical techniques can be applied to sensing aquatic animals, zooplankton, and physical and biological habitat characteristics.Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second (60 seconds divided by 120 beats). Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.Leo Beranek
Leo Leroy Beranek (September 15, 1914 – October 10, 2016) was an American acoustics expert, former MIT professor, and a founder and former president of Bolt, Beranek and Newman (now BBN Technologies). He authored Acoustics, considered a classic textbook in this field, and its updated and extended version published in 2012 under the title Acoustics: Sound Fields and Transducers. He was also an expert in the design and evaluation of concert halls and opera houses, and authored the classic textbook Music, Acoustics, and Architecture, revised and extended in 2004 under the title Concert Halls and Opera Houses: Music, Acoustics, and Architecture.Musical acoustics
Musical acoustics or music acoustics is a branch of acoustics concerned with researching and describing the physics of music – how sounds are employed to make music. Examples of areas of study are the function of musical instruments, the human voice (the physics of speech and singing), computer analysis of melody, and in the clinical use of music in music therapy.Psychoacoustics
Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of sound perception and audiology – how humans perceive various sounds. More specifically, it is the branch of science studying the psychological and physiological responses associated with sound (including noise, speech and music). It can be further categorized as a branch of psychophysics. Psychoacoustics received its name from a field within psychology—i.e., recognition science—which deals with all kinds of human perceptions. It is an interdisciplinary field of many areas, including psychology, acoustics, electronic engineering, physics, biology, physiology, and computer science.Sonar
Sonar (originally an acronym for sound navigation ranging) is a technique that uses sound propagation (usually underwater, as in submarine navigation) to navigate, communicate with or detect objects on or under the surface of the water, such as other vessels. Two types of technology share the name "sonar": passive sonar is essentially listening for the sound made by vessels; active sonar is emitting pulses of sounds and listening for echoes. Sonar may be used as a means of acoustic location and of measurement of the echo characteristics of "targets" in the water. Acoustic location in air was used before the introduction of radar. Sonar may also be used in air for robot navigation, and SODAR (an upward-looking in-air sonar) is used for atmospheric investigations. The term sonar is also used for the equipment used to generate and receive the sound. The acoustic frequencies used in sonar systems vary from very low (infrasonic) to extremely high (ultrasonic). The study of underwater sound is known as underwater acoustics or hydroacoustics.
The first recorded use of the technique was by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490 who used a tube inserted into the water to detect vessels by ear. It was developed during World War I to counter the growing threat of submarine warfare, with an operational passive sonar system in use by 1918. Modern active sonar systems use an acoustic transponder to generate a sound wave which is reflected back from target objects.Sound
In physics, sound is a vibration that typically propagates as an audible wave of pressure, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid.
In human physiology and psychology, sound is the reception of such waves and their perception by the brain. Humans can only hear sound waves as distinct pitches when the frequency lies between about 20 Hz and 20 kHz. Sound waves above 20 kHz are known as ultrasound and is not perceptible by humans. Sound waves below 20 Hz are known as infrasound. Different animal species have varying hearing ranges.Stanford University centers and institutes
Stanford University has many centers and institutes dedicated to the study of various specific topics. These centers and institutes may be within a department, within a school but across departments, an independent laboratory, institute or center reporting directly to the Dean of Research and outside any school, or semi-independent of the University itself.Underwater acoustics
Underwater acoustics is the study of the propagation of sound in water and the interaction of the mechanical waves that constitute sound with the water, its contents and its boundaries. The water may be in the ocean, a lake, a river or a tank. Typical frequencies associated with underwater acoustics are between 10 Hz and 1 MHz. The propagation of sound in the ocean at frequencies lower than 10 Hz is usually not possible without penetrating deep into the seabed, whereas frequencies above 1 MHz are rarely used because they are absorbed very quickly. Underwater acoustics is sometimes known as hydroacoustics.
The field of underwater acoustics is closely related to a number of other fields of acoustic study, including sonar, transduction, acoustic signal processing, acoustical oceanography, bioacoustics, and physical acoustics.Xeno-canto
xeno-canto is a citizen science project in which volunteers record, upload and annotate recordings of birdsong and bird calls. All the recordings are published under one of the Creative Commons licenses, including some with open licences.
The data has been re-used in scientific papers. The website is supported by a number of academic and birdwatching institutions worldwide, with its primary support being in the Netherlands.