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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Artificial omni-directional sound source in anechoic acoustic chamber

Acoustics is the interdisciplinary science that deals with the study of sound, ultrasound and infrasound (all mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids). A scientist who works in the field of acoustics is an acoustician. The application of acoustics in technology is called acoustical engineering. There is often much overlap and interaction between the interests of acousticians and acoustical engineers.

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. So it is no surprise that the science of acoustics spreads across so many facets of our society—music, medicine, architecture, industrial production, warfare and more. Art, craft, science and technology have provoked one another to advance the whole, as in many other fields of knowledge.

The word "acoustic" is derived from the Greek word ἀκουστικός (akoustikos), meaning "of or for hearing, ready to hear"[1] and that from ἀκουστός (akoustos), "heard, audible"[2], which in turn derives from the verb ἀκούω (akouo), "I hear"[3]. The Latin synonym is "sonic". After acousticians had extended their studies to frequencies above and below the audible range, it became conventional to identify these frequency ranges as "ultrasonic" and "infrasonic" respectively, while letting the word "acoustic" refer to the entire frequency range without limit.


History of acoustics

Early research in acoustics

The fundamental and the first 6 overtones of a vibrating string. The earliest records of the study of this phenomenon are attributed to Ancient Chinese 3000 BC.

Many books and websites about musical theory written by Western musicologists mention Pythagoras as the first person studying the relation of string lengths to consonance. However, from at least 3000 BC, the Chinese were already using a scale based on the knotted positions of overtones that indicated the consonant pitches related to the open string, present at their Guqin[4]. Like the Chinese, Pythagoras wanted to know why some intervals seemed more beautiful than others, and he found answers in terms of numerical ratios representing the harmonic overtone series on a string. Aristotle (384-322 BC) understood that sound consisted of contractions and expansions of the air "falling upon and striking 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 theatres including discussion of interference, echoes, and reverberation—the beginnings of architectural acoustics.[5]

The physical understanding of acoustical processes advanced rapidly during and after the Scientific Revolution. Galileo (1564–1642) and Mersenne (1588–1648) independently discovered the complete laws of vibrating strings (completing what Pythagoras 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 Age of Enlightenment and onward

The eighteenth century saw major advances in acoustics at the hands of the great mathematicians of that era, who applied the new techniques of the calculus to the elaboration of wave propagation theory. In the nineteenth century the giants of 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". 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.

Fundamental concepts of acoustics

At Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a LARES system is combined with a zoned sound reinforcement system, both suspended on an overhead steel trellis, to synthesize an indoor acoustic environment outdoors.

The study of acoustics revolves around the generation, propagation and reception of mechanical waves and vibrations.

The fundamental acoustical process

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 acoustic energy, producing the acoustic wave. There is one fundamental equation that describes acoustic wave propagation, 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. Transduction processes are also of special importance.

Wave propagation: pressure levels

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 called the sound pressure level, and is measured on a logarithmic scale in decibels. Mathematically, sound pressure level is defined

SPL = 10\times\log_{10}\frac{p^2}{p_{ref}^2} = 20\times\log_{10}\frac{p}{p_{ref}}

where pref is the threshold of hearing and p is the change in pressure from the ambient pressure. The following table gives a few examples of sounds and their strengths in decibels and pascals[6].

Example of Common Sound Pressure Amplitude Decibel Level
Threshold of Hearing 20×10-6 Pa 0 dB
Normal talking at 1 m 0.002 to 0.02 Pa 40 to 60 dB
Power lawnmower at 1 m 2 Pa 100 dB
Jet engine or rock concert 20 Pa 120 dB
Threshold of Pain 200 Pa 140 dB

Wave propagation: frequency

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 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 allows 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 phenomenon such as earthquakes.

Transduction in acoustics

An inexpensive low fidelity 3.5 inch driver, typically found in small radios

A transducer is a device for converting one form of energy into another. In an acoustical context, this usually means converting sound energy into electrical energy (or vice versa). For nearly all acoustic applications, some type of acoustic transducer is necessary. Acoustic transducers include loudspeakers, microphones, hydrophones and sonar projectors. These devices convert an electric signal to or from a sound pressure wave. The most widely used transduction principles are electromagnetism (at lower frequencies) and piezoelectricity (at higher frequencies).

A subwoofer, used to generate lower frequency sound in speaker audio systems, is an electromagnetic device. Subwoofers generate waves using a suspended diaphragm which oscillates, sending off pressure waves. Electret microphones are a common type of microphone which employ an effect similar to piezoelectricity. As the sound wave strikes the electret's surface, the surface moves and sends off an electrical signal.

Divisions of acoustics

Countless subfields have been created as we have perfected our understanding of the underlying physics of acoustics. The table below shows seventeen major subfields of acoustics established in the PACS classification system. These have been grouped into three domains: physical acoustics, biological acoustics and acoustical engineering.

Physical acoustics Biological acoustics Acoustical engineering

See also


  1. ^ Akoustikos Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  2. ^ Akoustos Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  3. ^ Akouo Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  4. ^ Article explaining the relation between the origin of consonant positions of a string related to the open string and the Ancient Chinese Scale
  5. ^ ACOUSTICS, Bruce Lindsay, Dowden - Hutchingon Books Publishers, Chapter 3
  6. ^ Bies, David A., and Hansen, Colin. (2003). Engineering Noise Control.


  • Benade, Arthur H (1976). Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics. New York: Oxford University Press. OCLC 2270137. 
  • Rayleigh, J. W. S. (1894). The Theory of Sound. New York: Dover. 
  • Stephens, R. W. B.; Bate, A. E. (1966). Acoustics and Vibrational Physics (2nd ed.). London: Edward Arnold. 
  • Wilson, Charles E. (2006). Noise Control (Revised ed.). Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company. ISBN 1575242370. OCLC 59223706. 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ACOUSTICS (from the Gr. anobaav to hear), a title frequently given to the science of sound, that is, to the description and theory of the phenomena which give rise to the sensation of sound. The term "acoustics" might, however, with advantage be reserved for the aspect of the subject more immediately connected with hearing. Thus we may speak appropriately of the acoustic quality of a room or hall, describing it as good or bad acoustically, according as speaking is heard in it easily or with difficulty. When a room has bad acoustic quality we can almost always assign the fault to Large smooth surfaces on the walls, floor or ceiling, which reflect or echo the voice of the speaker so that the direct waves sent out by him at any instant are received by a hearer with the waves sent out previously and reflected at these smooth surfaces. The syllables overlap, and the hearing is confused. The acoustic quality of a room may be improved by breaking up the smooth surfaces by curtains or by arrangement of furniture. The echo is then broken up into small waves, none of which may be sufficiently distinct to interfere with the direct voice. Sometimes a sounding-board over the head of a speaker improves the hearing probably by preventing echo from a smooth wall behind him.

A large bare floor is undoubtedly bad for acoustics, for when a room is filled by an audience the hearing is much improved.

Wires are frequently stretched across a room overhead, probably with the idea that they will prevent the voice from reaching the roof and being reflected there, but there is no reason to suppose that they are efficient. The only cure appears to consist in breaking up the reflecting surfaces so that the reflexion shall be much less regular and distinct. Probably drapery assists by absorbing the sound to some extent, and thus it lessens the echo besides breaking it up. (J. H. P.)

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

Logo of the Book Acoustics

Acoustics (from Greek ακουστικός pronounced akoustikos meaning "of or for hearing, ready to hear") is the science that studies sound, in particular its production, transmission, and effects. Sound can often be considered as something pleasant; an example of this would be music. In that case a main application is room acoustics, since the purpose of room acoustical design and optimisation is to make a room sound as good as possible. But some noises can also be unpleasant and make people feel uncomfortable. In fact noise reduction is a major challenge, particularly within the transportation industry as people are becoming more and more demanding. Furthermore ultrasounds also have applications in detection, such as sonar systems or non-destructive material testing. The articles in this Wikibook describe the fundamentals of acoustics and some of the major applications.

In order to add an article to this Wikibook, please read the How to contribute? section.


  1. Fundamentals of Acoustics
  2. Fundamentals of Room Acoustics
  3. Fundamentals of Psychoacoustics
  4. Sound Speed
  5. Filter Design and Implementation
  6. Flow-induced oscillations of a Helmholtz resonator
  7. Active Control


Applications in Transport Industry

  1. Rotor Stator interactions
  2. Car Mufflers
  3. Sonic Boom
  4. Sonar
  5. Interior Sound Transmission

Applications in Room Acoustics

  1. Anechoic and reverberation rooms
  2. Basic Room Acoustic Treatments

Applications in Psychoacoustics

  1. Human Vocal Fold
  2. Threshold of Hearing/Pain

Musical Acoustics Applications

  1. How an Acoustic Guitar Works
  2. Basic Acoustics of the Marimba
  3. Bessel Functions and the Kettledrum
  4. Acoustics in Violins
  5. Microphone Technique
  6. Microphone Design and Operation
  7. Acoustic Loudspeaker
  8. Sealed Box Subwoofer Design

Miscellaneous Applications

  1. Bass-Reflex Enclosure Design
  2. Polymer-Film Acoustic Filters
  3. Noise in Hydraulic Systems
  4. Noise from Cooling Fans
  5. Piezoelectric Transducers

Simple English

Acoustics is the study of sound.

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