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Acoustics and Psychoacoustics: Introduction to sound - Part 1
David Howard and Jamie Angus 2/27/2008 12:35 PM EST
Brush up on the nature of sound with this excerpt from the book "Acoustics And Psychoacoustics." Part 1 covers pressure waves and sound transmission, and offers some example calculations. Sound is something most people take for granted. Our environment is full of noises, which we have been exposed to from before birth. What is sound, how does it propagate, and how can it be quantified? The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the reader to the basic elements of sound, the way it propagates, and related topics. This will help us to understand both the nature of sound, and its behaviour in a variety of acoustic contexts and allow us to understand both the operation of musical instruments and the interaction of sound with our hearing. 1.1 PRESSURE WAVES AND SOUND TRANSMISSION At a physical level sound is simply a mechanical disturbance of the medium, which may be air, or a solid, liquid or other gas. However, such a simplistic description is not very useful as it provides no information about the way this disturbance travels, or any of its characteristics other than the requirement for a medium in order for it to propagate. What is required is a more accurate description which can be used to make predictions of the behaviour of sound in a variety of contexts. 1.1.1 The nature of sound waves Consider the simple mechanical model of the propagation of sound through some physical medium, shown in Figure 1.1. This

Figure 1.1 Golf ball and spring model of a sound propagating material. shows a simple one-dimensional model of a physical medium, such as air, which we call the golf ball and spring model because it consists of a series of masses, e.g. golf balls, connected together by springs. The golf balls represent the point masses of the molecules in a real material, and the springs represent the intermolecular forces between them. If the golf ball at the end is pushed toward the others then the spring linking it to the next golf ball will be compressed and will push at the next golf ball in the line which will compress the next spring, and so on. Because of the mass of the golf balls there will be a time lag before they start moving from the action of the connecting springs. This means that the disturbance caused by moving the first golf ball will take some time to travel down to the other end. If the golf ball at the beginning is returned to its original position the whole process just described will happen again, except that the golf balls will be pulled rather than pushed and the connecting springs will have to expand rather than compress. At the end of


com/General/DisplayPrintViewContent?contentItemId=4015859 2/6/2011 .eetimes. Figure 1.2 Golf ball and spring model of a sound pulse propagating in a material. moves down the 'string' of connected golf balls will depend on two things: The mass of the golf balls: the mass affects the speed of disturbance propagation because a golf ball with more mass will take longer to start and stop moving. such as strings or membranes. The region where the golf balls are pushed together is known as a compression whereas the region where they are pulled apart is known as a rarefaction. and the golf balls themselves are the propagating medium.the golf balls are pushed and pulled in the direction of the disturbance's travel . usually air. This type of wave is known as a transverse wave and is often found in the vibrations of parts of musical instruments. a disturbance would naturally consist of either a compression followed by a rarefaction or a rarefaction followed by a compression in order to allow the medium to return to its normal state. The velocity of sound waves 1. Sound waves are therefore longitudinal waves which propagate via a series of compressions and rarefactions in a medium.this type of propagation is known as a longitudinal wave. instead of being pushed and pulled toward each other. of either kind. Because of the way the disturbance moves .Page 2 of 12 all this the system will end up with the golf balls having the same average spacing that they had before they were pushed and pulled.1. If. such as air. due to the forces exerted by the springs on the golf balls as described earlier. In real materials the density of the http://www. In a real propagating medium. the golf balls were moved from side to side then a lateral disturbance would be propagated.2 The velocity of sound waves The speed at which a disturbance. A picture of what happens is shown in Figure 1. There is an alternative way that a disturbance could be propagated down the golf ball and spring system.2.

and its Young's modulus is 2.1 x 1011 / 7800) = 5189 ms-1 The density of beech wood is 680 kg 2/6/2011 . To make this clearer let us consider an example. The density of steel is 7800 kg m-3.1 . which http://www. so the speed of sound in steel is given by:4 vsteel = √(2.109 Nm-2 across the grain. A higher density gives a higher effective mass and so the propagation will travel more slowly. The strength of the springs: the strength of the springs connecting the golf balls together will also affect the speed of disturbance propagation because a stronger spring will be able to push harder on the next golf ball and so accelerate it faster. and its Young's modulus is 14 . the speed of propagation is only affected by the density and Young's modulus of the material and this can be simply calculated from the following equation:2 v = √(E/ρ) (1. For longitudinal waves in solids.109 Nm-2 along the grain and 0. In real materials the strength of the springs is equivalent to the elastic modulus of the material. although the density3 of a solid is independent of the direction of propagation in a solid. For example. brass will have a Young's modulus which is independent of direction because it is homogeneous whereas wood will have a different Young's modulus depending on whether it is measured across the grain or with the grain. the Young's modulus may not be. This variation of the speed of sound in materials such as wood can affect the acoustics of musical instruments made of wood and has particular implications for the design of loudspeaker cabinets. A higher elastic modulus in the material implies a stiffer spring and therefore a faster speed of disturbance propagation.Page 3 of 12 material determines the effective mass of the golf balls.1011 Nm-2.eetimes.88 x 109 / 680) = 1138 ms-1 Thus the speed of sound in beech is four times faster along the grain than across the grain. which is also known as the Young's modulus1 of the material. Thus brass will propagate a disturbance with a velocity which is independent of direction but in wood the velocity will depend on whether the disturbance is travelling with the grain or across it. This means that the speed of sound is different in the two directions and they are given by: vbeech along the grain = √(14 x 109 / 680) = 4537 ms-1 and vbeech across the grain = √(0.1) where v = the speed in metres per second (ms-1) ρ = the density of the material (in kg m-3) and E = the Young's modulus of the material (in N m-2) However.88 . Example 1.1 Calculate the speed of sound in steel and in beech wood.

Equation 1. and air to be somewhere in between.1 cannot be applied directly. gas law given by: PVγ = constant (1.1.3 and 1.5 is important because it shows that the speed of sound in a gas is not affected by pressure. http://www.4 for air) The adiabatic gas law equation is used because the disturbance moves so quickly that there is no time for heat to transfer from the compressions or rarefactions. sound is more usually considered as something that propagates through air. This can be done by considering the adiabatic. Example 1. even though the same mechanisms for sound propagation are involved. The velocity of sound in air 1. to be faster than that of a heavy gas.3 The velocity of sound in air So far the speed of sound in solids has been considered. which is: vgas = √(Egas/ρgas) = √(γP/(PM/RT)) = √(γRT/M) (1. Thus we would expect the speed of sound in a light gas.4 can be used to give the equation for the speed of sound in air. In general. Unfortunately air does not have a Young's modulus so Equation 1. For air we can calculate the speed of sound as follows. and for music this is the normal medium for sound propagation.31 J K-1 mole-1) and T = the absolute temperature (in K) Equations 1. meaning no heat transfer. the speed of sound is strongly affected by the absolute temperature and the molecular weight of the gas. However. such as carbon dioxide.2 gives a relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas and this can be used to determine the strength of the air spring.eetimes.2) where P = the pressure5 of the gas (in N m-2) V = the volume of the gas (in m3) and γ = is a constant which depends on the gas ( 2/6/2011 . so a means of obtaining something equivalent to Young's modulus for air is required.3) where m = the mass of the gas (in kg) M = the molecular mass of the gas (in kg mole-1)6 R = the gas constant (8. such as plywood or MDF (medium density fibreboard). Air is springy. as any one who has held their finger over a bicycle pump and pushed the plunger will tell you.2 Calculate the speed of sound in air at 0°C and 20°C.5) Equation 1. or the equivalent to Young's modulus for air. which is given by: Egas = γP The density of a gas is given by: ρgas = m/V = PM/RT (1. loudspeaker manufacturers choose processed woods.4) (1.Page 4 of 12 are often made of wood. such as helium. which have a Young's modulus which is independent of direction. Instead.

thus the speed of sound in air at 0°C and 20° C is: v0°C = 20. as the temperature rises the volume increases and providing the pressure remains constant.87 x 10-2) v = 20.Page 5 of 12 The composition of air is 21% oxygen (O2). In fact the dominant factor other than temperature on the speed of sound in a gas is the molecular weight of the gas.4 R = 8. for example helium.4 which describes the density of an ideal gas. 1% argon (Ar). But the effective molecular weight can also be altered by the presence of water vapour. This gives the molecular weight of air as: M = 21% x 16 x 2 + 78% x 14 x 2 + 1% x 18 = 2.87 x 10-2 kg mole-1 and γ = 2/6/2011 .3 + 0. (1. the density decreases. because they have a lower weight.6 ms-1 for each °C rise in ambient temperature and this can have important consequences for the way in which sound propagates. and. as shown by Equation 1. Secondly. This is clearly different if the gas is different from air.31 x T) / 2. if the pressure does alter.eetimes. this slightly increases the speed of sound compared with dry air.1 √(273 + 20) = 344 ms-1 The reason for the increase in the speed of sound as a function of temperature is twofold.1 √(273 + 0) = 332 ms-1 v20°C = 20. and minute traces of other gases. as given by Equation 1.6) http://www.3. which can be obtained by adding 273 to the Celsius temperature. because the water molecules displace some of the air. Firstly.1√T Thus the speed of sound in air is dependent only on the square root of the absolute temperature.31 J K-1 mole-1 which gives the speed of sound as: v = √((1. 78% nitrogen (N2). Although the speed of sound in air is proportional to the square root of absolute temperature we can approximate this change over our normal temperature range by the linear equation: v ≈ 331.4 x 8. its effect on the density is compensated for by an increase in the effective Young's modulus for air.6t ms-1 where t = the temperature of the air in °C Therefore we can see that sound increases by about 0.

Young's modulus and corresponding velocity of longitudinal waves. tension is higher. Table 1. the static spring tension will have a significant effect on the acceleration of the golf balls in the golf ball and spring model.1 Young's modulus.1. For example. Also there are several different possible transverse waves in three-dimensional objects. If the tension is low then the force which restores the golf balls back to their original position will be lower and so the wave will propagate more slowly than when the Figure 1.eetimes. densities and speeds of sound for some common materials The velocity of transverse waves 1.Page 6 of 12 Table 2/6/2011 .4 The velocity of transverse waves The velocities of transverse vibrations are affected by other factors. for a variety of materials. For example. http://www. there are different directions of vibration and in addition there are different forms.3 Some different forms of transverse wave.1 gives the density.

Example 1.eetimes.Page 7 of 12 depending on whether opposing surfaces are vibrating in similar or contrary motion. This becomes important when one considers the operation of percussion instruments.1. However. and will be affected differently by external factors such as shape.3. and under 627 N of tension. Let us calculate the speed of a transverse vibration on a steel string. such as a periodic one. calculating the velocity is more complex because for anything larger than a theoretical infinitely thin string the speed is affected by the geometry of the propagating medium and the type of wave. However. is applicable to most strings that one is likely to meet in practice.8 x 10-3 / 2)2 = 3.92 x 10-3 kg m-1 The speed of the transverse wave is thus: vsteel transverse = √(627 / 3. as mentioned earlier. The mass per unit length is given by: µ steel = ρsteel(πr2) = 7800 x 3. http://www.92 x 10-3) = 400 ms-1 This is considerably slower than a longitudinal wave in the same material and generally transverse waves propagate more slowly than longitudinal ones in a given material. Thus any other type of disturbance. would also travel at a constant speed. (1.8 mm in diameter (this could be a steel guitar string).14 x (0. such as transverse. and gets stronger for thicker pieces of wire. As all of these different ways of moving will have different spring constants.7 can be used for most practical purposes.7) The wavelength and frequency of sound waves 1. this is the dominant form of vibration for thin strings. However. This effect does alter the timbre of percussive stringed instruments. this means that for any shape more complicated than a thin string the velocity of propagation of transverse modes of vibration becomes extremely 2/6/2011 . torsional and others. see Figure 1. Its main error is due to the inherent stiffness in real materials which results in a slight increase in velocity with frequency. like the piano. Equation 1. although it is derived assuming an infinitely thin string. For transverse waves. But it is applicable only to pure transverse vibration: it does not apply to torsional or other modes of vibration. the transverse vibration of strings is quite important for a number of musical instruments and the velocity of a transverse wave in a piece of string can be calculated by the following equation: vtransverse = √T/µ where µ = the mass per unit length (in kg m-1) and T = the tension of the string (in N) This equation.3 Calculate the speed of a transverse vibration on a steel wire which is 0.5 The wavelength and frequency of sound waves So far we have only considered the propagation of a single disturbance through the golf ball and spring model and we have seen that the disturbance travels at a constant velocity which is dependent only on the characteristics of the medium.

The frequency used to be expressed in units of cycles per second. more complicated wave forms can always be described in terms of these simpler sine waves. because the velocity is constant. reflecting the origin of the waveform. where the compressions and rarefactions are periodic. This will produce a pressure variation as a function of time which is proportional to the sine of Figure 1.eetimes. and their starting position or 2/6/2011 .5.4 shows the golf ball and spring model being excited by a pin attached to a wheel rotating at a constant rate of rotation. It is important because it represents the simplest form of periodic excitation.5 The wavelength of propagating sine wave. Because the sine wave propagates at a given velocity a length can be assigned to the distance between the repeats of the compressions or rarefactions. Sine waves have three parameters: their amplitude. the angle of rotation. the distance between these repeats will be inversely http://www. This Figure 1. Furthermore.4 Golf ball and spring model of a sine wave propagating in a material. as shown in Figure 1.Page 8 of 12 Figure 1. but now it is measured in the equivalent units of hertz (Hz). type of excitation generates a travelling sine wave disturbance down the model. This is known as a sinusoidal excitation and produces a sine wave. As we shall see later in the chapter. rate of rotation or frequency.

The wave can be seen as a series of compressions and rarefactions which are travelling through the medium. thus the wavelengths at the two frequencies are given by: λ = v/f which gives: λ = 344/20 = 17. velocity and impedance in sound waves Another aspect of a propagating wave to consider is the movement of the molecules in the medium which is carrying it.8) where v = the velocity of sound in the medium (in ms-1) f = the frequency of the sound (in Hz. The frequency is given by: f = v/λ = 344/0. it is possible to calculate one of the quantities given the knowledge of two others using the following equation: v = fλ (1.eetimes. The force required to effect the displacement. 1 Hz = 1 cycle per second) and λ = the wavelength of the sound in the medium (in m) This equation can be used to calculate the frequency given the wavelength. such as rooms or obstacles. at 20 Hz and 20 kHz. and even the speed of sound in the medium given the frequency and wavelength. velocity and impedance in sound waves 1.4 Calculate the wavelength of sound.5 Calculate the frequency of sound with a wavelength of 34 cm in air at 20°C. and is applicable to both longitudinal and transverse waves. The relationship between pressure. Because the wavelength and frequency are linked together by the velocity.34 = 1012 Hz In acoustics the wavelength is often used as the 'ruler' for measuring length. Example 1. feet or furlongs. For air the speed of sound at 20°C is 344 ms-1 (see Example 1. being propagated in air at 20°C. rather than metres. The distance between the repeats is an important acoustical quantity and is called the wavelength (λ). a combination of both http://www. because many of the effects of real objects.2 m for 20 Hz and λ = 344/(20 x 103) = 1. the wavelength given the frequency.72 cm for 20 kHz These two frequencies correspond to the extremes of the audio frequency range so one can see that the range of wavelength sizes involved is very large! Example 1. known as its frequency.1.2).com/General/DisplayPrintViewContent?contentItemId=4015859 2/6/2011 . on sound waves are dependent on the wavelength.Page 9 of 12 proportional to the rate of variation of the sine wave.6 The relationship between pressure.

so there must be a velocity component which is associated with the displacement component of the sound wave. due to the inertia of the molecules involved.6 shows a sine wave propagating in the golf ball model with plots of the associated components. This relationship can be expressed.eetimes. velocity component is a cosine then the pressure component will also be a cosine. This velocity will become zero when the compression has reached its peak. Movement implies velocity. because at this point the molecules will be stationary. This behaviour can be observed in the golf ball model for sound propagation described earlier. forms the pressure component of the wave. velocity and displacement components of a sine wave propagating in a material. a sound wave has both pressure and velocity components that travel through the medium at the same speed. In order for the golf balls to get closer for compression they have some velocity to move towards each other. http://www. The velocity does not switch instantly from one direction to another.Page 10 of 12 compression and acceleration. That is. Pressure is a scalar quantity and therefore has no direction. the molecules must move closer together or further apart. Velocity on the other hand must have direction. This is associated with the velocity component of the propagating wave and therefore is in phase with it. The velocity component reaches its peak between the compressions and rarefactions. Figure 1. Again the velocity towards the golf balls will become zero at the trough of the rarefaction. things move from one position to another. Thus. A propagating medium which has a low density and weak springs would have a higher amplitude in its velocity component for a given pressure amplitude compared with a medium which is denser and has stronger springs. The force required to accelerate the molecules forms the pressure component of the wave. we talk about pressure at a point and not in a particular direction. In order for the compressions and rarefactions to occur.6 Pressure. and for a sine wave displacement component the associated velocity component is a cosine. instead it accelerates smoothly from a stationary to a moving state and back again. It is the velocity component which gives a sound wave its direction. if the Figure 2/6/2011 . Then the golf balls will start moving with a velocity away from each other in order to get to the rarefacted state. The velocity and pressure components of a sound wave are also related to each other in terms of the density and springiness of the propagating medium.

9b) http://www. (1. A high Young's modulus means the material needs more force to compress it.9) where p = the pressure component amplitude u = the volume velocity component amplitude and Zacoustic = the acoustic impedance This constant is known as the acoustic impedance and is analogous to the resistance (or impedance) of an electrical circuit.Page 11 of 12 for a wave some distance away from the source and any boundaries. It is measured in kilograms per cubic metre (kg m-3).9 is modified by the tube's area to give: Zacoustic tube = ρc/Stube where Stube = the tube area This means that for bounded waves the impedance depends on the surface area within the bounding structure and so will change as the area changes. Coming up in Part 2: Sound intensity. 3. This effect is important in the design and function of many musical instruments as discussed in Chapter 4. usually referred to as c. Young's modulus is a measure of the 'springiness' of a material. using the following equation: Pressure component amplitude/Velocity component amplitude = Constant = Zacoustic = p/u (1.9a) Note that the acoustic impedance for a wave in free space is also dependent only on the characteristics of the propagating medium. It is measured in newtons per square metre (N m-2). if the wave is travelling down a tube whose dimensions are smaller than a wavelength. The amplitude of the pressure component is a function of the springiness (Young's modulus) of the material and the volume velocity component is a function of the density. However. then the impedance predicted by Equation 1.eetimes. A newton (N) is a measure of force. power and pressure level Footnotes: 1. is also dependent on the Young's modulus and density so the above equation is often expressed as:7 Zacoustic = √ρE = √(ρ2(E/ρ)) = ρc = 1. This allows us to calculate the acoustic impedance using the Young's modulus and density with the following equation: Zacoustic = √ρE However the velocity of sound in the medium. 2.21 x 344 = 416 kg m-2 s-1 in air at 20°C (1. As we shall see later. changes in impedance can cause 2/6/2011 . Density is the mass per unit volume.

please visit www. "Acoustics and Psychoacoustics" by David Howard and Jamie Angus. a division of Elsevier. Molecular mass expressed in this way always contains the same number of molecules (6.eetimes. This arises because the gas molecules 'bounce' off the surface.022 x 1023). 2/6/2011 .com. Related links: Audio in the 21st Century . The molecular mass of a gas is approximately equal to the total number of protons and neutrons in the molecule expressed in grams (g).Sound Sound focusing technologies make recent headlines 'Acoustic cloak' makes objects invisible to sound waves Audio Coding: An Introduction to Data Compression How audio codecs work . exerted by a gas on a surface. s-1 means per second. in newtons. m-2 means per square metre Printed with permission from Focal Press.Psycoacoustics Principles of 3-D Audio http://www. For more information about this title.Page 12 of 12 4. 6.focalpress. It is measured in newtons per square metre (N m-2). This number of molecules is known as a mole (mol). 7. Pressure is the force. Copyright 2006.