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How sound behaves in a particular environment has a huge effect on how well people hear. Folks with normal hearing are better able than folks with hearing loss to extract speech from a din of background noise, but it’s no easy task even for them. Fortunately people are becoming more aware of the importance of acoustics and are starting to modify environments to promote communications rather than discourage it!

September 2006 – Here’s an interesting article that claims that the way we’ve been setting up rooms to optimize sound is all wrong, because we’ve been measuring room acoustics wrong!

July 2007 – A Quiet Day at the Office: Acoustics for People who are Hard of Hearing

November 2007 – Dinner with a din

February 2008 – What to do about noisy restaurants

March 2008 – High-pitched “Mosquito” Shoos Teens

October 2010 – The Secret of Architectural Acoustics Revealed

August 2011 – Environmental design enhances hearing rehabilitation

September 2011 – Sound, the Way the Brain Prefers to Hear It

Dinner with a din 

November 2007

Walk into a restaurant with a friend, spouse or significant other. Sit down, order a drink and start up a conversation in your normal voice.  Can you hear them? Can they hear you?  In many restaurants, the answer is no. And it’s becoming the norm as dinner conversations drown in a sea of background bar chatter and surround-sound music systems. But if you think the people around you are to blame, think again.  Instead, blame a few staples of contemporary restaurant design – hardwood floors and wide-open dining rooms, the exposed-brick facades and large bay windows. They’re the reasons patrons may resort to lip-reading to talk at restaurants, says Tom Thunder, a Palatine-based audiologist and acoustic engineer.  ‘It’s the nature of the surfaces,’ Thunder says. ‘If they’re flat, hard and dense, they’ll reflect sound almost perfectly. It’s like what a mirror does for light.

What to do about noisy restaurants

February 2008

Restaurant diners — when they can make themselves heard above the blaring music from a chef’s iPod playlist, the clatters and shouts from an open kitchen, and the roar of the cocktail drinkers in an adjacent lounge — are talking about restaurant noise these days more than the food. And the sound of that is finally reaching management ears. To address higher than anticipated noise levels — and diner complaints — the new Los Angeles brasserie Comme Ça has put carpets under tables, and Pizzeria Mozza has installed acoustic panels on its high walls. But don’t look for either popular restaurant to change its ethos, or radically alter those noise levels.  

High-pitched “Mosquito” Shoos Teens

March 2008

The Mosquito has landed – and the city’s teens and 20-somethings are about to get bitten.  A pesky new security device aims to clear out young troublemakers from their hangouts in apartment-building lobbies and foyers by emitting an irritating high-frequency screech that can only be heard by young ears.  The message: Buzz off.  The British-made Mosquito, used in 3,500 locations in the UK, costs $1,400, weighs five pounds and looks like an innocuous wall-mounted speaker. But its obnoxious 85-decibel drone ranges as far as 60 feet and registers as a constant screech to most people between the ages of 13 and 25.  

The Secret of Architectural Acoustics Revealed

October 2010

Have you ever noticed that your radio seems awfully loud when you stop your car after listening on the highway? Or have you ever felt that palpable sense of relief when the air conditioner shuts off? We don’t notice it but background noise determines what we can hear and understand in the foreground. Sometimes we don’t want to hear everything. Imagine if you could hear and understand every conversation at your offi ce. It would be terribly distracting. But when we do want to hear every little thing in an important meeting, at a play or a concert, at a religious service reducing background noise is critical. There are, of course, many aspects to excellent acoustical design, but in these spaces intended for listening what I call “criticallistening spaces” strict control of noise is fundamental. Sources of noise include traffi c, airplanes, machinery, plumbing, lights and people in other spaces. In critical-listening spaces, the worst offender is usually the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system (HVAC). 

Environmental design enhances hearing rehabilitation

August 2011

Many public and private listening environments wreak havoc on adults with aging peripheral and central auditory systems. Adults, who may have noted only some difficulty in specific degraded listening environments at an earlier age, may experience extremely frustrating difficulty in these same situations as they age. Older adults may blame this difficulty on the speaker, when in fact the culprits may be the reverberant characteristics of the meeting room, the anechoic environment of their home, or the combined effects of auditory and visual distractions in a multipurpose room within a health care facility. Without recognizing this possibility, older adults may begin to avoid these places and isolate themselves unnecessarily. For audiologists to provide constructive hearing rehabilitation, they must become more than conversant with their patients about the challenges and potential solutions regarding environmental design, which has been shown to provide immediate benefits for patients in many instances.   Full Story

Sound, the Way the Brain Prefers to Hear It

September 2011

Psychoacoustics has become an invaluable tool in designing hearing aids and cochlear implants, and in the study of hearing generally. “Psychoacoustics is fundamental,” said Andrew J. Oxenham, a psychologist and hearing expert at the University of Minnesota. “You need to know how the normally functioning auditory system works – how sound relates to human perception.”   The field’s origins date back more than a century, to the first efforts to quantify the psychological properties of sound. What tones could humans hear, and how loudly or softly did they need to be heard?

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