Still deciding on whether to enrol into that music technology course? Or maybe you are unsure of the possible career paths available? Lets face it, not everyone will find being an audio engineer, something that they would want to commit to in the long-term. You might be interested in looking at a different discipline altogether. So, do you know what is “Acoustical Engineering”?
Well, if you have been searching for the answer to that, then you are in the right place. In this article, we will be taking a deeper look into the job of an acoustic engineer. Discover the many different sub-disciplines within the acoustic engineering industry. Have a basic understanding of all the major areas of research that are available. So without further delay, let’s start!
Introduction – Job Description
Also referred to as acoustic engineering, acoustical engineering is a branch of engineering that focuses on sound and vibration. Fundamentally, the work that is done within this industry, involves the application of acoustic principles, together with the science of sound and vibration, in technology. The design, analysis and control of sound are usually the primary areas of research.
One of the major goals in acoustical engineering is the reduction of undesirable noise, which is also known as noise control. More often than not, these noises produce a significantly negative impact on the health and well being of animals and humans. Unwanted noise can also reduce focus of students in school, and in extreme cases, cause hearing loss.
In order to resolve this issue, engineers implement noise control principles into technology and design using various methods. This includes redesigning sound sources to have control, designing noise barriers, sound absorbers, silencers, buffer zones, and also hearing protection gears (such as earmuffs or earplugs).
However, it is important to take note that acoustical engineering does not just deal with noise control. It also covers positive applications of sound, such as using ultrasound in medicine, programming digital sound synthesizers, designing a concert hall’s acoustics (to improve the sound of an orchestra) and optimizing sound systems at railway stations (to make sure announcements are intelligible).
Let us now take a look at the two topics we will cover today:
- Job Requirements
A bachelor’s degree or higher qualification (in acoustics, physics or another engineering discipline) is often the standard requirement for acoustical engineers. You might find yourself working in acoustic consultancy, but with a specialization in specific fields, such as vibration control, architectural acoustics, and environmental noise.
Acoustic engineers are also involved in other industries, and might find themselves designing automobile sound systems, researching on human’s perception of sound, developing signal processing software for audio workstations, and designing loudspeakers and microphones for mobile phones.
The researching and understanding of sound scientifically, is also a major part of being an acoustician. Some career posts, such as faculty require a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). In many countries, a degree in acoustics (from a program certified by a professional body) can help you make that first step towards professional certification.
After a certified degree program has been successfully completed, the engineer must then proceed to satisfy a range of requirements before attaining a professional certification. The title of Chartered Engineer will be designated to the engineer (in most Commonwealth countries) who have met all of the stated requirements.
There are many areas of focus within the acoustical engineering field. The following list of sub-disciplines that I have presented below, are loosely based on the PACS (Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme) coding used by the Acoustical Society of America. Here they are:
- Audio signal processing
- Architectural acoustics
- Musical acoustics
- Underwater acoustics
This discipline is concerned with the generation of noise by air movements, for example via turbulence, and how sound waves propagate (travel) through the fluid air. Aero-acoustics plays a major part in understanding how aircraft and wind turbines produce noise, and also in finding out the mechanics of wind musical instruments.
Audio Signal Processing
This involves manipulating audio signals electronically, by using analog and digital signal processing. Audio signal processing is often applied in various situations such as:
- The enhancement of sound, for instance by adding a reverberation effect to an audio signal.
- Removing undesirable noises from a signal, an example is the echo cancellation on Skype
- Audio signal compression for effective transmission, e.g. perceptual coding in MP3 and Opus
- To understand a signal’s content, e.g. retrieving musical information in order to facilitate the identification of music tracks via Soundhound (service)
Take note that audio engineers develop and make use of audio signal processing algorithms.
Also called building acoustics, it mainly deals with the science and engineering of attaining good sound within a building. Engineers in this discipline are concerned with achieving excellent speech intelligibility in an auditorium or theatre, enhancing the sound quality of concert halls or production studios, or reducing external noises to make offices and homes more pleasant for occupiers.
Architectural acoustic design is usually done by acoustic consultants.
This area of acoustic engineering involves the design of electronic audio equipment such as headphones, microphones, loudspeakers. All these are used in sound reproduction and recording. Portable electronic devices (portable media players, tablet computers etc.) has seen a rapid increase in demand. These devices can reproduce sound and relies heavily on electro-acoustic engineering principles.
This field is involved with researching and explaining the physics of music and how it is perceived (how sounds are employed as musical work). The function and design of musical instruments (such as wind instruments), the human voice (the neurophysiology and physics of singing), and the medical use of music in therapy, are all examples of important aspects within musical acoustics.
Whether it is an annoying noise or pleasant music, psychoacoustics tries to explain how humans respond to what they hear. In most disciplines under acoustic engineering, a human listener is always the final arbitrator when concluding whether a design is effective. For example, whether sound localization works in a surround sound system.
This statement from Principles of Digital Audio (Sixth Edition) summarises this sub-discipline perfectly – “Psychoacoustics seeks to reconcile acoustical stimuli and all the scientific, objective, and physical properties that surround them, with the physiological and psychological responses evoked by them.”.
A major area of research within acoustical engineering, is speech. This includes how speech is produced, processed and perceived. Subjects such as physics, physiology, psychology, audio signal processing and linguistics are often relevant. The two vital aspects of the machine processing of speech is speech recognition and speech synthesis.
Engineers working in this field aims to ensure that speech is transmitted intelligibly, efficiently and with high clarity. Various systems such as public address (PA) and telephone systems are also studied upon, as these systems are crucial in amplifying speech.
This area of study deals with the properties of sound waves in mediums such as solids, liquids and gases, but at frequencies that are too high to be heard by most people. Specialized areas of research include medical ultrasonics (including medical ultrasonography), sonochemistry, non-destructive testing, material characterisation and underwater acoustics (sonar).
The scientific study of sound in water is known as underwater acoustics. Researchers are focused on sounds that are produced both naturally and artificially (man-made) and its generation underwater. This also extends into understanding how sound propagates, and perceived by animals underwater.
Some applications of underwater acoustics includes locating submerged objects (such as submarines) by using sonar, underwater communication by animals, monitoring climate changes by observing sea temperatures, and marine biology.
We have come to the end of this article folks. I hope that you have enjoyed reading (I know you did!) and at the same time, found some very useful information that may help you decide your career path!
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