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What is Acoustical Engineering? – Career Opportunities!

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.

Acoustical Engineering

Photo by Quentar, Michal Starosta, Tomáš Solár / CC BY-SA 3.0

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).

Earmuffs

Earmuffs / Photo by Nosferatu it / CC BY-SA 3.0

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
  • Sub-Disciplines

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 School

Photo by Trevor Cox / CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

Sub-Disciplines

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:

  • Aero-acoustics
  • Audio signal processing
  • Architectural acoustics
  • Electro-acoustics
  • Musical acoustics
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Speech
  • Ultrasonics
  • Underwater acoustics

Aero-acousticsAeroacoustics

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.

Architectural Acoustics

Concert Hall

Photo by Trevor Cox / CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

Electro-acoustics

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.

Musical Acoustics

Music Therapy

Photo by Michael Cooper / CC BY-ND 2.0

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.

Psychoacoustics

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.”.

Speech

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.

Speech Recognition

Spectrogram of a girl saying “Oh No” / Photo by Spyrogumas / CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

Ultrasonics

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).

Underwater Acoustics

Underwater acoustic positioning / Photo by Desertstar / CC BY 3.0

Underwater Acoustics

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!

Do leave a comment or question below, and share this article if you like!

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Farhan

When I'm not rocking out to great music, I'd prefer to be sleeping on a field on a windy day =)

8 Comments

  1. Hello FarhanSidik! I saw an ad the other day that said that audio engineers make a median of $73,000 which is not half bad. If I could go back and do it all again, I wish I had actually stuck with my love of music in a more professional capacity as I used to be an on air personality, and dabbled in music production at some point. Acoustical Engineering seems like more of a scientific approach to delivering a musical experience, as opposed to a creative approach. You provided some great information on Acoustical Engineering as a career path. Do you know what the average salary is for an Acoustical Engineer?

    • Hey Ciandress!

      It is very difficult for me to give an estimation on how much audio engineers earn on average. There are many engineers working in various disciplines, and some of them are working freelance (where they may earn more on average), while others are permanent employees of AV companies or organisations (where they generally earn less on average).

      It also depends on the country that you are working in, the demand for the specific job, and your experience in the industry. Unfortunately, those employment advertisements might not be an accurate reflection of actual earnings in the industry.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Farhan this is a very in depth look at audio technology. From the beginner to the seasoned musician will benefit greatly from the information you have on your site. I was drawn into your site for hours learning new things along the way. Great work! I had a little trouble with the social share slide in covering up the first few words of each sentence. Maybe if you could correct it to slide in from the right of the page it will not block the readers view.

    GeeRie

    • Hey GeeRie!

      It’s great to know that my articles have been a huge benefit to you. I do appreciate the compliments. With regards to the social share buttons, I will try to modify the settings and see what happens. I am assuming you are looking at my website from a smartphone?

  3. Wow! What an interesting career field. I’m in the video production field, so I deal with audio a lot. But I never really gave any thought to the fact that acoustics have an entire field dedicated to it. It does make sense though, someone has to design the sound spaces found everywhere!

    • Hey there!

      Yeah, people often overlook the career opportunities that are available in the field of acoustical engineering. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. I have always been fascinated with the construction of acoustically engineered buildings. It is great when you can visit a venue and appreciate great sound. Thank you for identifying some sub categories of the topic and helping me narrow down some study areas.

    • Hello Kenneth!

      I am happy to know that you have found this article to be of some use. Do drop by again anytime and check out my other articles!

      Keep in touch!

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