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What is Ambient Noise? – They’re Everywhere!

Wherever we may be, we’re always hearing all sorts of noises don’t we? Sometimes it can also be hard to get some true peace and quiet, even in the comfort of your own home. Well, if you are constantly bothered by this phenomenon in your daily life, then its probably high time you find out more about what is Ambient Noise!

Don’t worry about having to understand “rocket science” principles, as today’s article is really going to be short and sweet. After all, we are only going to cover the basics in understanding what ambient noise is all about, and how it is described in various disciplines. Also, budding audio engineers will definitely find this information valuable!

Ambient Noise – Unwanted Noise?

In audio, or to be more specific, in the acoustical engineering discipline, ambient noise (also known as background noise) is any sound other than the sound being monitored (primary sound). Background noise is actually considered to be a type of noise pollution or interference.

Background Noise

In fact, background noise have always been such an important subject in many industries, that there are actually “noise regulations” (guidelines relating to sound transmission) established by various national, state or provincial levels of government. A noise regulation basically restricts the level, duration and source of noise. There may also be restrictions for different times of the day.

Types of Noises

There are many different types of background noises and they can be easily identified in our environment. Some examples include noises caused by waves from the beach, traffic noise, alarms, people having conversations, bioacoustic noise from birds (or other animals) and mechanical noise from machinery or appliances such as refrigerators, power supplies or motors.

Aircraft Noise

Photo by David Hawgood / CC BY-SA 2.0

In the field of “active noise control”, the prevention or reduction of background noise is a primary subject of research. It is also an issue that is heavily deliberated over, especially when it comes to applications such as ultrasound (e.g. for medical diagnosis or imaging), sonar, and sound reproduction.

Recording Applications

Background noise can be really destructive when it is present in any recording situation. Various soundproofing methods can be applied to a recording room in order to reduce noise interference from the environment. Home recording enthusiasts typically employ more affordable methods which may include using acoustic isolating strips or acoustic curtains.

Recording Studio

Professional Recording Studio / Photo by Carlos Canteri / CC BY-SA 2.0

For high-end professional recording studios, more advanced acoustical methods such as “room within a room” or using air chambers (known as honeycombs) are often employed. There are also special isolation cabinets or recording booths that can be used for recording vocals and instrument amplifiers. These can either be “home-made” or bought from various manufacturers.

Other Disciplines

Background noise is a concept that can be found in various other disciplines as well. Just in case you are curious to know more, here are some examples:

  • Astronomy – Background noise or cosmic background radiation is electromagnetic radiation from the sky with no discernible source.
  • Information architecture – Irrelevant, duplicate or incorrect information may be called background noise.
  • Physics and Telecommunication – Background signal noise can be detrimental or in some cases beneficial. The study of avoiding, reducing or using signal noise is known as information theory.
  • Telephony – Artificial comfort noise is used as a substitute for natural background noise, to fill in artificial silence created by discontinuous transmission systems using voice activity detection. Background noise can also affect concentration.

That’s about all I have to share with you folks. Learnt something new today? Well, I hope you now have a better understanding of your noise problems!

Let me know your thoughts down below, and do share this article with your friends!

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. Very interesting article on background noise Farhan. I work on ATM near portland airport for a living and can understand how frustrating it is when you’re trying to talk to someone on the phone and airplanes keep flying overhead. Though those noises are to be expected, it’s good to know you can quiet them down to a point. Thank you for your post on this.

    • Hey Nate!

      Really glad to hear that you’ve learnt something from this article. Yeah, this is a phenomenon that I’m pretty sure almost everyone have experienced, especially if you work or live in a busy urban area.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Hi Farhan,great article.I work in a heavily automated factory and I listen to noisy pumps and motors throughout the day.Sometimes I find this noise makes it hard for me to think and I find it very hard to concentrate.I realy enjoy the peace and quiet when I can get it.

    • Hi Trev!

      Glad you enjoyed reading the article. I’m sure we all would love some peace and quiet sometimes. Do come back and check out my other articles!

      Thanks a lot!

  3. You know, people never usually stop and think about what kind of noise something is making when they’re hearing it. Most people just pass it off as another background noise. This article is really interesting because it really makes you think about the different noises. I’ve done a little bit of audio recording before…. and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the different types of noises you hear will come out as a different noise through the recording… which is sometimes what you don’t want.

    • Hey Caleb!

      Yeah, sometimes background noises can be “blended” with the sound source that you want to record, that it will actually come out to be some sort of a weird noise after recording. Always make sure to be aware of your recording environment and observe the equipment that you have around you. Even the “whirring” of the computer fan can be captured by a very sensitive microphone!

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. I must agree as I’ve lived near an airport, a railyard , and now live parallel to a major highway , though I’m actually on a small side street. It’s amazing how you adjust to it through the years, having been in a number of small rock bands in my youth I haven’t exactly been fair to my hearing . Again great job and content , and endless amount of info.

    • Hey there!

      Really happy to know that you have found this article to be very informative. Yes, there is reason to believe that people tend to not get affected as much, to things that they hear everyday. For example, if you listen to a speaker talking loudly, you’ll eventually get used to the volume and will only notice a difference when he starts to speak softly.

      Thanks for the kind words!

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