Understanding Psychoacoustics

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Sound is an integral part of the human experience and it no doubt adds life to our daily routine. In simplest terms, Psychoacoustics is the study of how sound is perceived and how it affects the body and mind. Psychoacoustics picks apart the listening experience to reveal how we interpret sound.

When you think of sound within a scientific framework, you probably picture sound waves being emitted. While this is an accurate picture from a mechanical perspective, we must also remember that sound truly happens when we sense or perceive it. For instance, when you hear a sound, it reaches your ear as a mechanical sound wave that has travelled through the air, but once it's in your ear it is transformed into neural stimuli.

Once the brain receives this nerve impulse, the result is the perception of sound. Therefore, in order to tackle issues involving soundproofing and acoustics, it is vital that we take into consideration not just how a specific environment responds to sound, but how both the human ear and brain are key players when it comes to the individual's auditory experience.

There are limits to perception and this varies greatly with every individual. Noises that can be heard by the average person are within the frequency range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Sounds associated with the upper limits of this range generally become harder to hear as we get older because our hearing often weakens with age. It also depends on whether one's hearing capability will be harmed due to loss of hearing as a consequence of sharp noise.

The act of determining where a specific noise comes from is called "Sound localization". Your brain is able to locate the source of a sound thanks to discrepancies in tone, pitch and timing between both ears. Humans and most four-legged animals feel most at ease detecting the direction/source of a noise via a horizontal angle due to the positioning of our ears. On this note, here's a fun fact: some owls have asymmetrical ears, allowing them to hear from numerous directions which comes in handy as most owls hunt tiny animals during the night.

Another concept under the umbrella of Psychoacoustics is "sound masking". Our perception of a certain sound can be affected if another dominant sound within our surrounding environment masks it. For example, if you're speaking to a friend on a street corner your conversation may be momentarily masked by a loud truck passing by.

Music of course also falls under the study of Psychoacoustics as it has the power to alter our mood depending on how we perceive the music we're listening to. In fact, Psychoacoustics is sometimes considered a type of music psychology. Timbre, pitch, loudness and tone all make up what we have come to perceive as being the structure of music. Sound illusions and sound localization are relevant examples of concepts that are key when creating musical compositions or when designing auditoriums or musical venues.

We hope we've simplified a few areas of psychoacoustics for you and perhaps piqued your interest on the psychological and physiological effects of sound.

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Mississauga , Ontario, L4W 2P5
Tel: 905-625-8944
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