acoustics əko͞oˈstĭks [key] [Gr.,=the facts about hearing], the science of sound, including its production, propagation, and effects. Various branches of acoustics that deal with different aspects of sound and hearing include bioacoustics, physical acoustics, ultrasonics, and architectural acoustics. Unlike electromagnetic radiation, which can travel in the vacuum of free space, sound Waves require a medium (solid, liquid, or gas) in which to travel. Another important difference is that sound travels much slower than electromagnetic radiation; the speed of sound in air at sea level is approximately 1000 ft/sec (300 m/sec), which is roughly a millionth the speed of light in air. Sound waves are longitudinal, which means that the material particles transmitting the waves oscillate in the direction of propagation. Important factors to be considered in working with sound include reverberation and interference. Reverberation is the persistence of sound in an enclosed space caused by repeated reflections. Reflection of sound sometimes causes an echo. Depending on the location of the listener and the frequency of the sound, varying degrees of interference between the primary sound and its reflections will be produced. Reflection can be reduced by the use of sound-absorbent materials, which are usually soft and porous, such as draperies, upholstery, carpets, acoustic tile, or plaster. In a room, reflection is decreased by the presence of people and open windows and doors.

See J. Backus, The Acoustical Foundations of Music (1969); R. B. Lindsay, Acoustics (1973); A. D. Pierce, Acoustics (1981, repr. 1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Physics