I'm curious as to how scientific your understanding of acoustics is and how often you draw on this knowledge when designing sounds, editing or mixing. What do you get your calculator out for, and what do you leave down to artistic license? Did anyone here study acoustics and then go on to become sound designers?

I've been reading Andy Farnell's book Designing Sound for some time now, and find his analysis of how and why different sounds are produced is proving to be as fascinating as the PD patches. Does anyone know of any other good resources on acoustics which are easy to digest (ie, more about general principles rather than serious maths).

4 Answers 4


I did a year of acoustical consulting (architectural / noise control) before going back the more creative sound design route. The first book my old boss had me read was M. David Egan's Architectural Acoustics. Very easy to read, with good practical principles and illustrations, also some cultural case studies. Obviously geared toward architectural use, but even the construction details in there are fascinating if you haven't considered how to build a sound isolating wall before...

Other than how to deal with clients, the acoustical consulting bit really helps me think about spaces and physical relationships, particularly when using convolution reverbs or designing for unique acoustical situations. Most importantly it reinforced to me how subjective sound is, that there are really no hard and fast rules, which is something I always like to keep in the back of my mind while working. Does an impulse labeled "City Street" really sound like a city street? Does it work in this particular context? Does simply adding the sound of a car horn into the mix convey that aural message better than any fancy plug-in I could ever find?

I have done some experimentation using custom IRs and EQs based off of actual acoustic transmission and insertion loss data (Architectural Acoustics has some nice general data), and of course found that again everything is subjective. Some do provide a good starting point, I find my collection of "hollow door" and "inverse phon" EQ curve presets do help give a nice sense of distance to a sound, though best when mixed with other effects. It always boils down to artistic license in the end.

  • Thanks, I guess I expected space and reverb as the obvious point in this thread. It's kind of frustrating that some of the really interesting effects of natural acoustics are too unusual to feature in most films. Stuff like delayed reflections bouncing back from walls, or time delay from things making sound in the distance. It would be interesting to test your data generated IRs against ones generated from recordings taken in the space (if I've understood that correctly). Apr 28, 2012 at 10:53
  • In fact I did, in an informal evaluation where I played a set of identical raw sounds manipulated with various processes including the IRs, different EQ, a combination of those, as well as recordings of the audio files played in exact same setup as the captured IR. Listeners were asked to rate the processed sounds as to how well they achieved a given "acoustical character". The result? For the most part, totally inconsistent. Without any additional context (i.e. visuals, supporting story) to unify the listeners perspective, each of them heard it as all kinds of things. Context is king! May 2, 2012 at 4:27

Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds by Jean-Francois Augoyard and Henri Torgue is an excellent book that explains many sonic experiences and acoustic phenomena by going into the philosophy, aesthetics, cultural context, and psychoacoustics of sound without going into too much detail about the physics or math.

  • Thanks Michael, that looks really interesting. Strange I've never run into this on Amazon before... Apr 27, 2012 at 8:13
  • Really enjoying the book by the way, love the expanded glossary format too. Jul 7, 2012 at 23:51

I find a good understanding of acoustic principles a vital aspect for sound design, especially when it comes to setting sounds in different environments - difficult to do well unless you understand how sound waves move and interact with obstacles. I recommend Master Handbook of Acoustics to my students. Quit scientific, but gives some great descriptions of the principles.


I think the knowledge of acoustics is something that grows with me every day just through listening to the world. Of course if I didn't know the basics then it would mean I'm not a sound engineer.

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