Design

An explainer on noise cancelling headphones:

How do noise cancelling headphones work? Royce Wilson, news.com.au, writes about noise cancelling headphones, the cure-all to our modern noisy world.  But have you ever wondered how they actually work?  Wilson reports that there are “two types of noise cancelling technologies for headphones — passive and active,” and he asked University of Queensland School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering research fellow and lecturer Dr Konstanty Bialkowski about the different approaches.  Dr. Bialkowski said that the passive technology is “like having a cup around your ear that reduces high-frequency noise” (“people talking or high-pitched squealing”), while active cancellation is for low-frequency noise (e.g., low-pitched hum like a car engine, aeroplane engine or a fan).  With active cancellation, the headset, which has a microphone, “knows the distance between the microphone and your ear and it makes [a] complete opposite noise” to cancel out the distracting noise.

Click the link for the full article, which includes a review of the Sony’s MDR-1000X wireless noise cancelling headphones.

 

Is your home too noisy? Here’s a useful guide to help make your space more peaceful:

How to solve common sound problems in your home. Kate Wagner, a graduate student in Acoustics writing for Curbed.com, has written an interesting piece on room acoustics that is very accessible for the layperson.  She describes basic acoustic principles and examines common sound problems and solutions.  Whether the issue is your entertainment system or an open plan space, Wagner offers straight forward suggestions you can use to make your home as aurally comfortable as possible.

If you want to learn more about about sound absorption, reflection, diffusion, and transmission to see how they affect the sound quality of a room, watch this short and informative video Wagner linked to in her piece:

 

Can Subway Noise Damage Your Hearing?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Sadly, the short answer is yes. And the longer answer is that some subway stations are more dangerous to your hearing than others.  Anil Lalwani, MD, an otolaryngologist at Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and his colleagues prepared a study that examined whether subway station design influenced noise levels. Dr. Lalwani and his team went to twenty stations in Manhattan and discovered “that the noisiest platforms shared one thing in common: curved tracks.”  Click the link above to view Dr. Lalwani’s video about this study, its conclusion, and to hear Dr. Lalwani’s recommendations about “what we can do to reduce the risk of long-term hearing damage from subway noise exposure.”

Walden, the video game?

Photo credit: Sarah Nichols

David Sykes, the vice-chair of The Quiet Coalition, muses about Walden, the video game, and how trying times compel us to seek stillness and tranquility.  So how exactly does Walden the video game differ from Grand Theft Auto? Like this:

Instead of offering the thrills of stealing, violence and copious cursing, the new video game, based on Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations.

And if you don’t leave enough “time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: ‘Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.’”

Kudos and best of luck to lead designer, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and her team.

Imagine flying from New York to London in only three hours–and in silence.

Like this, but quiet.
Photo credit: Dean Morley

Nope, it’s not just the stuff of dreams: NASA tests “quiet” supersonic jet. Rob Waugh, metro.uk.co, writes that NASA is paving the way to supersonic travel with “Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST),” which is designed to reach “supersonic speeds over land – without people on the ground hearing a sonic boom.”  According to Peter Iosifidis, QueSST program manager at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the “aircraft design is shaped to separate the shocks and expansions associated with supersonic flight, dramatically reducing the aircraft’s loudness.”  He adds that the airplane’s noise signature will be “more of a ‘heartbeat’ instead of the traditional sonic boom.”

This will come as welcome relief to the many people around the U.S. (and the world) who are trying to cope with airport noise.

The Internet of Things’ answer to bad Airbnb guests:

Dallas startup offers noise monitors for rentals. Melissa Repko, The Dallas Morning News, writes about NoiseAware, a noise monitoring startup out of Texas. NoiseAware is the brainchild of Dave Krauss, who was engaged in the (sketchy) business of reletting apartments for short-term rentals on Airbnb. One Airbnb guest threw a loud party that resulted in Krauss getting a “cease and desist letter from a Dallas apartment manager.”  He ended up with a $30,000 loss on the apartment. To help others avoid his fate, he and his co-founder developed a noise monitor that alerts an owner when the noise in his or her apartment passes a certain level:

The sensors, which are manufactured in Plano, are bolted into an electrical outlet and connected to Wi-Fi. A property owner can customize quiet hours or adjust noise level sensitivity. If the noise rises above that level for a sustained period, the owner gets a text message.

And then, presumably, the owner calls the renter and harangues them for being noisy. Or something.

While we an understand Krauss’ motivation for developing this product, we do wonder about the implications of real time monitoring. Sure, NoiseAware only monitors the decibel level–as far as we know–but could it be adapted to allow the owner to listen in real time? And what about broader applications? Krauss was essentially subletting apartments for short term rentals via Airbnb.  Could or should a landlord could attach these sensors in longer-term rentals? That said, no doubt there are plenty of parents who would love to monitor their kids’ activities when they are away.  As for us, we’re just waiting for the startup that offers an app that allows you to hack the NoiseAware sensor.

Here’s an interesting podcast worth checking out:

Twenty Thousand Hertz is a podcast hosted by Dallas Taylor, the founder and creative director of Defacto Sound, a sound design studio. The podcast explores “[t]he stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.” Not sure which episode you should listen to first? Try this one, The Sound of Extinction. Just be ready to stiffle a sob as futurist Madeline Ashby answers Taylor’s question: “What’s the biggest loss in terms of sound that we’ve experienced?”  Without pausing to think Ashby responds, “the sound of silence.”

What’s the one thing never mentioned when discussing drone delivery?

 

Imagine 100 of these, overhead, constantly

Dyllan Furness, Digital Trends, writes about the U.S. military’s successful launch of “one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms” in October in a piece titled, “The sound of 103 micro drones launched from an F/A-18 will give you nightmares.” Click the link to the piece and hit play on the video at the top of the page. The micro-drones can be heard starting at 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

We’re not sure if the sound will give you nightmares–although it is unnerving–but it did make us wonder about what would happen to our soundscape should Amazon and others succeed in convincing governments that drone delivery is a great idea. What you hear on the video is 103 micro-drones–small drones “with a wingspan under 12 inches.”  Now imagine a battalion of full-size, package-wielding delivery drones flying above your head. Just saying.

 

 

Despite complaints, restaurant noise continues unabated

by Daniel Fink, MD

Ever since I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis from a one-time exposure to loud restaurant noise, I have been looking for a quiet restaurant (see the Acknowledgements section at the end of my editorial in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, “What Is a Safe Noise Level for the Public?“).

It turns out I’m not the only one complaining about restaurant noise.

Restaurant noise is the number one complaint of diners in New York, San Francisco, Portland OR, and Boston.  In fact, the Boston Globe just recently wrote about diners’ dislike of restaurant noise in a piece titled, “Listen up: Restaurants are too loud!

Restaurant owners may think that noise increases food and beverage sales, and decreases time spent at the table, and they are right.  But what they cannot measure is how many meals are lost because people like me don’t go to noisy restaurants with family or friends, choosing to dine at home, instead, where we can converse as we enjoy our meal. Perhaps restauranteurs should consider that we middle-aged folks are more likely to spend money in restaurants than other demographic groups.  After all, for many of us our kids are done with college, our mortgages are paid off, we’ve been saving for retirement, and we have the disposable income to enjoy a nice meal out more frequently than in our youth.  If there were quieter restaurants, we might dine out more often instead of avoiding them because we would rather not have a side of hearing loss with our steak frites.

I guess that as long as the restaurants are busy, they will stay noisy. But if enough of us speak up–in the restaurants and to our elected representatives, asking them to pass laws requiring some limits on indoor noise–restaurants will eventually get quieter.

Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

In a followup to his post on looking for a quiet car,

Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, has written a post about disturbing noises automobile manufacturers purposefully add to their cars: There’s More To Car Noise Than Interior Sound. Dr. Fink’s second post was prompted by a reader who noted that while “[d]esign of the quietest interior possible has become highly competitive,” little thought is given to “the effect that automotive lock, locating, and security technology have on the residential soundscape.”  Simply put, automobile manufacturers have adopted sound as a default to confirm a car door is locked or to locate a car in a parking lot without thinking about the effect of adding all of these audible honks and beeps and warnings to an already noisy soundscape.

Fortunately, there are some steps car owners can take to disable or modify the audible alerts, but not without difficultly.  Click the link above to get Dr. Fink’s list of questions to ask about audible alerts before buying a car.