PH 106 Science of Sound


PH106-N1 or N2 Science of Sound C 3, P 2, CR 4

Basic concepts of sound and human hearing are introduced. Topics include the history and development of basic acoustics and electricity, microphones, loudspeakers, signal processing, monitoring and recording systems, and an introduction to current digital audio. This course is not applicable as an electrical elective for Electrical majors.

Pre-requisites: An appropriate math placement test result, MA090 Essential Math Skills, or MA091 Introductory Algebra.


Text (optional): The Science of Sound 3E, Rossing, Moore, & Wheeler, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-8053-8565-7

Free alternate Open Educational Resource (OER) texts: Sound, Physics and Music, Schmidt-Jones, via Open Stax. Acoustics via WikiBooks. The Acoustics text is at a traditional engineering level and is recommended for highly motivated students with a sufficient math background.

Web: A nice on-line book is Sound: An Interactive eBook. Two professional sources are the Acoustical Society of America ( and the Audio Engineering Society ( Other supporting materials and links may be found at the bottom of this page.

Lab Manual (OER): Science of Sound Laboratory Manual (pdf)

Reading and Problem Set Supplement (pdf)


The student will demonstrate an understanding of the historical development of acoustics and audio, the methodology of its measurement, and its scope and relation to other disciplines.

The student will demonstrate a basic knowledge of the fundamental nature of acoustics and human hearing, including an understanding of basic audio testing and audio electronics.

The student will use algebraic and graphical techniques to solve basic problems involving acoustics and audio.

The student will demonstrate skills in the application of audio test equipment and experimental techniques through the laboratory via individual and/or group exercises and demonstrations, to observe, measure, document, and evaluate acoustical and audio phenomena.

The student will effectively gather experimental data via the laboratory exercises, analyze data using mathematical techniques explored in the lecture, and communicate their conclusions via presentations and/or written reports.

The student will demonstrate the ability to work effectively as part of a team in the laboratory, to investigate, document, and analyze natural phenomena in the area of acoustics and audio.

The student will demonstrate an understanding of the application of basic audio and acoustic principles in everyday life, including the areas of music, speech, and the variance of human hearing across populations.

Course Assessment Standards



Basic concepts of sound and human hearing are introduced. Topics include the history and development of basic acoustics and electricity, microphones, loudspeakers, signal processing, monitoring and recording systems, and an introduction to current digital audio. Success in this course requires a good working knowledge of algebra. Also, it is helpful if you have taken at least one lab course in high school or college. A basic $10 scientific calculator will be handy. Smart devices will not be allowed during tests. Some lab work will be performed using digital audio software. A portion of the lab exercises require a technical report due no later than one week after the exercise. Late penalty is one letter grade for the first half week, two letter grades for the second half week. Reports are not accepted beyond two weeks and receive a grade of 0. Remember, plagiarism is grounds for failure.

Week-by-week progress and assignments. Chapter readings refer to the Rossing text. Please note that we will not be covering every topic in the chapters listed.


Introduction to course. History, development, relations to other disciplines. Explanation of scientific method. Theory vs. hypothesis vs. conjecture.We introduce systems of units and basic physical quantities and relations.

  • Reading: Read chapter one and start two. In the Supplement read the sections on the The Scientific MethodFacts Versus Theories, Cognitive Bias & Logical Fallacies and the Metric System,
  • Lab: Introduction: Lab procedures and safety, equipment usage.

This week we begin our study of vibrating systems and waves.

  • Reading: Finish chapter two (skip sections 2.4 and 2.5), start chapter three. Also, in the Supplement check out the section on Introduction to Waves and read the item on Pitch, Overtones, and All That Suff. Do the problems from Introduction to Waves.
  • Lab: Force and Pressure.

We finish off the first section with resonance and look at musical instrument examples. 

  • Reading: Finish chapter three and read chapter four (skip 4.6). Read the notes on Simple Harmonic Motion in the Supplement and do the example problems.
  • Lab: Acoustic delay and measurement of the speed of sound.

We begin section two on the perception of sound. 

  • Reading: Read chapter five. Read the notes on Human Hearing in the Supplement and do the example problems. 
  • Lab: Simple harmonic motion.

We continue with hearing and examine sound pressure and loudness.


We look at acoustic spaces and consider topics such as reverberation time. Take a look at the photo links at the bottom of the page. Here is a nice on-line room mode calculator:  You might also wish to download this free graphical room mode calculator (Windows only):

  • Reading: Chapter 23 through section 7, chapter 25 through sections 25.1, 25.2, and 25.7 through 25.10. Read the notes on Basic Acoustics in the Supplement and do the example problems. 
  • Lab: Resonant pipes.

Around here we will have our first test. We wrap up the section on acoustic spaces.

  • Reading: Chapter 32, the first eight sections. The first two sections of chapter 18.
  • Lab: Loudness perception.

We start electroacoustics with a short introduction to basic electrical quantities (commonly associated with acoustical and audio measurements).We examine output transducers (e.g., loudspeakers). You may wish to download this free loudspeaker CAD software (Windows only):

  • Reading: Chapter 19, sections 19.1 through 19.3. Also start sections 19.10 through 19.15.
  • Lab: Demonstration of room modes.

This week we finish loudspeakers and look at input transducers such as micrphones.

  • Reading: Finish chapter 19 (through 19.15). Chapter 20, sections 20.1 and 20.2. Read and do the problems from the Loudspeakers and Microphones section of the Supplement.
  • Lab: Basic electrical measurements.

This week we begin discussion of signal processing. This is a wide-ranging topic and covers a lot of ground. We begin with the basics such as equalization, dynamic range compression, and limiting. We complete this with artificial ambience, namely reverb and echo

  • Reading: Chapter 21, sections 21.11 through 21.15.
  • Lab: Loudspeakers.

We begin discussion of digital audio and discuss concepts such as quantization and quality versus storage/streaming bandwidth requirements.

  • Reading: Read and do the problems from the Digital Audio section of the Supplement.
  • Lab: Introduction to Sample Wrench software audio editor/analyzer tool (to be used for lab exercises 12 through 15, very important!) You can download the software, Sample Wrench, here to place on your own computer (Windows only).

We continue with digital audio.

  • Reading: Start the last half of chapter 22, sections 22.7 thorugh 22.16.
  • Lab: Equalization and spectral/timbral analysis.

We finish digital audio with MIDI and Internet audio including perceptual coding, MP3, and copyright issues. Time for our second test.

  • Reading: Chapter 29, sections 29.8 through 29.14 .
  • Lab: Time-based effects: Echo, reverb, delay.


We finish the course with a discussion of the mathematics behind musical scale construction.

  • Reading: Chapter 9, sections 9.1 through 9.6.
  • Lab: Special effects: Modulation, transfer functions, etc.


Notes and Problem Sets

Science, Waves and Sound Lecture Notes & Supplement.



Science of Sound Laboratory Manual (pdf)
Science of Sound Laboratory Manual (odt)

Imagery: Acoustics

MVCC Theater
MVCC Field House
MVCC Field House Close Up

Studio Double Wall
Studio Window
Studio Wall Ceiling
Studio Ceiling
Studio Floor
Studio Outlet
Studio Window Insert
Studio Sonex

Garage Studio Claps

Guitar Bass

I490 Wall



200 Hz Sine                   Pic
200+600 Sines              Pic
200+600+1k Sines        Pic
200 Hz Square              Pic

PianoSnare 1 msec
PianoSnare 2 msec
PianoSnare 5 msec
PianoSnare 10 msec
PianoSnare 20 msec
PianoSnare 35 msec
PianoSnare 50 msec
PianoSnare 100 msec

Garage Clap
Garage Clap Minus 100ms
Studio Clap Single Sonex
Studio Clap Double Sonex

TimmyUmbwebweSegment CD Original
TimmyUmbwebweSegment 320 kbps
TimmyUmbwebweSegment 96 kbps
TimmyUmbwebweSegment 32 kbps
TimmyUmbwebweSegment 8 kbps

Roundabout Reverse 
Fire On High Reverse 
Strange Magic Snip
Expresso Snip

Pythagorean-ET 3rd
Pythagorean-ET 5th
Pythagorean-ET Major Chord


Acoustics and Vibration Animations - Dan Russell, Grad. Prog. Acoustics, Penn State

High speed video and discussion of drum heads

On-line Room Mode Calculator

ISO 226:2003 Equal Loudness Graph

Velocity and Attenuation Data for Various Materials

Alternate Equal Loudness Data

OSHA Permisable Exposure Limit data and methods of estimation.

Absorption and Attenuation Data

Absorption and Attenuation Data (Alternate)

Musical Pitches and Scales Data

Medical Ultrasound Data

Noise Level Data

Perceived Noise Reduction Data

Reducing Noise in a Classroom


Take 5

Taiko Drumming

Gamelan Gong Kebyar

Gamelan Ayak-Ayak

Gamelan MI

Suggested References:
Music, Physics, and Engineering 2E, H. F. Olson, Dover, ISBN 0-486-21769-8
Audio Engineer's Reference Book 2E, M. Talbot-Smith, Ed., Focal Press, ISBN 0-240-516850
Sound System Engineering 2E, D. & C. Davis, Sams, ISBN 0-672-21857-7

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