Sound Myth-Understandings

A myth is a story handed down through history, often orally, that explains the unknown. In some cases, we have heard these myths so often we never question their veracity. The word itself comes from the Greek, “mythos” which meant speech but later came to mean legend.

In the spirit of Mythbusters, we’ve found some sound and acoustical legends to address. So, if you know the realities behind these fables, good for you—if not, remember, not everyone’s perception of the truth should be your own. Question authority.

• If you plant a row of trees does it block sound? Trees block sight, not sound. There are many gaps between trees and shrubs that allow sound through, so a wall or berm is a better choice.

• Can singing really break glass? Yes, but it takes perfect pitch and patience if the singer is not amplified. Each glass has its own frequency and a singer has to hit that note and sustain it long enough for the glass to vibrate itself to pieces.

• Can you hear the ocean in a shell? Only if you have a tiny tape player and a recording of some waves. It is not your own blood supply rushing though your ears, either. The sound you hear when you place a shell near your ear is actually ambient noise being reflected back to you. In a sound proof room, there is no sound from the shell.

• Can a car break the sound barrier? Yes, and one has. The sound barrier is the speed that sound travels, which varies with weather and altitude, but is basically 770 miles per hour. Chuck Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the Bell X-1. On October 15, 1997, in ThrustSSC–a jet-powered car–Andy Green became the first person to break the sound barrier in a land vehicle.

Of course, one of the biggest myths is that it must cost much more to have an acoustical or audiovisual consultant on your design team. A consultant has years of training, experience and the means to precisely measure noise. Complicated audiovisual systems often interface with computers and other equipment to work properly. Achieving the acoustical and audio needs of the space in a cost effective manner is the goal.