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How many sound waves can you fit into your studio?

How many sound waves can you fit into your studio?


Obviously this is a trick question of some sort. But what is the trick? It's in the answer – although you might be able to fit thousands of sound waves into your studio space simultaneously, there are situations where it might not even be possible to fit one without bending it!

The explanation is in the range of wavelengths of audible sounds. Any sound consists of a series of high-pressure and low-pressure regions traveling through the air. The wavelength is the distance between two adjacent highs or lows, or any two corresponding points on the wave.

At the extreme, the shortest audible wavelength, corresponding to a frequency of 20,000 Hz (20 kHz), is around 17 mm. At the low frequency end we could consider 100 Hz, the corresponding wavelength being around 3.4 meters (that is just over 11 feet, but come on – this is science in the 21st century!).

So can you fit something 3.4 meters long in a straight line into your studio? Perhaps, just – even if diagonally!

OK, let's think about 50 Hz, and this isn't even deep bass – not even close to the left hand end of the piano. Now we are looking at a wave some 6.8 meters long. This is getting serious.

If we go all the way to the generally accepted limit of audibility, which is 20 Hz, then the wavelength is a massive 17 meters! Few people have rooms that can accommodate wavelengths so long.

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However, all is not lost, because sound waves are quite capable of bouncing around the room, in effect 'folding' themselves over. But the subjective effect isn't all that impressive. Bass in a small room sounds 'constricted', which it is. On the other hand, bass in an auditorium is allowed to 'breathe' and sounds much more pleasant and natural.

Small rooms are very difficult to treat acoustically, and many of the problems are in the bass end.

The moral – the bigger your studio, the more your bass can breathe!

David Mellor

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David Mellor