Sound Advice: Sound vs. Noise

It’s something that I did not understand after earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in acoustics.
Neither did I get it during my time working in the noise group at Boeing Commercial Airlines.
Even in my first year as an architectural acoustic consultant, I didn’t really get it for a while, much to the chagrin of my boss.

It’s the reason for the quotation marks around the word noise above.
It’s not complex or difficult, but it is subtle.

It’s the difference between “sound” and “noise.”

I first took note of this distinction when my old boss would edit my reports.  Almost every time I wrote “noise” she would change it to “sound” and say, “Noise is subjective.”  Initially I thought she was just being nit-picky, but eventually I got it.

Take the timeless example of a classical music-loving parent who doesn’t understand their teenager’s taste for loud rock music.  To some, it may be the most epic guitar solo of all time, and yet to others, simply noise.

It isn’t always so easy to make the distinction between sound and noise.  In architectural acoustics, a high background sound level might be considered noisy in some cases, or it may have been intentionally designed that way in others.

One thought on “Sound Advice: Sound vs. Noise”

  1. I hadn’t ever thought about the distinction between noise and sound before. However, your boss was totally right; “noise” is subjective, since a sound that someone thinks is beautiful could be considered annoying and just “noise” to someone else. I can see now why getting an acoustic consultant is so important when designing a building or a room. Thanks for the info!

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