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Março 12, 2008

Acoustics and Psychoacoustics: Introduction to sound - Part 3

Part 3 of this excerpt from the book "Acoustics And Psychoacoustics" looks at the
situations that must be considered when adding sound levels together.
By David Howard and Jamie Angus
[Part 1 discusses pressure waves and sound transmission. Part 2
covers sound intensity, power and pressure level.]

1.3 Adding sounds together

So far we have only considered the amplitude of single sources of
sound. However, in most practical situations more than one source of
sound is present; these may result from other musical instruments or
reflections from surfaces in a room.

There are two different situations which must be considered when

adding sound levels together.

• Correlated sound sources: in this situation the sound comes

from several sources which are related. In order for this to happen the extra sources
must be derived from a single source. This can happen in two ways. Firstly, the different
sources may be related by a simple reflection, such as might arise from a nearby
surface. If the delay is short then the delayed sound will be similar to the original and so
it will be correlated with the primary sound source. Secondly, the sound may be derived
from a common electrical source, such as a recording or a microphone, and then may
be reproduced using several loudspeakers. Because the speakers are being fed the
same signal, but are spatially disparate, they act like several related sources and so are
correlated. Figure 1.8 shows two different situations.
• Uncorrelated sound sources: in this situation the sound comes from several sources
which are unrelated. For example, it may come from two different instruments, or from
the same source but with a considerable delay due to reflections. In the first case the
different instruments will be generating different waveforms and at different frequencies.
Even when the same instruments play in unison, these differences will occur. In the
second case, although the additional sound source comes from the primary one and so
could be expected to be related to it, the delay will mean that the waveform from the
additional source will no longer be the same. This is because in the intervening time,
due to the delay, the primary source of the sound will have changed in pitch, amplitude
and waveshape. Because the delayed wave is different it appears to be unrelated to the
original source and so is uncorrelated with it. Figure 1.9 shows two possibilities.

Figure 1.8 Addition of correlated sources.

Figure 1.9 Addition of uncorrelated sources.

1.3.1 The level when correlated sounds add

Sound levels add together differently depending on whether they are correlated or uncorrelated.
When the sources are correlated the pressure waves from the correlated sources simply add,
as shown in Equation 1.13.

Ptotal correlated (t) = P1(t) + P2(t) + ... + PN(t) (1.13)

Note that the correlated waves are all at the same frequency, and so always stay in the same
time relationship to each other, and this results in a composite pressure variation at the
combination point which is also a function of time. Note also that because changing the position
at which the pressure variation is observed will change the time relationships between the
waves being combined, the composite result from correlated sources is dependent on position.

Because a sound wave has periodicity, the pressure from the different sources may have a
different sign and amplitude depending on their relative phase. For example, if two equal
amplitude sounds arrive in phase then their pressures add and the result is a pressure
amplitude at that point of twice the single source. However, if they are out of phase the result
will be a pressure amplitude at that point of zero as the pressures of the two waves cancel.
Figure 1.10 shows these two conditions. As an example let us look at the effect of a single
delayed reflection on the pressure amplitude at a given point (see Example 1.9).
Figure 1.10 Addition of sine waves of different phases.
Example 1.9 The sound at a particular point consists of a main loudspeaker signal and a
reflection at the same amplitude that has been delayed by 1 millisecond. What is the pressure
amplitude at this point at 250 Hz, 500 Hz and 1 kHz?

The equation for pressure at a point due to a single frequency is given by the equation:

Pat a point = Psound amplitudesin(2πft) or Psound amplitudesin(360°ft)

where f = the frequency (in Hz)

and t = the time (in s)

Note the multiplier of 2π, or 360°, within the sine function is required to express accurately the
position of the wave within the cycle. Because a complete rotation occurs every cycle, one cycle
corresponds to a rotation of 360 degrees, or, more usually, 2π radians. This representation of
frequency is called angular frequency (1 Hz (cycle per second) = 2π radians per second.

The effect of the delay to the difference in path lengths alters the time of arrival of one of the
waves, and so the pressure at a point tdue to a single frequency delayed by some time, τ, is
given by the equation:

Pat a point = Psound amplitudesin(2πf(t + τ))

or Psound amplitudesin(360°f(t + τ))

where τ = the delay (in s)

Add the delayed and undelayed sine waves together to give:

Ptotal = Pdelayedsin(360°f(t + τ)) + Pundelayedsin(360°ft)

Assuming that the delayed and undelayed signals are the same amplitude this can be re-
expressed as:

Ptotal = 2P cos(360°f(τ/2))sin(360°f(t + τ/2))

The cosine term in this equation is determined by the delay and frequency and the sine term
represents the original wave slightly delayed. Thus we can express the combined pressure
amplitude of the two waves as:

Ptotal = 2P cos(360°f(τ/2))

Using the above equation we can calculate the effect of the delay on the pressure amplitude at
the three different frequencies as:

Ptotal 250 Hz = 2P cos(360°f(τ/2))

= 2P cos(360° x 250 Hz x (1 x 10-3s/2)) = 1.41P

Ptotal 500 Hz = 2P cos(360°f(τ/2))

= 2P cos(360° x 500 Hz x (1 x 10-3s/2)) = 0

Ptotal 1 kHz = 2P cos(360°f(τ/2))

= 2P cos(360° x 1 kHz x (1 x 10-3s/2)) = 2P

These calculations show that the summation of correlated sources can be strongly frequency
dependent and can vary between zero and twice the wave pressure amplitude.

1.3.2 The level when uncorrelated sounds add

On the other hand, if the sound waves are uncorrelated then they do not add algebraically, like
correlated waves; instead we must add the powers of the individual waves together. As stated
earlier, the power in a waveform is proportional to the square of the pressure levels so in order
to sum the powers of the waves we must square the pressure amplitudes before adding them
together. If we want the result as a pressure then we must take the square root of the result.
This can be expressed in the following equation:

Ptotal uncorrelated = √(P12 + P22 + ... PN2) (1.14)

Adding uncorrelated sources is different from adding correlated sources in several respects.
Firstly, the resulting total is related to the power of the signals combined and so is not
dependent on their relative phases. This means that the result of combining uncorrelated
sources is always an increase in level. The second difference is that the level increase is lower
because powers rather than pressures are being added. Recall that the maximum increase for
two equal correlated sources was a factor of two increases in pressure amplitude. However, for
uncorrelated sources the powers of the sources are added and, as the power is proportional to
the square of the pressure, this means that the maximum amplitude increase for two
uncorrelated sources is only √2. However, the addition of uncorrelated components always
results in an increase in level without any of the cancellation effects that correlated sources
suffer. Because of the lack of cancellation effects, the spatial variation in the sum of
uncorrelated sources is usually much less than that of correlated ones, as the result only
depends on the amplitude of the sources. As an example let us consider the effect of adding
together several uncorrelated sources of the same amplitude.

Example 1.10 Calculate the increase in signal level when two vocalists sing together at the same
level and when a choir of N vocalists sing together, also at the same level.

The total level from combining several uncorrelated sources together is given by Equation 1.14

Ptotal uncorrelated = √(P12 + P22 + ... PN2)

For N sources of the same amplitude this can be simplified to:

PN uncorrelated = √(P12 + P22 + ... PN2) = √NP2 = P√N

Thus the increase in level, for uncorrelated sources of equal amplitude, is proportional to the
square root of the number of sources. In the case of just two sources this gives:

Ptwo uncorrelated = P√N = P√2 = 1.41P

How does the addition of sources affect the sound pressure level (SPL), the sound power level
(SWL), and the sound intensity level (SIL)? For the SWL and SIL, because we are adding
powers, the results will be the same whether the sources are correlated or not. However, for
SPL, there will be a difference between the correlated and uncorrelated results. The main
difficulty that arises when these measures are used to calculate the effect of combining sound
sources, is confusion over the correct use of decibels during the calculation.

1.3.3 Adding decibels together

Decibels are power ratios expressed on a logarithmic scale and this means that adding decibels
together is not the same as adding the sources' amplitudes together. This is because adding
logarithms together is equivalent to the logarithm of the product of the quantities. Clearly this is
not the same as a simple summation!

When decibel values are to be added together, it is important to convert them back to their
original ratios before carrying out the addition. If a decibel result of the summation is required,
then the sum must be converted back to decibels after the summation has taken place. To
make this clearer let us look at Example 1.11.

Example 1.11 Calculate the increase in signal level when two vocalists sing together, one at 69
dB and the other at 71 dB SPL.

From Equation 1.12 the SPL of a single source is:

SPL = 20 log10(ρactual/ρref)

For multiple, uncorrelated, sources this will become:

SPL = 20 log10(√(P12 + P22 + ... PN2)/ρref) =

10 log10((P12 + P22 + ... PN2)/ρref2) (1.15)

We must substitute the pressure squared values that the singers' SPLs represent. These can be
obtained with the following equation:

P2 = 10(SPL/10)ρref2

where ρref2 = 4 x 10-10 N2 m-4

Substituting in our two SPL values gives:

P269 dB = 10(69/10) x 4 x 10-10 N2 m-4 = 3.18 x 10-3 N2 m-4


P271 dB = 10(71/10) x 4 x 10-10 N2 m-4 = 5.04 x 10-3 N2 m-4

Substituting these two values into Equation 1.15 gives the result as:

SPL = 10 log10((P269 dB + P271 dB)/ρref2)

= 10 log10((3.18 x 10-3 + 5.04 x 10-3)/4 x 10-10) = 73.1 dB

Note that the combined sound level is only about 2 dB more than the louder of the two sounds
and not 69 dB greater, which is the result that would be obtained if the SPLs were added directly
in decibels.

There are some areas of sound level calculation where the fact that the addition of decibels
represents multiplication is an advantage. In these situations the result can be expressed as a
multiplication, and so can be expressed as a summation of decibel values. In other words
decibels can be added when the underlying sound level calculation is a multiplication. In this
context the decibel representation of sound level is very useful, as there are many acoustic
situations in which the effect on the sound wave is multiplicative, for example the attenuation of
sound through walls or their absorption by a surface. To make use of decibels in this context let
us consider Example 1.12.

Example 1.12 Calculate the increase in the sound pressure level (SPL) when two vocalists sing
together at the same level and when a choir of N vocalists sing together, also at the same level.
The total level from combining several uncorrelated single sources is given by:

PN uncorrelated = P√N

This can be expressed in terms of the SPL as:

SPLN uncorrelated = 20 log10(P√N/ρref) = 20 log10(P/ρref) + 20 log10(√N)

In this equation the first term simply represents the SPL of a single source and the addition of the
decibel equivalent of the square root of the number of source represents the increase in level due
to the multiple sources. So this equation can be also expressed as:

SPLN uncorrelated = SPLsingle source + 10 log10(N)

This equation will give the total SPL for N uncorrelated sources of equal level. For example, ten
sources will raise the SPL by 10 dB, since 10 log(10) = 10.

In the case of two singers the above equation becomes:

SPLN uncorrelated = SPLsingle source + 10 log10(2) = SPLsingle source + 3 dB

So the summation of two uncorrelated sources increases the sound pressure level by 3 dB.