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Acoustics and Psychoacoustics: Introduction to sound - Part 2


David Howard and Jamie Angus 3/5/2008 2:28 PM EST
Part 2 of an excerpt from the book "Acoustics And Psychoacoustics" covers sound intensity, power and pressure level and offers example calculations. [Part 1 discusses pressure waves and sound transmission.] 1.2 Sound intensity, power and pressure level The energy of a sound wave is a measure of the amount of sound present. However, in general we are more interested in the rate of energy transfer, instead of the total energy transferred. Therefore we are interested in the amount of energy transferred per unit of time, that is the number of joules per second (watts) that propagate. Sound is also a three-dimensional quantity and so a sound wave will occupy space. Because of this it is helpful to characterise the rate of energy transfer with respect to area, that is, in terms watts per unit area. This gives a quantity known as the sound intensity which is a measure of the power density of a sound wave propagating in a particular direction, as shown in Figure 1.7.

Figure 1.7 Sound intensity. 1.2.1 Sound intensity level The sound intensity represents the flow of energy through a unit area. In other words it represents the watts per unit area from a sound source and this means that it can be related to the sound power level by dividing it by the radiating area of the sound source. As discussed earlier, sound intensity has a direction which is perpendicular to the area that the energy is flowing through, see Figure 1.7. The sound intensity of real sound sources can vary over a range which is greater than one millionmillion (1012) to one. Because of this, and because of the way we perceive the loudness of a sound, the

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sound intensity level is usually expressed on a logarithmic scale. This scale is based on the ratio of the actual power density to a reference intensity of 1 picowatt per square metre (10-12 Wm-2).1 Thus the sound intensity level (SIL) is defined as: SIL = 10 log10(Iactual/Iref). (1.10)

where Iactual = the actual sound power density level (in W m-2) and Iref = the reference sound power density level (10-12 Wm-2) The factor of 10 arises because this makes the result a number in which an integer change is approximately equal to the smallest change that can be perceived by the human ear. A factor of 10 change in the power density ratio is called the bel; in Equation 1.10 this would result in a change of 10 in the outcome. The integer unit that results from Equation 1.10 is therefore called the decibel (dB). It represents a 1010 change in the power density ratio, that is a ratio of about 1.26. Example 1.6 A loudspeaker with an effective diameter of 25 cm radiates 20 mW. What is the sound intensity level at the loudspeaker? Sound intensity is the power per unit area. Firstly, we must work out the radiating area of the loudspeaker which is: Aspeaker = r2 = (0.25 m/2) = 0.049 m2 Then we can work out the sound intensity as: I = (W/Aspeaker) = (20 x 10-3 W/0.049 m2) = 0.41 W m-2 This result can be substituted into Equation 1.12 to give the sound intensity level, which is: SIL = 10 log10(Iactual/Iref) = 10 log10(0.41 W m-2/10-12 W m-2) = 116 dB

Sound power level 1.2.2 Sound power level The sound power level is a measure of the total power radiated in all directions by a source of sound and it is often given the abbreviation SWL, or sometimes PWL. The sound power level is also expressed as the logarithm of a ratio in decibels and can be calculated from the ratio of the actual power level to a reference level of 1 picowatt (10-12 W) as follows: SWL = 10 log10 (wactual/wref) where wactual = the actual sound power level (in watts) and wref = the reference sound power level (10-12 W) The sound power level is useful for comparing the total acoustic power radiated by objects, for example (1.11)

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ones which generate unwanted noises. It has the advantage of not depending on the acoustic context, as we shall see in Chapter 6. Note that, unlike the sound intensity, the sound power has no particular direction. Example 1.7 Calculate the SWL for a source which radiates a total of 1 watt. Substituting into Equation 1.11 gives: SWL = 10 log10(wactual/wref) = 10 log10(1 watt/1 x 10-12 W) = 10 log10(1 x 1012) = 120 dB A sound pressure level of one watt would be a very loud sound, if you were to receive all the power. However, in most situations the listener would only be subjected to a small proportion of this power. 1.2.3 Sound pressure level The sound intensity is one way of measuring and describing the amplitude of a sound wave at a particular point. However, although it is useful theoretically, and can be measured, it is not the usual quantity used when describing the amplitude of a sound. Other measures could be either the amplitude of the pressure, or the associated velocity component of the sound wave. Because human ears are sensitive to pressure, which will be described in Chapter 2, and because it is easier to measure, pressure is used as a measure of the amplitude of the sound wave. This gives a quantity which is known as the sound pressure, which is the root mean square (rms) pressure of a sound wave at a particular point. The sound pressure for real sound sources can vary from less than 20 micropascals (20 Pa or 20 - 10-6 Pa) to greater than 20 pascals (20 Pa).2 Note that 1 Pa equals a pressure of 1 newton per square metre (1 N m-2). These two pressures broadly correspond to the threshold of hearing (20 Pa) and the threshold of pain (20 Pa) for a human being, at a frequency of 1 kHz, respectively. Thus real sounds can vary over a range of pressure amplitudes which is greater than a million to one. Because of this, and because of the way we perceive sound, the sound pressure level is also usually expressed on a logarithmic scale. This scale is based on the ratio of the actual sound pressure to the notional threshold of hearing at 1 kHz of 20 Pa. Thus the sound pressure level (SPL) is defined as: SPL = 20 log10(pactual/pref) where pactual = the actual pressure level (in Pa) and pref = the reference pressure level (20 Pa) The multiplier of 20 has a twofold purpose. The first is to make the result a number in which an integer change is approximately equal to the smallest change that can be perceived by the human ear. The second is to provide some equivalence to intensity measures of sound level as follows. (1.12)

Sound pressure level (cont.) The intensity of an acoustic wave is given by the product of the volume velocity3 and pressure

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amplitude: Iacoustic = Up where p = the pressure component amplitude and U = the volume velocity component amplitude However, the pressure and velocity component amplitudes are linked via the acoustic impedance (Equation 1.9) so the intensity can be calculated in terms of just the sound pressure and acoustic impedance by: Iacoustic = Up = (p/Zacoustic)p = p2/Zacoustic Therefore the sound intensity level could be calculated using the pressure component amplitude and the acoustic impedance using: SIL = 10log10(Iacoustic/Iref) = 10 log10(p2/(Zacoustic/Iref)) = 10 log10(p2/(ZacousticIref)) This shows that the sound intensity is proportional to the square of the pressure, in the same way that electrical power is proportional to the square of the voltage. The operation of squaring the pressure can be converted into multiplication of the logarithm by a factor of two, which gives: SIL = 20 log10(p/(ZacousticIref)) This equation is similar to Equation 1.12 except that the reference level is expressed differently. In fact, this equation shows that if the pressure reference level was calculated as: pref = ZacousticIref = (416 x 10-12) = 20.4 x 10-6 (Pa) then the two ratios would be equivalent. The actual pressure reference level of 20 Pa is close enough to say that the two measures of sound level are broadly equivalent. That is, SIL SPL for a single sound wave a reasonable distance from the source and any boundaries. They can be equivalent because the sound pressure level is calculated at a single point and sound intensity is the power density from a sound source at the measurement point. However, whereas the sound intensity level is the power density from a sound source at the measurement point, the sound pressure level is the sum of the sound pressure waves at the measurement point. If there is only a single pressure wave from the sound source at the measurement point, that is there are no extra pressure waves due to reflections, the sound pressure level and the sound intensity level are approximately equivalent, SIL SPL. This will be the case for sound waves in the atmosphere well away from any reflecting surfaces. It will not be true when there are additional pressure waves due to reflections, as might arise in any room or if the acoustic impedance changes. However, changes in level for both SIL and SPL will be the equivalent because if the sound intensity increases then the sound pressure at a point will also increase by the same proportion. This will be true so long as nothing alters the number and proportions of the sound pressure waves arriving at the point at which the sound pressure is measured. Thus, a 10 dB change in SIL will result in a 10 dB change in SPL. These different means of describing and measuring sound amplitudes can be confusing and one must be

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careful to ascertain which one is being used in a given context. In general a reference to sound level implies that the SPL is being used because the pressure component can be measured easily and corresponds most closely to what we hear. Let us calculate the SPLs for a variety of pressure levels. Example 1.8 Calculate the SPL for sound waves with rms pressure amplitudes of 1 Pa, 2 Pa and 2 Pa. Substituting the above values of pressure into Equation 1.12 gives: SPL1 Pa = 20 log10(pactual/pref) = 20 log10(1 Pa/20 Pa) = 20 - log10(5 x 104) = 94 dB 1 Pa is often used as a standard level for specifying microphone sensitivity and, as the above calculation shows, represents a loud sound. SPL2 Pa = 20 log10(pactual/pref) = 20 log10(2 Pa/20 Pa) = 20 - log10(1 x 105) = 100 dB Doubling the pressure level results in a 6 dB increase in sound pressure level, and a tenfold increase in pressure level results in a 20 dB increase in SPL. SPL2 Pa = 20 log10(pactual/pref) = 20 log10(2 Pa/20 Pa) = 20 - log10(1 x 10-1) = -20 dB If the actual level is less than the reference level then the result is a negative SPL. The decibel concept can also be applied to both sound intensity and the sound power of a source. Coming up in Part 3: Adding sounds together. Footnotes: 1. The symbol for power in watts is W. 2. The pascal (Pa) is a measure of pressure; 1 pascal (1 Pa) is equal to 1 newton persquare metre (1 Nm2). 3. Volume velocity is a measure of the velocity component of the wave. It is measured in units of litres per second (ls-1). Printed with permission from Focal Press, a division of Elsevier. Copyright 2006. "Acoustics and Psychoacoustics" by David Howard and Jamie Angus. For more information about this title, please visit www.focalpress.com. Related links: Audio in the 21st Century - Sound

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Sound focusing technologies make recent headlines 'Acoustic cloak' makes objects invisible to sound waves Audio Coding: An Introduction to Data Compression How audio codecs work - Psycoacoustics Principles of 3-D Audio

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