Psychoacoustics is the key

All auditory events are inextricably linked with how they are perceived. Just think about the emotions that music is capable of arousing or consider that birds twittering loudly can sometimes put us in a good mood while the quiet buzzing of a mosquito can keep us up all night. We interpret every auditory signal in comparison to our experience and to the perceptions of our other senses.

Pioneering acoustic work

During my time at the Institute for „Elektrische Nachrichtentechnik“, RWTH Aachen University, I have become increasingly interested in matters relating to hearing. I carried out studies on the short-term memory of human hearing, worked on determining tympanic membrane impedance and on describing the role that the outer ear plays in transferring sound.

I have never ceased to be amazed by the capabilities of our hearing and the way in which it is constantly helping us to paint an exquisitely detailed picture of our acoustic surroundings. Our auditory perception is both selective and adaptive, which is one of the many challenges that we face in evaluating acoustic messages. When you are focusing on a quiet sound, you will largely ignore others, including some louder noises. All of this explains why simple sound pressure level measurements – despite being the standard – cannot do justice to human hearing.  

Human-oriented measurements

Today, it seems obvious that the evaluation of sound events must be based on the most exact possible reproduction of the processes of human hearing. The development of the first Aachen HEAD, a binaural recording and measurement system, came about as a consequence of my in-depth research and marked the beginning of an innovative and groundbreaking technology and philosophy: incorporating hearing into technical measurement and analysis. One of our key areas of expertise today is the psychoacoustic evaluation of sound quality. When I think back to the early days of HEAD acoustics, we still had an enormous amount of fundamental work and research ahead of us. In the 1980s, sound quality still mostly meant troubleshooting, and the chief task of an acoustic engineer was to avoid or at least mitigate unpleasant noises. It was essential first to identify what actually causes irritating noises and to understand why they are perceived as unpleasant, how they are transmitted and how they can be changed.

Acoustic milestones

HEAD acoustics has done truly pioneering work since then, and we have achieved remarkable accomplishments: from the optimization of countless product sounds and improvements to the quality of voice and audio devices to noise protection and soundscape projects. As a partner for sound and vibration topics, we have played a pivotal role in shaping the acoustic environment and soundscape. In view of the continued developments and new challenges in this arena and driven by our passion for acoustics, we find ourselves compelled to keep on innovating and researching.