Sound Wave – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Audio Terms Glossary

What is a Sound Wave?

A sound wave is a type of mechanical wave that carries energy through a medium, such as air, water, or solids, by causing particles in the medium to vibrate. These vibrations create changes in pressure that our ears perceive as sound. Sound waves are longitudinal waves, meaning that the particles in the medium move parallel to the direction of the wave.

How is Sound Produced?

Sound is produced when an object vibrates, creating disturbances in the surrounding medium. For example, when a guitar string is plucked, it vibrates back and forth, causing the air molecules around it to also vibrate. These vibrations travel through the air in the form of sound waves until they reach our ears, where they are detected and interpreted as sound.

What are the Characteristics of Sound Waves?

Sound waves have several characteristics that define their properties. These include amplitude, frequency, wavelength, and speed. The amplitude of a sound wave determines its loudness, with larger amplitudes producing louder sounds. The frequency of a sound wave determines its pitch, with higher frequencies corresponding to higher pitches. The wavelength of a sound wave is the distance between two consecutive points in the wave that are in phase, and the speed of sound waves varies depending on the medium through which they are traveling.

How Do Sound Waves Travel?

Sound waves travel through a medium by causing particles in the medium to vibrate. As the sound wave moves through the medium, it creates areas of high pressure (compression) and low pressure (rarefaction). These pressure changes propagate through the medium, carrying the sound wave with them. In air, sound waves travel at a speed of approximately 343 meters per second, but this speed can vary depending on factors such as temperature and humidity.

What is the Relationship Between Sound Waves and Frequency?

The frequency of a sound wave is the number of complete cycles of vibration that occur in one second and is measured in hertz (Hz). Higher frequencies correspond to higher pitches, while lower frequencies correspond to lower pitches. The human ear can detect frequencies ranging from about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, with the range of frequencies that are most sensitive to our ears typically falling between 1,000 Hz and 4,000 Hz.

How are Sound Waves Measured?

Sound waves are typically measured using a device called a microphone, which converts sound waves into electrical signals that can be analyzed and displayed on a graph. The characteristics of sound waves, such as their amplitude and frequency, can be measured using specialized equipment such as oscilloscopes and spectrum analyzers. Sound waves can also be measured in terms of their intensity, which is the amount of energy that the wave carries per unit area, and their pressure level, which is a measure of the sound wave’s amplitude.