In the wall of sound you encounter every day, there are some noises that are more strategically placed than the others. Designers and engineers labour to create artificial noises that make life easier whether by generating atmosphere or making you feel more secure. Here are five fake sounds designed to fool us but only for our own good.
A car door is essentially a hollow shell with parts placed inside it. Without careful design the door frame amplifies the rattling of mechanisms inside. Car companies know that if buyers don’t get a satisfying thud when they close the door, it dents their confidence in the entire vehicle.
To produce the ideal clunk, car doors are designed to minimise the amount of high frequencies produced (we associate them with fragility and weakness) and emphasise low, bass-heavy frequencies that suggest solidity.
The effect is achieved in a range of different ways – car companies have piled up hundreds of patents on the subject – but usually involves some form of dampener fitted in the door cavity. Locking mechanisms are also tailored to produce the right sort of click and the way seals make contact is precisely controlled.
On average it takes 1.8 seconds to close a car door but in that time you’re witnessing a strange kind of symphony composed by engineers and designers whose goal is to reassure you that its rock solid.
While the sound design behind a car door shutting is all about the impression of safety, generating artificial engine noise for electric vehicles is about actual safety concerns.
The EU is still in the process of drafting a law which will require electric vehicle makers to have a signature sound with a minimum volume to make sure other road users can hear the otherwise silent machines whizzing towards them.
Since there’s no requirement for electric cars and motorbikes to sound like their fuel-guzzling relatives, we’re already being promised the option of driving a car that sounds like a Star Wars podracer. Right now, current models are sticking to more traditional audible cues.
The Nissan Leaf has a speaker fitted under its bonnet and a synthesiser in the dash to generate engine noise. Similarly, the silent ENV hydrogen-powered motorbike is fitted with an artificial roar to give other road users a heads up that its approaching.
While some US sports teams use artificial crowd noise to unsettle the opposition, lots of venues use it as a handy way to help amp up the atmosphere and encourage the real spectators to join in.
Next time you’re at a big gig or sporting event, listen carefully to the sound being pumped out from the speakers and you’re very likely to hear crowd sounds mixed in with the music and announcements.
A less obvious bit of artificial sound that you probably hear every day is called comfort noise. Lots of modern telephone systems as well as software like Skype employ noise reduction techniques. Unfortunately, that can result in total silence at quiet points in a conversation and leave you wondering if the call has stopped entirely.
That’s where comfort noise comes in. To fill those lulls, the software adds artificial noise at a barely audible volume. While you won’t consciously notice it, it prevents you from feeling like you’re talking into a void.
Comfort noise isn’t a new concept either. During the siege of Leningrad, the Soviets broadcast the beat of a metronome to reassure citizens that the radio network was still up and running. Radio stations today add comfort noise to broadcasts during quiet periods such as the minute’s silence on Remembrance Day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Well, we’ve started quite a debate (actually, it’s a row in our office). A few commenters, tweeters and e-mailers are telling us cashpoints aren’t making fake noises, while others are saying they used to… up until the year 2000.
Whether you believe it or not, here’s another cash-based sound to consider, or rather the lack of one: Jordan Harper hit our comments section to tell us about Coinstar machines.
Another daily sound that is not quite what it seems is the comforting whirr of the cash point. The assumption most people jump to is that the sound is produced by rollers delivering the notes to the collection slot. In fact, the sound is
an entirely artificial addition to the process. The noise is produced by a speaker and purely included in the transaction to reassure you that your money is on its way. Without the added noise, the ATM would be practically silent with its moving parts on the other side of a brick wall.
UPDATE: We’ve heard from lots of engineers working with ATMs who say there’s no extra speaker inside the machine, and we’re continuing to search for a designer to tell us if the motor is tuned to make a specific sound, as has been suggested by some readers. Are you an ATM designer? If so, get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.
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