Sounds funny? The truth is, some machines are lying to you.

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.

The car door clunk

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.

The vroom of electric vehicles

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.

The souped-up sound of stadiums

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.

The secret static on your Skype call

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.

The cashpoint whirr

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.

Apparently, they introduce an artificial delay to give the impression of improved accuracy. Now, we’re off to debate cash machine noises with The Times, who also reckon they’re fake

——————————————————————————

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.

Five more fake sounds to fool you today

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sam-Golden/546093114 Sam Golden

    This is fascinating yet I feel cheated somehow

  • Sceptical

    so, any evidence to back up these claims?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Duncan/535485993 Paul Duncan

      NO. JUST BELIEVE IT OR ELSE.

    • http://twitter.com/3shirts 3shirts

      I know the car ones are true. My girlfriend works for Nissan and was actually part of a focus group rating engine sounds to help identify which ones Nissan would use in their electric vehicles.
      She also knows one of the acoustic engineers who works on all manner of innocuous car parts to make sure they sound ‘right’ even though the natural noise would be completely different.

      • Aaa

        Nope… i don’t believe you! you are a just spotty geek with no actual girlfriend, but your world of warcraft avatar fantasies. Anyway Nissan is just one long conveyor belt with dwarf goat pressing buttons as they nibble on old nettles.

    • http://www.facebook.com/revsorg Matt Williams

      Long debate on Reddit about whether the ATM noise thing is factual: http://ents.net/cashpointnoise

    • Jeez

      Man alive. It must be a tremendous strain to sit in front of the computer all day, browsing the internet with a contemptuous sneer, refusing to believe anything you read because of some misconceived notion that it makes you one of the “sheeple”.

      • http://twitter.com/MustafaAl MustafaAl

        You must not have spent a lot of time here, on the internet. If you had, you’d not only understand, but applaud, his healthy desire for evidence.

      • Simplyisrael

        some of us folks that use the internet try not assume that everything we read is factual. this difference between us and you helps to keep us from looking ridiculous when we incorrectly assert that ATMs have no audible mechanisms, while you can go out there with confidence and look like an idiot.

      • Gnardude

        Do you have any evidence to support your claim that Sceptical sits in front of his computer all day, that he sneers contemptuously, that he refuses to believe anything he reads or that he fears becoming a sheeple? I’m skeptical of these assertions.

      • Bob

        “As long as it entertains me, I don’t care if it’s real.”

        Is that really what you and everyone else who “liked” your post believes?

        • http://www.facebook.com/dylanogden Dylan Ogden

          I liked both the OP and the response. Is that okay, or do I need to be either a frothing reactionary or a dimwitted ingenue?

          There are some sources. They could be better. You can look them up yourself, or you can take them with a grain of salt. You’re allowed to question sources. You’re also allowed to criticize others for their excessive incredulity. That doesn’t make you credulous, it makes you rational.

          • http://twitter.com/FaIsePr0phet Konstantine Rich

            i love you.

        • Chuckster

          Here, in America, we call those people “Republicans”

        • Jasperbell96

          you know what, youre a troll and there is no reason to take the piss on a forum like this :) if a bloke wants to voice his opinion, let him do so whether you think he’s an idiot or not.

          • Jasperbell96

            :)

      • http://twitter.com/ilrosewood B Rosewood

        How dare he ask for sources!

    • Anonymous

      sheesh get a life

      • Spiderzim

        Get a tan!

    • Anonymous

      sheesh get a life

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=672730089 Robin-Timothy Card

      There’s a new system that allows you to research stuff on your own, it’s revolutionising the world. It’s called the internet. Don’t just take my word for it, try it out here: http://www.google.com

      • Bob

        The point is the AUTHOR should have done this to begin with rather than putting the burden on the readership. The author nominally read this somewhere. Why not cite sources?

        Is this really what you believe: that every reader should research this on their own? What a waste of everyone’s time. Wouldn’t it be better if the author had simply shared his sources in the first place? Wouldn’t that make the world a better place?

        Kant, categorical imperative, yadda yadda.

        • Rophuine Usiah

          I disagree. This isn’t an encyclopaedia article: it’s a “n Xs that Y” post. No need for sources. Nothing wrong with asking for them out of interest either, though.

          • Kurt Tappe

            Sorry, but I must disagree with you, Usiah. Don’t you realize there is a huge middle ground between this article claiming “X” and an encyclopedia going into painful detail “Y”? Cite a source or two so we know you aren’t pulling things out of thin air. Cite some facts or examples. There are millions of examples of people making false claims on the internet. Take a couple of extra steps to differentiate yourself from them so we don’t keep saying “Yeah, right” as we read your article.

      • Vas Deferens

        ummm…there’s always been a system that allows you to research stuff on our own. Its called a LIBRARY.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7IJJE664XIL5XQQTJ3YT76SSKU Jan Toll

    There’s a lot of fake sounds coming out of these mouths: http://goo.gl/f4pXo

  • http://twitter.com/jordanharper Jordan Harper

    I remember reading about a similar mechanism in CoinStar machines (that count convert loose change into notes/vouchers). It’s not an comfort sound, but a comfort delay: the machines can actually count your money in a matter of moments, but there’s an artificially induced delay to make it seem like a more reliable count — apparently people won’t trust the machine if it tells you in half-a-second how much money you just put in.

    • James Holland

      Thanks Jordan! We’ve added your point in above.

      • Myzipis02139

        Ah, glad to see you’ve learned your lesson, and are now committed to only using reliably-sourced information: some guy’s comment which starts with “I remember reading about…”

        • James Holland

          Did you have a link to add to the debate? Would love to see it. Jordan’s tidbit is a corker. As linked above, there’s a roaring discussion on Reddit, as well as here and 90percentofeverything.com too. Aren’t you enjoying it? If not, how about five more fake sounds we found today? http://www.humansinvent.com/#!/936/5-more-fake-sounds-to-fool-you-today/

      • http://twitter.com/jordanharper Jordan Harper

        Nice one James, and thanks for doing the googling to find a couple of references, I was in a bit of a hurry when posting the original comment!

        • James Holland

          My pleasure – thanks again for finding it!

  • Ssshhh

    I believe Arsenal FC from London will use the artificial stadium stadium noise for the 2011-2012 season. Although I believe the noise is too American, so they have asked for a more European sound.

  • http://twitter.com/adambanksdotcom Adam Banks

    Would be a fun experiment to replace the cashpoint noise with the sound of an inkjet printer and see the reactions.

    • Drecks Drecks

      That would be awesome! =D

    • Wayne

      hardly anyone would get it…. Candid camera did a skit in a bank one time where he printed and CUT the money in front of the customers asking for their withdrawals. Most people didn’t react.

    • THEngineer

      While it would be an entertaining trick for those who know the difference, sadly I suspect many people would not think twice as they probably believe that is how they actually work!

  • Nosalesmen

    Truly stupid. There are no added sounds to ATMs. I was intimately involved with the production of ATMs for nearly 20 years and this is simply silly. All sounds are real.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah

  • Rosietoes

    Then there’s the camera click of a digital camera; also a recorded sound. there is no sound associated with taking a digital image, but we like the reassuring “click” at the moment we snap a picture.

    • http://twitter.com/Elco_ Elco

      I can assure you my DSLR does make a shutter sound. Oh, and it’s digital.

    • setmajer

      On (say) phone cameras and the like, yes. Many (most? all?) purpose-built digital cameras still have mechanical shutters, and Digital SLRs still have mirrors that ‘slap’ out of the way of the sensor.

    • Paulette

      That sound was added more as a security measure believe it or not. When cell phones first had cameras, all the rage was was to get “locker room” shots and bathroom/hotel shots since you could now presumably bring your “camera” into more places than it had ever been before, and the internet was flooded with surreptitious porn. Some localities even passed laws about bringing your phone into a public or school locker room.

      Plus it lets your subject know when they can stop smiling :)

      I doubt the veracity of the crowd sounds, though. I think that’s an old wives tale that home teams pump up fake noise while the opposition is on the field. In fact, until last year in the NFL teams were actually PENALIZED for increasing volumes OR inciting the crowd to “make some noise!!!” on the jumbotron. That rule went away last year as the NFL tries to “improve the fan experience”, i.e. get people in Detroit, Jax, Oakland., etc. to actuallly GO to the game and enjoy themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/handelaar John Handelaar

    “Radio stations today add comfort noise to broadcasts during quiet periods such as the minute’s silence on Remembrance Day.”

    No, radio stations add wind and distant traffic noise to prevent the minute’s silence from being abruptly interrupted by their emergency silence detector machines.

  • http://twitter.com/DarthGarry Garry Polmateer

    The sound of opening a bottle of bottled water – they are engineered to have that “freshly opened” clicky sound on purpose.

    • James Holland

      For real? I remember hearing about the “schlopping” noise of a Coke can opening being engineered, but I can’t remember where. Perhaps it was all a sugar-fuelled dream.

  • http://twitter.com/JoBrodie Jo Brodie

    This sort of thing delights me. I would be happy to offer my ears on some sort of focus group to make the sounds that some London buses make when they open their doors much nicer. Sign me up :)

  • http://twitter.com/JoBrodie Jo Brodie

    This sort of thing delights me. I would be happy to offer my ears on some sort of focus group to make the sounds that some London buses make when they open their doors much nicer. Sign me up :)

  • Bunky

    Stephen Fry said the cashpoint sound was fake on QI. And here’s no more accurate source than QI as far as I’m concerned… :o)

  • Design Technology student

    there are many such things. the car noise one is definatly important, i know when i cross the road if i dont hear anything, i tend not to bother looking. the car doors i can understand. a lot of this sort of stuff is cultural. one of friends did work experience with a company that made electronic items, within it there was a cavity. this was left empty if it was being sent to asia, filled if it was being sold in europe. this is because the weight gives european consumers a feeling of solidity and durability; whereas the asian market prefer lighter electricals as it conveys better craftsmanship.
    mobile phones are ludicrisly bigger than they need to be, just so they can fit nicely in the hand. nano-electronics means the physical size of an Iphone could be potentially a lot smaller and still have the same processing power.
    kids bikes is a massive one. the frames can generally support the weight of a 15stone man, there are more gears than would ever be used, heavy, pointless suspension and in-effecient brake levers just to make them look like . Islabikes now produce bikes specifically designed for kids, thinner gauge material and a re-designed frame based on large control group anthropometrics massively reduce weight, re-designed brake levers make them more effective, no suspension and fever gears makes the bike lighter, easier to ride, and its of higher build quality anyway.

    designers adjust and change almost everything to improve all aspects of ergonomics. its what turns a general product into a valuable item.

    (please excuse impromptue revision for an exam on thur)

    • pdf

      “mobile phones are ludicrisly bigger than they need to be, just so they can fit nicely in the hand. nano-electronics means the physical size of an Iphone could be potentially a lot smaller and still have the same processing power.”

      LOL, WTF?

    • Dave

      “i know when i cross the road if i dont hear anything, i tend not to bother looking.”

      You must get run over by a lot of bikes…

  • Paul

    I work in radio, and have been involved with a couple of Remembrance Day broadcasts. You don’t need to add any kind of “fake” noise, and I’d be surprised if any station actually does. You simply broadcast the silence from a public gathering where it is being observed – any BBC station will have a clean feed from the cenotaph in London to opt into if they choose, for example. That way you have the silence, but you also have plenty of atmos to avoid total, emergency back-up inducing silence.

  • Anonymous

    I’m waiting for the wine bottle screw cap that sounds like a cork.

  • Indiyoung

    This is an online article. Where are the links to actually play the sounds you mention? I would like to hear examples.

    • James Holland

      You and me both! If we could find reliable ones, we would… but all the sound libraries I checked are quite vague with their naming. If you dig any up, paste the links here please!

  • neonjngl

    Having been inside a few cash machines for entirely legal purposes, I assure the noises it makes are indeed moving parts. Nothing is fabricated. In fact, quieting them down would bake the parts last longer, and the new machines are very much quieter than in the past.

  • Sgueydan

    the atm claim is false. The “whirr” noise is made by the bill transport motor, which,in most units hangs directly below the transport bill guide rollers. the “thunk” sound that just precedes the wirr, is the port door, a peice of armour which interlocks with the interior face armor. the port door is operated by a cam lever (lifter by a cam ring on the transport motor shaft) that also triggers a sensor to notify the atm computer that the port is open, and then as the bill moves through the release sensor notifies the computer that the bills have been delivered.

    what you dont hear, is the takeup mechanisim,and the vault counter that physically moves the bills from the vault hopper through the shear counter (which images the bill’s serial #) and deposts the bills into the bill transport mechanism, those make all sorts to bangs squeaks flaps and bangs, as the bills move through the various armour port doors, I would make your a recording, but I would have to kill you aftewrwards

    • James Holland

      I would LOVE to see/hear a recording of it! SHOW ME THE MONEY!

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O35MUP7K2GVSZLSU7YVLL3AEJE Ryan S

        no need for a recording, just go to an atm and get a $20, HI says you can hear the “recording” yourself! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/BikerRay BikerRay

    An oldie… On a land-line phone, the ringing sound you hear from the far end isn’t the other phone ringing – it’s generated by the telephone office. (Google “ringback tone”) And the dial tone on a cell phone is generated by the phone itself, not the telco’s switch, like in the old days.

  • Merachefet

    There’s no artificial delay or sound in the Coinstar machines I’ve serviced. They use a slow, noisy turn-table to pull individual coins out of a hopper and roll them down a track past some sensors. It’s the same as a vending machine coinslot, plus a simple machine to feed them in. You could count coins instantly by weight, but how would you sort out the things which weren’t coins? These machines can’t be rocket science – they need to keep working when someone pours in an entire jar of wet, corroded pennies that they found on the beach with their metal detector.

  • Rufus

    When Weight Watcher’s started their new “Points” system, they sold a “point calculator” You put in the Fat, Carbs, Protein, and Fiber in a food and it “Calculated” the point value. Very simple calculation, but the screen segments would spin around as it took about a second before it displayed the answer it knew even before you released the “Points” key.
    All to maintain the “mystique” around the point system and to justify your spending $19.95 on a $2 calculator.

  • Mark Lakata

    The background “phone ringing” sounds during fundraisers on television and radio are fake. Even our highly regarded local public radio station plays obviously fake ringing sounds in the background as the commentators jabber away. The pitch of each ring is randomly assigned, to make it sound like a lot of different phones are ringing.

  • Guest

    I used to work for GM and can confirm the car door noise thing, there’s GM global standards relating to this, and its part of the testing that every prototype vehicle undergoes. It’s sometimes called ‘showroom engineering’ because rather than engineering for functionality, the cars are tested just to make sure they leave a favourable impression in the showroom (i.e. when the customer is deciding to purchase)

  • Bill Heffner

    The NFL prohibits stadiums from using artificailly crowd noise, moinitors for compliance, and heavily fines any teams which engage in the practice. Any stadium which hosts an NFL team is fined for even having the ABILITY to do that. Stadiums do not, repeat do not, “use artificial crowd noise to unsettle the opposition.”

  • Decibals

    I have worked with ATMs and cash machines for close on 28 years. I have installed and serviced many models such as Diebold, NCR, IBM, etc and I have NEVER seen any noise making device. Better yet, on all the schematic plans and workbooks I have seen, no mention of this AT ALL. Money is picked up from canisters and passed to the slot for customers to collect via pulleys, pickers, pushers or puffs of air and all these make an appropriate sound. Of course, I am in Australia and we all know, Only in USA

  • Avery Phill

    Place all your theories in a big book, call it a ‘religious teaching’, and people will believe everything in it, no questions asked.

  • Mthnet

    For 14 years I’m working for a company that produces ATMs and am doing testing of these machines, too. Believe me, the sound IS real and I never saw an ATM in my life that tries to produce rolling noises or similar with speakers.

  • Robbway

    After reading this column, it surprised me that all in-wall ATMS make the exact same “whirr” sound. I don’t think that’s very likely. Also, in the machines that don’t have the whirr, usually the little portable ones, they often release your funds one bill at a time, and they shoot the money into the tray so that you hear every one being delivered.

  • http://twitter.com/theforce34 theforce34

    You couldnt be more wrong about the ATM’s, at no point are they quiet, I have worked on them for about a year now. The machine is filled with multiple parts incl. pick unit, presenter, printer etc… all belt and gear driven with pneumatics running the suction cups that pull bills. the noise is in no way fake. did this website even do research before posting this? anyone whos been around a guy working on an ATM can tell you that if the vaults open and you test it you cant even talk to the person next to you. pretty sad websites just post without research and lead people on with wrong information.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O35MUP7K2GVSZLSU7YVLL3AEJE Ryan S

    no evidence of atms piping fake noises through speakers, now a “false delay” with no substantiation. what a crock. now people are saying coinstar machines are piping coin sounds and delays. anyone think to get a comment from coinstar? diebold? ncr? triton? any idea who any of those companies are? didn’t think so, which is part of the problem AND solution.

    -15 year ATM/banking professional

  • steve schmidt

    I would like to know what evidence there is as well. I know cash counting machines make the whirr noise they are referring to and that noise is certainly not fake. At least it doesn’t seem like it is.

  • Giles Habibula

    Fascinating topic. Whether all this stuff is true or not could be more deeply explored in an episode of “Modern Marvels” on the History Channel. Would make a fun episode to watch, and much more evidence pro and con could be presented. Or maybe Mythbusters could do a show.

  • Paul Baumgartner

    I’ve worked on ATM (cash machines) for a living… The clicks and whirrs you hear are the cassettes within the machine unlocking and locking themselves and issuing the notes during the dispensing process – I can assure you that they are not faked. Funnily enough they can be semi-related to the sounds of a printer starting up because they run on a similar belt-fed mechanism. For reference, I’ve worked on Wincor-Nixdorf, NCR, Diebold, Triton and SIGMA machines – they all don’t fake their noises. True, some are much quieter than others, but none of them fake their sound.

  • Cindyloooo

    Don’t forget magazine plop — where publishers shop paper that makes a certain heavy plop noise when you drop a magazine on a table. Important, so the reader feels like he’s getting something substantial.

  • Anonymous

    The author first says that ATM noises are fake. The author provides no sources for this patently absurd claim. And apparently the author didn’t even bother to do minimal fact checking before writing an article with a patently absurd claim.

    The author then says that Coinstar machines have fake sounds, and a delay. The author’s sources are 1) a commenter here who says he remembers reading about it, but provides no sources, and 2) a commenter on Hacker News who says he heard about it from a friend who worked on “the project”. This is yet another patently absurd claim, published with no attempt to do any fact checking nor find reliable sources.

    Congratulations on getting traffic through irresponsible journalism, willful ignorance, and abject laziness. I guess it paid off, though, so undoubtedly we’ll see more of this in the future.

  • http://www.tsimpountiii.gr Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis

    Very interesting article. I found it through a retweet! Sound is generaly under rated in our days but its importance is always significant…

  • http://twitter.com/1ElephantsChild An Elephants Child

    Why don’t they make electric cars make the sound of horse’s hooves, the faster the car goes the faster the hooves sound.
    That would be very comforting & further the illusion that the cars are really green.

  • Nothingbomb

    my wife’s farts are fake. they were engineered at the dunkin donuts factory for maximum flutterblast sound generation (fsg for the uninitiated.)

  • Guest

    I was just in Vegas and noticed the lack of clinking change in the slot machines. ;(

    There are no more sounds of change being dropped into a slot, nor the sounds of coins hitting the metal tray when you win.

    Now, when you win a printed receipt comes out of the machine and you have to cash out with a cashier.

  • Ambrose Hide

    Interesting article. It reminded me how our emergency vehicle sirens are actually ill-suited to their purpose – it’s very difficult to locate the source of a sinusoidal sound (and the wailing only adds to the sense of panic) whereas the old NeeeNawws (a sound which children still make today) were easy to locate and far more natural/musical (I think Yehudi Menuhin once had a similar moan).

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