Differentiating Sound

We hear different sounds from different vibrating objects because of variations in:

  • Sound-wave frequency - A higher wave frequency simply means that the air pressure fluctuates faster. We hear this as a higher pitch. When there are fewer fluctuations in a period of time, the pitch is lower.
  • Air-pressure level - This is the wave's amplitude, which determines how loud the sound is. Sound waves with greater amplitudes move our ear drums more, and we register this sensation as a higher volume.

A microphone works something like our ears. It has a diaphragm that is vibrated by sound waves in an area. The signal from a microphone gets encoded on a tape or CD as an electrical signal. When you play this signal back on your stereo, the amplifier sends it to the speaker, which re-interprets it into physical vibrations. Good speakers are optimized to produce extremely accurate fluctuations in air pressure, just like the ones originally picked up by the microphone. In the next section, we'll see how the speaker accomplishes this.