Acoustics is the name given to the branch of science that deals with the study of sound. Acousticians help to manage, regulate and control noise and vibration in the home, in workplaces and the environment.
Sound affects our lives everyday. Without control, sound may reduce the acceptability of the environment, cause deafness and create stress. Correct acoustic design, however, can greatly improve quality of life at work, in performance spaces, such as concert halls, and at home.
The field of acoustics is very diverse. The work of an acoustician may, for example, include:
Acousticians tend to specialise in one or more areas and their daily tasks vary widely depending on the field they work in.
They could be advising on sound insulation, helping to design a concert hall so that the music can be heard clearly throughout the auditorium, or researching new ways of making engines or electrical equipment run more quietly.
Many acousticians work in engineering and architectural consultancies on projects as varied as opera houses, schools, the automotive industry and sonar, and many other fields.
In industry, they may work on machinery noise and control systems. In the aircraft industry, they may work on engine design and manufacture. Some specialise in designing and working with recording studio and broadcast sound equipment.
They may also work in acoustics research for healthcare, defence, music and telecommunications.
Acousticians must be aware of legislation relating to noise and often need to produce concise accounts of complex problems. Some acousticians may need to present their findings at public inquiries, where they may be asked to give evidence supporting or opposing new projects, e.g. the location of a new road or factory.
They usually work as part of a team with professional colleagues from different disciplines.
Working hours and environments vary depending on the area of work. Acousticians in research may spend most of their time in a laboratory, either working from 9.00am to 5.00pm or at unsocial hours, e.g. if an experiment demands low background noise levels that only occur at night.
Although they use computers at a desk, the job is rarely desk bound. They are frequently in meetings or recording studios or on site. The work may involve standing and bending, as well as lifting and installing instruments.
Travel between offices and sites may be required. Staying away from home may be necessary if projects are in different parts of the country or overseas.
Starting salaries for newly qualified acoustical consultants may be around £22,000 a year. With experience acousticians can earn around £35,000.
Principal acoustical consultants can earn up to £60,000 a year or more.
Acousticians may be employed by:
- Acoustic consultancies
- Building and civil engineering firms
- Sound recording studios
- Manufacturing companies
- Telecommunications companies
- The aerospace industry
- Medical organisations, including the NHS
- Government departments and local authorities
- Universities, colleges and research establishments
Acoustics is a small, specialised field. The Institute of Acoustics (IOA) is the UK's professional body for people working in acoustics, noise and vibration, and has around 3,000 members. There is currently a shortage of noise consultants in the UK. Job vacancies are advertised in the local and national media, on the website of the IOA, in the IOA's membership journal Acoustics Bulletin and through specialist recruitment agencies.
Acousticians need relevant acoustics-related qualifications at either degree or postgraduate level.
Relevant undergraduate courses are available at two universities:
The University of Southampton offers degrees in acoustical engineering and acoustics and music.
The University of Salford offers a degree in acoustics.
Each can include an optional placement year.
Entry requirements vary between a minimum of two A levels including maths or a numerate science, and a minimum of three A levels including maths and physics. Alternative qualifications may be accepted, such as a BTEC National Diploma or the International Baccalaureate. Applicants should check with each institution as to specific requirements. Those without the usual requirements can take an Access course.
Graduates with relevant degrees in engineering, science, maths, physics or equivalent, such as music technology and audio technology, may go on to study acoustics full time at a higher level. There are, for example, a range of Masters degrees available that offer the opportunity to specialise in acoustics. They are normally taken full-time over one year and require candidates to have at least an upper second-class degree.
The Diploma in science may be relevant to this area of work.
Training for new graduates is mainly on the job, often combined with an in-house training programme. Many employers offer a structured graduate or postgraduate training scheme.
The IOA offers a range of professionally recognised courses for those interested in working in acoustics. They cover general principles and specific applications, including building acoustics and the management, regulation and control of noise and vibration in the workplace. Courses are delivered throughout the UK.
The following short, specialist courses are available:
Certificate of Competence in Workplace Noise Risk Assessment (CCWPNRA).
Certificate of Competence in Environmental Noise Measurement (CCENM).
Certificate in the Management of Occupational Exposure to Hand Arm Vibration (CMOEHAV).
The IOA also offers a Diploma in Acoustics and Noise Control. The normal minimum entry requirements are a degree in a discipline related to science or engineering or a degree in environmental health or environmental science, although alternative qualifications may be accepted. The Diploma course may be taken part-time or by distance learning. Completion of the course may lead to partial exemption from university requirements for Masters degree programmes. Accredited centres are listed on the IOA website. Other short courses are available from the IOA.
The IOA offers different membership grades depending on experience and academic qualifications. It also offers members a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme to keep up to date with rapidly changing technological and regulatory issues.
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An acoustician should have:
Acousticians may go on to specialise in a particular branch of acoustics, progress into management or move into a consultancy role.
The IOA is licensed by the Engineering Council to register suitably qualified and experienced members as professional engineers.
Institute of Acoustics (IOA),
77a St Peter's Street, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 3BN
Tel: 01727 848195
Institute of Sound and Vibration Research,
University Road, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ
Tel: 0238 059 2294
The School of Computing, Science and Engineering,
Newton Building, University of Salford, Salford, Greater Manchester M5 4WT
Tel: 0161 295 5000
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.