Highlights from the International Congress on Acoustics

Selections from the acoustics meeting include personal listening zones in cars and how skull size affects music tastes, presented June 2-7 in Montreal

Audio zones in cars

By installing a set of modified speakers next to a car’s headrests and using a program to tweak sound in the front and the rear, researchers could create distinct listening zones. Courtesy of Jordan Cheer

Using modified speakers in a car’s headrests and a new way to filter sound, Jordan Cheer and Stephen Elliott at the University of Southampton in England have created distinct listening zones for the front and back seats of a car. The team replaced the wooden backs of speakers with rectangles of metal gauze to focus sound toward passengers’ ears. Altering the volume and time delay of certain sounds confined sounds to particular zones in a car, Cheer said June 3. The system let drivers and passengers riding in the back listen to two similar pop songs at once, Cheer said. But during tests using something like white noise, some sounds from the rear still made it through to the front.

Skull music

Skull size, density and shape can influence the musical keys people hate, cognitive scientist Jitwipar Jitney Suwangbutra of William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. reported June 4. Sounds vibrate slightly differently depending on the shape of a person’s skull, Suwangbutra said, which may affect how people perceive music. Suwangbutra and colleagues had 16 men and women listen to piano melodies in each of the 12 major keys and rate each song. The team measured the vibration patterns of participants’ skulls by tapping their heads with a microphone. People with similar-sized skulls tended to dislike the same melodies; for example, people with bigger skulls couldn’t stand the keys with higher frequencies.

Meghan Rosen headhsot

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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