Is sound management the future of noise control?

By Jim Thompson 

While there are still many cases where noise reduction is needed, there are also many instances where the noise control engineer’s challenge is the management of sound in a particular environment. This may be obvious in cases like music performance spaces. However, more and more, the management of noise environments includes home, school, office spaces, automotive interiors, urban spaces, and much more. The role of the noise control engineer is broader in such cases than simply reducing the noise. 

When I started in noise control engineering the scope of work was clearly defined as reducing the noise levels in almost every aspect of the field. Now, the scope of work has expanded to include managing the acoustic (sound) environment in a space. There are numerous examples such as the impact of appliances on the home sound environment, the enhancement of the experience of automotive occupants, and the control of privacy in office spaces where the sound levels may be increased to meet the needs of the customer. Clearly objectionable sound must be reduced. However, it may also be necessary to increase or add sound to provide the desired environment. 

As electric vehicles are developed there are new challenges for noise control engineers. This was discussed in a recent SAE Update article*, Electrification Forces Fresh Perspectives on Vehicle NVH:

The challenge of designing a new sound environment in which some sounds are gone and new sounds appear is discussed at length. A good quote from the article is “We’re not trying to kill the sound, we’re trying to design the sound.”

This is just one example of the broader challenges faced by noise control engineers that go well beyond simply reducing noise. Due to the success in automotive noise control customers have grown accustomed to a characteristic background noise environment in an internal combustion powered vehicle. With the use of electric propulsion, new opportunities have arisen. These new ways to present value to the customer provide new challenges to the noise control engineer. We now have active programs to generate artificial noise in electric vehicles to provide the sensation of speed and acceleration that was familiar with an internal combustion engine. The role of the noise control engineer is greater than only noise control in such cases. 

This does not mean that traditional noise control is not important or is no longer needed. I got an angry reaction recently when I suggested that we might be better to call ourselves sound management engineers instead of noise control engineers. In a room full of noise control engineers, several people told me they were working hard to reduce noise to improve the quality of people’s lives, and they saw sound management as something else entirely. 

While I am sure many may still feel the challenge of reducing noise is enough, more and more noise control engineers are finding their role growing to include sound management in spaces. These may include urban spaces, homes, businesses, classrooms, performance spaces, transportation vehicles, hospitals, businesses, and even workspaces. This list continues to grow.

By now it is obvious that I believe sound management is the future of noise control. I would like to hear your thoughts. Is sound management part of noise control? Will we see the end of the need just to reduce noise from sources or in environments? Where does this intersection of noise control and sound management go? Will sound management become a routine part of the role of the noise control engineer? Do you agree this is the way noise control is evolving?

The now-common “skateboard” architectures of EVs create unique NVH challenges; here, the skateboard chassis of a Rivian R1T pickup meets the bodyshell at Rivian’s assembly plant in Normal, IL. (Rivian)*

*Electrification Forces Fresh Perspectives on Vehicle NVH, June 17, 2022, Bill Visnic, Automotive Engineering, August 2022, p4.