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Bass or Treble? Measure the Frequency Response of a Speaker

Summary

Areas of Science
Difficulty
 
Time Required
Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites
None
Material Availability
Specialty electronics items required.
Cost
Average ($40 - $80)
Safety
Always keep speaker volume at safe levels to avoid hearing damage.
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
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Abstract

Whether you have already tried the Science Buddies Build a Paper Speaker activity or the Measure the Frequency Response of a Paper Speaker project, or you just like music and are interested in exploring more about the science of sound, then this project is for you.

You probably know that sound waves can have different frequencies. If not, you can read more about that in the background section of the Measure the Frequency Response of a Paper Speaker project. The range of human hearing is typically about 20 hertz (Hz) to 20,000 Hz. Frequencies at the lower end of this range are typically referred to as bass, the higher end is called treble, and those in the middle are called mid-range. Ideally, a single speaker would be able to play sounds at all frequencies "equally," meaning it would not make certain frequencies sound louder than others. However, this is not the case. Many times speakers are separated into tweeters for playing high frequencies and woofers for playing low frequencies. Why is this necessary?

The reason has to do with a concept called resonant frequency, sometimes called "natural frequency." Every mechanical system or object has a natural frequency at which it "likes" to vibrate. In general, smaller, lighter, and stiffer objects like to vibrate faster than bigger, heavier, and softer objects. For example, imagine "pinging" a small metal object (like a ruler or paperclip) by flicking it with your finger. It will vibrate back and forth very quickly—possibly faster than your eye can see. Now, think about much larger objects, like tree branches swaying in the wind; they rock back and forth very slowly. The same concept applies to speakers—smaller, lighter tweeters will vibrate at higher frequencies, while larger, heavier woofers will vibrate at lower frequencies.

A graph of the amplitude of a vibration versus the frequency of the vibration is called a system's frequency response. A good speaker should have a frequency response that is as "flat" as possible, meaning it reproduces frequencies at the same volume at which they were recorded. Otherwise, large peaks or valleys in the frequency response will result in some frequencies sounding much louder or quieter than others. Figure 1 shows an example frequency response for a set of computer speakers.

Example graph plots the volume and frequency recorded from a speaker

The example graph shows the frequency response of a set of computer speakers. The graph shows that at a low and high frequency (20, 20000 Hz) the volume level is roughly the same. The frequencies between about 90-18,000 produce a large increase in volume that can fluctuate between 40 and 80 decibels.


Figure 1. Frequency response for a pair of computer speakers. Notice that the x-axis of a frequency response is typically plotted using a logarithmic scale, due to the large range of frequencies for human hearing.

There are many science projects you can do involving the frequency response of speakers. Here are just a few ideas:

Bibliography

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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Finio, Ben. "Bass or Treble? Measure the Frequency Response of a Speaker." Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Phys_p102/physics/speakers-frequency-response. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

APA Style

Finio, B. (2020, November 20). Bass or Treble? Measure the Frequency Response of a Speaker. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Phys_p102/physics/speakers-frequency-response


Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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