Research and development
Research and development audio engineers invent new technologies, equipment and techniques, to enhance the process and art of audio engineering. They might design acoustical simulations of rooms, shape algorithms for audio signal processing, specify the requirements for public address systems, carry out research on audible sound for video game console manufacturers, and other advanced fields of audio engineering. They might also be referred to as acoustic engineers.
Audio engineers working in research and development may come from backgrounds such as acoustics, computer science, broadcast engineering, physics, acoustical engineering, electrical engineering and electronics. Audio engineering courses at university or college fall into two rough categories: (i) training in the creative use of audio as a sound engineer, and (ii) training in science or engineering topics, which then allows students to apply these concepts while pursuing a career developing audio technologies. Audio training courses give you a good knowledge of technologies and their application to recording studio and sound reinforcement systems, but do not have sufficient mathematical and scientific content to allow you to get a job in research and development in the audio and acoustic industry.
Noted audio engineer Roger Nichols
at a vintage Neve recording console.
Audio engineers in research and development usually possess a bachelor's degree, master's degree or higher qualification in acoustics, physics, computer science or another engineering discipline. They might work in acoustic consultancy, specializing in architectural acoustics. Alternatively they might work in audio companies (e.g. headphone manufacturer), or other industries that need audio expertise (e.g., automobile manufacturer), or carry out research in a university. Some positions, such as faculty (academic staff) require a Doctor of Philosophy. In Germany a Toningenieur is an audio engineer who designs, builds and repairs audio systems.
The listed subdisciplines are based on PACS (Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme) coding used by the Acoustical Society of America with some revision.
Audio signal processing
Audio engineers develop audio signal processing algorithms to allow the electronic manipulation of audio signals. These can be processed at the heart of much audio production such as reverberation, Auto-Tune or perceptual coding (e.g. mp3 or Opus). Alternatively, the algorithms might carry out echo cancellation on Skype, or identify and categorize audio tracks through Music Information Retrieval (e.g., Shazam).
Architectural acoustics is the science and engineering of achieving a good sound within a room. For audio engineers, architectural acoustics can be about achieving good speech intelligibility in a stadium or enhancing the quality of music in a theatre. Architectural Acoustic design is usually done by acoustic consultants.
Electroacoustics is concerned with the design of headphones, microphones, loudspeakers, sound reproduction systems and recording technologies. Examples of electroacoustic design include portable electronic devices (e.g. mobile phones, portable media players, and tablet computers), sound systems in architectural acoustics, surround sound and wave field synthesis in movie theater and vehicle audio.
Musical acoustics is concerned with researching and describing the science of music. In audio engineering, this includes the design of electronic instruments such as synthesizers; the human voice (the physics and neurophysiology of singing); physical modeling of musical instruments; room acoustics of concert venues; music information retrieval; music therapy, and the perception and cognition of music.
Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of how humans respond to what they hear. At the heart of audio engineering are listeners who are the final arbitrator as to whether an audio design is successful, such as whether a binaural recording sounds immersive.
The production, computer processing and perception of speech is an important part of audio engineering. Ensuring speech is transmitted intelligibly, efficiently and with high quality; in rooms, through public address systems and through mobile telephone systems are important areas of study.