Sirens of Titan

I wanted to explore my speaker’s directionality by making a jig that could hold the microphone in fixed relative positions to the headphone. My overarching goal was to be able to isolate the behavior of the microphone from the behavior of the headphone speaker.

This is what I came up with. The use of hard, rigid, flat surfaces is significant, but not in the way I anticipated.

Jig for holding desktop microphone inside frame and speaker in position.

The slotted food boxes make a rigid frame with holes to allow the microphone to be placed in different positions. The shipping box is marked with a pencil outline so that the headphones can be placed consistently. The edge of the box fits against the slotted structure. I only used the speaker on the side that faces the microphone. I didn’t use the perpendicular speaker nor the microphone on the headphones.

Again, I did a sweeping sine wave. When I analyzed the results, I found an interesting waveform around 120Hz. In the first graph, the frequency was sweeping from about 118.8 Hz to 121.2 Hz. At first I thought that what I saw was some kind of audio interference pattern. But that didn’t make sense because the graph shows large changes between slight frequency changes (and thus slight audio wavelength changes.)

This graph covers about 33.5 seconds of recording. By slowing down the rate of change of the frequency, there are more samples over the course of the transition and noise interferes less. (The spike to the left was due to noise from a car passing or me moving on my chair.)

Magnitude of the sound recorded as the audio frequency swept from 118.8 to 121.2 Hz.

I was trying different adjustments to the configuration to identify the parts that are responsible for the resonance. My first try was apply force to the front wall of the food containers. This had only a small effect on the behavior. My second adjustment was to place crayons on the box out of the line of sight between the speaker and microphone. The resonance was completely gone in that case.

The third adjust I tried making was to put some weight on the box, also out of the line-of-sight. I placed several CD discs on the box. The lower one had some CDs laying on the box and there is an obvious change. The graphs aren’t synchronized.

Top sweep with unmodified setup, bottom with CDs on the shipping box

What I understand now is that these effects are due to resonances within the box that the headphones are on or between the headphone’s strap and the box. Changing the forces on the box caused substantial changes.

Another way that I visualize the data is to break the signal into equal sized blocks of time and perform a Fourier transform of the block and plot them as an image. Pixels closer to the bottom edge of the graph represent lower frequency components of the signal.

I found this strange shape in the first graph I created. I created graphs from other runs and none of them had anything like this.

Part of a chart showing Fourier transform of recording a siren passing

Then I remembered a fire truck siren that I heard a few blocks away when I was recording one of the results. It’s interesting to see the shape. It’s a repeating pattern of the tone rising rapidly, followed by the tone falling more slowly. I notice that that the same shape is repeated twice with difference delays which indicates there were two sound sources cycling at different speeds.

I had other things happen that I wasn’t looking for as well.

A “thump” from me moving the chair or coughing

I received a text while I was recording.

The tone for a text on my phone “Glass”

There were several smudges like this next one in the plots. They are due to cars passing. I was recording in the daytime so there was more traffic than at night.

Car passing

There is an unlimited list of sounds that I could analyze to see more interesting patterns.

I ended up finding another rabbit hole just by looking at one position of the microphone and haven’t explored how other positions differ. However, I may have seen enough to know that I haven’t found the key to need to isolate the speaker from the microphone. Without a more sophisticated setup, the environment is going to be a confounding effect. In addition, my jig only works with one microphone and different speakers can’t be positioned with an equivalent geometry.

Everyone can be scientists

ThoughtsOne things scientists do is to perform experiments.

Some experiments are really technical. Measuring the position of atoms or the properties of a supernova. Determining what nutrients an amoeba needs to thrive and how to diagnose prostate cancer.

I don’t know how to do any of these. I know that there are people trained to find the answers. As experts in their field, they have experience and skills that are more trustworthy than my friends.

Even so, my friends and I can all do experiments. We don’t need to pick up a ruler or pencil. No paper, measuring cup or calculator needed. You can do the same.

The most powerful experiments are thought experiments. Human minds have intense abilities to imagine.

A thought experiment uses that imagination to reveal the truth.

What if ….