Sound is vibration transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard, or the sensation stimulated in organs of hearing by such vibrations.
For humans, hearing is limited to frequencies between about 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz (20 kHz), with the upper limit generally decreasing with age. Other species have a different range of hearing. For example, dogs can perceive vibrations higher than 20 kHz. As a signal perceived by one of the major senses, sound is used by many species for detecting danger, navigation, predation, and communication. Earth's atmosphere, water, and virtually any physical phenomenon, such as fire, rain, wind, surf, or earthquake, produces (and is characterized by) its unique sounds. Many species, such as frogs, birds, marine and terrestrial mammals, have also developed special organs to produce sound. In some species, these have evolved to produce song and speech. Furthermore, humans have developed culture and technology (such as music, telephone and radio) that allows them to generate, record, transmit, and broadcast sound.
The mechanical vibrations that can be interpreted as sound are able to travel through all forms of matter: gases, liquids, solids, and plasmas. The matter that supports the sound is called the medium. Sound cannot travel through vacuum.
Sound is transmitted through gases, plasma, and liquids as longitudinal waves, also called compression waves. Through solids, however, it can be transmitted as both longitudinal and transverse waves. Longitudinal sound waves are waves of alternating pressure deviations from the equilibrium pressure, causing local regions of compression and rarefaction, while transverse waves in solids, are waves of alternating shear stress.
Matter in the medium is periodically displaced by a sound wave, and thus oscillates. The energy carried by the sound wave converts back and forth between the potential energy of the extra compression (in case of longitudinal waves) or lateral displacement strain (in case of transverse waves) of the matter and the kinetic energy of the oscillations of the medium.
Sound waves are characterized by the generic properties of waves, which are frequency, wavelength, period, amplitude, intensity, speed, and direction (sometimes speed and direction are combined as a velocity vector, or wavelength and direction are combined as a wave vector).
Sound characteristics can depend on the type of sound waves (longitudinal versus transverse) as well as on the physical properties of the transmission medium.
Whenever the pitch of the soundwave is affected by some kind of change, the distance between the sound wave maxima also changes, resulting in a change of frequency. When the loudness of a soundwave changes, so does the amount of compression in airwave that is travelling through it, which in turn can be defined as amplitude.
See main article: Speed of sound. The speed of sound depends on the medium through which the waves are passing, and is often quoted as a fundamental property of the material. In general, the speed of sound is proportional to the square root of the ratio of the elastic modulus (stiffness) of the medium to its density. Those physical properties and the speed of sound change with ambient conditions. For example, the speed of sound in gases depends on temperature. In 20C air at the sea level, the speed of sound is approximately 343m/s. In fresh water, also at 20 °C, the speed of sound is approximately 1482abbr=onNaNabbr=on. In steel, the speed of sound is about 5960abbr=onNaNabbr=on. The speed of sound is also slightly sensitive (a second-order anharmonic effect) to the sound amplitude, which means that there are nonlinear propagation effects, such as the production of harmonics and mixed tones not present in the original sound (see parametric array).
The scientific study of the propagation, absorption, and reflection of sound waves is called acoustics. Noise is a term often used to refer to an unwanted sound. In science and engineering, noise is an undesirable component that obscures a wanted signal.
See main article: Sound pressure. Sound pressure is defined as the difference between the average local pressure of the medium outside of the sound wave in which it is traveling through (at a given point and a given time) and the pressure found within the sound wave itself within that same medium. A square of this difference (i.e. a square of the deviation from the equilibrium pressure) is usually averaged over time and/or space, and a square root of such average is taken to obtain a root mean square (RMS) value. For example, 1 Pa RMS sound pressure in atmospheric air implies that the actual pressure in the sound wave oscillates between (1 atm
As the human ear can detect sounds with a very wide range of amplitudes, sound pressure is often measured as a level on a logarithmic decibel scale. The sound pressure level (SPL) or Lp is defined as
. Houghton Mifflin Company. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2006.