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Old Apr 4th 2019, 07:11 AM   #1
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Sound and how it is perceived in small or large rooms

Hello Physicists!

I am a newly qualified lawyer from England and a work-related issue has had me wondering about a physics question for ages - so much so that I have joined this forum just to find an answer from people more knowledgeable than myself in the subject.

Just a bit of background, my firm has moved offices. The toilet in our new office is a small room, built into a much larger room (my colleague's office). When you are inside the toilet, you can hear every single noise coming from the larger room, for example the rustling of paper, footsteps, the printer printing etc. This has left myself wondering as to how much people in the larger room can here when oneself is using the toilet in the smaller room. Not that I am particularly bothered, but I would prefer if my colleagues couldn't hear every single detail whenever I need to use the loo, plus it's just an interesting question that I am not sure of the answer of.

So my question is this: Does the size of the room impact the amount of noise heard outside of it? Does the fact that the smaller room is inside the bigger room play a difference in which room hears more noise from which? Or is there even a difference at all? I'm wondering if the size of the room has something to do with the amplification? I'm simply not sure, which is why I am posting it here.

Thank you in advance!
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Old Apr 4th 2019, 03:42 PM   #2
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Interesting question, and not the type of question we normally get here!

I think it seems pretty obvious that whatever noise level can be heard from sources outside the loo into the loo is probably pretty close to the sound noise level that can be heard from sources inside the loo outside. Oh dear! But ... (butt?) .. the ability for people to discern the noise, and tell what causes it, is a bit more complicated. If there are sources of masking noise that are closer to the listeners than the source of the noise from the loo, well, then there is the possibility that whatever sound may emanate from inside the loo is discernible to people outside is lessened. Example: suppose you have a loud talker in the office, the type of person who can't modulate his own voice -- typically you find it hard to stay focused on your work because you can't help but listen to the loud obnoxious guy's conversation. But if someone whispers in your ear at the same time then you probably aren't distracted by the loud guy quite as much. So - whether noises from the loo are heard clearly has to do as much with the nature of background noises in the office area as anything. My suggestion: turn up the Muzak in the office area and all will be fine!
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Last edited by ChipB; Apr 4th 2019 at 05:45 PM.
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Old Apr 4th 2019, 08:11 PM   #3
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When the frequency of sound wave higher than 20000 Hz or lower than 20 Hz, people will not able to perceive it. There is a very special sound wave, the shock wave... It will render ears deaf...
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Old Apr 5th 2019, 02:28 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by confusedlawyer View Post
So my question is this: Does the size of the room impact the amount of noise heard outside of it? Does the fact that the smaller room is inside the bigger room play a difference in which room hears more noise from which? Or is there even a difference at all? I'm wondering if the size of the room has something to do with the amplification? I'm simply not sure, which is why I am posting it here.

Thank you in advance!
Acoustic problems are rather complicated. Sound propagation depends on a lot of factors:

1. The location of all sound emitters
2. The medium (usually air, but sometimes water)
3. The configuration of walls that make up the rooms and corridors (i.e. shape).
4. The openings into rooms (doors and windows)
5. The frequency and amplitude of the sound waves emitted
6. The materials used to construct the walls, doors and windows.

The reason all of this is important is because sound waves travel through air and through walls and can be diffracted and reflected depending on the travel path of the waves and any apertures.

Considering the above, it is easy to say that the size of a room does make a difference, but is it a big or a small difference? It's hard to say without doing a numerical simulation model.



Just from personal experience, I suspect that the reason why you might be hearing so much in the toilet is because your proximity to the wall is very close, so when sound is propagated along the walls, you find it easier to pick up those sounds. Someone in the larger room, however, may spend more time situated in the centre of the room and therefore not be by the wall to pick up sounds propagated from the toilet.

My suspicion is speculation, but it should nevertheless give you an idea of the kinds of things acoustic models sometimes find.
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Old Apr 5th 2019, 03:48 AM   #5
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The toilet in our new office is a small room, built into a much larger room (my colleague's office).
Start by sound blocking the common (false) ceiling space
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Old Apr 5th 2019, 04:24 AM   #6
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My immediate expectation would be that there would be no difference.
However there may be a perception difference.
In the toilet there is little other distraction, thus sounds will be noticed.
In the office there will be numerous distractions,
(if all else fails there is always work to do),
which could mean that extraneous sounds might be filtered out by the brains automatic "not-important" filter.

It might be interesting to do some experiments
A "standard" noise could be made using (for example) a mobile phone ring tone.
Listen in the office to the phone ringing in the toilet,
verses the phone ringing in the office as heard in the toilet.
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