Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session


The Acoustics of Speech and Hearing is an H-Level graduate course (4-1-7) that reviews the physical processes involved in the production, propagation and reception of human speech. Particular attention is paid to how the acoustics and mechanics of the speech and auditory system define what sounds we are capable of producing and what sounds we can sense. Areas of discussion include:

  1. the acoustic cues used in determining the direction of a sound source,
  2. the acoustic and mechanical mechanisms involved in speech production and
  3. the acoustic and mechanical mechanism used to transduce and analyze sounds in the ear.

General Information

The class meets for two 1.5-hour lectures and one 1-hour recitation session each week with three laboratory sessions scheduled throughout the semester. There is one written assignment each week consisting either of a problem set (8 throughout the term), a lab report (3 throughout the term) or one of two take-home exams, a mid-term and a final.


20% of the final grade is based on homework and class participation, 20% is based on the three lab reports, 60% is based on the mid-term and final exam. Students are encouraged to seek the help of the teaching assistants and other staff in performing the homeworks.

Homework and Class Participation 20%
Laboratory Reports 20%
Mid-Term and Final Exam 60%

Who Should Take This Course

The Acoustics of Speech and Hearing course is open to beginning graduate students and upper level undergraduates who have had two semesters of college-level physics (or equivalent) and differential and integral calculus. Past students have included Physics, EE and ME juniors, seniors and graduate students as well as graduate students from the Media Lab.

Text Books

The recommended (but not required) textbook for the course is:

Buy at Amazon Denes, P. B., and E. N. Pinson. The Speech Chain: The physics and biology of spoken speech. 2nd ed. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1993. ISBN: 9780716722564.

This text is written for non-engineers but it contains a clear basic description of the physiologic and physical processes involved in speech production, transmission, reception and recognition.

Other more detailed and engineering oriented texts will be useful from time:

Buy at Amazon Kinsler, Frey, Coppens, and Saunders. Fundamentals of Acoustics. San Diego: Academic Press, 1982. ISBN: 9780471029335.

Buy at Amazon Beranek, Leo. Acoustics. New York: American Institute of Physics, 1986. ISBN: 9780883184943.

Buy at MIT Press Buy at Amazon Stevens, Ken. Acoustic Phonetics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. ISBN: 9780262692502

Buy at Amazon Rosen, Stuart, and Peter Howell. Signals and System for Speech and Hearing. San Diego: Academic Press, 1991. ISBN: 9780125972314.

A book that gives a more balanced view point of acoustics and speech and hearing:

Buy at Amazon Fletcher, Neville. Acoustic Systems in Biology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN: 9780195069402.

A more thorough treatment of the hearing process:

Buy at Amazon Yost, William. Fundamentals of Hearing Science. 3rd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1994. ISBN: 9780127726908.

Course Outline

Lectures include

3 Lectures on Sound Propagation in Space

1 Lecture on Sound Diffraction Sound Localization

2 Lectures on Sound Localization

4 Lectures on Electro-Acoustic Circuits

3 Lectures on Acoustic Transducers including the Middle Ear

1 Lecture on Middle-Ear Disease and Reconstruction

3 Lectures on Sound in Tubes

3 Lectures on the Inner Ear

2 Lectures on the Perception of Sound and Hearing Loss

3 Lectures on Speech Sound Production

1 Paper discussion on Frequency Selectivity in the Auditory System

1 Lecture on the Processing of Speech by the Auditory System

Laboratory Sessions include

1 Lab on Sound Propagation (on the day of Lecture 6)

1 Lab on Quantifying the Perception of Sound (on the day of Lecture 14)

1 Lab on the Acoustic Analysis of Speech (on the day of Lecture 20)