Using the simple electronics system illustrated in Figure 1, you will get to experience volume reduction through destructive interference, which forms the basis of noise-canceling headphones.
In one operating mode, the sound waves will reinforce one another to increase the volume. In the opposite operating mode, the sound waves will destructively interfere to reduce the volume.
Large, low-frequency (woofer) speakers are most appropriate for this experiment. For optimum results, the speakers should be identical and mounted in enclosures.
Step 1: Connect each speaker to the low-voltage AC power supply through a 220 Ω resistor, as illustrated in Figures 1 and 2.
The resistors limit the amount of power delivered to each speaker by the power supply.
Step 2: A low-pitched, 60-Hertz tone should be heard from the speakers. If the tone sounds too loud, use higher-value resistors.
Step 3: With both speakers connected and producing sound, position them so that they are only a foot or two away, facing toward each other. Listen to the volume of the 60 Hz tone.
Step 4: Now, reverse the connections (the polarity) of just one of the speakers and note the volume again.
Step 5: Try switching the polarity of one speaker back and forth from original to reversed, comparing volume levels each way. What do you notice?
By reversing wire connections to one speaker, you are reversing the phase of that speaker’s sound wave in reference to the other speaker. In one mode, the sound waves will reinforce one another for a strong volume. In the other mode, the sound waves will destructively interfere, resulting in diminished volume. This phenomenon is common to all wave events: sound waves, electrical signals (voltage waves), waves in water, and even light waves!
Multiple speakers in a stereo sound system must be properly phased so that their respective sound waves don’t cancel each other, leaving less total sound level for the listeners to hear. So, even in an AC system where there really is no such thing as constant polarity, the sequence of wire connections may make a significant difference in system performance.
This principle of volume reduction by destructive interference may be exploited for noise cancellation. Such systems sample the waveform of the ambient noise, then produce an identical sound signal 180o out of phase with the noise. When the two sound signals meet, they cancel each other out, ideally eliminating all the noise.
As one might guess, this is much easier accomplished with noise sources of steady frequency and amplitude than in this experiment. Cancellation of random, broad-spectrum noise is difficult, as some sort of signal-processing circuit must sample the noise and generate precisely the right amount of cancellation sound at just the right time in order to be effective.
Learn more about the fundamentals behind this project in the resources below.
In Partnership with Future Electronics
by Jeff Child