Psychoacoustics is the study of the perception of sound. This includes how we listen, our psychological responses, and the physiological impact of music and sound upon the human nervous system. In the realm of psychoacoustics, the terms music, sound, frequency, and vibration are essentially interchangeable, because they are different approximations of the same essence (Leeds, 2001).

This is a complicated topic which this course cannot extensively cover. However, there are points which will be relevant throughout MMS 172, like the ones cited below:

  • Our brains hear loudness as ratios. We cannot describe how loud a sound is unless we relate it to some other sound.
  • Scientists have agreed on a standardized other sound, nominally the softest thing an average healthy person can hear. It is often called the threshold of hearing.
  • Our brains can handle and perceive a wide range of pressure because they deal with volume changes as ratios rather than absolute amounts.
  • A sound that would be absolutely jarring in a quiet setting is practically ignored in a noisy one.
  • Psychoacoustics is not concerned with how sound elicits an emotional response, which is something that semiotics would be concerned with. 



Farley, S. (2014). Psychoacoustics for sound designers. Retrieved from

Leeds, J. (2001). Psychoacoustics. Retrieved from

Leeds, J. (n.d). Psychoacoustics defined. Retrieved from