February 04, 2014

Difference Between Echo and Reverberation

Like all waves, sound waves can be reflected. Sound waves suffer reflection from the large obstacles. As a result of reflection of sound wave from a large obstacle, the sound is heard which is named as an echo. Ordinarily echo is not heard as the reflected sound gets merged with the original sound. Certain conditions have to be satisfied to hear an echo distinctly (as a separate sound).

The sensation of any sound persists in our ear for about 0.1 seconds. This is known as the persistence of hearing. If the echo is heard within this time interval, the original sound and its echo cannot be distinguished. So the most important condition for hearing an echo is that the reflected sound should reach the ear only after a lapse of at least 0.1 second after the original sound dies off. As the speed of sound is 340 m/s, the distance travelled by sound in 0.1 second is 34 m. This is twice the minimum distance between a source of sound and the reflector. So, if the obstacle is at a distance of 17 m at least, the reflected sound or the echo is heard after 0.1 second, distinctly.

A reverberation is quite different than an echo. The distinction between an echo and a reverberation is depicted in the animation below.

A reverberation is perceived when the reflected sound wave reaches your ear in less than 0.1 second after the original sound wave. Since the original sound wave is still held in memory, there is no time delay between the perception of the reflected sound wave and the original sound wave. The two sound waves tend to combine as one very prolonged sound wave. If you have ever sung in the shower (and we know that you have), then you have probably experienced a reverberation. The Pavarotti-like sound which you hear is the result of the reflection of the sounds you create combining with the original sounds. Because the shower walls are typically less than 17 meters away, these reflected sound waves combine with your original sound waves to create a prolonged sound - a reverberation.


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