The story behind “Acoustics, Sound Fields
and Transducers”. Leo Beranek and Tim
Mellow. Academic Press, 600 pp. 2012.
If you ask any
engineer or academic
the field of elect
r o a c o u s t i c s
which is their
favorite text book,
the reply will
nearly always be
Acoustics by Leo
Why is a book published in 1954
without revisions still so popular? There are
many reasons: It deals mainly with fundamental
principles which have not changed. It
is well structured. The author’s passion for
the subject is infectious – the opening sentence
is “Acoustics is a most fascinating subject”.
Wave propagation is explained pictorially
before diving into mathematics.
Electrical circuit analogies are used to provide
insight into the operation of transducers.
Formulas are given to help readers to
work out their own designs. It is hardly surprising
that Acoustics has become one of the
most cited books on the subject.
My background was in electrical engineering,
so naturally Leo’s circuit analogies
sparked my interest in acoustics and his book
was my bible for many years. I was always fascinated by the plots of directivity patters and
radiation impedances for pistons with and
without baffles. In fact Lord Rayleigh (John
W. Strutt) had derived an elegant closed-form
formula for the radiation impedance of a piston
in an infinite baffle in 1894 , long
before the direct radiator loudspeaker had
reproducing the impedance of a piston without
a baffle. In 2002, I looked up the paper
that Leo cited in the footnotes  expecting
to find an equation that I could simply enter
into my computer and use to plot the result.
It wasn’t there. I had to go right back to
Christoffel Bouwkamp’s 1941 PhD thesis ,
which is 25 pages long, but contains no final
equation that can be used. Every step is
needed. At the end, the author states “The
time-consuming computation of eigenvalues,
eigenfunctions, and other quantities important
for the physical interpretation was done
on a small hand-driven Brunsviga desk calculator”.
This was certainly a heroic achievement
at the time and I imagine that he burnt
much midnight oil.
At about the same time, I discovered a
paper  by another Dutch researcher, Hans
Streng, which used more powerful boundary
integral methods  to determine the sound
radiated from a circular electrostatic loudspeaker
membrane. I then met a Finnish colleague
(coincidentally with the same forename
as the author of my favorite book), Leo
Kärkkäinen, who was working at Nokia
Research Center in Helsinki. When I showed
him Streng’s paper, he was quite excited
about it because he could see that it could be
used to describe any surface velocity distribution
such as that of a piston in a circular baffle.
This led to our first published paper .
With his physics background, Leo became
my mentor in wave theory and mathematical
methods. He even modified the Streng
method in order to avoid the use of collocation
and thus calculate everything directly. In
my second paper  I applied this method to
the Bouwkamp problem of waves diffracted
through a circular aperture. Meanwhile, I
had been busy creating my own document of
everything I had learnt about wave theory
starting from first principles until one day,
when I showed it to Leo Kärkkäinen, he said
“This would make a nice book. Have you
thought of publishing it?”
exact, I was thinking that what the world of
engineering acoustics needed was a text book
that covered everything from lumped-element
theory using circuit analogies, as covered
in Leo Beranek’s book, to wave theory
and sound radiation/scattering problems.
However, I could not cover the fundamental
principles any better than Leo had already
done and I did not want to plagiarize anything.
The idea of writing an updated version
of Acoustics suddenly hit me like a thunderbolt.
It seemed like completely the right
thing to do even if it would involve a huge
amount of work. The reason I know the date
so exactly is that in my excitement I immediately
fired off an email to Leo Kärkkäinen!
I wrote to Leo Beranek who amazingly
wrote back informing me that he held the
copyright and that I could use anything I
liked. However, he was not keen on being a
coauthor because he was too busy contributing
to the current literature on concert hall
acoustics, even if I wrote all the new material
and he simply reviewed it. This was hardly
surprising since at the time since I was completely unknown with only a handful of published papers to my name [7, 8, 9]. However,
as time went on, Leo became more enthusiastic
about the project and contributed much
new material, including two whole chapters
on sound in enclosures and rooms for loudspeaker listening. I was certainly delighted
when he eventually decided he would like to
have his name on it as that was the best possible
endorsement of all the hard work
of the original book as a Word document.
Unfortunately it then took me a year to correct
it because, in addition to numerous
scanning errors, the software did not recognize
any mathematical symbols or Greek letters.
I also had the formidable task of reproducing
the figures by drawing over PDFs of
them in Word, rather like virtual tracing
paper. I first met Leo Beranek face to face at
the 2007 ICA meeting in Madrid. We also met
a few times in London, Boston and at the
2008 ASA meeting in Miami but, because of
the distance between Surrey and Boston,
most of our collaboration was done via email.
While working on the new text, we were
answering all of the questions that I had collected
in my mind over the years. For example:
What are the independent constituent
variables that determine the efficiency of a
loudspeaker? How is the radiated sound pressure of an unbaffled loudspeaker determined
from its equivalent circuit? How does a finite
open or closed baffle affect the frequency
response? Can we design a simple crossover
which does not produce time-delay waveform
distortion? What are the 2-port networks for
horns of different profiles? How much radiated
sound power is needed to reproduce
music or speech in an auditorium of a given
size? How does the shape of the radiator
affect the response? Is there a difference
between flat, convex or concave radiators?
Where does the Kirchhoff-Helmholtz boundary
integral come from and what does it
mean? Can we have a unified approach to
sound radiation/scattering instead of the current
patchwork of different methods? What is
the equivalent circuit of a very narrow tube
with viscous and thermal losses and a slip
Leo paid particular attention to the ordering
of contents and specifically asked me to
include a new section on transmission-line
loudspeakers because so many had asked him
about how the Bose Wave system worked. He
also requested a new chapter on cellphone
acoustics because he was curious as to how
so much sound could be produced by something
the size of a deck of cards and felt that
it would bring the book right up to date.
Because I had worked for Nokia for so many
years, I was too close to the subject to explain
it clearly to the lay person and Leo’s input
here proved invaluable. I am also indebted to
my colleague Enrico Pascucci for his marvelous
photographs and many useful suggestions
for the chapter.
Leo wanted a new title which indicated
direct lineage with the original while reflecting
the change in emphasis and suggested
“Acoustics: Transducers and airborne
acoustics”. Although “airborne” was intended
to indicate “non-structural”, I suggested
replacing it with “sound fields” in order to
sound less “outdoors”. Also, the term sound
field is fairly general as it can mean either a
free field or sound in an enclosure. He then
suggested putting “sound fields” before
“transducers” because that is the order in
which the two subjects are introduced and
we settled for that.
the work of Neville Thiele  and Richard
Small . They proposed just six parameters
to completely describe the low-frequency
behavior of a loudspeaker, which are now
commonly known as the Thiele-Small
parameters, and Small showed how to obtain
them from the input impedance . Also,
they produced tables/charts which enable
anybody to choose a frequency response
shape for a given drive unit and engineer the
cabinet and bass-reflex port accordingly. Leo
is rightly proud of the fact that these authors
used his book as their starting point and that
it led to the development of smaller loudspeakers
using the acoustic suspension principle
During my previous experience as an analogue
filter designer, the Thiele/Small
approach was standard. One would never
design a filter by messing around with component
values until it “looked about right”. If
standard tables/charts were not available for
the element values of a particular circuit, I
had to derive the transfer function by hand
and solve for the polynomial coefficients in
terms of the circuit element labels. This was
a very laborious process which often involved
many pages of algebra, so I fully understood
the significance of Thiele and Small’s work.
Virtually no circuit simulation tools use
the transfer function. Instead they calculate
all the node voltages at every frequency step.
I had been interested in deriving transfer
functions back in the 1980s for studying the
transient responses and stability of amplifiers.
Back then, computers could only do
such calculations numerically. In order to
solve for circuit element values, symbolic
computation was needed, but at the time,
Maple was the only software which did this
and it was only available in universities. It
was shortly after joining Nokia in 1999 that
Noel Lobo introduced me to the numerical
and symbolic power of Mathematica and
taught me how to use it effectively.
Another Nokia colleague, Andrew Bright,
had the foresight to ask me to write a program
that could derive a polynomial transfer
function from the net list of a circuit. I
started with the method described in a
recent book by Robert Boyd , but
extended it to include ideal voltage sources,
current sources, transformers and gyrators.
Using Mathematica, I was able to create two
versions: one numeric and the other symbolic.
This proved invaluable for creating
complicated acoustical designs such as a
combined call and handsfree loudspeaker. I
have described this computation method in
the final chapter of the book. If one day
someone were to use it to create a proper
software tool with a nice GUI, it would
really make my day.
I should also mention Juha Backman who
has provided much support and encouragement
over the years as well as introducing
me to many people and important literature.
It has certainly been rewarding working
with someone as eminent as Leo Beranek.
What both Leo’s share is a generosity of
nature, energy and passion for acoustics as a
subject that makes it seem more like fun
than work. I hope that the new book inspires
future generations of students, engineers and
academics as the original inspired me. It
really is a most fascinating subject and there
is still plenty to explore.
 Beranek, L.L., Acoustics, McGraw-Hill
 Rayleigh, J.W.S., The Theory of Sound,
 Wiener, F.M., “On the relation between
the sound fields radiated and diffracted by
Plane Obstacles,” J Acoust. Soc. Am. vol.23,
no.6, pp. 697–700 (1951).
 Bouwkamp, C.J., “Theoretical and
numerical treatment of diffraction through a
circular aperture,” IEEE Transactions of
pp. 152–176 (1970). (This is a translation of
his 1941 PhD thesis which was originally
published in Dutch.)
 Streng, J.H., “Sound radiation from a
circular stretched membrane in free space,” J
pressure on a vibrating circular stretched
membrane in free space,” J Acoust. Soc. Am.
vol. 82, no. 2, pp. 679–686 (1987).
 Mellow, T.J. and Kärkkäinen, L.M., “On
the sound field of an oscillating disk in an
open and closed circular baffle,” J Acoust.
Soc. Am., vol. 118, no. 3, pp. 1311–1325
resilient disk in an infinite baffle,” J Acoust.
 Mellow, T.J. and Kärkkäinen, L.M., “On
the sound field of a circular membrane in
free space and an infinite baffle,” J Acoust.
boxes,” Proc. IREE 22: 487 (1961); republished
in J. Audio Eng. Soc., vol. 19, no. 5, pp.
382–392 (1971) and vol. 19, no. 6, pp.
 Small, R.H., “Vented-box loudspeaker
systems,” J. Audio Eng. Soc., vol. 21, no. 5,
pp. 363–372; vol. 21, no. 6, pp. 438–444; vol.
21, no. 7, pp. 549–554; vol. 21, no. 8, pp.
 Small, R.H., “Direct Radiator Loudspeaker
System Analysis,” J. Audio Eng. Soc.
vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 383–395 (1972).
 Villchur, E.M., “Problems of bass
reproduction in loudspeakers,” J. Audio Eng.
 Boyd, R., Node List Tolerance Analysis