Posts Tagged ‘NYC Subway’

What do fireworks sound like on 72nd Street?

Getting off the train at 72nd St, on the subway platform we heard a funny sound and wondered ‘what is that?’  Well, it turned out to be the sound of fireworks above for the kickoff of the NYC Marathon.  A cell phone microphone does not completely do this justice but you can hear the reflections of sound off of the building facades and the overall reverberation somewhat.


HEARING LOOP INSTALLEDThis week the New York Times brings a promising update on the increasing adoption of the telecoil, a technology that promises to make life much easier for those with hearing impairments.  A hearing aid or cochlear implant that includes a telecoil can directly pick up the audio from a sound system, whether for a theater or a school or even a subway booth clerk’s microphone.  The signal is beamed to the telecoil via an audio induction loop of wire permanently installed in the floor; when the listener’s hearing device is trained on this signal, it eliminates the extraneous background noise and reverberation that can make intelligible listening a challenge even with a modern hearing aid.  The listener has effectively “plugged in” directly into the source—and without the social stigma that can hinder adoption of more obtrusive external listening devices.

The concept has been around for decades and is widely adopted in parts of Europe—there is a telecoil transmitter in the back seat of every London taxi—but it is only recently gaining a foothold in the US.  With the greying of the population and the fact that more than 30% of people over the age of 65 are affected by hearing loss, the ability to make clean audio directly accessible to the ear holds “clear” potential!

The voice of transportation

Ever since the New York City Subway started broadcasting automated voice announcements a few months ago, people have noticed a striking but hard-to-place familiarity in the voice behind the announcements.  If you couldn’t put your finger on it, the New York Times has interviewed Carolyn Hopkins, the voice artist behind not only the subway announcements, but also those at all three NYC airports (LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark).  Not to mention subway systems in Chicago, Washington, and Paris, and many other subways and major airports in the US and worldwide!

Despite the ubiquity of her voice here, Ms. Hopkins does not live in New York City, and though she visits occasionally has not used the subway here since 1957.  She works from her home studio in Maine, recording the announcements in “a windowless room in her house with sound-absorbing material on the wall — a tapestry, hung like a painting but covering foam.”  Even improvised absorptive treatments like these can go a long way toward improving audio quality in basic studios and recording booths—and the benefits are are no less in any room with so much as a speakerphone.

Of course, some might not be surprised that Ms. Hopkins provides the voice of the subway from the Maine countryside.  No one that had to use the subway regularly could be so calm and composed when delivering your wait for the next train!

Tiny ears, big concern

As professional listeners, acousticians are trained in the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss, which is both cumulative over the years and basically irreversible.  Still, nearly anyone with ears understands that loud noise is bad for hearing, and has probably felt the after-effects of noise exposure after a rock concert or a night out.  But what about people too young to understand, or to recognize the physical sensations caused by overexposure?

This week, the New York Times examines the need to protect babies and young children from overexposure to noise.  Noise that is uncomfortable to an adult can be physically damaging to a child, whose smaller ears receive sound pressure with greater impact and sensitivity.  Protecting young ears usually requires earmuff-style protectors, since earplugs are ill-fitted to small ears (not to mention a choking hazard).

The article overlooks the danger of noise exposure from mass transit (including the hometown New York City Subway).  Subway noise levels at the platform can exceed 100 decibels near a curved track or express train—a level that will damage even adult hearing with frequent exposure.  Parents that frequently use the subway with their children should take steps to protect them from noise, since even slight hearing damage as a child will be carried for a lifetime.