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singers and loudspeakers


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This may not be the best place to post this general comment, but I was unable to find a better location. My apologies if inappropriate.

The March 04 issue of "Physics Today" contains a neat article explaining why it is so hard to understand a soprano's words in her highest vocal range. In a nutshell, it states that the output of the vocal cords drops at 12 db/octave, but that this is compensated for by amplification produced by the resonances of the vocal cavity. In Western languages sound amplification available from the first two resonances of the vocal cavity is needed to distinguish vowels. The article states that in normal speech the vocal cavity resonances are higher than the fundamental frequency of vowels, thus providing the amplification needed to distinguish them. It demonstrates that when singing very high vowel sounds, the fundamental frequency of the vowel is greater than the fundamental resonant frequency of the vocal cavity and thus this natural amplification is not available. It concludes that this is why it is so hard to distinguish soprano's words when she is singing in her highest registers.

This issue seems similar to concepts used in the design of speakers and enclosures for different sound ranges. Presumably, the analysis of a speaker and its enclosure, although complex, is more straightforward than analysis of the vocal cavity during singing!)


Reference: "Physics Today," p. 23, March, 2004.

which cites:

E. Joliveau, et al, "Nature," Vol. 427, p. 116 (2004) and


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I had tried to find the reference on the BBC website to the same subject which they reported on a few weeks ago but I've been unable to come across it so far. I had totally forgotten about it until I read your posting. I have no idea what this has to do with high fidelity sound equipment except that if you are looking for intelligibility from sopranos singing some arias, getting "better" equipment or recordings may be utter futility. Of course there are those singers whose diction is so awful it wouldn't matter what equipment you have and then those who can't sing on key so you don't care. And then there are those who sing in a foreign language and.....

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