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Old 12-13-2010, 09:59 PM   #1 (permalink)
CoachAlan's Avatar
Location: Las Vegas
If a watch beeps in a crowded ballroom

If I were on one side of a crowded ballroom, and my nerdy friend wearing a digital watch were on the other, and his watch beeped, would it actually make a sound?

What I mean is, obviously if the room were empty I'd be able to hear his watch beep clear as could be. However, with all the extra noise in the crowded room, it would be impossible to hear. But what I had some sort of hearing disorder so that I could only hear sound in the exact frequency of the watch beep? Would I then hear the beep, or would the sound be destroyed by interference from all the other sound in the crowded room? Would the air be too turbulent to carry his sound to my unfortunately infirmed ear?
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Old 12-14-2010, 12:34 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Location: Rarely, if ever, here or there, but always in transition
I don't think the human ear works like a radio transmitter.
There's no variable-valve tuning we can do, nor pitch elevation increase/decrease; all we can really control is the occasional maintenance and gunk clean-up.
While it is a fascinating process in learning exactly how the human ear works, it's by no means the animal kingdom's most refined example, and our own range in audible discernability is quite miniscule in comparison to other common comparables (a dog, a cat, the goldfish, a pigeon, a snake, etc.).
There are limits and outer-limits to which sound, frequency of, & decibel rating we can tune into, and which have abslutely no effect on us,
(meaning we can never hear, or even perceive a noise is being produced, despite that there is one, and other animals can detect it, while we, sadly, remain oblivious to it) or other higher scalings, which may exert the potential to seriously harm, if not fatally injure, us, depending on the root cause, and sheer force to what it is we are hearing (like a shooting gallery taking place in your kitchen).

On the short side of the scale to your hypothetical point of inquiry: I say, no, you cannot hear the digital wristwatch alarm beeping from across the room, if given there is a gathering cloister of people in the room, they are socially well-adjusted (re: talking) and there may be an ambiance filter in the room as well (the televised golf tournament, or some Dance Party Mix CD '96 playing in the background).

Perhaps if in the hypothetical everyone was silent, not moving, and/or sitting down and stationery, you could hear the beeping. But, if you were to remove the variables, and also to assume that there were a fair and common number of persons (as defined by the type of shindig you were attending) and space in-between (say, 10 people and about 20-25 feet away, at minimum) you and the friend with his ill-timed calculator-watch alarm, there could still be a chance your anticipatorily-awaiting ears will not be perceptive enough to notice anything, due to the interference, (soundwaves would bounce and disperse off the bodies, getting easily jumbled) and also due to the distance in relation.

There's also no real accounting for how crappy your buddies beeping watch really is. What, did he find it at the bottom of his cereal box? How do you even know how loud his watch alarm can really be, if it only has the one setting, (most do) and is fixed just so loud, and for a defined period of time (maybe 1-3 min., on average) that it reaches the one wearing the watch, in his/her immediate vicinity, and outwardly spreads the beeping only so far that it does not become a nuisance to others. All of these factors weigh into your imagined scenario, and while it might be a tad bit diverting to think of all the variables, I say you just opt for a few field tests to see what you, yourself come up with, and report back.

What do you say?
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Old 12-14-2010, 12:50 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Location: Australia/UAE
you'd have to study acoustics to truly understand this question. Ive studied acoustics as part of my degree, but you'll need an engineer or better yet an acousitic engineer to give you an exact answer.

however, going by what you've given us, no you wont hear it.

ive built ballrooms, so i know a little about them. ballrooms are designed to absorb sound so that other people in the hotel are not affected from sound and vibration. What you will see in a ballroom is soft furnishings ( ie. carpet, soft furniture, plasterboard walls, sound insulating ceilings, canvas paintings etc) that will absorb the sound vibrations from music or peoples voices.

Obviously soft furnishings are generally excellent absorbers of sound as opposed to hard surfaces like tiles and concrete walls. The more things you put in a room, the less echo you will generally have. The last thing you want in a ballroom would be an echo because of the music. any musician could tell you this anyways.

in short, even if it was just you and your friend in the room it would be difficult to hear. but that would depend on the size of the room as well as the distance away from him and the materials used to construct the ballroom.

with all the other variables it would be almost impossible i'd say.

why do you need to hear the beep anyways? is it some sort of wingman signal?
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Old 12-14-2010, 04:57 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Location: Chicago
I think you could hear it unless there was another noise of a nearby frequency at the same time (which is entirely possible with voices and possibly fork-and-knife-on-plate noises). But for the sake of argument, let's assume that it was a ballroom full of men with deep voices and no other high-frequency sound producers.

Think of the triangle in an orchestra - it's not a loud instrument, but it's one that can definitely be heard above the sound of the rest of the instruments. That's because none of the other instruments are making sound in same range as the triangle. Assuming that there's no sound interference from another source, it's entirely possible that you could hear your friend's digital watch go off. There are a lot of assumptions in that statement, I'll admit, but here's a bald fact - your friend should invest in a real watch if he's going to places like ballrooms.
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Old 12-14-2010, 05:02 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Location: Manhattan, NY
The Grand Central Whispering Gallery
The "whispering gallery" is located on the Grand Central Terminal dining concourse near the famous Oyster Bar & Restaurant. Here, the acoustics of the low ceramic arches can cause a whisper to sound like a shout. Sound impossible? To test it out, you and a friend will have to stand in opposite corners of the large arched entryway. Now face the corner and whisper. Your friend should be able to hear your voice as if you were right next to them, not whispering into a far-away corner.

According to experts, this happens because the whisperer’s voice follows the curve of the domed ceiling. The Whispering Gallery is a popular spot for marriage proposals – and a unique place to whisper sweet nothings to your main squeeze.
you'd definitely hear it if the room was shaped like this. Oddest thing this gallery. I love playing with it when I'm in Grand Central Terminal.
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Old 12-14-2010, 11:15 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Location: The Cosmos
I'd say yes, though it'd be a bit distorted. Just think of the silent dog whistles. They hear those things far far away and they have much more sensitive hearing than us. They hear it even when its noisy.
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Old 12-14-2010, 08:01 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Location: Las Vegas
What I'm proposing here is simply a hypothetical. Dlish sort of gets what I'm asking, and I'm surprised to learn that even if the room were empty, there's a good chance I wouldn't hear the beeping simply due to the design of the room.

Maybe a better hypothetical would've been that my friend and I are across a crowded cafeteria. The Jazz's answer addresses this somewhat. I'd venture to say that I could readily hear a watch beeping across a cafeteria, as long at it was otherwise totally quiet. For the sake of argument, let's assume that my friend's watch is loud enough to hear under otherwise quiet conditions.

Or, easier still, let's imagine that I have a recording device with a microphone that is tuned to the exact frequency of my friend's watch; say 15000 hertz. In the empty room, my friend's watch beeps twice, and the recorder in my hand picks up the beeps at a barely audible 15 decibels.

Now, if we fill the room with people having lunch, and I again turn on my recorder which only picks up sounds at exactly 15000 hertz, will it hear the watch? Will it be at 15 decibels? What if there are other sounds at nearby frequencies, or at resonant frequencies; will those distort or destroy the sound of the beep? Will the sheer turbulence of the air prevent the sound from reaching across the room, akin to shouting into the wind?
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