Shh! The quiet issue - woman with finger to lips

Shh! It's quiet around here... perhaps too quiet? Let's talk about noise

Image credit: Getty Images

As we start to emerge from lockdown, do you crave more noise or wish things could stay this quiet for good?

Our cover model this month (pictured above) takes us back to the 1950s. That’s when the streets of London were last this quiet. You could say it looks like a surreal Chirico painting, an Ealing Studios film location or a post-apocalyptic scene. It’s awfully quiet, anyway. Few pedestrians, hardly any traffic and a lot less pollution – from noise as well as fumes. 

We’ve got so used to the volume of modern city life that the quiet has come as a bit of a surprise. People have been asking why the birds are singing more loudly. They’re not, of course, but are they getting quieter? There’s more to the bigger picture of global quieting than birdsong, finds Nick Smith, and it goes beyond human hearing, too.

Technologies like electric vehicles could reduce the noise levels, only to be raised again by others if we’re not careful. One drone makes an annoying whining sound; imagine city skies teeming with them. Sarah Claridge asks if drones can keep it down.

I could do with a bit more noise again now; I miss live concerts. One Friday night I tuned in to a Disco In-Furlough (a pun for ‘Saturday Night Fever’ fans) and it was fun but far from a night out. The music industry has been hit hard by lockdown with all the summer festivals cancelled. Musicians and producers have been experimenting with creative ways to perform live, but it’s harder to recreate online than it sounds. Chris Edwards finds that, even with today’s technology, its limitations make playing live together really hard and improvisation really, really hard.

One of the problems is acoustics: the living room just won’t sound anything like a properly designed concert hall or recording studio. Jonathan Wilson discovers venues for the best possible sound, from the concert halls that can deliver the same sound wherever you sit, to the sought-after studios that artists feel can provide the right atmosphere for recordings. A centuries-old Viennese concert hall still sets the bar high.

It seems like a lot longer than six months ago that I was in the crowded halls of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There I discovered another well-established audio tech changing fast. Health electronics companies are changing the humble hearing aid and adding functionality we’d all find useful. Meanwhile, consumer brands are getting into the market in the hope they can persuade the millions of people who don’t have hearing aids yet but should that it can change their life and it doesn’t have to be a beige blob anymore.

Bar chart showing UK suffers more from road noise than other major European countries

Image credit: E&T

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