I've been taught that diffraction is the reason why we can hear around corners, since the wavelength of sound is approximately 10 cm (smaller than a door or a window).

I wonder how can this be correct, since I can hear even when a room is closed (walls are not completely rigid), althought the sound will be lower when the doors are closed.

On the other hand, reflection of sound with other objects would also contribute.

Which is the most important process when hearing indirectly? Is there any way to calculate the contribution of each process?


1 Answer 1


The reason you can hear sound around the door is only in part due to diffraction. As you said, the walls are not completely rigid. In fact, the sound is passing through the door as well. Consider a speaker on the other side of a wooden door that is producing a sound. The door is completely shut. The reason you can hear it is because the sound is passing through the door, as well as "reflecting" off of it. It is analogous to a light wave interacting with water. The glare you see off the water is light reflecting off the surface, but the water is translucent, which means light is also entering the water. In the same sense, the sound will bounce off the door (this can result in an echo) as well as pass through the door, which is why you can hear it on the other side.

Which is the most important when hearing indirectly? Well it depends on the situation. If the door is open, then diffraction will be the significant contributor. However, if the door is shut, then assuming the door is sealed well, the wave passing through the door will obviously be the biggest contributor. The material of the door is important since sound waves pass through some materials better than others.

Yes, the contributions can be calculated, however, it would be very difficult to calculate in some situations.

  • $\begingroup$ You didn't mention reflection. Chances are, that if there is any material object that you can see, and which also is in a line of sight from the source of the sound, then some of the sound you hear will be reflected off that object. Multiple reflections too. If you are in a hallway, and you hear somebody at the other end of the hall make a sound, then chances are that most of what you hear was reflected multiple times off walls, floor, and ceiling. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2015 at 17:56

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