Acoustics/Polymer-Film Acoustic Filters
Acoustic filters are used in many devices such as mufflers, noise control materials (absorptive and reactive), and loudspeaker systems to name a few. Although the waves in simple (single-medium) acoustic filters usually travel in gases such as air and carbon-monoxide (in the case of automobile mufflers) or in materials such as fiberglass, polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) film, or polyethylene (Saran Wrap), there are also filters that couple two or three distinct media together to achieve a desired acoustic response. General information about basic acoustic filter design can be perused at the following wikibook page Acoustic Filter Design & Implementation. The focus of this article will be on acoustic filters that use multilayer air/polymer film-coupled media as its acoustic medium for sound waves to propagate through; concluding with an example of how these filters can be used to detect and extrapolate audio frequency information in high-frequency "carrier" waves that carry an audio signal. However, before getting into these specific type of acoustic filters, we need to briefly discuss how sound waves interact with the medium(media) in which it travels and how these factors can play a role when designing acoustic filters.
Changes in Media Properties Due to Sound Wave Characteristics
As with any system being designed, the filter response characteristics of an acoustic filter are tailored based on the frequency spectrum of the input signal and the desired output. The input signal may be infrasonic (frequencies below human hearing), sonic (frequencies within human hearing range), or ultrasonic (frequencies above human hearing range). In addition to the frequency content of the input signal, the density, and, thus, the characteristic impedance of the medium (media) being used in the acoustic filter must also be taken into account. In general, the characteristic impedance for a particular medium is expressed as...
= (equilibrium) density of medium = speed of sound in medium
The characteristic impedance is important because this value simultaneously gives an idea of how fast or slow particles will travel as well as how much mass is "weighting down" the particles in the medium (per unit area or volume) when they are excited by a sound source. The speed in which sound travels in the medium needs to be taken into consideration because this factor can ultimately affect the time response of the filter (i.e. the output of the filter may not radiate or attenuate sound fast or slow enough if not designed properly). The intensity of a sound wave is expressed as...
is interpreted as the (time-averaged) rate of energy transmission of a sound wave through a unit area normal to the direction of propagation, and this parameter is also an important factor in acoustic filter design because the characteristic properties of the given medium can change relative to intensity of the sound wave traveling through it. In other words, the reaction of the particles (atoms or molecules) that make up the medium will respond differently when the intensity of the sound wave is very high or very small relative to the size of the control area (i.e. dimensions of the filter, in this case). Other properties such as the elasticity and mean propagation velocity (of a sound wave) can change in the acoustic medium as well, but focusing on frequency, impedance, and/or intensity in the design process usually takes care of these other parameters because most of them will inevitably be dependent on the aforementioned properties of the medium.
Why Coupled Acoustic Media in Acoustic Filters?
In acoustic transducers, media coupling is employed in acoustic transducers to either increase or decrease the impedance of the transducer, and, thus, control the intensity and speed of the signal acting on the transducer while converting the incident wave, or initial excitation sound wave, from one form of energy to another (e.g. converting acoustic energy to electrical energy). Specifically, the impedance of the transducer is augmented by inserting a solid structure (not necessarily rigid) between the transducer and the initial propagation medium (e.g. air). The reflective properties of the inserted medium is exploited to either increase or decrease the intensity and propagation speed of the incident sound wave. It is the ability to alter, and to some extent, control, the impedance of a propagation medium by (periodically) inserting (a) solid structure(s) such as thin, flexible films in the original medium (air) and its ability to concomitantly alter the frequency response of the original medium that makes use of multilayer media in acoustic filters attractive. The reflection factor and transmission factor and , respectively, between two media, expressed as...
are the tangible values that tell how much of the incident wave is being reflected from and transmitted through the junction where the media meet. Note that is the (total) input impedance seen by the incident sound wave upon just entering an air-solid acoustic media layer. In the case of multiple air-columns as shown in Fig. 2, is the aggregate impedance of each air-column layer seen by the incident wave at the input. Below in Fig. 1, a simple illustration explains what happens when an incident sound wave propagating in medium (1) and comes in contact with medium (2) at the junction of the both media (x=0), where the sound waves are represented by vectors.
As mentioned above, an example of three such successive air-solid acoustic media layers is shown in Fig. 2 and the electroacoustic equivalent circuit for Fig. 2 is shown in Fig. 3 where = (density of solid material)(thickness of solid material) = unit-area (or volume) mass, characteristic acoustic impedance of medium, and wavenumber. Note that in the case of a multilayer, coupled acoustic medium in an acoustic filter, the impedance of each air-solid section is calculated by using the following general purpose impedance ratio equation (also referred to as transfer matrices)...
where is the (known) impedance at the edge of the solid of an air-solid layer (on the right) and is the (unknown) impedance at the edge of the air column of an air-solid layer.
Effects of High-Intensity, Ultrasonic Waves in Acoustic Media in Audio Frequency Spectrum
When an ultrasonic wave is used as a carrier to transmit audio frequencies, three audio effects are associated with extrapolating the audio frequency information from the carrier wave: (a) beating effects, (b) parametric array effects, and (c) radiation pressure.
Beating occurs when two ultrasonic waves with distinct frequencies and propagate in the same direction, resulting in amplitude variations which consequently make the audio signal information go in and out of phase, or “beat”, at a frequency of .
Parametric array  effects occur when the intensity of an ultrasonic wave is so high in a particular medium that the high displacements of particles (atoms) per wave cycle changes properties of that medium so that it influences parameters like elasticity, density, propagation velocity, etc. in a non-linear fashion. The results of parametric array effects on modulated, high-intensity, ultrasonic waves in a particular medium (or coupled media) is the generation and propagation of audio frequency waves (not necessarily present in the original audio information) that are generated in a manner similar to the nonlinear process of amplitude demodulation commonly inherent in diode circuits (when diodes are forward biased).
Another audio effect that arises from high-intensity ultrasonic beams of sound is a static (DC) pressure called radiation pressure. Radiation pressure is similar to parametric array effects in that amplitude variations in the signal give rise to audible frequencies via amplitude demodulation. However, unlike parametric array effects, radiation pressure fluctuations that generate audible signals from amplitude demodulation can occur due to any low-frequency modulation and not just from pressure fluctuations occurring at the modulation frequency or beating frequency .
An Application of Coupled Media in Acoustic Filters
Figs. 1 - 3 were all from a research paper entitled New Type of Acoustics Filter Using Periodic Polymer Layers for Measuring Audio Signal Components Excited by Amplitude-Modulated High_Intensity Ultrasonic Waves submitted to the Audio Engineering Society (AES) by Minoru Todo, Primary Innovator at Measurement Specialties, Inc., in the October 2005 edition of the AES Journal. Figs. 4 and 5 below, also from this paper, are illustrations of test setups referred to in this paper. Specifically, Fig. 4 is a test setup used to measure the transmission (of an incident ultrasonic sound wave) through the acoustic filter described by Figs. 1 and 2. Fig. 5 is a block diagram of the test setup used for measuring radiation pressure, one of the audio effects mentioned in the previous section. It turns out that out of all of the audio effects mentioned in the previous section that are caused by high-intensity ultrasonic waves propagating in a medium, sound waves produced from radiated pressure are the hardest to detect when microphones and preamplifiers are used in the detection/receiver system. Although nonlinear noise artifacts occur due to overloading of the preamplifier present in the detection/receiver system, the bulk of the nonlinear noise comes from the inherent nonlinear noise properties of microphones. This is true because all microphones, even specialized measurement microphones designed for audio spectrum measurements that have sensitivity well beyond the threshold of hearing, have nonlinearities artifacts that (periodically) increase in magnitude with respect to increase at ultrasonic frequencies. These nonlinearities essentially mask the radiation pressure generated because the magnitude of these nonlinearities are orders of magnitude greater than the radiation pressure. The acoustic (low-pass) filter referred to in this paper was designed in order to filter out the "detrimental" ultrasonic wave that was inducing high nonlinear noise artifacts in the measurement microphones. The high-intensity, ultrasonic wave was producing radiation pressure (which is audible) within the initial acoustic medium (i.e. air). By filtering out the ultrasonic wave, the measurement microphone would only detect the audible radiation pressure that the ultrasonic wave was producing in air. Acoustic filters like these could possibly be used to detect/receive any high-intensity, ultrasonic signal that may carry audio information which may need to be extrapolated with an acceptable level of fidelity.
 Minoru Todo, "New Type of Acoustic Filter Using Periodic Polymer Layers for Measuring Audio Signal Components Excited by Amplitude-Modulated High-Intensity Ultrasonic Waves," Journal of Audio Engineering Society, Vol. 53, pp. 930–41 (2005 October)
 Fundamentals of Acoustics; Kinsler et al, John Wiley & Sons, 2000
 ME 513 Course Notes, Dr. Luc Mongeau, Purdue University
Created by Valdez L. Gant