Often considered as the father of modern acoustics, Leo Beranek was an American acoustics expert who lived from 1914 to 2016. Born in Iowa, his interest in the field began at the age of 10 when his father brought home a battery-powered radio. A few years later, after the death of his mother, Beranek moved to a town where his father became the co-owner of a hardware store. To help out, Beranek took a radio repair course and was apprenticed to one of the store’s workers. It was this, combined with playing drums in a local band, that sparked his interest in all things acoustic.
In college, his learning continued: he studied Morse Code, gained his own amateur radio licence and also earned money by recording students both before and after taking a speech training class. Money was tight, but he managed to get a scholarship to the prestigious Harvard University with plans to go into radio.
That all changed when he started to play timpani as part of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. It was through his orchestra membership that he began to develop an interest in how sound behaved in rooms.
When the second world war arrived, Beranek was brought in to manage the electro-acoustic laboratory at Harvard. It was here that he built one of the world’s first anechoic chambers to study the effects of noise.
Over the next few decades, Leo Beranek taught acoustic engineering at both Harvard and MIT, but it was his work outside of these universities that gave him his claims to fame. In 1948, he co-founded the company Bolt Beranek and Newman and one of the company’s first projects was to design the acoustics for the UN General Assembly Hall in New York City. He suffered a setback when the acoustics for the Philharmonic Hall in New York (which his company also designed) were publicly criticised, and he was deterred from designing another auditorium until his work on a Japanese project in 1992.
Beranek is also known for authoring a number of books and papers on the subject of acoustics, most notably his 1954 book which was simply titled, ‘Acoustics’. Widely acknowledged to be a classic textbook in the field, it is still used today. After analysing 55 concert halls across the globe, he also published ‘Music, Acoustics, and Architecture’ in 1962, with an updated version in 2004 rounding the number of concert halls in the study up to 100.
His interest was not purely in the acoustics of these auditoriums and concert halls – Leo Beranek was also a fan of the arts. In the 1980s, he chaired the board of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and was a member of the MIT Council for the Arts.
In 2008, at the age of 94, he published his autobiography – a fascinating account of his research and career in sound and music, which by now included multiple awards from the Audio Engineering Society, the Acoustical Society of America and others. He continued his work right up to his death in 2016 – his final research paper had been published earlier that year.
There’s no denying how important his work was to the field of acoustics. Tim Mellow, with whom Beranek co-authored his 2012 book, said of the man, “Beranek is the father of modern acoustics, the era of microphones, loudspeakers, and computers”. We agree!
If you’re looking for your own acoustic solutions, come and talk to us at Sound Planning. With over 35 years’ experience in various acoustic solutions, we’ll work with you to solve all your noise control requirements – from planning and design through to manufacture and installation. Contact us to find out how we can help.