Acoustical Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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An acoustical engineer may have an average salary of about $63,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an acoustical engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Acoustical Engineer

As an acoustical engineer, you may be concerned with limiting unwanted sound or noise, or you may focus on maximizing the clarity and quality of desired sound. Have a look at some of the pros and cons to help you decide if becoming an acoustical engineer is a good career fit for you.

Pros of Becoming an Acoustical Engineer
Above-average starting salary (average annual salary of $62,795 in July 2015 for architectural engineers, who are related to acoustic engineers)**
Variety of work environments (can work in the design of medical equipment, industrial machinery, architecture, musical acoustics, etc.)*
Can qualify for most positions with only a bachelor's degree*
Can improve the quality of sound or help protect people from dangerous levels of volume*

Cons of Becoming an Acoustical Engineer
Years of relevant work experience are commonly required***
May work odd hours*
Job may involve a good deal of travel to client locations*
A graduate degree may be preferred***

Source: *College Foundation of North Carolina, **Payscale.com, ***Acoustical Society of America Job Postings in 2012.

Career Information

Job Description

As an acoustical engineer, you'll be concerned with the management and application of sound-producing vibrations in real-world situations. Many acoustical engineers work with architects to help design buildings in order to control sound diffraction, refraction, absorption and reverberation. You may be focused on creating sound-proof environments, such as recording studios, or on developing the high-quality acoustics of auditoriums, concert halls or public meeting areas. You could also be concerned with noise control or noise reduction, which could be necessary in a factory or other industrial setting.

Specializations

According to the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), there are a number different acoustical engineering specialties in the field of acoustics. Below are a few of these specialties and descriptions:

  • Architectural acoustics - This specialty is directed toward the architectural design of not only areas such as concert halls and churches but also class rooms, offices, factories and homes. It's intended to deal with the effective distribution of wanted sounds as well as the exclusion of undesirable or extraneous sounds.
  • Noise control - This discipline deals with the growing problem of noise pollution. Acoustical engineering technology can focus on the source of the noise, controlling the path noise may take, or it may focus on precautions and safety measures that listeners can employ.
  • Physical acoustics - Entering into the realm of physics, this specialty deals with the way sound travels through and reacts with media such as solids, liquids and gasses. Focusing on frequencies of sound waves, researchers observe the behavior of sound in varied environments at varied temperatures.
  • Vibration and structural acoustics - Buildings can be toppled and bridges crumbled by the sound vibrations caused by natural phenomena such as earthquakes and storms. By helping to design structures that can withstand such assaults, a specialist in structural acoustics and vibration seeks to minimize the chances of such disasters. In addition, vibrations caused by a system's machinery can disrupt other sensitive components of the same system. Researchers look for ways to lessen, alter or muffle the vibrations or to isolate system parts without jeopardizing the operation of the entire system.
  • Underwater acoustics - Acoustical engineers in this specialization concentrate their efforts on sonar, which stands for 'sound navigation and ranging'. In addition to being used on military watercraft for guidance and the detection of underwater obstacles, sonar also has commercial use in locating fishing grounds and mapping the ocean floor.

Salary and Job Projections

According to Payscale.com, in July 2015, the average annual pay for architectural engineers was $62,795. This profession included acoustic engineers. As of 2012, there are no accurate statistics regarding the increase or decrease of job expectations for acoustical engineers. The ASA maintains because of its diversity, the field of acoustics - including acoustical engineering - will continue to provide many opportunities for employment for qualified graduates.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

Typically, you'll be qualified for a job as an acoustical engineer after completing a bachelor's degree. Acoustical engineering programs may not be available at the undergraduate level, but relevant majors can include physics, mechanical engineering, mathematics or electrical engineering. Some bachelor's degree programs in engineering include the opportunity for you to complete a senior thesis on a particular aspect of acoustical engineering.

Graduate certificate, master's degree and doctoral programs are available in acoustical engineering, and a master's degree could be preferred by employers. Some courses you may encounter in an acoustical engineering program include data measurement and analysis, quiet structure design, engineering mathematics, experimental acoustical techniques, aeroacoustics and vibration studies

What Employers Are Looking for

Because engineering acoustics is a broad field, you'll find that often employers are looking for individuals who specialize in a specific area. Employers may prefer an applicant to hold a graduate degree, but a bachelor's degree and work experience are sufficient for most positions. You may find that some employers prefer you to be board-certified by the Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE). Below are some actual job postings for acoustical engineers that appeared during May 2012:

  • A corporation in Indiana is seeking an acoustical engineer to initiate and accelerate the development of new products dealing with hearing protection. The employer prefers applicants to hold a master's or doctoral degree, but will accept those with a bachelor's degree. Applicants must have five years of research experience in hearing protection and noise control. The employer prefers that applicants be INCE-certified.
  • An Ohio manufacturing firm wants to hire an acoustical engineer who holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, and either a minor or master's degree in acoustics is preferred. Applicants should have at least two years of work experience in architectural acoustic consulting and should be familiar with sound and vibration testing procedures.
  • A geophysical instrument manufacturing firm in Texas seeks an acoustic engineer who holds at least a bachelor's degree, although a master's degree is preferred. Applicants must have extensive experience in researching, developing and testing equipment related to seismic exploration. Applicants must have excellent mechanical design engineering skills and a strong electro-mechanical aptitude.
  • A Florida telecommunications company is looking for an acoustical engineer to be responsible for prototyping new speech processing algorithms and assessing existing ones to be used in the audio design of portable and mobile communication devices. Applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree, though a master's degree or doctorate is preferred. Experience in acoustics and audio development is required.

How Do I Stand Out in the Field?

You can distinguish yourself from other job candidates by pursuing graduate education, such as a graduate certificate, master's or doctoral program in an acoustic engineering specialization. You may find that a number of courses are available online, allowing you to continue working while advancing your education. While still a student you may also join your school's chapter of the ASA. Through the ASA, you may be able to take advantage of conferences, seminars and even internships. Participation can serve as an indication of your interest and commitment to the field of acoustical engineering.

You may want to consider sitting for a certification examination administered by the Institute of Noise Control Engineering. This voluntary certification stands as a testament to the quality of your training and peer recognition. In addition, you may find that some employers, especially those dealing with municipal or government projects, require board certification.

Alternative Career Paths

Architect

Architects work closely with acoustical engineers. You'll also consult with contractors, builders, government agencies and clients as you design, prepare, set cost parameters, render scaled drawings and supervise the constructions of buildings and structures from the ground up. In order to qualify, you'll need a professional architecture degree, preferably from a school that's been accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board. These programs typically offer either 5-year bachelor's degrees or master's degrees. Following this, you'll need to complete a 3-year training program with an architectural firm and then sit for the Architect Registration Examination administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) determined the median annual salary for architects to be about $73,000. At that time, the BLS also projected that employment opportunities for architects would increase 24% from 2010-2020.

Mechanical Engineer

If you find that your interest in engineering extends further than acoustics, you might want to look into becoming a mechanical engineer. Mechanical engineers may be involved with the design, development and production of all sorts of tools, equipment, devices and machines. You can design a prototype, test it, adjust it and oversee its manufacture. Though most of your work will be done on a computer in an office setting, you'll typically be required to travel to a worksite to check on the progress of your project.

In order to secure an entry-level position as a mechanical engineer, you'll need an appropriate bachelor's degree. If you set your sights on management or a supervisory position, you'll generally need a graduate degree. The BLS projected that employment opportunities for mechanical engineers are expected to increase nine percent from 2010-2020. This is slower than the national average for all occupations. You may increase your opportunities by keeping current with technological advances through continuing education. In 2011, the BLS determined the median annual salary for mechanical engineers to be roughly $79,000.

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