If you're looking for a career that combines people, science and engineering, the world of acoustics offers a range of exciting and attractive opportunities
Acousticians focus on how sound is produced, controlled and transmitted, as well as on how it is received and the effects it has on people and their environment.
Your aim is to improve quality of life and to make a positive difference to people's wellbeing. For example, you could help mobile phone developers, get involved with the uses of ultrasound in medicine or in non-destructive testing of structures, or look into the effects of underwater sound on marine animals.
The two main areas of acoustics are consultancy and engineering.
As an acoustics consultant, you'll provide acoustics, noise and vibrations services, such as noise surveys, noise assessments and acoustic design advice for buildings and rooms.
As an acoustic engineer, you'll carry out a range of measurements, designs and calculations. For example, these could relate to loudspeakers, to sources of noise and vibration on vehicles or to devices used underwater.
Job titles vary and can include acoustician, acoustic consultant, acoustic engineer, noise consultant and environmental acoustician.
Acoustic consultants/engineers have the option of working in a number of environments, including:
- architectural acoustics
- audio engineering
- environmental noise
- noise control
- product sound quality
- musical acoustics
- speech and hearing
- ultrasound in non-destructive testing
- medical applications of acoustics
- underwater acoustics.
For more information, see the Institute of Acoustics (IOA)'s guide on Where do acousticians work?.
Tasks vary depending on your role, but you could:
- undertake noise and vibration assessments, for example in buildings to make sure they meet building regulations, for planning applications and for environmental statements
- carry out sound insulation detailing and testing
- use acoustic models to investigate how changes in design affect sound levels and quality
- modify noise from road vehicles, aircraft or heating ventilation and air conditioning equipment
- undertake data analysis, prediction, assessment and reporting
- liaise with clients and local authorities regarding their project requirements
- prepare tenders and accurate quotations for projects
- ensure projects are completed on time and to budget, liaising with clients and colleagues throughout
- at a senior level, appear in court as an expert witness
- prepare and produce reports and recommendations
- operate independently and under guidance
- undertake project administration and management
- use modelling software, which could include ODEON, SoundPLAN, INSUL, BASTIAN, CadnaA and/or CATT-Acoustic
- work in a recording studio with broadcast sound equipment
- design loudspeakers, speech reinforcement and public address systems
- design and research medical equipment, such as for ultrasound imaging or for high-intensity focused ultrasound therapy and surgery
- use existing, or develop new, equipment for non-destructive testing
- work with or develop SONAR for underwater ranging and detection.
- Suitably qualified junior/graduate acousticians can expect a starting salary of between £20,000 and £26,000, depending on their experience.
- Senior acousticians could earn between £35,000 and £50,000, with principal acousticians earning in excess of £45,000 per year.
Salaries vary depending on your qualifications, experience, skills and location, as well as the size of the company you work for.
A lot of organisations operate a bonus scheme and may offer a company car or use of a pool car. You may also receive other benefits such as private health insurance, life insurance, flexible working hours, and opportunities for training and professional development.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although you may need to work outside normal office hours on occasion to undertake survey work, for example.
There may be options for flexible and part-time work.
What to expect
- Surveys are a common part of a noise or acoustic consultant's role. These may be weather dependent so you could be asked to carry one out at quite short notice. You may need to wear protective clothing in some instances.
- Your time is often split between the office, on site and at client meetings. On occasion, this may include travel within the UK or abroad.
- Although firms are distributed throughout the UK, the largest concentration of activity is in the North West, Scotland, London and South East areas. For more information on the acoustics industry, see the UK Acoustics: Sound Economics report.
- Many elements of the work of a consultant are driven by government legislation and new developments, for example new legislation regarding sound insulation in buildings.
The majority of new entrants will have a degree in maths, physics or engineering or a specialist degree in acoustical and/or audio engineering.
Entry may also be possible after having studied subjects such as music, music technology or environmental science, but you'll usually have to take further study at postgraduate level, for example the Institute of Acoustics (IOA) Diploma in Acoustics and Noise Control or an MSc in Acoustics.
Many employers ask for a degree in acoustics or a related subject, or a relevant postgraduate qualification such as the Diploma in Acoustics and Noise Control. They also usually require associate or full membership of the IOA (depending on the level of the role).
It's also possible to get into the profession by taking a level 4 acoustics technician apprenticeship, combining paid work with part-time study. You could then undertake further training to become an acoustic consultant.
You'll need to have:
- an aptitude for maths and science
- noise modelling skills, including familiarity with noise modelling software
- a logical and creative approach to problem solving
- written and verbal communication skills, including technical report writing skills, and the ability to explain technical information to non-experts
- the ability to collate and analyse data
- the ability to operate independently as well as under guidance
- the confidence to liaise with clients and local authorities
- excellent IT skills including proficiency in Excel and Word as well as computer simulations
- project, resource and time management skills
- commercial awareness
- strong interpersonal skills
- budgeting and negotiating skills
- a proactive approach to work
- attention to detail
- knowledge of relevant codes of practice, policy and legislation.
You'll usually need a full clean UK driving licence.
While not essential, knowledge of foreign languages can be useful for overseas work.
Work experience is highly valued by graduate employers and you'll usually need some relevant work experience to get a job as a junior/graduate acoustician. Acoustic consultants, for example, are expected to have at least two years' relevant work experience.
Music festivals can be a good source of work experience. Acoustic consultancies may employ students to undertake sound measurements for the duration of festivals on a shift work basis. You may also be able to get a year-out placement or internship with a large consultancy.
Some of the larger technology, engineering and aerospace firms may also offer summer placements or internships to undergraduates.
Local councils may also provide work experience, often for night surveys. There may also be opportunities to get work experience with an environmental consultancy.
Student membership of the IOA is also useful, particularly for networking opportunities at their meetings and events.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Although there are some large acoustics businesses, the UK acoustics industry is dominated by small and medium-sized companies. Many of these are micro companies, employing no more than ten people.
Typical employers include:
- acoustic and engineering consultancies
- education providers
- local authorities
- technology and engineering firms
- environmental organisations
- vehicle manufacturers
- aerospace industry
- Ministry of Defence
- research departments at universities.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Association of Noise Consultants (ANC)
- IOA - Jobs in Acoustics
- European Acoustics Association (EAA)
- Institute of Noise Control Engineering of the USA (INCE USA)
There are a small number of specialist recruitment agencies that advertise jobs at all levels, from graduate to senior positions. These include:
Specialist publications such as Environmental Health News may also list vacancies.
Employers may also contact university departments or academic staff directly as a source of new talent - especially for students seeking work experience opportunities.
The ANC has a database of member acoustic consultancies, which is searchable by region or service provided. This can be a good source of contacts for your job search.
Training is often carried out on the job and employers may provide training and development opportunities. They may also support you to achieve chartered status with a relevant body.
You will usually start your career by gaining associate membership of the IOA (AMIOA). You'll need suitable educational qualifications in acoustics (for example, the IOA Diploma) or an appropriate period of experience. Once you have a minimum of three years' relevant work experience you can apply to become a full member (MIOA).
With further experience and training, you could apply for registration as a chartered engineer (CEng) or incorporated engineer (IEng) with the Engineering Council, allowing you to progress onto senior roles.
Acoustics technician apprentices will have the opportunity to apply to the IOA for TechIOA status and for registration as an engineering technician (EngTech) with the Engineering Council.
To progress within your career, you may wish to study towards a Masters degree or a diploma in acoustics and noise control, if you don't already have one. Some employers may take on graduates and sponsor them to undertake these qualifications.
More senior acousticians could be expected to spend time in court as expert witnesses, relating to issues as diverse as hearing loss claims through to criminal forensics. The IOA runs continuing professional development (CPD) workshops on this and other relevant topics for its members.
Although acoustics is a relatively small profession, career prospects are generally good for those with the right combination of education, skills and experience. According to the ANC, many of its member consultancies are reporting a shortage of graduates and there are often more acoustic jobs available than graduates. In common with many areas of engineering, there is also a shortage of qualified acoustic engineers.
You will usually start in a junior/graduate role and can progress into a more senior role after two years' experience. With experience, you'll be expected to manage small to medium-scale projects and may assist on larger-scale projects with support from colleagues.
Many acoustic consultancies are small to medium-sized companies (SMEs), and so you may need to move between companies to secure career progression.
Senior acousticians usually have a minimum of five years' experience and will lead on projects, provide technical support and interact directly with clients. You will usually mentor junior staff and assist with business development and will need a combination of technical and commercial expertise. There are further opportunities to move into management roles at director level with responsibility for staff, strategy and budgets.
The ultimate goal of many of the acousticians who enter consultancy is to set up their own acoustic consultancy business.