Research course

Sound Recording

University of Surrey · Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

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Entry requirements

Applicants are expected to hold a high level of academic achievement in relevant science/engineering subject areas and a clear aptitude for research are required. Typically this will mean a first or high upper second-class Bachelors degree with a significant final-year project or dissertation, or a Masters degree achieving or approaching distinction, with a significant research project element.

Months of entry

January, April, July

Course content

Since the Institute of Sound Recording (IoSR) was created in 1998, it has become known internationally as a leading centre for research in psychoacoustic engineering, with world-class facilities and significant funding from research councils and industry.

We’re interested in human perceptions of audio quality, particularly of high-fidelity music signals. Overall perceived quality depends, at least in part, on perception of lower-level timbral and spatial attributes such as brightness, warmth, locatedness and envelopment. In turn, these attributes depend on acoustic parameters such as frequency spectrum and inter-aural cross-correlation coefficient. Using a combination of acoustic measurement and human listening tests, we are exploring the connections between acoustic parameters and perceived timbral and spatial attributes, and also between these perceptual attributes and overall quality and listener preference. From our findings we are developing mathematical and computational models of human auditory perception, and engineering perceptually-motivated audio tools.

Our work combines elements of acoustics, digital signal processing, psychoacoustics (theoretical and experimental), psychology, sound synthesis, software engineering, statistical analysis and user-interface design, with an understanding of the aesthetics of sound and music.

Our world-class facilities include industry-specification sound-recording studios and edit suites, and an ITU-R BS.1116 standard critical listening room equipped with a 22.2-channel reproduction system.

Our research aims to provide tools to assist in any area where assessment of the quality of audio as perceived by human listeners (either overall or in terms of specific timbral or spatial attributes) is desirable but, for one reason or another, potentially problematic; and to provide complementary tools to allow appropriate adjustment where the assessed quality is not as it should be. More generally, we aim to engineer perceptually-motivated signal analysis, processing and control systems. If we have a single over-arching goal then it is simply this: to make sound better.

Our Sound Recording PhD will prepare you for success at each stage of your project. The structure is designed to provide intensive graduate preparation for a future career and is suitable for either part-time or full-time candidates.

Completion of the programme requires submission of a thesis and an oral viva with external examiners.

The normal length of study leading to a PhD is three years full-time (or around 33 months to 48 months). Part-time PhD study normally takes six years (45 months to 96 months). The normal length of study leading to a MPhil is two years full-time (21 months to 36 months). Part-time MPhil normally takes four years (33 months to 72 months). The differences between an MPhil and PhD is in the volume, originality and significance of the work you will do.

You’ll begin your project with a thorough review of previously-published academic literature in relevant areas, which will lead to a critical/analytical report. The conclusions to this report will suggest an appropriate next step, which will normally be some sort of experimental study, designed to test a hypothesis you have formulated from your literature review.

Your study might involve, for example, software design, acoustic measurements and listening tests. The results of this study will be written up in another report (and possibly as a conference paper) which will include a discussion of their significance to your project. Your literature review and experimental study, perhaps together with some additional reading or experimentation, will lead to either:

  • MPhil: A thesis (around 50,000 words) drawing appropriate conclusions, and a viva examination. Alternatively, it may be possible at this stage to transfer to PhD registration.
  • PhD: A full progress report drawing appropriate conclusions, refining research questions and detailing a research plan to allow these questions to be answered, together with a viva examination.

For a PhD, once you’ve completed a satisfactory progress report and viva examination, you’ll carry out the research plan defined in your progress report. This will lead to further literature-based and experimental research, conference (and possibly journal) publications, and your final PhD thesis (around 70,000 words), and a viva examination.

Throughout the project, you’ll get regular guidance through meetings with your supervisor(s). Your progress will be reviewed formally twice a year, and you’ll benefit from internal seminars to share and discuss findings with other research students. Your training needs will be identified and met by the University's internal postgraduate research training, modules from the University's taught degree programmes, external courses or guided reading.

Postgraduate research students are strongly encouraged to work here at the University. We have shared office space for all our research students, and it can be very valuable to work alongside others with similar interests and complementary expertise. It’s also useful to be close to the Institute of Sound Recording’s academic staff, our technical facilities and the University's Library and other learning resources. Depending on the nature of your research project, however, it may be possible do much of it away from the University, as long as you stay in regular contact with your supervisor(s) and can come to the University for a few days in April-May and October-November for our research seminars and progress reviews, which happen twice a year.

PhD students in all programmes can expect three levels of research training: university-level, faculty-level and subject-specific.

University-level training is provided by the Postgraduate Skills Development Programme and the University Library including a PhD induction, workshops on writing skills and preparation for the confirmation and viva. There is also an annual student-led University postgraduate conference. faculty-level training is offered in the form of interdisciplinary seminars, reading groups, visiting speaker events and conferences. You will also receive subject-specific training that will vary depending on your programme. You may participate in research ‘intensives’ featuring formal presentations of work by students, keynote seminars, study groups on current themes in audio research, and research skills training sessions. You may meet regularly for debate and discussion and participate in formal presentations of research.

Current IoSR research supervisors are as follows:

  • Dr Tim Brookes
  • Dr Philip Coleman
  • Dr Enzo De Sena
  • Dr Russell Mason.

Research support

The professional development of postgraduate researchers is supported by the Doctoral College, which provides training in essential skills through its Researcher Development Programme of workshops, mentoring and coaching. A dedicated postgraduate Careers and Employability team will help you prepare for a successful career after the completion of your PhD.

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • PhD
    part time
    96 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification
    full time
    48 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details

+44 (0)1483 682 222