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Vuvuzelas: How To Drown Out That Drone

First Posted: 06/15/10 05:44 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 05:45 PM ET


We may be helpless in the face of the oil that's spilling into the Gulf of Mexico but, by God, if you are as sick as I am of hearing the terrifying "District 9" drone of the World Cup's ubiquitous, indefatigable, unended vuvuzela philharmonic, there is an app for that. Of sorts.

But first: why do these horns sound so terrible? Via New Scientist, here's the answer from Trevor Cox, the president of the UK Institute of Acoustics:

How do vuvuzelas make their sound?

The vuvuzela is like a straightened trumpet and is played by blowing a raspberry into the mouthpiece. The player's lips open and close about 235 times a second, sending puffs of air down the tube, which excite resonance of the air in the conical bore. A single vuvuzela played by a decent trumpeter is reminiscent of a hunting horn - but the sound is less pleasing when played by the average football fan, as the note is imperfect and fluctuates in frequency. It sounds more like an elephant trumpeting. This happens because the player does not keep the airflow and motion of the lips consistent.

But that din sounds nothing like a trumpet or an elephant.

When hundreds of the vuvuzelas are played together, you get the distinctive droning sound. People in the crowd are blowing the instrument at different times and with slightly varying frequencies. The sound waxes and wanes. The overall effect is rather like the sound of a swarm of insects.

Why are they so loud?

The loudness can be explained by the bore shape, which is roughly conical, and flares. As well as creating sound at a frequency of 235 hertz, the instrument generates harmonics - sound at multiples of the fundamental frequency. We have measured strong harmonics at 470, 700, 940, 1171, 1400 and 1630 hertz.

That's how science explains this aural atrocity. Now, how to stop it? The vuvuzela can be defeated by using your graphic equalizer. Lifehacker, watching the game on their computer, managed the feat using Garageband:

We spent the morning here at the Lifehacker labs trying out the settings ourselves, and found that if you duck your EQ at 465Hz and 235Hz, you can in fact filter out the buzz with great results. Ideally you'll reduce each frequency by at least 40dB (which got rid of the drone completely for us), but if your equipment can't quite duck that low, just go as low as you can. Here's how it worked when we tried it in GarageBand on a Mac.

Lifehacker's Adam Pash notes that you do not need to watch the World Cup on a computer to achieve similar results: "If you've got a stereo with an equalizer or even a TV with a built in equalizer, you can adjust your hardware settings to significantly filter out the noise. For example, the Book of Joe blog details the process on a Samsung TV."

Have you worked out a solution to your household vuvuzela problem? If you've come up with a workaround you'd like to share, please do so in the comments.

Of course, if the constant drone has driven you to the dark side, you can purchase your own vuvuzela from Amazon for $9.99. And then, nothing can stop you, except maybe my simple appeal to your sense of basic decency.

How to Silence Vuvuzela Horns from the World Cup Broadcasts [Lifehacker]

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