Learn about the Phase of a sound and how it can influence a recording.

Sound waves occur in cycles; that is, they proceed through repetitions. Phase is defined as how far along a waveform is in its current cycle.

The starting point of a wave is 0 degrees, the peak of a wave is 90 degrees, the next neutral pressure point is 180 degrees, the peak low-pressure zone is 270 degrees, and the pressure rises to zero again at 360 degrees.

Graph representing the phase of a wave
Figure 1 - Graph representing the different phases of a wave


If two or more waveforms are involved in producing a sound, their relative amplitudes can often be different at any one point in time.

If the waves are completely in phase they will combine to make a new waveform with the same frequency but double the amplitude. This is known as constructive interference.

If the same two waves are combined while being completely out of phase by 180 degrees, they will cancel each other out resulting in no amplitude. This is known as destructive interference.

When two sound waves with the same frequency but different starting points combine, the resulting wave is said to have a phase shift. The new wave will still have the same frequency as the original wave but will have increased or decreased amplitude depending on the degree of phase difference.

Constructive/Destructive Simulator

Constructive interference:
Destructive interference:

Phase in Recording Environments

Phase interferences are a common occurrence in the recording environment.

Waves can often be heard to be in phase near a boundary when an incident (primary) wave combines with the reflective wave.

If a microphone is positioned close to the boundary, there will be roughly a doubling rise in amplitude in comparison to a microphone that is positioned away from a wall.

Note that there will not be a doubling of amplitude if the frequencies are absorbed or diffracted by the surface.

The most common type of interference within a studio environment is phase shift.

If two microphones pick up the same sound source at different distances, there is effectively a phase difference between the two waves as it takes longer for the sound to arrive at the more distant microphone.

It is important that microphones are checked before a recording for phasing issues. If microphones are facing in the opposite direction, one microphone must be phased reversed to prevent cancellation of the sound.

Reflected waves can interfere with incident waves, producing patterns of constructive and destructive interference in a room - this can lead to resonances called standing waves.

Reflection of waves in strings and air columns are essential to the production of resonant standing waves.

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