Annoying Sounds Unpacked

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The bracket of annoying NYC sounds voted on by WNYC listeners. (Graphic by Rebecca Swanberg)

In a bracket, you voted subway emergency exits the most annoying sound in New York City. Benjamin Sachwald, Director of Acoustics, Noise and Vibration at AKRF, wraps up our #ANNOISE project with an explanation as to why we find certain sounds so irritating.


Benjamin Sachwald

Comments [31]

MJ from Brooklyn

I can't believe no one has mentioned the low flying airplanes heading over Park Slope to LaGuardia. Unrelenting overhead roaring that makes it impossible to be outdoors on certain days.

Aug. 27 2012 10:09 AM
DizaBlah from Manhattan

How is not people working on the outside of the building. You know. The guys drilling into the brick. GAAAAAHHHHHHH

Aug. 19 2012 11:31 AM

...someone eating lunch/breakfast in the office who sounds like pigs feeding in a trough regardless of the food i.e. solid or liquid encompassing soup/salad/sliced fruit cup/boiled eggs all accompanied by constant sound of sucking food through/from teeth. It's worse than nails on a chalkboard...

Aug. 16 2012 04:11 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Most annoying sound?

Someones cellphone ringing.

Aug. 16 2012 01:19 PM
Joan Rothschild from midtown Manhattan

Your guest Benjamin Sachwald had the right idea -- we need to DESIGN against unwanted & necessary sounds (my worst case is recycling trucks that bang metal on metal - they don't need to be designed that way.)I'lltry to send my blog.

Aug. 16 2012 12:19 PM

I wish the guest had been more emphatic about the risks of noise. Noise pollution has a long-term, permanent effect on hearing, yet people don't think of protecting their ears like they do their eyes. Sunglasses are everywhere, they're a fashion item. Earplugs, especially those dorky orange things that stick out of your ears, not so much.

And the incidence of hearing problems in younger people has increased dramatically with the use of ear buds.

One more offender: the insanely loud ambient music at the gym.

Aug. 16 2012 12:02 PM
Lliam from Manhattan

On top of that, no one - honkers nor police pay any attention to the $50 fine for honking signs.
They should give parking cops authority to give tickets for honking.

Aug. 16 2012 11:46 AM
Lliam from Manhattan

Car Honking marathons!!!

For some reason, honkers think that only the one they are honking at hears their noise. They pay no attention to the closer pedestrians or the nearer apartment dwellers. You gotta especially love the ones who honk from halfway down the block Before the light turns green. Idiot honkers actually believe their noise solves their impatience problem, but in reality it only exacerbates the annoyance level.

Aug. 16 2012 11:39 AM
Elizabeth from Brooklyn

Yes Brian!!! Finally someone has acknowledged that the new subway trains sing "Somewhere" !!! I have been trying to convince musical theatre connoisseurs and others alike of this fact and not one person has ever noticed it or believed me!! Finally vindication. We are of the same mind.

Aug. 16 2012 11:24 AM
Marcelo from Park Slope

The 3 notes of the new subway trains as they leave the station are the 3 first notes of the original Star Trek theme.

Aug. 16 2012 11:24 AM

Yes! I did notice those first three notes and I always thought I was just being sentimental in some way, since Westside Story is a favorite musical. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Aug. 16 2012 11:24 AM
Linda from NJ

As far as motorcycles, "Loud Pipes Save Lives". When you're driving your car, you can always hear the unmistakable sound of a Harley-Davidson coming from behind. Until I saw that quote on a Harley bumpersticker, it annoyed me, but now I smile.

Aug. 16 2012 11:21 AM
Robert from NYC

I agree with Brian about subway better than motorcycles. I LOVE the screeching of subway steel on steel on tight curves because it irritates those stupid other people on the train. I need street sounds to fall asleep at night. I grew up living in a ground floor apt in the south bronx on a main thoroughfare with a fire station a block away, busses all night and people banging on the then tin garbage cans that were underneath my bedroom window as they walked by. If I don't have noise when I'm going to bed I can't fall asleep.
YET whenever I slept at my brother's house in LI the only sound there were crickets all night long and it drove me nuts

Aug. 16 2012 11:21 AM
Edward from NJ

I would propose a particular combination: the un-muffled motorcycle that goes down the street and sets off half the car alarms on the block.

Aug. 16 2012 11:20 AM
Mike from Rye, NY

Brian, in regards to your comment about loud motorcycles and specific regulations for them. Many riders choose to put louder exhaust systems on their bikes to alert other motorists to their presence. Drivers for so many reasons don't acknowledge motorcycles on the road. So it not only improves visibility, but they actually sound better!

Aug. 16 2012 11:20 AM

How about peanut butter under the door handles of repeat offender alarmed cars?
However, the exaggerated motorcycles are indeed the worst. The volume
is inversely proportional to the rider's confidence.

Aug. 16 2012 11:20 AM
Pam from ny

Ear buds do drown-out some sounds. I have seen many instances of oblivion to approaching vehicles. Very dangerous!

Aug. 16 2012 11:20 AM
Edward from NJ

The reason I find the subway exit alarm more annoying than the car alarm is that I know the subway alarm was caused by someone who intentionally set it off for their own convenience.

Aug. 16 2012 11:19 AM
Bob from Pelham NY

Growing up near a hospital ER in downtown Brooklyn, my 3 pre-school children all quickly developed the ability to distinguish in seconds an ambulance siren from a police siren from a fire truck siren, even though all sounded the same to us parents.

Aug. 16 2012 11:19 AM

I cannot believe no one has mentioned that horrid beeping sound made by trucks etc. when they are backing up. Useless, loud enough, as Harry Shearer says, to be heard on the moon. As the comic Billy Collins asks, "What is their purpose? To protect all the little blind children playing in the street?"

Aug. 16 2012 11:19 AM
Laura from New York, New York

I wonder why cab horns can be regulated so that they aren't quite so loud?

Aug. 16 2012 11:16 AM
Sher from lower Manhattan

Did you forget the awful grinding, crunching sound of commercial garbage trucks grinding up construction materials?

Aug. 16 2012 11:16 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

John A.-

You've got my vote. Even noisy car alarms have more of a purpose than that promo!

Aug. 16 2012 11:15 AM
John from NYC

So here is a fantasy:

A Bill Gates type finances the development of a QUIET TURBINE MOTOR.

It then replaces all of the noisy DIESEL engine
s in trucks, buses, generators, etc. etc.

What an improvement to the world this would be.

Aug. 16 2012 11:15 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I can't believe you would ask such a question, but car alarms are annoying so when they go off, someone will investigate and foil a potential break-in. Hence the term "alarm."

It could very well be that when a car alarm goes off in the middle of the night, someone might be breaking in, and the fact that you go out to see what's making that noise means you might scare off a car-thief. That is the point of the alarm.

Aug. 16 2012 11:14 AM
Pam Smilow from New York, NY

I am an artist who last year explored the idea of using an intern from one of the local art schools to help me in the studio. It didn't take more than one day for me to realize something was intrinsically wrong with this--it simply did not feel right at all to have someone working for me without paying them. In my opinion, this is an ethical question--it is not right to ask anyone to work for you without pay--I now am very outspoken on this subject and it may sound kind of extreme, but I think internships are an acceptable form of slave labor. Let's call a spade a spade...

Aug. 16 2012 11:14 AM
pliny from soho

the sound of a ringing telephone on a tv show

Aug. 16 2012 11:14 AM
DAN from morningside heights

Car alarms are definitely the worst.. why? Because it is a USELESS sound! Everything else has at least an identifiable purpose, but car alarms are truly a ridiculous annoyance!

Aug. 16 2012 11:11 AM
Stephen from prospect heights

Not sure what the most irritating noise is, but for my daughter and I, your voice, Brian, is one of the most pleasant. Thanks for providing calm and order to the unruly nervous city environs. Thank you, Brian and staff.

Aug. 16 2012 11:10 AM
John A.

Most annoying sound
"Are all your radios on WNYC?
Go check. Now, Yeah, I'll wait.
check the one next to your bed.
Is it on WNYC?
when you're asleep keep it on low so you don't bother anyone.
Look, There are people who need you to explain things to them.
They don't understand about food coops or sleep deprivation in children.
These are the kinds of things that are supposed to keep You up at night.
Not them.
WNYC. Never turn it off."

Does use of adverts have to go up continually with time?

Aug. 16 2012 11:10 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

Cars playing Hispanic music late at night. And by the way I'm half Puertorican & half Dominican.

Aug. 16 2012 11:06 AM

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