Weekday had an interesting program yesterday about silence. There were a lot of interesting parts, especially around how true silence is so hard to find, how people measure really quiet noises etc, but I was most interested by a story told by Stephen Orfield, who founded a lab that measures noises and is apparently listed as the quietest place on earth in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Mr. Orfield’s lab was hired by Harley to help them figure out how they could lower the amount of noise made by their motorcycles to meet European standards without losing market share, which their focus groups had shown would happen if their bikes were less loud. Mr. Orfield managed to record all the different bits of the current Harley noise and played these sounds for people to ask whether they saw them as powerful, weak, fun, lame, etc. He said that although when people came in they said they loved the whole Harley noise and when they left they said the same, the actual data showed that there were lots of individual parts of the noises that customers found unpleasant. By removing just those but maintaining the parts that people really associated with Harley’s image, they were able to lower their overall noise but keep people happy. I thought this was really fascinating because it just goes to show that we don’t know what happens in our own heads. Just like in so many other areas, when it comes to sound, we have opinions that aren’t based on what we think.