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This section contains articles about instruments used for studying acoustics, the science of sound.

Philosophers and scientists have always been fascinated by sound and music, and there is a long history of interaction between music and science. However, the experimental science called acoustics did not properly emerge until the 19th century. The Whipple has a significant collection of 19th century acoustical apparatus - in particular several examples from the famous Parisian instrument-maker Rudolph Koenig.

The Acoustics section of this website was developed with special support from the Newton Trust. We are very grateful for this support.

Read more at: Historical Notes: a Brief Chronicle of the Tuning Fork
Helmholtz's apparatus for the synthesis of sound

Historical Notes: a Brief Chronicle of the Tuning Fork

The tuning fork is a fascinating example of an object that is both a scientific instrument and a musical instrument. This article offers a brief overview of its history.

Read more at: Ernst Chladni: Physicist, Musician and Musical Instrument Maker
Chladni plate with a diagram of patterns that can be produced

Ernst Chladni: Physicist, Musician and Musical Instrument Maker

The German physicist and musician Ernst Chladni has been dubbed the 'father of acoustics' in recognition of his groundbreaking work in the early 18th century. He is most famous for his so-called 'Chladni plates'.

Read more at: Lissajous Tuning Forks: the Standardisation of Musical Sound
Lissajous tuning forks with attached mirrors for projecting Lissajous figures

Lissajous Tuning Forks: the Standardisation of Musical Sound

The 19th century saw a great enthusiasm for standardization in science and other areas. Music was no exception and performance pitch was of particular interest. Forks like these were designed by the French scientist Jules Lissajous in an attempt to set an international standard for concert pitch.

Read more at: Hermann von Helmholtz
5 Helmholtz resonators

Hermann von Helmholtz

Hermann Von Helmholtz was one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century and made an enormous contribution to acoustics. he is best remembered today for his resonators and his synthesizer.

Read more at: Rudolph Koenig: the Pursuit of Acoustic Perfection
A vibration microscope, designed by Lissajous and built by Koenig

Rudolph Koenig: the Pursuit of Acoustic Perfection

Koenig devoted his life to designing and building acoustical instruments, greatly improving the field of acoustics. The Whipple's collection contains a number of his beautifully crafted instruments.

Read more at: Monochord


The monochord is an ancient scientific and musical instrument, purportedly invented by the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras.

Read more at: Parabolic Sound Mirrors
World war one concrete acoustic mirror.

Parabolic Sound Mirrors

Sound travels as a wave and as such can be reflected and focused. These 19th-century parabolic mirrors were used to demonstrate the wave nature of sound.

Read more at: The Siren
Detail of a siren

The Siren

The siren, invented by Charles Cagniard de la Tour, was the first precision source of musical sound. Read about its invention and use here.

Read more at: Stroh's Automatic Phonograph
Detail of automatic phonograph

Stroh's Automatic Phonograph

In the 19th century there was a great effort to understand and mimic the human voice. This 'vowel sounder' was built to artificially reproduce the sound of the vowels of human speech.

Read more at: Wheatstone's Symphonium
Detail of Wheatstone's Symphonium

Wheatstone's Symphonium

Sir Charles Wheatstone was one of the finest physicists of the 19th century and was passionate about acoustics. He invented many musical instruments incuding this symphonium, a precursor to the English concertina.