Tonal prominence in a leaf blower

leaf blower

This afternoon I was working on a project involving tonal prominence. I stepped away from the computer to think¬†and was interrupted by the sound of a leaf blower. I was annoyed for a second, then I thought “Hey, a leaf blower!” and went out to record it. A leaf blower is a great example of a broad spectrum noise with strong tonal components. Lawn maintenance men think you’re kinda crazy when you say you want to record the noise of their equipment.

The tuner app on my phone identified the sound as an A3, the A below middle C, or 220 Hz. Apparently leaf blowers are tenors.

Here’s a short audio clip:


And here’s what the spectrum looks like. The dashed grey vertical lines are at multiples of 55 Hz.

leaf blower audio spectrum

The peaks are perfectly spaced at multiples of the fundamental frequency of 55 Hz, A1 in scientific pitch notation. This even spacing of peaks is the fingerprint of a definite tone. There’s also a lot of random fluctuation¬†between peaks. That’s the finger print of noise. So together we hear a pitch and noise.

When using the tone-to-noise ratio algorithm from the ECMA-74, only the spike at 110 Hz is prominent. A limitation of that approach is that it only considers single tones, not how well multiple tones line up in a harmonic sequence.

More psychoacoustics


4 thoughts on “Tonal prominence in a leaf blower

  1. I saw that graph and was just so shocked at the regularity of the peaks. I never would have thought that there would be such a strong tonal component to *leaf blowers*.

    What is indicated by those sharp troughs? Is that simply noise and it looks more significant than it is?

    Great post, thanks!

  2. Very cool! I love recording audio and looking for ways to apply signal analysis. There’s a bridge in my hometown in Ohio who’s cross beams resonate around 110Hz, so I go down there under the bridge and play my cello for tips and try to play songs in A. Really boosts the sound!

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