Home » Survey Finds What Kind Of Fake Car Sounds People Like And What Kind Drives Them Bonkers

Survey Finds What Kind Of Fake Car Sounds People Like And What Kind Drives Them Bonkers

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I’m told that the vroom-vroom-brrrraaap engine noises I make while driving almost anything do not, technically, meet the legal requirements for EV noise production as specified by NHTSA-2016-0125-0001, which specifies that EVs and hybrids operating in EV mode at low speeds should generate some manner of sounds, all to help reduce pedestrian crashes, since, when walking, we tend to rely on audio cues to be warned when and from where vehicles are approaching. As for what kind of sounds should be made, that’s not specified, and has been the subject of a great deal of debate. Should it be a completely fabricated, unique sound, or should it emulate the mechanical sounds made by combustion-engined cars? A recent study seems to have found what sort of sounds people want from their EVs, and the results are interesting. Mildly interesting, even!

According to an Automotive News article, the study was undertaken by “sonic branding agency” (that’s a thing, it seems) Listen and market research firm CloudArmy. Over 400 American adults, half of whom were “EV owners or consumers who would consider purchasing an EV” – which feels like a pretty broad category, it might make more sense to say half were people with no interest in EVs – were played 10 different types of EV low-speed driving sounds, five of which were “tonal” and five “nontonal.”

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The requirements for these sounds are interesting; since the goal is to warn people and not entertain, the sounds must have some high-frequency tones that are hard to ignore, and, according to Paul Amitai, executive strategy director at Listen, must elicit “the right amount of tension” and yet not be too annoying or stress-inducing. That’s quite a line to ride, especially when the consequence is getting hit by 4,500 pounds of electric crossover.

You’re probably feeling a little curious about what kind of sounds current EVs are making; I know I am. Here’s some examples– first, the Chevy Volt:

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That one sounds like the background music from some sci-fi movie during a scene when some astronaut is watching something numinous happening around them, likely caused by some wildly advanced alien species, and they’re suitable awed. There may be tears.

BMW famously hired composer Hans Zimmer to help come up with driving sounds for their cars, including their M-series of sports cars.

These Zimmer compositions feel much more derived from combustion-engined car sounds that people are already used to, an understandable choice given the context.

Mercedes-Benz has this video comparing their EV sounds to some of their combustion car sounds:

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Tesla calls their sound the Pedestrian Warning System, or PWS, which is kind of funny to me personally, because I used to blame every time my computer had a problem on something I called a PWS, for Personal Worth Sensor, implying that the computer was evaluating my personal worth and adjusting its performance accordingly. So if I’d you know, committed the sin of Onan or something, the PWS would have a lower reading, and the computer would be more likely to crash. You get it right?

Okay, now we have some idea about what these things sound like. And, as you may have noticed, there are sort of two very broad categories that these sounds fit into: one of sounds that are completely fabricated and their own sort of thing, and ones that are based on more physical, real-world sounds like waterfalls or moving rocks or combustion engines or whatever.

Okay, so which types of sounds did the survey find that people liked? It’s the ones based on real stuff. According to the study,

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“The type of sound that survey respondents liked best evoked wind, water and white noise, suggesting people gravitate toward sounds that remind them of the “whooshing” of a gasoline-powered automobile passing by. The losing type of sound was more tonal — hummable pitches in high frequencies that people likened to something out of science fiction.”

So, the ethereal space music, while it may be more noticeable to people walking around amongst the traffic, is less liked, and, I would think, may be less indicative of the type of threat approaching. Space music is great, but there’s not decades and decades of cultural training to suggest that the sound means to be alert and be ready to get out of the way of something that’s potentially hurtling towards you.

Sounds that resemble the sounds of something hurtling towards you, though, those may inherently just work better.

I do like the fact that this whole new realm of creating warning sounds for cars has opened up a whole new creative outlet; I’m curious to see where it ends up going!

 

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Pizzawrench
Pizzawrench
11 days ago

The loudest car in my company parking lot is an electric mini. It seems ICE are the quiet ones now.

The noise it makes can only be described as the transmission whine of a late 90s Chrysler minivan.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
12 days ago

Heh, the Taycan I took camping was supposedly the loudest car in our group (all kinds of things we took to fart around backroads and the Nürburgring, ranging from Model 3s to a Donkervoort) whenever we moved it late at night. LOL.

I kind of like the woo-woo spaceshippy noises? Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not, EVs. Sound different and weird.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
12 days ago

I want EV’s under normal conditions to sound like the Jetsons’ car, but all vehicles that are currently self-driving in any capacity need to go “beep-boop, I’m a robot, please do not be alarmed. I am now turning left. Left turn completed successfully”.

Alex Rockey
Alex Rockey
12 days ago

How about the old card-in-the-spokes trick?

Dan Neufeld
Dan Neufeld
12 days ago

When was the last time you heard engine noises from a modern ICE car? Adding these sounds to EVs doesn’t make sense, since modern cars only make tire/wind noise.

Space
Space
8 days ago
Reply to  Dan Neufeld

Today. I drive a V8 but I bet a V6 could easily be heard with the windows down.

J Money
J Money
12 days ago

Wouldn’t it make sense to just duplicate the sounds current ICE cars make, as I think the M-B video above does? (Is it me or did it almost sound like the first EV was made to sound faintly like their chugging diesels of yore?)

Weird sounds people aren’t familiar with aren’t necessarily more helpful. And, in fact, could make you look for something other than a car.

Harvey Firebirdman
Harvey Firebirdman
12 days ago

I vote EVs play the jaws theme as they speed up the song speeds up.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
12 days ago

I like the Polestar2’s noises: backing up, it’s kind of a mix between Jetsons propulsion noises and the sonar noises from old WW2 films. When my sister would pull up the driveway while I was wrenching in their garage, it was reminiscent of a jet lining up the runway for their landing. (I’ve lived most of my life near airports directly under the flight path). Neither noise is irritating to me—yet they do clearly herald the approach of a vehicle.

HonkeyfromtheCIA
HonkeyfromtheCIA
12 days ago

EV’s need to make Knight Rider sounds. It’s the only possible answer.

Mr. Frick
Mr. Frick
12 days ago

I think pedestrians should share some of the burden and be required to wave their arms around and make whooping sounds when walking on or crossing the road. Also I want my car to emulate the sound of playing cards in bicycle spokes. The noise generated would would vary in tempo and volume based on speed.

Frobozz
Frobozz
12 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Frick

My car actually does this. (It has a valve lifter tick).

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
12 days ago
Reply to  Frobozz

Is it an old Miata? They all do that!

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
12 days ago
Reply to  Frobozz

Mine too! (Cracked exhaust manifold).

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
12 days ago

Should have included the default Toyota hybrid sound. I can only think of dry failing bearings as the screeching sound they make. Hate it.

ShinyMetalAsp
ShinyMetalAsp
12 days ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

I have a corolla hybrid and am convinced that the sound it makes is taken directly from the noise of the Jetsons vehicles.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
12 days ago

I think a lot of the hysteria over EVs not making any noise is overblown, most ICE cars are extremely quiet as it is (most modern ones barely make any sound at all when idling, or no sound if equipped with auto stop/start, and most of what you hear when they’re in motion is wind noise or the sound of tires on asphalt, which electric cars still make).

But, if EVs have to make noise, why not just use the same warning sirens that forklifts have? Everyone is already accustomed to what that sound means and how to react to it, and its a universal standard.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
12 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

It has already been shown that white noise alarms are more audible and easier for people to determine which direction they’re coming from. So the answer is, absolutely no vehicle should make those sounds. They should play blasts of radio static instead.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
12 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

How about the blue spotlight on the pavement like forklifts do? People do under glow anyway, and attention-seekers would love it.

doesn’t help the visually impaired, tho. Nm.

Space
Space
8 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

We could make the light using Tesla coils, light and sound! Wildly inefficient and dangerous to boot!

Ohgodwhyme
Ohgodwhyme
12 days ago

I say EVs should not make a sound. We need less noise pollution, not more. People rely on the sounds cars make as we have become used to cars making a sound. If vehicles never made a sound, we would only rely on our sight*. This would be a transition for us folks who are not used to doing this and no doubt there would be, as the military likes to say, collateral damage in the short term. Long term, we would have nice quiet streets and neighborhoods again.  

*Note we would need to solve for seeing impaired people who would need to rely on sound. Maybe we use V2P (vehicle-to-person) tech where the vehicle sends a signal that a phone could intercept and interpret into a sound passed along to headphones (which would be used in transparency mode so other sounds are not filter out).   

Mortalcombatant
Mortalcombatant
12 days ago
Reply to  Ohgodwhyme

This is some really dumb logic. Here’s example of a vehicle that from beginning doesn’t make sound (at least not much) and still we install devices to make sound – bicycle. The sound is the only way to draw attention when person is not looking so EV must make sound.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
12 days ago

Somewhat longer answer occasionally digesting into a rant:
Several studies have shown that sounds with a white noise component and clicking are easier for people to locate in space then sine waves or sounds that keep changing, in particular sounds good have a changing frequency defeat the ability to use the Doppler effect to tell if the sound source is moving and from what direction.
So something like either a steam Locomotive or playing cards in the spokes of a bicycle wheel would be useful, but something like say Clara Rockmore on a theremin would be not useful at all.

Rant starts here:
Back to the bit about sine waves, changing pitch, and just frequently changing the sound entirely being difficult for human beings to locate acoustically in space. What fits that description? The sirens on emergency vehicles in the USA. Is it coming towards you? Is it going away from you? Is it coming into the intersection from the right? Maybe it’s coming from the left?How many emergency vehicles are there anyway? Emergency agencies keep making the sirens louder with more novelty noises because driver keep failing to yield the right of way when the problem is that drivers have no idea where the siren is located, how fast it is moving, or what direction it is moving. This results in idiots with sirens that pass on the shoulder and wonder why drivers drive right into them, or think there is a emergency vehicle behind them and pull into an intersection thinking they are getting out of the way and get t-boned. Cops that rotate through all 20 novelty noises that they’re siren can make get their idiocy rank doubled.

Anyway, complex sounds that don’t change pitch much but maybe have a rhythmic component to indicate velocity would be good. Anything that sounds like flutes or police sirens is a bad idea.

On a sidenote, an acquaintance in grad school analyzed the frequency, spectrum of cars slamming on the brakes and skidding to a stop sound effect records and recorded a sample of that into one of those recorded audio greeting card chips that were popular at the time. Made it into a bike horn and it was super effective. Probably resulted in some stained underwear in west Hollywood.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Fascinating. I live in an urban area, so there are constantly sirens somewhere it seems, and esp. with all the buildings, locating them can be difficult even if you’re really paying attention. And of course b/c it’s an urban area, most people aren’t.

I’m sure eventually sirens will be accompanied by an warning sent to your car’s main screen with a pictogram of some sort to let you know where, but until then, it would be great if they could focus their development on them generating useful attention like you explain.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Your rant about sirens is spot-on. I pulled forward/right out of the way yesterday because the firehouse was 2 blocks behind & my rearward vision was blocked by a truck. Sounded like the siren was on us and I was making room for the truck. Never did see the emergency vehicle.

Not mad because the responders are working with what they’ve got, but it could be so much better if the sounds were more directional

Steve Balistreri
Steve Balistreri
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

I used to do the official certification testing for these pedestrian warning sounds. The EU specs do require a frequency that increases with speed. They could potentially add the rhythmic element, but it’d have to include that frequency to be certified.

MrLM002
MrLM002
12 days ago

I hate all fake car noises.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
12 days ago

You know what sound always gets my attention, can even bring me out of a dead sleep? The high pitch whine of a mosquito flitting near my head spurs an instantaneous response on my part, usually spastic slapping and flailing. It’s an effective alert, though. So I’d have all EVs sound like giant mosquitoes. Either that or the opening guitar riff from “Money for Nothing.” That always pumps the old adrenals.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
12 days ago

Short Answer: has anybody asked Brian Eno?

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Would also accept Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Hell, they were making synthesized car noises back in the mid-70s!

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
12 days ago

Sounds I would consider ok for an EV:

  • Flying car sound from The Jetsons
  • Upon startup, the Transformers transforming sound from the 80s cartoon.
  • TIE Fighter
  • Tron light cycle
  • Main riff from Ace of Spades on repeat

Sounds I would vote against:

  • Crying baby
  • Theremin
  • The Most Annoying Sound In The World
  • Screaming goat
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
12 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Yes on Tron light cycle, ESPECIALLY if between taking your foot off the brake and hitting the accelerator you get those three pulsing sounds!

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
12 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta
  • Main riff from Ace of Spades on repeat

I would put the intro to Thunderstruck above Ace of Spades personally. Especially on an F150 Lightning.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
12 days ago

This is also acceptable.

SLM
SLM
12 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

I want theremin sounding EVs .
Really.
Please someone do it

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
11 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Alternatives:

* Samples off Alice Coltrane’s seminal “Universal Consciousness.” Increase duration until pedestrian moves
* A scream by Devin Townsend
* The “doing” sound from Uhura’s console
* A Darkthrone riff
* That wheezy high-pitched sound David Lee Roth used to make when he could still sing

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
12 days ago

I like the Tesla sounds, as they seem to fit the way the cars look.

There’s a few of them in my building, including a guy who always parks his near the motorcycle corral b/c there’s an outlet nearby. He was parking it this past weekend as I was sitting on my old Suzuki waiting for her to warm up (she’s carbed) and the sound was clear even over that (wonderful to my ears) racket.

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
12 days ago

I had to look up the word “numinous” and it didn’t mean what I was expecting. The BMW one is good, but having Hans Zimmer compose it makes my eyes roll. The only one of these I actively didn’t like was the Tesla reverse sound.

Cerberus
Cerberus
12 days ago

The BMW one isn’t bad, but I hate the noise the Corolla hybrid I drove had and that a lot of other hybrids in EV mode at low speed/EVs seem to have. It’s very much like that sci-fi noise the Volt uses, which also sounds a bit like worn brakes from the driver’s seat and I find it almost as irritating as nails on a chalkboard. I took to putting the car in “B”, which kept the ICE running on my street so as not to have to hear it. I don’t even know how it makes much difference. If someone can’t hear the tires on the road—and if I’m stopped, what’s the problem?—they wouldn’t likely be able to hear the speaker sound over the cacophony of other environmental noise that will still exist even if most vehicles are EVs and, since I doubt many blind people J-walk (I don’t know as I probably see one about once every 5 years), I would have to be running a light, which I don’t do (though I get that other people do), and any service dog they might have not hearing or seeing me, either. Besides that, there are plenty of ICE cars with engines that make less noise than the tires that aren’t saddled with this noise maker. Of course, if it’s a noise I don’t hate, I don’t really care if it has it.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
12 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Ugh, my neighbor has one and I hate the “wguuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhh” that takes over my property when he puts it in reverse. Neighbors on the other side have one that does something similar.

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
12 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

I’ve noticed that about Teslas too. Every time one passes me, I can’t help but notice that they’re not one bit quieter than a standard ICE car, which confused me until I realized that I was hearing the tires. Other EVs seem better about that.

Car Guy
Car Guy
12 days ago

Let’s hope they don’t choose the famous “large truck backing up” beep. That would be very annoying indeed.

Last edited 12 days ago by Car Guy
Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
12 days ago
Reply to  Car Guy

My Lexus ct200h has a back up bing noise that plays on the inside of the car when you reverse. Why? I don’t know. It’s annoying.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
12 days ago
Reply to  Saul Goodman

I rode in a Prius the first time for a couple months ago and it freaks the fuck out when you’re in reverse. I hate that, too. I hope it doesn’t spread.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
12 days ago
Reply to  Mechjaz

Well, to be fair, in the Prius there is no visual indication of you being in reverse other than that screen in the dashboard.
Also, to be fair, the Prius is wiggle stick or whatever you call that thing in the console makes absolutely no logical sense. There’s probably some law that regulates it, but it is as though they were deliberately trying to confuse you and get you to run over yourself. I have seen people get out of Prius’s and then a few seconds later the car just drives off by itself on two separate occasions.

Push forward to go backwards push backwards to go forward push the button to park. What idiot came up with that?

86-GL
86-GL
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Yeah. I’ve never driven a Prius, but my snowmobile also has a reverse alarm, and to be honest it’s definitely saved me a few times. Snowmobiles are especially bad, because the reverse is a simple button actuation, with no feedback. There is no creep with the belt CVT, and many machines don’t even have a neutral. There is an indicator light, but it’s easy to miss on a bright day.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
12 days ago
Reply to  86-GL

I’ve never encountered a problem where I forgot which gear I’m in in that car, but I’m thinking the binging noise is just to idiot-proof the car.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

I agree, it’s a dumb shifter set up that is trying to be “futuristic.” But hey 50 mpg, can’t argue with that.

Last edited 12 days ago by Saul Goodman
Knowonelse
Knowonelse
12 days ago
Reply to  Mechjaz

The reverse sound could be turned off in the Gen 2 Prius I had, it was on by default. The Gen 4 version has it off by default and I have never heard it. Going to stay that way.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
12 days ago
Reply to  Mechjaz

Because the shifter is so stupid, the backup bell was the solution to tell you that you are in reverse, rather than just not have a dumbass shifter in the first place.

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
12 days ago
Reply to  Saul Goodman

I rode in a car that did that and I never did come up with a good theory as to why it needed a reverse alarm for the driver. I guess that to ward off lawsuits, the manufacturer felt they needed to treat everyone as if they’re very elderly.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
12 days ago
Reply to  Bob Boxbody

That’s exactly what I am thinking, it’s just to prevent idio- less attentive drivers from screwing up their car and suing Toyota.

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