21M.380 | Spring 2016 | Undergraduate

Music and Technology: Sound Design


You must have reliable access to the following audio editing hardware and software to work on your assignments. Please ensure you have this access by Session 4, including having completed and tested the installation of all software packages.

Desktop or Laptop Computer

You will need reliable access to a desktop or laptop computer for working on your assignments. Besides your personal device, it is also possible to work on several iMacs at the Lewis Music Library, which are equipped with suitable software.

Studio Headphones (or Nearfield Monitor Loudspeakers)

It is strongly recommended that you invest in a pair of studio headphones. If you have to work in an environment that is not well acoustically isolated, opt for closed-back headphones. If you have a silent space to work in, you can opt for semi-closed or semi-open headphones, which are more comfortable to wear. See Table 1 below for recommendations. Completely open headphones tend to be expensive, but can yield great results in sufficiently quiet environments. Don’t buy earphones (aka “earbuds”).

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80Ω $175 closed use on laptop Headphone Out
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 250Ω $175 closed use on separate amp
Audio-Technica ATH-M series $50–$170 closed M20x, M30x, M40x, M50x
Sennheiser HD 25-1 II $170 closed  
Sennheiser HD 25-SP II $120 closed  
Sennheiser HD280 Pro $90 closed  
Shure SRH440 $100 closed  
AKG K240 MKII $150 semi-open  
AKG K240 Studio $85 semi-open at Lewis Music Library
AKG K99 $80 semi-open  
AKG K77 $50 semi-closed  
AKG K44 $30 closed Phasing out of production

Table 1: Some headphones suitable for use in this course

This video explains the differences between open- and closed-back headphones in detail:

If you will be working on assignments using the Music Library iMacs, the library also has AKG K240 Studio headphones available for MIT student use. If you already have a pair of studio headphones or nearfield monitor loudspeakers, or if you are planning to acquire a pair of the latter, feel free to consult me regarding their suitability for this class.

Pure Data (Pd)

Our main software tool will be Pure Data (also known as Pd), a free (as in beer and speech) graphical multimedia programming environment.

Please begin by installing the current version of Pd “vanilla.” The Spring 2016 class used version 0.46.7.

  • For Debian-based Linux systems (e.g., Ubuntu), install Pd through your package manager, e.g., via sudo apt-get install puredata or through the Ubuntu Software Center utility.
  • For Mac OS X, the Pure Data downloads page provides a tarball that contains Pd as an .app directory, which you can put straight into your Macintosh HD > Applications folder.
  • For Windows, download Pd as a .zip archive from the Pure Data downloads page. Inside that archive, you will find the actual executable program under pd > bin > pd.exe.

Later sections of the course may use Pd-extended, which includes popular external libraries. (Since the creation of this class, Pd-extended has been superceded by Pd-L2Ork.)

Andy Farnell’s Pd examples, which accompany his Designing Sound book, are referenced and used extensively throughout the course. Please see the Lecture Notes page for details.

Getting Started with Pd

If you are having trouble getting audio out of Pure Data, or working with patches, this video shows very basic use of the Pd interface to create sound and manipulate a patch.

There are many other online tutorials on Pure Data and related topics. See these two collections on the Pure Data website:

Audio Editing Software

You will also require a digital audio editor, such as one of the software packages listed in the following table. The free open-source Audacity editor (for Linux, Mac, Windows) is a perfectly reasonable choice, and is installed on several iMacs in the Lewis Music Library. A multichannel digital audio workstation (DAW) such as Reaper, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, or Ardour is beyond our needs, but if you already have access to one of these, you are welcome to use it for your editing.

Audacity Linux, Mac, Win $0 Open-source
Hairersoft Amadeus Lite Mac $25 Single-track
Hairersoft Amadeus Pro Mac $60 Multi-track
Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio Mac, Win $60  
snd Linux, (Mac) $0 For the adventurous
Steinberg Wavelab Elements Mac, Win $100 1 month trial w / dongle
Adobe Audition CC Mac, Win $20/month 1 year subscription

Table 2: Some audio editors suitable for use in this course

Sonic Visualiser

Sonic Visualiser is a free, open-source, cross-platform tool for visualizing sound files (spectrum, spectrogram, etc.). Please install the current version. (The Spring 2016 class used version 2.5).

Handheld Digital Audio Recorders

Although this course’s primary focus is the synthesis rather than the recording of sound, we will occasionally need to record sounds in order to analyze and model them. For this purpose, MIT students can check out one of the Zoom H4n portable audio recorders from the Music Library for overnight use.

Practice Drumstick

You might find it beneficial to get a practice drumstick with a plastic-coated tip, so you can test the sound of various objects without breaking them. This is not mandatory, but it is little money well spent. Find another student in the class with whom you can share a pair of Vic Firth 5BCO sticks (which can be found online for $10)!

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
Exams with Solutions
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples
Instructor Insights
Demonstration Audio