You might have never heard of the term “Acoustic Camera” or even connected the two words together before, but it really is a useful tool now employed in a variety of applications all over the world. It’s an imaging device used to pinpoint where sounds are coming from, and consists a microphone array along with a normal optical video camera and special processing to capture sound in a way that we normally don’t think about.
The first time I even heard of such a thing was watching a television show about the giant Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Germany. There they using an acoustic camera to spot signs of wear in their huge metal pressing machines way before they were audible to a human. After watching the segment I decided to do some research on the subject.
It turns out that the acoustic camera has been around for a while (especially in the military) but the computer power to make it a hand-held device has only been around since around 2013. Units by B&K and Fluke are pretty expensive at $100k+, but a handheld all-in-one unit called SoundCam by the German company CAE offers a unit in the $5k to $10k range.
As you can see from the image above, most acoustic camera’s use 24 to 64 microphones in a circular array with a small optical video camera in the middle. If you check out the videos below you’ll see that you can immediately see any hotspots for frequency or level that lets you exactly pinpoint where a sound is being generated.
Acoustic cameras are used mainly in industrial situations like automotive or manufacturing, but it can also be of great use when it comes to acoustics as well. If you check out the bottom video, one can show you exactly where any leakage in a room is coming from, which is the first step in eliminating it.
This is a really cool device. I’m hoping that we’ll see a sub-$1k unit soon (I’ll be all over it when it happens).