Leo Beranek

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Leo Beranek
Born Leo Leroy Beranek
(1914-09-15) September 15, 1914 (age 99)
Fields Electrical engineering, Acoustics
Institutions Bolt, Beranek and Newman, MIT
Alma mater Cornell College, Harvard University
Doctoral advisor Frederick Vinton Hunt
Doctoral students Kenneth N. Stevens, James L. Flanagan

Leo Leroy Beranek (born September 15, 1914) is an American acoustics expert, former MIT professor, and a founder and former president of Bolt, Beranek and Newman (now BBN Technologies). He authored Acoustics, considered the classic textbook in this field, and its updated and extended version published in 2012 under the title Acoustics: Sound Fields and Transducers.


A student of piano at an early age, Beranek, growing up in Mount Vernon, Iowa, went on to study at Cornell College while working as a radio and small appliance repairman. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and went on to study at Harvard University, where he received a doctorate in 1940. During World War II, he managed Harvard's electro-acoustics laboratory, which designed communications and noise reduction systems for World War II aircraft, while at the same time developing other military technologies. During this time, he built the first anechoic chamber, an extremely quiet room for studying noise effects which later would inspire John Cage's philosophy of silence. Beranek remained on staff at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as professor of communications engineering from 1947 to 1958. In 1948, he helped found Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN), serving as the company's president from 1952 to 1971.

In 1945, Beranek became involved with a small company called Hush-A-Phone, which marketed a cup that fit over the mouthpiece of a telephone receiver in order to prevent the person speaking from being overheard. Although Hush-A-Phone had been around since the 1920s, Beranek used his acoustical expertise to develop an improved version of the device. AT&T threatened Hush-A-Phone users with termination of their telephone service. At the time, AT&T maintained a monopoly on American telephone service and telephones were leased from AT&T, rather than owned by customers. The resulting legal case, Hush-A-Phone v. United States, resulted in a victory for Hush-A-Phone. In finding that AT&T did not have the right to restrict use of the Hush-A-Phone, the courts established a precedent that would eventually lead to the breakup of AT&T's monopoly.[1]

His 1954 (reprinted in 1986) book, Acoustics, is considered the classic textbook in this field, an updated and extended version of which was published in 2012 under the new title Acoustics: Sound Fields and Transducers.[2]

Beranek's seminal 1962 book, Music Acoustics and Architecture, developed from his analysis of 55 concert halls throughout the world, became a classic; the 2004 edition of the text expanded the study to 100 halls. Beranek has participated in the design of numerous concert halls and opera houses.

From 1983 to 1986, Beranek was Chairman of the board of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (where he remains a Life Trustee). He also serves on the MIT Council for the Arts.

Awards and honors[edit]


  • Beranek, Leo. Concert Halls and Opera Houses: Music, Acoustics, and Architecture. Springer, NY: Springer, 2nd edition, 2004. ISBN 0-387-95524-0
  • Beranek, Leo (2010). Riding the waves : a life in sound, science, and industry. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262513999.  — Autobiography
  • Leo Beranek and Tim Mellow "Acoustics: Sound Fields and Transducers" Elsevier, Oxford, 1st edition, 2012. ISBN 0-123-91421-3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wu, Tim (2010). The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. London: Atlantic Books Ltd. pp. 102–103, 113. ISBN 0857892126. 
  2. ^ "Book Review: A classic text unexpectedly revised". HIFICRITIC, 9 January, 2013 archived from the original on 17 September 2013.
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Leo Beranek, electrical engineer, an oral history. Conducted in 1996 by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey