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An earcon is a brief, distinctive sound used to represent a specific event or convey other information. Earcons are a common feature of computer operating systems and applications, ranging from beeping when an error occurs to the customizable sound schemes of Windows 7 that indicate startup, shutdown, and many other events.[1]

The name is a pun on the more familiar term icon in computer interfaces. Icon sounds like "eye-con" and is visual, which inspired D.A. Sumikawa to coin "earcon" as the auditory equivalent in a 1985 article, 'Guidelines for the integration of audio cues into computer user interfaces.'[2]

Although the term is most commonly applied to sound cues in a computer interface, examples of the concept can be seen in broadcast media such as radio and television:

  • The alert signal used to indicate a message from the Emergency Broadcast System
  • The signature three-tone melody used to identify NBC in radio and television broadcasts

Earcons are generally synthesized tones or sound patterns. The similar term auditory icon refers to recorded everyday sounds that are used for the same purpose.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thurrott, Paul (2009-03-08). "Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows: Windows 7 Build 7048 Notes". Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows. Archived from the original on 2009-04-13. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  2. ^ Sumikawa, D.A. (1985). "Guidelines for the integration of audio cues into computer user interfaces". Retrieved 28 March 2011.