Acoustic engineer explains why vuvuzelas are annoying


Some people who attend the World Cup games enjoy blowing plastic horns called vuvuzelas, which are loud and make an ugly sound. Trevor Cox, president of the UK Institute of Acoustics explained to New Scientist why they sound so awful.

The vuvuzela is like a straightened trumpet and is played by blowing a raspberry into the mouthpiece. The player's lips open and close about 235 times a second, sending puffs of air down the tube, which excite resonance of the air in the conical bore. A single vuvuzela played by a decent trumpeter is reminiscent of a hunting horn – but the sound is less pleasing when played by the average football fan, as the note is imperfect and fluctuates in frequency. It sounds more like an elephant trumpeting. This happens because the player does not keep the airflow and motion of the lips consistent.
UPDATE: How to filter vuvuzela out of World Cup audio

What makes the sound of vuvuzelas so annoying? (Via Kristie Lu Stout)

Photo by Dundas Football Club | Attribution 2.0 Generic


  1. I’ll stick to:

    Because it’s fucking loud and sounds like a swarm of raging bees is in my trunk, ready to kill should anyone let them out.

  2. I had to mute the TV this morning when I tuned into the world cup game on CBC. It sounded like a constant drone of bees. How hard would it be for the networks to apply noise cancellation for stuff like this. It almost makes the game unwatchable.

  3. “sounds more like an elephant trumpeting”??

    I thought it sounded like a constant, annoying giant swarm of bees.

  4. I have to say they are extremely annoying! Its too bad FIFA ruled out banning them I’d much rather hear human voices singing and cheering than the humdrum buzzing of plastic tubes.

  5. ic… So the problem is less with the actual instrument, and more with the a-holes blowing it…

    While I don’t watch soccer (or any sports), I would certainly find this irritating enough to either mute it or find something else to entertain me.

  6. I love the way they sound. It creates an constant underlying sense of tension. Kinda caffeinates the experience.

    1. It creates an constant underlying sense of tension.

      Unfortunately, it does so even when there’s no tension. It flattens the emotional ebb and flow of the game. Watching a World Cup game is like watching Jaws with John William’s shark theme playing throughout the entire movie.

      1. I disagree. The sound is like a swarm of bees, so subconsciously, at least to me, it makes for constant tension. And, the sound ebbs and flows as the crowd reacts to the game.

  7. Honestly, I like ’em. They’re unique (at least in their ubiquity — I’ve seen little plastic trumpets at games elsewhere and for other sports), the drone is uniform enough en masse that it isn’t really an issue if you stop thinking fretting over it, and as a fan of MLS and of other American sports, I like that vuvuzelas piss off Little-Britain soccer (sorry… football) fans who think that anything different from the way they do it is horrible.

  8. There’s been a story circulating the Internet this morning: apparently a German fellow figured out the fundamental frequency and harmonics of vuvuzelas, then set up a filter in a sound editing program to run the broadcasts through, which cancels the noise right out. Gizmodo and a couple other places are reporting on it. You could probably do the same thing to a lesser extent by adjusting your TV’s equalizer.

  9. People are being so precious about these horns. Maybe the sheer volume at the games is a problem, but I find the sound quite nice watching at home. The fluctuations in sound that this scientist finds so distasteful, when multiplied by 10,000, produce lots of interesting microtones. It’s as if Lamonte Young did the soundtrack to the world cup!

  10. “A single vuvuzela played by a decent trumpeter is reminiscent of a hunting horn – but the sound is less pleasing when played by the average football fan, as the note is imperfect and fluctuates in frequency.”

    So, it basically sounds like shit unless you know how to play a trumpet? That makes sense to me.

  11. I’d love the broadcasters to take advantage of the SAP technology all recent TVs have. Create a second sound track where the vuvuzela buzz is filtered.

  12. Am I the only one that likes it? The steady drone.

    I find it much more pleasing than the incoherent and out of tune drunken chanting.

    They are a thousand times more enjoyable than those damned clapping balloons you see at basketball games.

  13. I’ve had to put the match on mute to keep my sanity. Otherwise I keep thinking to myself: “BEES!!!”

  14. The player’s lips open and close about 235 times a second

    That can’t be right, can it?

  15. Well, it was alright when there was one “honk” of this vuvuzela every few minutes or so. It can be provocative, funny, good humoured, or just noisy.

    But South Africans are blowing it constantly, during all the game in every game, non-stop, and that is way too distracting and very annoying.
    I *love* soccer, but I hate this vuvuzela concert. A good world cup game is tense enough with the sound off, or with only narration.
    There is no need for this noise. It’s like watching TV with a very bad signal. The sound, which *is* part of the pleasure of the experience (chants, commemorations, shouts, sounds of emotion from the audience) is lost.

    Of course, I will watch the games, but deeply wishing they would give it a break.

  16. enmasse i kinda like the sound, it says “World Cup” to me. one or two of them at a local match would be annoying. same thing with “thunder sticks”, the constant low-level hum during a ball game is wonderful. the jerk next to me at a little league game is annoying…

  17. No one has addressed the most important question- can they be used to create the Brown Note?

  18. /b/, on 4chan, currently wont let you browse the board without being bombarded by “the most annoying sound in the world” aka vuvuzela

  19. The problem I have with the complaints (which are mainly coming from America) are that these things are very popular at South African soccer games (or football matches, if one prefers), and are part of their soccer tradition.

    It’d be like America hosting some sort of event, and everyone whining about “Take Me Out the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch, or tailgating before a football game.

    Just another example of Americans thinking they have a right to tell other culture and countries what to do, IMHO.

    1. Terrible analogy. Get off your high horse. It’s irritating, and this is from someone who plays in noise bands.

  20. As a soccer commentator said last night, “What’s more annoying at the World Cup: people playing vuvuzelas or people complaining about vuvuzelas?”

  21. I’d like to sample that Byron Wallen bit, put a drum track under it and then layer in some of those nasty dancehall sirens Mad Decent/MIA seems to love so much.

  22. You know, there used to be plenty of these silly things in the USA many years back, but I don’t remember ever calling them vuvuzelas. I think we just called them “annoying plastic horns”.

  23. I’m convinced that there is a mathematical relation to how much alcohol one consumes in comparison to how well/how much people think it is acceptable to blow into these dam horns. If you have a drunk friend, please, just take his horn away.

  24. part of me loves them …. but like many others who have chimed in i like to hear the chants, the songs, and so forth…. the referee’s a wanker and all that…. plus i’m not sure the players can hear their team mates / or the coach too well,… which is problematic too…

    captcha: nonofficial asbestos


  25. of course it is different. of course it is jarring. it’s africa! you know, the most ignored continent around… the one whose many cultures are all lumped into a pan-african stereotype and promptly glossed over and mostly forgotten…

    it takes awhile to get used to the unfamiliar. particularly if it is loud and in your face. and, really, anything in african culture is unfamiliar to most of us in the northern (particlarly western) hemisphere.

    i used to find the barrage of blasted mainstream and classic rock (not to mention advertizing) at most north american sporting events to be nauseating. but, you know what? i’ve gotten used to it. now i find it merely annoying.

    really, i don’t find the vuvuzelas nearly as obnoxious.

    i dig the fact that the south africans are having a blast. i love it even more because, after not selling enough tickets to richer patrons, FIFA finally had to open the financial doors for many africans to afford admittance to their own tournament.

    if FIFA had its way, you’d not have heard one vuvuzela. if FIFA had its way, the homogeneity of the event would remain intact.

    instead, africa is standing up and (pun intended) tooting their own horns. and if, while doing so, they end up puckering their lips, and giving those who ignored or stereotyped them a giant vuvuzela propelled raspberry, all the better.

    it is the world cup, after all. 99% of the time the rest of the world ignores africa. during this little 1% of attention, i say, let them rock.

    1. > of course it is different. of course it is jarring. it’s africa! you know, the most ignored continent around…

      If you were right, then the horns would have been a continuing problem for decades, rather than just in 2010.

      Pro-noise arguments based SA culture fall flat because the Vuvuzels infection had a SUDDEN ONSET!

      1. i’m not sure i understand your statement. i’m not aware, other than the rugby world cup, that south africa has spent much time (if any) partying in the international spotlight. and definitely not at this level. so i’m not sure how this would have been a problem for decades.

        as for the sudden onset of the instrument. it has been mass-produced for a decade, and has had detractors for nearly as long. it has been a major part of african football for quite awhile. it has been damned and praised for years by african journalists. even the controversy around THIS world cup and the horn have been around for as long as there were thoughts of having the world cup in south africa.

        the South African Football Association has said that “that vuvuzelas were essential for an authentic South African football experience.”

    2. RE: if FIFA had its way, you’d not have heard one vuvuzela. if FIFA had its way, the homogeneity of the event would remain intact.

      Actually, the president of FIFA, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, has been a staunch supporter of the horns at the World Cup.

      On the other hand, this ‘expert blogger’ for the CBC says the vuvuzela is not traditional and is a recent marketing creation:

      The vuvuzela is no icon of African football. It is a plastic trumpet from China imported first not that long ago and that is now a curse. Problem is, there are no footballing bigwigs brave enough to exorcise it.

      1. sorry to be grumpy, but i’m a bit annoyed by people living in luxury, watching a (let’s be honest here) trival event from the other side of the world, being grumpy about a fairly shit-upon nation finally having a well-deserved good time.

        its not “the americas cup,” or “the european cup,” it is the “world cup.” and sometimes people in the world do things differently than we do.

        my hope is that we embrace it. in the very least, tolerate it.

        what i mean by FIFA having its way is that they had originally priced tickets beyond what most of the working class south africans could have afforded. if their pricing scheme had worked, there would have been few south africans attending their own tournament. hence, no horns.

        just because something isn’t “traditional” doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to be embraced en masse.

        the beatles were hardly traditional, but they took england, and then the rest of the world by storm. they became symbolic of british culture in a matter of months. at the same time, they annoyed a LOT of people over the age of 16 worldwide.

        there are hundreds and thousands of things that become representative of culture in a very short time. with the internet, these types of things can happen in a matter of days and hours.

        and marketing does beget culture. marketing brought us santa claus and the easter bunny. marketing gave us the red mittens of the vancouver olympics — not canadian culture in the least, but ubiquitous nonetheless.

        mass production and marketing are major players in the creation of culture. that is old news. i’ve seen “made in china” tags on american flags.

        so (you say) the chinese mass produce the horns… what they are not mass producing is the joy, the fun, the “i don’t give a f*ck” attitude of thousands of individuals who just want to party.

        and you know what? these folks don’t get invited to many parties. not of this size. not at this level. this time, they’re actually hosts! as a result, they’re partying like its 1999. and they’re doing it with crazy plastic horns. and they deserve to.

        i sure as hell ain’t going to shit on that feeling. that freedom. that joy.

        i’m going to embrace it for the short time it lasts.

  26. i think it represents a pretty colonial attitude that people not from south africa are presuming to request a ban on a local custom being practiced by the local fans during their hosting of the world cup.

  27. I find the sound annoying. Let’s be honest, it is not 2 people, its thousands blowing these stupid toys.
    That said, have at it! It’s not hurting anybody!

  28. Fluid mechanics engineer explains why vuvuzelas would make such effective beer bongs…

    which is why I hope they don’t catch on with Wisconsin football fans!

  29. Big long plastic trumpet.

    I remember these at hockey games waaay back in the 60’s. Of course, there were maybe 11 people in the crowd with them, and they only were blown in unison at a goal, so no “swarm of angry bees” sound for 90 minutes.

    I can’t be the only one who remembers them, right?


  30. I read somewhere that they were modeled after shofars. Here’s Ricky Skaggs leading a crowd of thousands in blowing shofars in Nashville:

  31. I’m sure we’ll miss the sound after the World Cup is over – at least it drowns out the whistling. Anyway, for anyone who just can’t get enough of the vuvuzelas there is, a radio station that plays the sound 24/7 without commercial breaks!

  32. A ll you people who wants to ban the vuvuzelas are acting like the neighbor who will call the cops
    when the other neighbor is having a party for their
    son’s 21st birthday. It only happens once. You people are miserable and do not know how to have a good time. When again will the world cup play in South Africa. Let the people of South Africa Have a good time at the world cup they are hosting. When
    USA host the world cup give free hot dogs and beer to everyone – that’s good, eat and get fat -40% of Americans are diabetic. Clean your house before you start cleaning someone else.

  33. I don’t know about vuvuzelas at the televised soccer matches as I don’t plan to watch them at all. What I do know is that around here (Berlin) they are annoying as hell. Imagine trying to hear a lecture on integral transforms when all of a sudden some folks outside decide it’s time to imitate elephants again. There are people here who actually walk around town randomly blowing these things, even when there’s no ongoing match! Would that be acceptable in, say, winter? All right, so I got used to all the flags, posters and even more drunken people around soccer season, but the introduction of the vuvuzela only because of some sports event is a bit too much.
    Please leave your overt enthusiasm at home, sports bar or stadium.

  34. I’d just be worried about hearing loss in the audience. But then, I’m the kind of guy who wears ear plugs at concerts.

  35. I agree, annoying, but they are supposed to be annoying! I love them and it’s so much fun when you are there.

    No “acoustic engineer” needed to tell you why a sound is annoying…really.

  36. I am with Sayo on #8. It adds a haunting tension. I would never had thought to put this sound to a sporting event. Imagine being on the field. I wonder how much the sound shifts and fluctuates as fans stop blowing to catch their breath?

  37. I say we take off and ban soccer altogether. It’s the only way to be sure.

  38. I don’t know which I hate the most, the horns in South Africa, or the drunken chants at the European games.

    Both of you… shut up already!

  39. I saw a bee in my backyard and asked him what he thought of the vuvuzelas.

    “Doesn’t sound anything like us,” he said.

  40. Vuvuzelas are great! Nowadays I can vacuum at the same time as I watch the matches – without hearing that extra noise from the machine. The place is tidier than ever before!

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