Bad Vibes

About BadVibes

Fingernails scraping down a blackboard... the scream of a baby... your neighbour's dog barking: what is the worst sound in the world? This is what this website has been trying to find out.

Acoustic science is concerned with the production, transmission, manipulation and reception of sound, from unwanted traffic noise to beautiful music. Acoustics is about both the physical properties of sound waves and the reaction of humans. This website is interested in the often complex ways in which people perceive and interpret sounds. The aim is to increase awareness of sound psychology by examining what makes a sound unpleasant to hear. Your votes on the site will also give us an insight into what is the worst sound in the world, and maybe why it is the worst sound.

The project is being led by Prof. Trevor Cox of Salford University’s Acoustic Research Centre. Salford has been carrying out teaching, research and consultancy in acoustics and audio for three decades. We teach pre-degree, degree and postgraduate courses in acoustics, audio and video. Our graduates work in the industry worldwide. We are a centre of excellence in research, gaining a 6* in the last RAE. Salford has world class laboratories for commercial work, teaching and research.

An exhibit for the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester is being produced as well as this website. With up to 400,000 visitors a year, including over 60,000 school children, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester is one of the most popular museums in the UK today – it has achieved 51 awards for education, conservation work and contributions towards regeneration, held the North West Tourist Board's 'Best Tourism Website of the Year' award in 2003, and was the North West Tourist Board's 'Visitor Attraction of the Year' in 2002.

The work is funded by EPSRC. EPSRC is the main UK government agency funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing around £500 million a year in a broad range of subjects – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to acoustic engineering.

Thanks also to Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service

Exhibit and many original sounds created by Sarah Angliss, Spacedog UK

Email contacts

General enquiries & press: Professor Trevor Cox
Website help & suggestions: Webmaster



Sickening — worst sound in the world announced

Vomiting is officially the most horrible sound ever, according to over a million votes cast worldwide in a mass online science experiment.

International visitors to the BadVibes website ( — a research project from the University of Salford — listened to sounds such as a dentist's drill, fingernails scraping down a blackboard and aircraft flying past, before rating them in terms of their unpleasantness.

Although fingernails scraping down a blackboard is said to be the worst sound by many people, the actual recording of this sound only came 16th out of 34 sounds auditioned. Microphone feedback came a close second in the 'horribleness ranking', with many babies crying coming joint third with a horrible scrapping sound.

Over 1.1m votes were statistically analysed by Professor Trevor Cox of the University's Acoustic Research Centre, who conducted the experiment in order to explore the public's perceptions of unpleasant sounds and help inform the acoustics industry.

He said: "I am driven by a scientific curiosity about why people shudder at certain sounds and not others.  We are pre-programmed to be repulsed by horrible things such as vomiting, as it is fundamental to staying alive to avoid nasty stuff but, interestingly, the voting patterns from the sound did not match expectation for a pure 'disgust' reaction.

"Similarly, the sound of fingernails down a blackboard has been compared to the warning cries of monkeys — again, something that humans might instinctively respond to because of our ancestry.  So we examined whether the voting patterns for the scraping sounds were consistent with an evolved response. But only for the worst scraping sound were the results consistent with the hypothesis of an evolved response."

One of Trevor's discoveries was that females rated 25 out of the 34 sounds more horrible than males.  However, baby cries were one of the few sounds males found worse than females.  He said: "This may be because women play a role in protecting both themselves and their offspring from attack.  It could be that females have become habituated to the sound of babies crying."

Trevor, who is now planning a similar experiment to rate the most pleasant sound in the world, is hoping to use the results of the BadVibes project to help inform industry about how to engineer sounds which are more pleasant.

He said: "This research has been fascinating in gaining an insight into why people are repulsed by certain sounds — and how this differs by gender, age and nationality.  This is so important because noise significantly affects our quality of life."


Notes to editors

There are a number of copyright-free sound files available that can be used for broadcast.

A 3.5 minute radio feature is also available where Prof. Cox does a run down of the top ten worst sounds (Trevor has just started as resident scientist on BBC Radio Manchester).

The project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

If you require further information, photographs or an interview with Trevor please contact:

Jamie Brown
Communications Officer
Marketing & Communications
The University of Salford
Room 113, Faraday House
Salford, Greater Manchester
M5 4WT, UK

T +44 (0)161 295 5361
F +44 (0)161 295 4705

Rachel Conway
Press and PR Manager
Marketing & Communications
The University of Salford
Room 113, Faraday House
Salford, Greater Manchester
M5 4WT, UK

T +44 (0)161 295 5370
F +44 (0)161 295 4705


PRESS RELEASE 3 October 2005

The world’s most horrible sound

Fingernails scraping down a blackboard…the scream of a baby…your neighbour’s dog barking: what’s the worst sound in the world?

BadVibes is a new science project from Salford University that aims to find out just that. People can log on to the BadVibes website at where they listen and vote on a collection of awful sounds, use the horrible sound mixer and even download horrible sound effects as ringtones.

But as Professor Trevor Cox from the University’s Acoustics Research Centre explained, there’s a serious side to the research as well.

"The idea behind the project is to get people thinking about the complex way we listen to and interpret sounds. For instance, you can find out why we find the sound of retching horrible.

By examining people’s voting patterns we will learn more about people's perception of horrible sounds. We hope to learn about what is the worst sound in the world, and maybe why it is the worst sound.

It has been a lot of fun putting together the website, but I’m glad I no longer have to edit horrible things like the sound of my snotty nose!"

The project also includes an exhibit which is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester from 7th November, and the results from the website voting will be analysed over the next six months.


Notes to editors

We have a number of copyright-free sounds that can be used for broadcast.

Trevor is a recognized international research expert in acoustics, and alongside this he has been involved in many public understanding of science activities including numerous interviews ranging in subject from design of concert halls to funny stories about duck quacks. This summer, Trevor Cox was a finalist for FamelabTM, a national competition to find the new face of science on television.

The research project is funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Laura Jones, Communications Officer, University of Salford
T: +44(0)161 295 5361