Mufflers cancel out most of an engine's noise.
If you've ever heard a car engine running without a muffler, you know what a huge difference a muffler can make to the noise level. Inside a muffler, you'll find a deceptively simple set of tubes with some holes in them. These tubes and chambers are actually as finely tuned as a musical instrument. They are designed to reflect the sound waves produced by the engine in such a way that they partially cancel themselves out.
Inside a Muffler
Located inside the muffler is a set of tubes. These tubes are designed to create reflected waves that interfere with each other or cancel each other out. Take a look at the inside of this muffler:
The exhaust gases and the sound waves enter through the center tube. They bounce off the back wall of the muffler and are reflected through a hole into the main body of the muffler. They pass through a set of holes into another chamber, where they turn and go out the last pipe and leave the muffler.
A chamber called a resonator is connected to the first chamber by a hole. The resonator contains a specific volume of air and has a specific length that is calculated to produce a wave that cancels out a certain frequency of sound.
Backpressure and Other Types of Mufflers
One important characteristic of mufflers is how much backpressure they produce. Because of all of the turns and holes the exhaust has to go through, mufflers like those in the previous section produce a fairly high backpressure. This subtracts a little from the power of the engine.
The exhaust from a NASCAR race car: There are no mufflers here, because reducing backpressure is the name of the game.
There are other types of mufflers that can reduce backpressure. One type, sometimes called a glass pack or a cherry bomb, uses only absorption to reduce the sound. On a muffler like this, the exhaust goes straight through a pipe that is perforated with holes. Surrounding this pipe is a layer of glass insulation that absorbs some of the pressure pulses. A steel housing surrounds the insulation.
Diagram of glass pack muffler
These mufflers produce much less restriction, but don't reduce the sound level as much as conventional mufflers.