When he was a teenager in India, he became curious about the workings of the two instruments he had begun to play: his grandfather's piccolo and a six-key flute bought for him in the bazaar by the family's cook. Earlier than this, his physicist father had introduced him to the work of D. C. Miller, Lord Rayleigh, and Helmholtz. This background helps explain the maturity already evident in Benade's first published writings on acoustics, which appeared in 1959 and 1960, more than twenty years after the first experimentation. Benade's fascination with musical acoustics began long before his formal studies of physics and never lagged, though for many years acoustical research was forced to be a leisure-time activity. Cancer cut short (at age 62) his hope to continue this work into old age.
The major part of Benade's acoustical research effort was spent on the woodwinds and brasses. He supplemented his more formal knowledge with experience gained from playing music on modern and historical instruments (he was an accomplished clarinetist and flute player), and he also used whatever he could find of the vast informal and anecdotal knowledge that has traditionally guided craftsmen and players. His collection of over 130 wind instruments helped him trace design changes in winds from the classical era to the present. As his understanding grew he tested it via the design, construction, and modification of instruments; some that he made or modified have been used by leading players and manufacturers.
His highly original work led to greater understanding of mode conversion in flared horns, a realistic yet mathematically tractable model of the bore of woodwind instruments based on the acoustics of a lattice of tone holes, development of the concept of cutoff frequencies for isotropic and anisotropic radiation from a woodwind instrument, and clarification of both linear and nonlinear processes in musical instruments and their interrelationships. He explored the dynamics of musical sound radiation, transmission behavior of sound in rooms, and the nature of auditory perception processes associated with hearing in rooms and concert halls. He was the first researcher to attempt to treat the entire tonal production process in wind instruments as a single entity comprised of the influence of the player's windway; the behavior of the instrument's reed, air column, and radiation patterns; the actions of the room on the sound; and the response of the player's aural and neurological sensory equipment.
Benade's writings include numerous scientific papers and two books: Horns, Strings and Harmony and Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics. Dover Books has issued reprints of both volumes. He wrote two articles for Scientific American magazine and entries for the American Institute of Physics Encyclopedia of Physics, the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and the Academic Press Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology.
Benade received the Acoustical Society of America's Silver Medal (for musical acoustics) and its Gold Medal (for overall excellence in acoustics). He served as the Acoustical Society's Vice President and also chaired its Technical Committee on Musical Acoustics. He was a President of the Catgut Acoustical Society; a member of the Technical Advisory Committee of Pierre Boulez's Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris; an advisor to the Dayton C. Miller Collection of Flutes at the Library of Congress; and an Honorary Member of the National Association of Band Instrument Repair Technicians. His many talks before scientific, educational, and musical organizations in the USA and Europe included a series in Stockholm sponsored by the Swedish Royal Academy of Music and the Plenary Session Lecture in Musical Acoustics at the 9th International Congress on Acoustics in Madrid.