Indirect measurement of the cylinder pressure from diesel engines is possible using acoustic emission (AE). A method is demonstrated for a large two-stroke marine diesel engine and a small four-stroke diesel engine, which involves reconstructing the cylinder crank angle domain diagram from the AE generated during the combustion phase. Raw AE was used for modelling and reconstructing the pressure waveform in the time domain but this could not be used to model the pressure rise (compression). To overcome this problem the signal was divided into two sections representing the compression part of the signal and the fuel injection/expansion stroke. The compression part of the pressure signal was reconstructed by using polynomial fitting. An auto-regressive technique was used during the injection/expansion stroke. The rms AE signal is well correlated with the pressure signal in the time and frequency domain and complex cepstrum analysis was used to model the pressure signal for the complete combustion phase (compression, injection and expansion). The main advantage of using cepstral analysis is that the model uses the frequency content of the rms AE signal rather than the energy content of the rms AE signal, which gives an advantage when the signal has lower energy content, during the compression process. By calculating the engine running speed from the rms AE signal and selecting the proper cepstrum model correlated to the combustion rms AE energy content, an analytical algorithm was developed to give a wide range of applicability over the different conditions of engine speed, engine type and load. The pressure reconstructed from both AE and acceleration data are compared. AE has the advantage of a much higher signal-to-noise ratio and improved time resolution and is shown to be better than the acceleration. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.