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Oct 27 2012

The Difficulty of Hearing Your Own Voice

Probably the single most common thing said to me by people who meet me for the first time is some variation of “you’d be a perfect radio host, you have the perfect voice for it.” But when I hear my own voice, I don’t particularly like the way my voice sounds. Matt Soniak attempts to explain why:

The inner ear doesn’t get stimulated only by external sound waves coming down the ear canal, though. It also picks up on vibrations happening inside the body, and it’s a combination of these two things that make up the sound you hear when you talk.

When you speak, vibrations from your vocal cords resonate in your throat and mouth, and some get transmitted and conducted by the bones in your neck and head. The inner ear responds to these just like any other vibrations, turning them into electrical signals and sending them to the brain. Whenever you speak, your inner ear is stimulated both by internal vibrations in your bones and by the sound coming out of your mouth and traveling through the air and into the ears.

This combination of vibrations coming to the inner ear by two different paths lends your voice as you normally hear it a unique character that other, “air only” sounds don’t have. In particular, your bones enhance deeper, lower-frequency vibrations and give your voice a fuller, bassier quality that’s lacking when you hear it on a recording.

Okay, but that would explain why we think our voices are deeper and fuller than they really are. But my situation is the opposite — other people who aren’t inside my head hear my voice as deeper and more sonorous than I do. The Ed in your head sounds better than the Ed in my head. I’m still stumped on why that is.

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  1. 1
    Modusoperandi

    “But my situation is the opposite — other people who aren’t inside my head hear my voice as deeper and more sonorous than I do.”

    I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but your voice is irritatingly high and squeaky. We’ve been digitally tuning it down an octave or two this entire time. Didn’t you wonder why there’s always a guy with a mic and a speaker following you?

  2. 2
    Aliasalpha

    Not to mention asking for all those re-takes

  3. 3
    sc_5b5039dd39eec895ccc71934d4e6783f

    ” But my situation is the opposite — other people who aren’t inside my head hear my voice as deeper and more sonorous than I do.”

    See, when I hear my voice played back from a recording, i.e. presumably closer to how it sounds to people other than me, it does sound deeper, but . . .

    “The Ed in your head sounds better than the Ed in my head.”

    . . . in my opinion deeper sounds worse, meaning that, whatever opinion I have of my voice as it sounds to me (already not great), I have a sinking feeling that it sounds /worse/ to everyone else. :/

  4. 4
    Modusoperandi

    sc_5b5039dd39eec895ccc71934d4e6783f “. . . in my opinion deeper sounds worse, meaning that, whatever opinion I have of my voice as it sounds to me (already not great), I have a sinking feeling that it sounds /worse/ to everyone else. :/”
    You sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Ed Brayton sounds like Beaker.

  5. 5
    Sastra

    “The Ed in your head sounds better than the Ed in my head.”

    Not always. Sometimes your critics come in and the Ed-In-Their-Head must sound like it’s endorsing totalitarian-Sharia-dictatorship meant to destroy the family, outlaw Christianity, and impose gay marriages on unwilling ministers. That doesn’t sound better.

    Don’t be misled. Never argue with the Ed-in-your-head. Argue instead with the Ed-in-Ed’s-head. It’s closer to Ed. Let it be said.

  6. 6
    Larry

    I don’t mind the sound of my voice but the things it says sometimes makes me cringe.

  7. 7
    Marcus Ranum

    All the voices in my head gibber in a high-pitched tone.

  8. 8
    baal

    The voice in my head sounds like a Japanese woman – it’s like the voice of “Crown-and-Sash of Fantasies” that’s associated with Wihelmina in Shakugan no Shanna. This made watching that anime very strange.

    Ed, thankfully, is not in my head. I dislike hearing myself from tape as my tone seems to wander like someone playing with really tiny adjustments on auto-tune. I can’t hear it, however, when I’m talking ‘live’.

  9. 9
    uncephalized

    Ed, you’re thinking about it the wrong way round. Your voice sounds EXTRA deep and sonorous to you in your head, because you hear it internally. So when you hear a recording played back, it sounds thin and high in comparison to the voice you expect to hear, which is the one you hear in your head. On the other hand, other people don’t have this same expectation, so their perception of how nice, full and deep your voice is is not biased by the expectation of the even deeper, fuller voice you hear when you speak. So they tell you your voice sounds full and deep, because it does, but you can’t believe it because you can’t judge it without referring to your internal perception, which makes it sound bad in comparison.

    It doesn’t mean that the voice other people hear is literally deeper than the voice you hear in your head. It’s all about your frame of reference.

  10. 10
    sunsangnim

    Yes, some of us do like to hear your radio show, not just for the sound of your voice, but the content of the message. When is the next podcast?

  11. 11
    janiceintoronto

    You’re probably infected by demons (or something)…

  12. 12
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I’ve got the most common problem: a face made for radio, and a voice best suited for silent movies. :)

  13. 13
    markscott

    The reason is something called “efference copy” or “corollary discharge”. When you speak there’s a computational model of your vocal tract in your brain that is predicting what your voice will sound like. The prediction is used as a template against which incoming sounds get compared, if the incoming sound matches the prediction – it’s your voice, if not, it’s something else in the world. This system is used to prevent your auditory system from getting confused between self-caused and externally-caused sounds.

    This system attenuates the impact of self-caused sensations, so the sound of your voice will never be the same for you as it is for others.

    You have an equivalent system for touch (it prevents you tickling yourself) and for vision (it prevents the world from being a blur when you move your eyes).

  14. 14
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    People keep telling me “you’d be a perfect radio host, you have the perfect face for it.”

  15. 15
    jayarrrr

    I like the way my sounds on playback, too, much better than what I hear “in my head”

    If I could ONLY make all that training pay off. those Columbia School of Broadcasting lessons weren’t cheap, y’know…

  16. 16
    danrobinson

    Hey maybe Romney has a rare and special head that affects his voice and changes the content of what he says. That might explain the whole etch-a-sketch thing. Random words keep coming out.

  17. 17
    mildlymagnificent

    A singing teacher once told me that practising while holding two books, one either side of your head just in front of your ears, gives you a much better perception of how your voice really sounds. The slight pressure dampens vibrations travelling through the jaw to your ears. The books ensure that you hear the sound as reflected and dispersed through the room rather than directly from mouth to ear. It worked pretty well I have to admit.

    No idea how that might affect perceptions for people using mikes that are close to the mouth, but it might be worth a shot just to find out what you hear when you do that.

  18. 18
    danrobinson

    As a sax player I was taught to practice facing a wall to hear my own tone. Even wind instruments are affected by the bones in your head.

  19. 19
    democommie

    As a guitar player I was taught to play in a soundproofed room, so as to spare others.

    I think what Mittmoroni hears in his head is the voice of Jehovah–what I hear is, wait, no, what my dog hears…

  20. 20
    Modusoperandi

    As a bagpipe player I was taught to practice far far away.

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