Readers reply: why does everyone hate the sound of their recorded voice?

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Readers reply
The voice you hear in your head when you speak is a mix of what your ears pick up from the air, plus extra bass that is conducted through your skull to your inner ear.

When you hear your voice recorded, it lacks this extra bass, so it sounds thinner and weedier than you are expecting. ockham2

Barry White must have thought his own speaking voice was only audible to whales. boynamedstu

We do not hear our own voice in the same way as we hear other voices. We hear sound, including other people’s voices, as it travels through the air to our ears, known as air conduction. However, we hear our own voices through a combination of air conduction and bone conduction, as it also travels through the bones (and other tissue) inside our head. We are accustomed to hearing our own voice this way from when we are born and so it sounds familiar or “normal” to us like this.

When we hear a recording of our voice, we hear it as others do, but it is different to what we are used to and therefore sounds alien to us. We can become used to our recorded voices, but whether we grow to like it or not is not answerable! It is a comparatively new phenomenon to be able to hear recorded voice. Maybe we will evolve not to mind. Helen Sharpe, retired principal and speech and language therapist for deaf children

I used to hate the sound of my recorded voice, but I’m used to it now after 18 months of having to muck about with video and audio recording instead of doing things in person. I no longer find the disjunct between what I hear inside my own head and what others hear from outside it to be painful. I have a much better understanding of how these two experiences correspond now.

I think it used to be painful because it felt like an unwarranted exposure – your voice is a large part of your public self, but, because you don’t hear it as others do, becoming aware of that difference is a reminder of how little control one has over one’s self, akin to the classic nightmare of finding oneself at school, late for an exam and inexplicably naked. If your voice sounds very different from what you hear when you speak, then what have those unexpected tonal qualities been “saying” to other people all this time that you didn’t know about? BFPbfpBFP

When I worked as a sound engineer, we used to set up a “comfort reverb”, which more or less imitated the natural reverb of the average-sized human head. We then sent it exclusively though the singer’s monitor headphones to help put them at ease. We got much better “natural” performances as a result and were often requested specifically by vocalists when sessions were booked. Arnoave

I hate mine when I hear it played back because I realise I’m talking bollocks most of the time. OfficerKrupke

I worked in academia for years. Don’t know what this is all about. We love the sound of our own voices. gringogus

My students sometimes told me that they liked listening to me, that I was quite “soothing”. It took years of practice to know how to get them to nod off. Fallowfield

For the same reason you are funnier in your head than you are in real life. Have a couple of glasses of wine and it will be fine. Leoned

I am a very handsome fellow, yet in photos and mirrors I always seem to look like a scraggy, saggy gargoyle. Weird how media misrepresents truth. SidneyStraton

I know, I know. There’s this old woman in my flat – keeps appearing in the bathroom mirror. Can’t work out where she sleeps and when she eats! galrita

Weirdly, my inner voice doesn’t really sound like either my perceived voice or my actual voice. It’s a totally different voice. What’s stranger still is that not only does my actual voice sound different to my perceived voice (and inner voice), but also they have subtly different accents. I’m left wondering if my inner voice is actually my parents mashed together, and my perceived voice sounds more like the people I associate with (south England), whereas my real voice is tinnier, more nasal and has a northern twang (from where I grew up). Melavia

The word “everyone” in the question is entirely mistaken, because I love my recorded voice, and I know of many others, some of whom are professional actors, who feel similar.

I think this may be, in part, because my mother was a radio producer, while I eventually became an engineer (and a bit of an amateur performer, too), so I got very used to hearing my voice on playback from an extremely early age.

Indeed, as a child, I used the technology to practise my ways of speaking, so that, by the time I was in secondary school, I could sound broadly as I wanted to. As a spin-off bonus, I also became a passable mimic, with a range of mildly entertaining vocal caricatures that I sometimes employ to amuse my family.

So, no, we definitely don’t all hate the sound of our recorded voice – and therefore the question is moot. Rejennyrated

Others have well described the auditory differences between hearing your own voice through a tape and hearing it while you’re speaking. However, what most forget is that the act of speaking is different from listening.

When you are speaking, you are also using your muscles and sense vibrations as the air travels its way from lungs and vocal chords towards the lips. These sensations are missing when you’re hearing your own voice played back. Moreover, in a similar way as to why you can’t easily tickle yourself, the fact that you intend to produce sound is supposed to create a mental image of the expected sound, partially transforming the auditory feedback. Thus, it’s possible to get the illusion that you hear yourself if the words you hear are the expected words, even if with some auditory trickery another’s voice is played back.

In other words, while the “bones transform sound” is a good start to the answer, you will still not necessarily hear the sound you feel is “your own” even if you treat it with some audio effects. sovspape

What’s interesting is the fact that the attempt to answer “why” is through a description of what “is”. Because what we hear in our head and what we hear recorded is different, it seems most are satisfied that the “difference” is therefore “why” we don’t like it.

This doesn’t really answer the “why”, which is understandable, because answering such questions is nigh-on impossible – you can’t really answer why you like or dislike something. Most answers merely describe the nature of the thing, leaving one with the (hoped for) implied answer as to why – ie that because this food tastes the way it does to me and I am enthusiastic when I describe it, it’s therefore obvious “why” I like it.

The fact that several commenters state that they do, in fact, like their recorded voice is good, because it exposes the common answer to the question as being no more than a description of the mechanics of what happens. However, it does seem that the majority of us do dislike our recorded voice, and the reason why is so tough to determine.

One possible (probable) answer (gleaned from the descriptions of the mechanics of what happens and the difference between the two sounds) is that most of us prefer more substantial bass. The recorded voice tends to lack this. So the next question might be: why do we tend to prefer more bass than less bass? Is bass in itself a common “like”, and is extracting bass from something that we heard with bass inherently less likeable? thedevilwearsnada

I too hate hearing my own voice recorded, for many of the reasons other commenters have noted. However, I always have the added “fun” that, in my head, my twin sister and I sound completely different. Imagine my shock when at 17 I get my first cell phone and hear my own voice on my voicemail message for the first time. It sounded exactly like my sister. It is a completely strange out-of-body experience, to hear your sibling’s “voice” coming out of your own “mouth” – especially having been in the teen years and very sensitive about trying to be my own person, to have an identity, not always a part of “the twins”. Big mind trip.

I think I confronted my mom and my boyfriend, being like: “We don’t sound at all alike, though?!” and they were like: “Um, yeah, you do …”

I hear my late father. That’s nice. Okeyblokey