Remember that classic episode of Seinfeld where Jerry talks about hearing tests and super-human hearing?
It went something like this:
"Remember when you were in school and they'd do those hearing tests? And you'd really be listening hard, you know? I wanted to do unbelievable on the hearing test. I wanted them to come over to me after and go, "We think you may have something close to super-hearing. What you heard was a cotton ball touching a piece of felt. We're sending the results to Washington, we'd like you to meet the President."
Whilst hearing cotton ball touching felt might be a stretch, ever wondered whether your hearing falls within a ‘normal’ range?
Try the audio checks below and find out.
Due to the impact of continued exposure to loud noise over time, usually the younger we are, the better we hear. The ‘normal’ hearing frequency range of a healthy young person is about 20 to 20,000Hz. Though a ‘normal’ audible range for loudness is from 0 to 180dB, anything over 85dB is considered damaging, so we should try not to go there.
As we age, it’s the upper frequencies we lose first. So by the time we hit middle-age, we can expect to hear up to around 14,000Hz. Age related hearing loss (or presbycusis) naturally develops as we age and our hearing can begin to deteriorate as a result of external factors, including the environment and existing medical conditions.
Humans and animals hear by picking up on vibrations caused by sound waves in the air (or in some cases, the ground and water).
In the simplest terms, we ‘catch’ these vibrations in our middle-ear where they’re transferred into pressure waves. These waves are then passed through fluid into our inner-ear, or cochlea, where they’re translated into signals our brains can interpret.
The number of sound vibrations emitted per second is known as the frequency which is measured in hertz (Hz). The lower (or higher) the frequency, the lower (or higher) the pitch of the sound. The other consideration is loudness which is measured in decibels (dB).
Sounds with frequencies above the realms of human ears are called ultrasound and those below are called infrasound. Though we’re capable of distinguishing between 1400-odd pitches, most of the important speech-related sounds fall within a narrow, relatively low spectrum.
The highest note of human speech is a soprano singer’s C7 (around 2048Hz) and the lowest note is the C2 of a bass singer (around 64Hz). Though we can’t scream much above 3000Hz, US singer Tim Storms has sung a note at 0.189Hz. Ironically, no human will ever hear it, although it is possible to feel it.
Ever heard the hum of an alternating electrical current at night? That’s in the realm of 50 to 60Hz – not too far from the bottom of the human hearing range.
At the upper end, think dog whistles. To us they sound like a quiet hissing sound but to our canine friends it’s an air-raid siren.
Try these lower and upper sound frequency checkers to find out your audible range.
Let’s take a further look at common, everyday noises and where they sit on the decibel scale: