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The Human Hearing Range

Exploring the Limits and Capabilities of the Human Ear
Jun, 17, 2024

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.

What is the normal human hearing range?

The human hearing range refers to the span of frequencies that the human ear is capable of perceiving. This range typically extends from the lower limit of around 20 Hertz (Hz) to the upper limit of approximately 20,000 Hz. These frequencies encompass the audible sounds that humans can detect, covering a wide spectrum from low rumblings to high-pitched tones. Understanding this range is fundamental in appreciating the complexities of human hearing and its implications for various aspects of daily life, from communication to entertainment.

Factors influencing hearing capacity

Several factors influence an individual's hearing capacity within the human hearing range. The most significant of these factors include age, genetics, exposure to loud noises, and the presence of any underlying ear conditions or hearing loss. Age-related changes in the structure of the inner ear can affect one's ability to perceive higher frequencies, while genetic predispositions may influence overall auditory sensitivity. Additionally, repeated exposure to excessive noise levels can lead to noise-induced hearing loss, impacting the range of frequencies that an individual can hear.

Frequency bands

The human hearing range is divided into distinct frequency bands, each associated with specific ranges of frequencies. These frequency bands serve as reference points for understanding the characteristics of different sounds and their effects on human hearing. Generally, the human ear perceives sounds within three main frequency bands: low-frequency sounds, mid-frequency sounds, and high-frequency sounds.

  • Low-frequency sounds typically range from 20 Hz to 250 Hz and include deep bass tones such as those produced by large musical instruments or rumbling machinery.
  • Mid-frequency sounds span from 250 Hz to 4000 Hz and encompass the majority of speech frequencies, as well as many everyday environmental sounds like doorbells and telephones.
  • High-frequency sounds extend from 4000 Hz to 20,000 Hz and consist of sharp, high-pitched tones such as those emitted by birds or electronic devices.


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How sound waves reach your ears and are processed

Sound waves travel through the air and enter your ear canal, causing the eardrum to vibrate. These vibrations are amplified by the middle ear bones before reaching the inner ear. In the inner ear, hair cells convert the vibrations into electrical signals, which are then transmitted to the brain through the auditory nerve for processing.

What is the difference between hertz and decibels?

The distinction lies in their measurements: Hertz (Hz) quantifies the frequency, representing the number of sound vibrations emitted per second. This frequency determines the pitch of the sound, with lower frequencies corresponding to deeper tones and higher frequencies to sharper ones. On the other hand, decibels (dB) gauge loudness, capturing the intensity of the sound.

Did you know?
The ‘normal’ hearing frequency range of a healthy young person is about 20 to 20,000Hz

What are the frequencies humans can hear?

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.

Where do these noises sit on the human hearing spectrum?

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:

  • Normal conversation - 60 dB
  • Traffic - 85 dB
  • Music concert - 105 dB
  • Ambulance siren - 120 dB
  • Fireworks -  130 dB

Hearing range tests

Hearing range tests are essential diagnostic tools used to assess an individual's auditory capabilities and identify any potential hearing impairments. These tests typically involve the presentation of various tones and sounds across different frequencies and volumes, allowing audiologists to measure the threshold at which the individual can detect them. By conducting comprehensive hearing range tests, healthcare professionals can accurately determine the extent and nature of any hearing loss, enabling them to recommend appropriate interventions, such as hearing aids or other rehabilitative measures. Moreover, regular hearing range tests are vital for monitoring changes in hearing sensitivity over time and ensuring timely intervention to preserve and enhance auditory function.

Role of hearing aids in enhancing hearing capacity

Hearing aids play a pivotal role in enhancing hearing capacity for individuals experiencing hearing loss. These devices are designed to amplify sounds and improve the perception of speech and environmental sounds. By capturing sound waves and converting them into electrical signals, hearing aids enable individuals with hearing loss to regain access to a broader range of frequencies and volumes within their hearing range. Modern hearing aids are equipped with advanced technologies, such as digital signal processing and noise reduction algorithms, which help to enhance speech clarity and reduce background noise interference. Additionally, hearing aids can be tailored to suit individual preferences and hearing needs, providing a personalised solution for improving auditory communication and quality of life.

Protecting your hearing: safe decibels

Understanding safe decibel levels is paramount for protecting hearing health and preventing noise-induced hearing loss. By being aware of the potential risks associated with prolonged exposure to loud sounds, individuals can take proactive measures to safeguard their auditory well-being. Whether through the use of hearing protection devices in noisy environments or by maintaining a safe distance from sources of excessive noise, prioritising hearing health can help preserve one's ability to enjoy the richness of sound throughout their lifetime. By adhering to safe decibel levels and practising healthy listening habits, individuals can take proactive steps towards maintaining optimal hearing function and overall well-being.

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The Amplifon blog is our place to explore ideas and themes of interest.
For professional audiology advice, please
contact your local clinic for a consultation.

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