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What’s Behind How Weird Our Recorded Voices Sound?

It’s happened to all of us. We’re okay with how our voices sound when we speak but the moment we hear a recording of our voice, many of us can’t help but exclaim, “Is that really how I sound?!” Sometimes people reel in disgust from their voices. Others are surprised by how high or low it sounds.

We may only become aware of this fact when we hear ourselves in a recording after an interview or, if you have the best of friends, when they do comical impressions of how your voice sounds.

The question is, why?

According to William Hartmann, a physics professor at Michigan State University whose research is in the field of acoustics and psychoacoustics, there’s a simple explanation for these experiences.

Two pathways exist that we hear our voice through when we are talking, he explains. One is the way that we perceive most other sounds, involving waves that travel through the chain of hearing systems to inner, middle and outer ear.

But because our vocal chords vibrate when we speak, the second path is internal, conducting sound vibrations through our bones directly to our ears.

Usually, this makes people’s voices sound lower and deeper than they are. Sometimes, however, it does not. A professor and researcher from Harvard who is an expert in the middle ear, John J. Rosowski, has another explanation. He believes that there are more nuanced ways for sound to be heard in the inner ear.

He also points to other factors on how vibrations of the voice travel to the brain such as the cerebrospinal fluid and variations in pressure within in the ear canal. This variation would naturally lead to differences in how people hear their own voices.

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