Don't you hear that?

"Music is perpetual, and only the hearing is intermittent." -Thoreau

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went to the circus together. Someday, I vowed, I'll be strong, flexible, and stable enough to do the amazing hand-balancing tricks we saw.

And all the while, the six-year-old girl behind us screamed her piercing, high-pitched scream, cheering the performers on.

(This is totally appropriate behavior, IMO, and no children reading this should be discouraged from screaming at the circus.)

Now, one of us has better hearing than the other. And while one of us found the high pitched screaming to be a minor annoyance, the other was simply in agony. What's going on here?

It's going to take a little bit of biology and a little bit of physics to figure it out. First off: how does your ear work?

The sound waves -- which are pressure waves -- enter your ear and press up against the tympanic membrane, better known as your eardrum.

The vibrating eardrum causes the three little bones in there -- the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, known collectively as the auditory bones -- to vibrate as well. The last one, the stirrup, pushes against the cochlea, and this is where your hearing takes place. How? To get the simple answer, we need to know what the cochlea looks like on the inside?

Your cochlea is a spiral-shaped structure, like a snail's shell, that's filled with fluid and lined with tiny hairs known as cilia. The most sensitive cilia are the ones closest to the outside: only a tiny vibration is needed to set them in motion. These are also the most easily destroyed. So when you do things to damage your hearing like go to rock concerts without earplugs, listen to your headphones or stereos too loudly, fire a gun without protective gear, or have your "friend" scream in your ear, these sensitive cilia get destroyed.

The bad news? Once they're destroyed, they pretty much never grow back. So while a newborn baby can hear up to about 20,000 Hz, very few adults can. At age 31, my hearing stops somewhere around 13,000 Hz. There are a few sites out there to test your hearing, so I've stolen some sound files to allow you to find where yourhearing, approximately, cuts out.

I can hear the 12,000 Hz tone but not the 14,000 Hz one. However, as many of you will notice, the closer the tone gets to your hearing threshold, especially if it's loud, the more painful it gets to listen to!

In other words, people with better hearing are also more sensitive to these ultra-high-frequency sounds, and are more likely to find them painful!

So now, onto the physics. When you have something like a tuning fork (above), it emits sounds at just one frequency. In other words, if the fork is tuned to emit at 440 Hz, you hear a sound at 440 Hz and nothing else.

But what if you didn't have a tuning fork. What if you had something like an open pipe, a string, or vocal cords? (Thanks, Nathan @5.)

If you just play the string (or hit the pipe, or make a note with your voice, etc.), you don't just play at the frequency you're trying to hit. You also get all of the overtones. If you sing an "A" at 440 Hz, you also make a sound at 880 Hz, and another one at 1320 Hz, and another one at 1760 Hz, and so on.

What does this mean for the screaming girl? If she screams at 5,000 Hz, then someone like me can hear the 5,000 Hz fundamental and the 10,000 Hz overtone, but that's it. However, someone with better hearing than I have can also hear the 15,000 Hz overtone, and possibly even the 20,000 Hz one!

(A fun test of this is to see is how many of you can hear an old CRT television when it's not turned on to a channel. I can't, but if you can hear 15.6 kHz or higher, you probably can!)

So if you can hear these high-pitched sounds, you've got the bittersweet blessing of having excellent hearing, but also of being sensitive to painful sounds that people like me will never hear. At least now, when you're the only one in a room who can (or can't) hear something, you'll know why!

More like this

I flew back from Spain three days ago and spent two hours listening to a two year old doing her screaming thing all the way. Rather than feeling sorry for myself I wondered about her problem with her ears too. I understand her Eustachian tubes maybe underdeveloped and causing her pressure problems. Then I got to thinking about how the noise she produced managed to create the most efficient punch in my tympanic pound for pound! The noise which all kids do is a high volume, medium pitch scream, which suddenly hits a high note, this seems to cause the biggest effect. They all do! it's innate! but what is it doing to my ear drum!? I wondered for ages on this an hypothesise is that the first medium waves set the tympanic in a big high energy high amplitude vibration which acts as a carrier wave at the recieving end. Then BAM! the little screacher follows through on its crest! peaking the amplitude even higher with a high frequency signal ontop! ...I'm I even near??? Cos I dont really know what im talking about, I just think its a bit like that. I'd love to know though.

I can't tell if it's bad, but I'm 14 and can hear up to 18,000. All under it hurts my ears badly, and 19+ i hear nothing, although on 19 i can sometimes detect a slight sound.

Age 59 - I can only hear the 8 & 10 khz :(

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 10 May 2010 #permalink

I find it fascinating that I have gone to a lot of clubs and rock concerts, and yet before my parents got rid of their old CRTa few months ago I could always tell when they'd accidentally turned off the cable box and left the set itself on. I could hear it whining halfway across the house!

It turns out, children use 19KHz ringtones to signal each other in the class. During the exam.

But they don't know that my phone runs spectrum analyzer application.


By Alex Besogonov (not verified) on 10 May 2010 #permalink

Age 21, and I can hear the 18 kHz, but not the 19 kHz.

I've heard those televisions before, and it can sometimes drive me crazy -- there was one in a hotel so piercing I couldn't stand to be in the same room.

By Lissamphibia (not verified) on 10 May 2010 #permalink

"Vocal cords", please!

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 10 May 2010 #permalink

If you've actually got a way to strike a tuning fork and not get any overtones, I desperately need to know what it is, before we start the sound unit.

Well, this cat snoozing nearby seems to be irritated more to the higher freqs than the lower freqs 20,19,18 caused her to flinch and give me a dirty look and at 17 she got up and left, I guess you call that "freqed out"...actually she does not care for them at all.

As for me I too hate the sounds of old tv tubes warming and capacitors charging.

By Sphere Coupler (not verified) on 10 May 2010 #permalink

This is awesome!! May be I've to stop listening to music too much :-)

By Pramod K Vinakoti (not verified) on 10 May 2010 #permalink

I'm 21 here. 14k was almost painful, but 15k was much quieter. I couldn't hear 17k or 18k, but my hearing returned at 19k. Is this normal or do I have to get my computer (or ear) checked out?

Hmmm. Something odd going on. I'm 50 and can hear all of them.

8K is loud and piercing. 12K piercing but a little less loud. 12K to 16K each step seems higher but weaker. 17K to 20 K the sound gets more muffled and it seems to go down in pitch. But I can clearly and distinctly hear each tone. All of them. Something has to be wrong with the audio playback.

I went to rock concerts and used earphones. I shot guns a bit and worked in a machine shop. I can't say that I've been shy about damamging my hearing. But I can still hear the 20K tone.

Bugger all ... I'm a freak.

Curiouser and curiouser.


Some tuning forks do resonate, but it isn't at a frequency one, two, three times (etc.) as large as the fundamental. They resonate at something like 6.25 times that frequency. What's more, is that those overtones are both low in amplitude and dissipate quickly.

In other words, if you take your tuning fork, strike it, and wait about 2 seconds and then record it, it will record as a single frequency.

And Sphere Coupler,

That is hilarious. Thanks for sharing!

Am 68. Hear till 13'000, but my wife . . . say I don't hear her.

By controline (not verified) on 10 May 2010 #permalink

Why does sound separate by frequency so nicely inside the cochlea? It must have something to do with the gradual narrowing of the tube as it spirals in. What's the physics behind frequency separation in the ear? - thanks.

There has to be some resonant or unintentional lower harmonics in the samples or in this way of determinating the hearing!

For my ears 14k is the highest pitch. The higher samples I hear way lower than 14k. In fact 18k is the only sample I didn't hear and I heard even the 20k sample! From 15k on the tone I heard was some lower harmonics not the shimmering high pitch itself.

I don't know if it's my hearing, physics or the samples, but 14k was last sample where I heard the real higher shimmering tone.

Conclusion: my hearing cuts obviously at about 14 - 15k but I heard the 20k SAMPLE. 18k was only sample I didnt hear at all.

31 and I still notice 16kHz, but only cause it hurts my ears; don't really hear the tone.

By rijkswaanvijand (not verified) on 11 May 2010 #permalink

32, never gone to rock concerts or the like, never fired a gun. And I can only hear the 14k one at best.


Guess I'll try the cat next.

39 and can hear them all - despite two toddlers having taken it in turns to try deafening me for about 4 years now :*/

31, well, I can hear 18,000 hz with my left ear, but only 17,000 with my right. I've been to my fair share of heavy metal and rock concerts, but I also tend to develop an anxiety-like problem when the decibel level gets too loud so maybe it's a protective mechanism...though it didn't protect me from playing bass loud or being near the largest amp I could find. I know they say it's highly improbable, but my sister could hear at near 22,000 hz when she was very young. Still, it's not like one person's cochlea is really that much longer than the others. Which makes me wonder, if one person is born with the ability to hear at a higher threshold than another, does similar sonic damage effect (taking into account the other variables such as body size, environment, gender, etc.) the same frequency cells? Basically, if the damage where to occur in the 16,000 to 20,000 range, should it matter that one can hear at 18,000 while another hears at 20,000 before the cumulative damage?

By Helioprogenus (not verified) on 11 May 2010 #permalink

I used to work with someone who had totally trashed his hearing from working with very high amplitude ultrasonics. How high? ~180 dB. So high that if you put a cotton ball at the focal point it would catch on fire.

These were 44 kHz whistles. He always said that it wasn't true that you couldn't hear 44 kHz, you could if it was loud enough.

43 yrs old. i can hear the 15 KHz but nothing over it. guess the ear plugs at concerts didn't help much!

I have the same experience as Art (#10) and Kari (#14): I can hear all tones, but the 15 kHz one sounds the highest to me. In the other ones there's definitely a sound, but it sounds lower in pitch and more muffled.

I'm 33 and I used to be very sensitive to high pitched sounds: old televisions on stand-by could drive me crazy, while other people wouldn't notice them. I seemed to have lost that frequency.

i grew up listening to punk and metal and going to concerts a couple of times a week in college. i'm 26 and still listen to loud music on a daily basis. not surprisingly, my hearing seems to be atrocious. the last frequency i can hear is 12,000 hz and it sounds really quiet and piercing to me. considering that i'm about to go blast some Neil Young, i'd say it looks like i'll have some quiet golden years to look forward to.

A few years ago there was this ringtone popular with the kiddies because old fogies like me weren't supposed to hear it - except in my case it was painfully loud even when the kiddies could barely hear it. I'd definitely need a cockpit headset at the circus.

I don't know if those sound files or my headset are any good; the higher frequencies have serious harmonic distortion and mix down to lower frequencies. I'll need to borrow an oscilloscope from somewhere. I can still hear the ~15KHz whine of TV tube flyback transformers quite clearly though - so many people don't believe that I can hear their tube TVs running. Last time I did a test (8 years ago) I could still hear above 20KHz; I can't remember how many decibels though.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 11 May 2010 #permalink

Very interesting to learn why I am constantly in agony at such high frequency noises. But the mystery question remains: the girl herself is very young so her hearing should still be intact - then why don't her screams hurt herself??
(Assuming that if it did so she most likely wouldn't do it repeatedly...)

Sad -- only 42 and can't hear the 14kHz. I'll have to try this on my 12-year-old sometime.

By Squiddhartha (not verified) on 12 May 2010 #permalink

I can hear the 8, the 10, and the 12. Nothing at all after that. I am 59. Due to ear infections as a child, I have had what the doctor called a "high frequency hearing loss" since age 6. It seems to be getting worse - I notice I'm saying "huh?" a lot, and I need the TV sound turned up to the point where it's uncomfortable for the others in the room. A wireless headset fixes that. I'm very worried because I am an opera singer and I don't want to get to the place where I can't hear the music. It's ok so far, though. Thanks for a very interesting site!

Those that are having problems with the high frequencies sounding lower you most likely are past the the signal response of your listening device or the limits of the sound card in your computer. The system is just doing the best it can.

By the backpacker (not verified) on 12 May 2010 #permalink

But they don't know that my phone runs spectrum analyzer application.

Say, what? Can you explain this for me, so I can use it in may classroom?

You have a market of about 400,000 teachers built in, I figure. Will this help us get the phones turned off when appropriate?

42, and 16K. And yes, I can still hear the shriek of an untuned TV screen.

As an aside - I turned up the speakers when I couldn't hear the 17K tone, and when the 16K played it made me jump. Kinda sorta hurt.

Age 41, only half a dozen or so lifetime rock concerts (but a lot of symphony concerts). I can hear the 12K very loudly. I hear the 14K clearly, but fainter (computer volume control is steady). The 12K and 14K sound monotonic to me; the lower frequencies have a multitone warble.

Above 14K I don't hear the tone, but I do hear the tiny click at the start and end of the playback.

I'm 25 and can hear them all perfectly clearly. That can't be right...

I've been a professional DJ for almost 20 years, playing in clubs/dance parties on average 3 nights a week consistently, for that time period and I can hear all up to 16,000! I can't believe it :-)

I'm 50, and my hearing cuts out around 12 khz.

On the brighter side, this means I can resample all my MP3s at 22050 Hz, and fit twice as many on my MP3 player.

#13, the cochlea is able to separate sounds by their frequency because of the shape of the basilar membrane (the membrane upon which the hair cells sit (which have the cilia that Ethan was referring to projecting from the top of them). At the base of the cochlea, where high frequencies are "registered", the basilar membrane is very thick and narrow. As you progress towards the apex of the cochlea, where the lowest frequencies are registered, the basilar membrane becomes flatter and wider (think of a door stop that gets progressively wider at the end).

The physics of sound waves is such that high-frequency sounds have less energy and attenuate faster than low frequency sounds. So together, the physics of sound wave propogation and the shape of the basilar membrane allow for the separation of frequencies in the cochlea.

I'm in my 40s and can hear 20,000 Hz. All of them.

Been to lots of very loud dance parties and gigs, had ringing ears for days after some of them, still have some tinnitus that I only notice when I go to bed, and can't easily hear people speak in noisy spaces when friends can hear them.

What's with my ears? :)

Oh, sigh. Only a couple years ago I was still hearing 13,000. Now I can't hear 12,000. I use moments like these to remind myself that I'm organic and temporary and need to get used to it, but I'm still hoping they find a way to regrow cilia in the next few years. Rogaine for ears?

By RamblinDude (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Eerie, there's a term for that, aptly named "the cocktail party effect" wikipedia has a brief explanation for it.

Thanks, Michelle. I had heard of that before and the links are interesting. I might see if I can train my brain to be better at it. Nice to know that it is less likely I'm losing my hearing. :)

My brother used to have a '72 Dodge Dart Swinger. He fiddled with the engine till it was probably illegal, and then he took us out riding in it. The first (and only) time I went, we were traveling along happily until we hit about 50 mph. I thought my head was going to explode. It probably had more to do with rpm than mph, but at any rate, I had to cover my ears and clench my teeth together because I felt like my entire body was going to rattle apart. Nobody else in the car felt this way. When we got back home I was shaking and had to go lay down. My ears took a while to recover.

I made it to 15. When I hit the 16, my residents said, "what the hell is that annoying sound"

Me:"What sound?"

At 38 my hearing is like yours, can hear 12K but not 14K. My 7 year old was begging me to stop, and he heard up to 20K. Now I know why he is sound defensive.

I'm 68 and have tinnitus caused by industry years ago, can hear 10k well, 12k a little. I usher weekly for a world class orchestra and numerous other unamplified gigs. I always bring earplugs for the amped stuff, and leave if it's pounding. I'm constantly amazed by the reviewers in the audio magazines who claim to hear all kinds of nuances and overtones. They're always male, and many are as old as I am. I think they must be the most amazing males on the planet, great liars, or writing what their prodigal grandkids tell them.
We have some friends whose hearing was damaged in the service. Both are known for their loud voices. One finally went to the VA and got hearing aids. He's a different person with them in. The other on is too vain to believe that he's shouting.

great liars

If Ben Goldacre's experiences are anything to go by, that's likely the explanation. Though a good amount of bullshitting likely plays into it.

Cat seems to be mostly unimpressed.

for everyone who says they can actually hear the 20k sound: you're actually hearing your speakers working, and not the actual sound. if it's not shrill and hurts your ear, it's definitely the wrong sound. sorry to burst the bubble of the people who think they have magic ears.

i can hear up until 19k and that's it. however, i can't hear that or 18k if they're in succession. i can hear 18k alright, then 19k only if i listen to it individually. the 20k sound i can't hear at all.

btw, i'm 31.

i'm unable to hear 8k dB since about 25 years old due to gradual worsening of sensory-neural loss for as long as i can remember. i don't know life without tinnitus, 4k+. the hurting loudness near the cut-off frequency is actually due to recruitment of extra nerves to compensate for the signals lost in the ear. because of the loss of some kinds of noise, it is often possible to hear noises others don't, like the instrument noise at high frequencies, or even other sounds. nature made quite sure we will remain able to hear something even when we loose as lot. btw, the whole neural system and the brain also assist with frequency differentiation, not only the cochlea.

By Antoinette (not verified) on 17 May 2010 #permalink

I put the volume up to full...I'm 13, and I can hear to the 20,000 mark...barely...but the most clear was the 18,000 mark.

There's some weird stuff going on, 14kHz was barely audible but I can hear 18kHz pretty well.
Bad lowpass filter on audio output? Abnormally broken hearing? Bad MP3 encoding?

Anyway, this kind of test should probably be done with a device that has nyquist limit way above 22kHz.

Ah, now I'm writing two comments in a row, but:

For those who think "I can hear 20kHz" folks are definitely bullshitting themselves, I have an anecdote: once upon a time I could hear the whine not only from television and 200 line CGA modes (15.75kHz, _very_ annoying), but also from 350 line EGA mode (21.8kHz, not that annoying but audible).

I can't figure a source for aliasing or undertones in that "audio system".

I have a High freq. hearing loss, and I can't hear any of those expect the 10k which is quiet surprising because my Hz start to drop at the beginning of 2k hz (away from normal hearing) but at 6-8k hz, I Have a severe loss, but most Audiograms don't go above 8k hz because from what I was told, is that after 8k hz, there isn't any normal speech that could possible make a 10k hz sound (without the lower one,like 5k hz)But I'm glad you posted this blog, I always love to learn more about my disability and this gives me a better understanding how it works!

By Adam Mothana (not verified) on 01 Sep 2010 #permalink

Well I guess it really is selective hearing cause I can pick up everyone of those tones but when the wife asks me to take out garbage or wash dishes I swear I did not hear her. lol

By Matthew Morrell (not verified) on 04 Oct 2010 #permalink

Thru the speakers, 12,000 cps was it. Thru headphones, out to 17,000 cps. I've done shooting without protection and the right ear is not so great. I'm 61, and in music -- very conscious of ear damage now. From 16,000 up, these tones seem to produce a pedal tone, which is much lower than the main frequency.

I was told that of the 5 rows of cilia in the cochlea, only two deal with audible frequencies, the other 3 are thought to deal with time. Sound arrivals between a person's two ears can be detected at differences down to 5-6 microseconds. This means each ear can judge a sound arrival to the hearest 1-2 microseconds. So music sampled digitally at 24,000 times/sec.
can really be heard by the inner ear as a series of discrete steps, unlike an analog signal. It would seem the cochlea is better than the Compact Disc standard.

39 yo - lots of loud Walkman abuse in the 80's
lots of Rave PA abuse in the 90's
lots of Rock concerts right through
Always had loud but decent home and car stereo's
Can hear everything up to 15 and then slightly painful resonances 18+
Everything between inaudible.
Although I will retry this in front of some studio monitors instead of laptop speakers which certainly have limited response.
Will repost shortly.

Would you go instantly deaf if you shot your friend at a rock concert?

Service member. 23 years Old. Can't hear above 13. Been in explosions where it left my ears bleeding. Hope it don't get worse

Service member. 23 years Old. Can't hear above 13. Been in explosions where it left my ears bleeding. Hope it don't get worse

At 78 years I could detect 8K Hz ,but no higher! Of course one needs high quality headphones,or speakers, not the usual computer add-ons.My GP says hearing normal for my age- I worry about what it will be like when I'm old!

I'm 14 years old and I could hear all of them except for number 19. 20 was low but i could still hear it.
I listen to music through earphones alot, but never very loud. Lately though, my hears hurt when listening to earphones. Is there something wrong with my ears?

Age 54, always protecting my hearing even during my full time rock musician days. I can't hear 16k. I have a question though. My ears really hurt when exposed to music through subs that are pounding out bottom end. The db might be in the 95-100 range but until they start pumping up the subs it doesn't bother me (with earplugs in). When they start pumping the watts through the subs I have to either leave the room or hold the plugs in tighter with my fingers. Are lower frequencies more harmful to hearing than the highs?

21 yrs old...can only hear to 15000. my bf who is 28 can hear to 17,000. hes been to tons of metal concerts, listens to metal and other loud music in his headphones constantly and i havent even been to a real concert in my life. only JUST got an ipod this year and mostly use it for apps. sad day. he has better hearing than me and by normal logic shouldnt.

26 years old can hear up to and including 17k

Scratch that, I just turned up the volume all the way in my headphones, I can hear up to 19k. There seems to be like a very faint trace at 20k, but I can't be sure, where can I find mid-tones between 19 & 20?

I can hear all the way up to 20,000hz but the higher frequencies don't hurt my ears although when people are talking all at once I'm in agony just sitting there to most when I flip out I get the dirty look and I hate it. But what can you do.

14 and i can here 19,000hz

Just a smidgeon beyond 22Hz, though I wouldn't call it "hear" but I do know something is coming from there and it's bloody annoying.

22 and can hear up to 15,000 khz with relative ease, If i strain at full volume up to 17,000 khz with true pain in both ears. I've listened to rock, metal, classical, dnb, dub step from 13-18 years old with headphones at full volume. Full volume in my car with metal from 19 - 20. From age 20 - 21 would get hammered and sit in from of my speakers at near full volume headbanging. Ive been to over 10 concerts in my life, 2 of which I foolishly didn't wear ear plugs for. I also play guitar and practice metal through my huge Marshall amp daily for 4 years with ear protection but at sustained dbs of above 110 with bass added. All in all my hearing loss is substantially less then it could be, however I developed Tinnitus after a single exposure during a soundcheck that lasted 10 minutes before putting on ear protection at the same show. Too late

Huh, 22kHz that should have been.

An electrical lock on a door at work has a tone when it isn't quite attaching at something like 18-19kHz and that's pretty easy for me to hear and locate. Beyond that, I know something is happening (and when it isn't happening if someone sneakily turns off the sound, though it can take a second or so to notice), but it isn't so much heard as felt, much like really deep notes.

Am 32, 17khz fine even with low volume. 18khz barely.

I can hear the capacitor discharging on my led indicator on my LSD when on standby. Very irritating when trying to go to sleep. It's like zzzz......zzzzz......zzzzz.....

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 22 Nov 2012 #permalink

hahahaah... LSD!! sorry... meant LCD :D :D

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 22 Nov 2012 #permalink

Okay I can hear a high pitched sound at 10,000 Hz, but I also hear something at nearly 20,000. Not sure if I'm hearing IT or something else. The reason I came here was that a light bulb was getting ready to burn out and I could literally "hear" a high pitched sound, not florescent either, incandescent bulb. I heard a continuous "high pitched " sound. My dog, which is 4 years old acted like she didn't hear it, my husband, (of course his hearing is impaired) couldn't hear it but I could. I said "Do you hear that?" I have been able to hear sounds that other people cannot hear all my life. It's really weird. Now I know why I had a type of psychosis as a child. I am gifted (or cursed) with type of hearing that not all people have. I literally have to take medicine for it. Around 12 years of age, a doctor diagnosed me as being "hypersensitive" to sounds and other stimuli. Usually this is the case for anyone with PTSD. As far as I know the only thing that happened to me was when I was maybe 9 or 10 that was rather traumatic, but I had sensitive hearing way before THAT! So what gives????? It can really be annoying. At age 13, I could literally hear my heart beating at night and couldn't stand it so my sister got me a radio and that helped. Go figure. I didn't have my ear on the pillow either, I could be laying flat on my back and HEAR my heart beating. At age 38, I could literally hear our newly adopted son in the other room when he just MOVED, in the crib. I would go in and check on him and HE would be awake! lol I know I didn't wake him, I'm quiet as a mouse, but there he was, AWAKE, this would be like about 3:00am! I would literally be woke up from a deep sleep when he stirred around in his crib. I will be 60 in January 16th, 2013 and I still hear sounds that other people can't hear. I'm WEIRD!!!!

By Marlene Ansley (not verified) on 01 Jan 2013 #permalink

The hearing test sounds only work up to the frequency your speakers and sound card can accurately reproduce. If you notice the pitch seem like it's starting to go down after some level, that's something called aliasing that happens when you try to play a sound that is higher than your sound card can manage. Basically, if you try to play a 21 kHz sound through a sound card that is good up to 20 kHz, you'll actually get a 19 kHz sound.

By Alan Kraut (not verified) on 10 Jan 2013 #permalink

Im 31 and i cant hear the 12 and i really think its becauseas a child i had tubes in my ears because of ear infections and i think they permently damaged my hearing for those high pitched sounds i never relized i couldnt hear them until i watcjed a scary movie and my friend said the high pitch sound was so annoying and i was like what sound i dont hear it. :(

My little brother and I can hear up to 18,000 Hz...... God, up to 17k, it hurt like crap!!!

Can hear up to 20000 at max volume. 16 years old I guess I'm healthy.

By Sidney eliepierre (not verified) on 28 Jan 2013 #permalink

It's got nothing to do with being healthy any more than having your tonsils does.

I hear them all except for 19.
i.e. I hear up to 18 and also 20.
Why could this be?

age 22
i can here 15 kHz sound but not 16 kHz

Interesting! By the way - don't be too hard on yourselves, older people. 20kHz is only ONE OCTAVE above 10kHz!

26 and can hear up to 19kHz clear. 20kHz I can only hear it that starting and ending sound...nothing else. I hate TV sets for this particularly, piercingly deafening quality they have!

I can hear 18hz but not 19hz

I'm 21 and have Tinnitus. I can hear the 20hz but only if I wear headphones. I can't really hear any of them without headphones until 16hz, and that only barely.

Go to Midway USA, search for dog whistle, they have the Remington on sale for 2.99, buy that. Then go do a google image search, for ear structure, and a whole bunch of pictures of the ear will come up and the cochlea will come up, which looks like a snail shell, that is where most all the hearing parts are. You will see all those little inner hair cells are, and they start from about 20 cycles per second to 20,000, which you couldn't hear. What you are doing with the whistle, is exercising, those hairs, simple 101 physics. You start with the lowest sound you can hear, and then just go up the scale. That screw to change the cycles, just screw it in a little, then tighten that little nut, then blow hard, then just keep going up the scale, till you can't hear the whistle any more. What you will hear doing this, is the higher pitch sounds, you probably never heard before. For these little hairs have never been exercised before. As far as the hearing industry goes, they don't want people to know this, because then the won't be able to sell 6000 dollar hearing aid any more, which can only increase sound, but can't exercise the Cochlea, as you get older, the hairs fall down, or loud exploding sounds like gun shots, can have those hairs fall over.
Don't substitute the whistle, that whistle is the best.
What you are doing is basically exercising those hairs and bringing them alive, and the only way I know is with the whistle. But google up those pictures on the web, then you can understand what is going on, also go to "". and you will find the cure for the Cold and Flu. I have no love for the Medical Industrial Complex

By jdlaughead (not verified) on 18 Aug 2013 #permalink

I'm 29 and I can only hear the 8,000, 10,000, and 12,000... That's it! I don't think I've ever been exposed to anything absurdly loud to contribute to my lack of hearing. I guess maybe that explains why I say "huh" a lot. My ears ring consistently too. It's quite annoying.

I'm 21/22 and I... arleady can't hear the 14 kHz ( can feel some strange sensation that make my head spin, though ), but my headphones are probably quite bassy.
Though I can feel sound of 10 Hz(hear about 16-17 Hz), that humans aren't supposed to feel/hear, though.
Ah, 5 kHz overtones are 10 and 20 kHz ( 2F(note)=F(note+1 octave) )

on other way, I redid by staying more alerted...
and I can hear to about 18 kHz ( still 12-18 kHz sounds pretty low though)

I can hear all the way to 20,000 Hz easily... and I'm 50. It's not always a blessing, as I often hear things others in my family cannot.

Cool! I could only hear to 19khz at first. But then I went to 18 and played it a bunch, and moved up to 19 until I could hear it better than before, and then moved up to 20, and I could hear it. Interesting

I am 14 and can't hear 12,000, only up to 10,000 :(

31 Been bumpin my boombox since the 80's on my shoulder. 18 19 hz on mine. Maybe all that beer from the night before cleanin my ears out in the mornin . . .

Felix, probably poor quality speakers rather than poor quality ears.

"My ears ring consistently too. It’s quite annoying."

Wax buildup, maybe. Tinitus needs to be checked because it could be an inner ear problem or even infection.

I can hear the 20,000Hz very low and the 19,000hz high why is this?

By wisdom ogwu (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink

Hey guys? What does it mean when I can hear insect frecuencies?

By calisi masen (not verified) on 06 Apr 2014 #permalink

That's 20khz guys. Is that good or bad?

By calisi masen (not verified) on 06 Apr 2014 #permalink

Its said that as one gets old he doesnt hear a voice in higher Khz. If a scream means higher Khz then strangely thats what a senior guy would be able to hear and not a normal speach in lower Khz. Why? shouldn't it be other way around.


"Khz" is a measure of frequency, not intensity. Frequency is more directly related to perceived pitch in the sound we hear. Screams are not necessarily higher pitch than normal speech, just higher in intensity.

I'm 61 and can hear 20 & 19 as a low pitched hum but 18 & 17 high pitched then 16 low pitch again. All the rest are high pitch.
I have a lot of trouble hearing frequencies that others can't hear. It's a nightmare as some night the high pitched frequencies I hear keep waking me all night. My father and great aunt both went deaf in their old age

You could be picking up and reverting them like a lense in a hightened sense that other people allow them to pass through our field normally, basically going in and out through a lens is the simplest way to put it

By Nathan Holland (not verified) on 22 Apr 2014 #permalink

i am 14 and i did that test on youtube and i failed pretty badly lol but this time i heard every single frequency and some of them hurt and had that little sting in the nerve thats going near my eye >_< i really hated it

By Omar Ihab (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink

I'm 30 at the end of the year. Was OK at 15khz. Then it kind of shocked me that 16khz sounded like faint whispers... I thought I hurt my ears though. I've been hanging around turbine engines but I always had protection. I'm blaming any hearing loss on the heavy music I listened to on my headphones.

I'm 14 and I can hear till 17khz, is that good?

All of my friends think I'm crazy because I hear more than they do. This explains everything. It was so perfect I started crying. Thank you so much for it. I'm 15 and can still hear the 20kHz

I'm 31 and can hear 19khz

I can hear everyone besides the 16. 15 is really almost not there. I'm only 28!

By Ashley Schmidt (not verified) on 10 Dec 2014 #permalink

I'm 13 and I can hear the 20,000 hz one is that normal? and will your ears damage by listening to the recording tests? because mine hurt like crazy. :<(

uh oh..i am 40, and can only hear up to 12,000

47 and can only hear the 8K. I hear a constant high pitch much of the time. Can't bear loud noises around me and people talking too loud, not easy in a call centre. I blame it on having headphones on travelling to work on the London Underground for years and through my stereo when I lived with my parents. I don't play my stereo overly loud because I find it oppressive. Been to a fair few gigs too. I remember a Blur one which seemed particularly loud.

I can only hear up to 15 khz and I am almost 21. Just 2 months ago I could hear up to 16 kHz and a little beyond that. I had an accident recently with firecrackers going off by my ears (no warning) despite protection worn. Although I wore protection to concerts, too many years of headphones and iPod before the accident (never at full volume, but often loud) because 2 years ago my hearing was more like 19 kHz. If you are reading this, I beg you to ditch your headphones and stay away from fireworks, firecrackers for the rest of your life. I have aged too quickly and have lost much from my stupidity.

I'm 21. I just listened to this a couple of time with my headphones on a couple of time... mostly 17kHz and 118kHz to determine where my range ended. And I could hear all of them clearly until 18k, but last time played the samples i couldn't hear 17-18kHz, and barely 16. Did I really damage my hearing during the test? :(

14 years old. I can hear 20 kHz

By smiler12345 (not verified) on 25 May 2015 #permalink

Age: 17
I can hear 19,000hz but not 20,000hz!
Am i a baby?

I found this article interesting. I have to dispute one thing though. In the article, you stated, basically, that if you can hear the high frequenciels well, then you have the "bittersweet" belssing of excellent hearing. That is not necesarily true. High freguency hearing loss may be the most common type of hearing loss, but it's not the ONLY type of hearing loss. There is also low frequency and middle frequency hearingi loss. I have slight hearing loss in the high frequencies and low frequencies, but moderate-severe in the middle frequencies. My audiograph looks U-shaped. this means, that I still have pretty good hearing of high-pitched sounds, like car horns, ambulances, other alarms, many birdst, crickets, etc. And, I hear alot of low-pitched sounds. But, I can't hear frogs at night, and I can't distinguish what people are saying to me if they have a middle-pitched voice or if they drop their tone. It sounds like mumbling. Hearing loss is not a one-size fits all condistion.

I can hear them all except 15, 16, 17 and 20,000. 20 is questionable though, seems like i got a extremely faint sound.
I've had a constant frequency in my ear now since may 2015 in both ears. Some say its hearing loss, but dont know how it would be damaged. I dont listen to loud music or anything.

My mum lost her hearing in one ear because of an infection that took out one of the bones in her ear.

So go see a doctor and see that he finds you a specialist.

I'm 33, and can hear up to the 19,000 hz, but I've always had extremely sensitive hearing.. I found this site because I was trying to find out how to get rid of the high frequencies I hear in some video clips taken with certain dash cameras.

@ PR
that may be due to poor filtering of the alternator circuit in the vehicle, poor filtering of DC in the Cam, or both.

Look up electrostatic speaker. These can be used in pairs to transmit information / sound that can be heard only in the location where the very directional beams from the speakers overlap. This is done by transmitting the same information / sound at two different frequencys (above 20 khz) say 20100 and 20600 which produces a modulated sound at 500 hz center which consists of the wave form first spoken into the transmitter. This technique can be used to talk to persons in a specific location but not to others outside the zone of influence.

By sunwukong (not verified) on 12 Jan 2016 #permalink

I can hear all of them but I'm not sure if I can hear 20 because I can hear something but very muffled.

I can also hear a high ringing in my head now, after I've done the test. Anyone else feel the same?

Jeez, I'm 45 and can hear them all, right up to the 20,000 Hz. I kind of suspect I'm doing something wrong here.

I can hear up to 19kHz, but what is eally annoying: I can hear an ultrasonic repellent against voles thtat's three gardens away....must have been a vole in former life

This is the best article I've ever read about the sense of hearing. (It figures that it was written by an astrophysics professor…the universe has a few frequencies lingering around, doesn't it!? ?)
I found the link to this blog when trying to find out the specific frequencies emitting from the old CRT television sets when first turned on. That's what I hear ringing in my head due to tinnitus.
But this blog explained why I, like he, can be unnerved by the sound of certain voices, particularly a shrieking kid, the proverbial crying baby in the airplane, and the repulsive sound that some delusional men and women have when they think that their self-appointed authoritarian commands and admonishing will result in compliance with them. Of course it has the opposite result, and now I know why it has nothing to do with a supposed disrespect for authority. I have the ability to work with or for any informed person who speaks kindly, sweetly, humorously sometimes, and occasionally firm and resolute but without harshness.

Most people with peaceful dispositions have a harmonious or even a melodious voice.
Most bullies, micromanagers and pecking order barkers (for example, Donald Trump) have voices with overtones that sound like when two of the same frequencies diverge away from each other in absolute zero beating, drifting towards the next chromatic, a minor 2nd like C and C# played simultaneously. Many have described this kind of voice like fingernails dragged on a chalkboard, chainsaws, or alley cats fighting or in heat. Certain control freak people deliberately affect these sounds in their voice when they want to, reserving their kinder voice only for family and friends.

Finally, there are some very nice women and men whose normal speaking voice can be irksome. It's not any fault of theirs.. It's those pesky overtones again, isn't it?

Fabulous article - thanks! SSHL in right ear; now deaf for 8 weeks in that ear. Left ear can hear 12000Hz. I think my cup is half-full really at 64. Some people have a great deal worse to cope with.

How high should the volume be? With the volume all the way up and headphones on I hear all of them. Is that cheating? Just turned 48.

Age 14
Heard 20,000 hz from about half my arm length

i m 13 yrs/old and i could hear 8 kHz to 19 kHz...but after 20 kHz i couldn't hear anything....!
Why? i learnt that Human can hear from 20 to 20,000 kHz...but why i couldn't hear that?
i could hear lower than 20 kHz..but why i couldn't hear after 20 kHz??? Please let me know!

By Abdul Aziz Shakib (not verified) on 23 Nov 2016 #permalink