What does “hearing” very high frequencies actually mean?

Discussion in 'Audio Science' started by zottel, Apr 28, 2022.

  1. zottel

    zottel Facebook Friend

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    I used some test tones today to test my hearing, and that left me wondering what others actually mean when they say they can “hear” sounds up to certain frequencies.

    I had done such tests before, which left me a little worried, as it seemed I could only hear up to sth between 14 and 15 kHz, i.e. I could still hear the 14 kHz sound, but not the 15 kHz. But it had never occurred to me to crank up the volume, and the sound files I used (from Qobuz, actually) were all at a level of -10 dB.

    Also, my usual listening volume is quite low, some 60-65 dB according to smartphone measurements. Now I read that the level required to hear anything at all goes up steeply with higher frequencies.

    So when I listened louder, I could hear higher frequencies, and at a position of the volume knob that yields 80-85 dB with music, I could even hear something with the 18 kHz tone.

    “Something”. The 14 kHz tone was the last one I could actually attribute a pitch to, maybe the 15 kHz one, too, but that’s already a stretch. The higher tones are only a rather faint noise to me. At 18 kHz, barely anything at all was audible, but there definitely was “something”.

    Is that the same for you at frequencies you say you can “hear”?

    Am I actually hearing the tone at all, as I can’t attribute a pitch to it? Or more something like undertones?
     
  2. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    Sadly i write this from memory! But...
    Patch in an EQ on your desktop and see the effect of high-pass filters at different frequencies is. You don't have to go very far before you can only hear a sort of ssssss sound.

    check out this Interactive Frequency Chart

    check out the various tests at Audio Check. Rabbit Hole Warning: it is extremely difficult to make a quick visit to this site!
     
  3. dmckean44

    dmckean44 In a Sherwood S6040CP relationship

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    I wouldn't just crank up higher frequencies until you can hear them as you're likely to cause hearing damage at those frequencies by doing that. The tiny hairs that hear high frequencies are the most delicate.

    It's pretty normal to not be able to hear high frequencies as you age. When I was in my early 20s I could hear well past 20khz but now in my mid-40s I can only hear to about 17khz and I can only hear those frequencies first thing in the morning. Later in the day it's more like 14-15Khz.
     
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  4. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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  5. hallgard

    hallgard Rando

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    Wow, fascinating stuff. Thanks yotacowboy.

    "Rejecting the antique notion of a 'hearing center' in the brain, Kraus explains that auditory regions are cabled to brain regions that process feelings and emotions, memories, thoughts, sensations of reward—and that a continuous feedback loop between these areas is what gives rise to speech, music..."
     
  6. zottel

    zottel Facebook Friend

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    I wholeheartedly agree. That’s why I first tested where I would have to turn the volume knob to to get extemely loud, but not painful, and didn’t go past that with the test tones. And still played them only for a few seconds.
     
  7. zottel

    zottel Facebook Friend

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  8. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    This is all normal. Very few people past their early years can discern a tone the in top half 10k-20kHz, especially toward the end of the day when the ears are tired our bodies have adjusted sensitivity toward moderate level ambient sounds. With respect to discerning a tone and feeling it, that could be another matter.

    I can't discern any tones at 14kHz anymore, however repeated 14kHz blasts at moderate SPL will give me a headache. At the end of the day with tired ears, I can only discern at tone at 12kHz and be bothered by a tone at 14kHz. Blasting 15kHz doesn't bother me at all.

    However, a 15kHz blast bothers the heck outta my kids, even if they are in another room across the house 35 feet away. I tried this the other day with JBL monitors. My 17 year old daughter barely discerns a distinct tone at 15kHz, but it kind of bugs her - she can definitely hear it, e.g. "Dad, you were playing something weird?"

    For my son who is 13 years old, a 15kHz tone, even at lowish level, is a sonic weapon. We were visiting the Fine Arts Museum in Houston with this art installation that used old TVs / CRTs. When he entered the room, he covered his ears in pain, exclaiming "you guys can't hear that! OMG you guys are deaf". I looked down at the TVs and smiled because I knew exactly what it was. CRTs running NTSC signals have a horizontal scan line frequency of about ~15kHz.

    I would assume that since my son was born after our last CRT TV, he's never experienced it and had his detectors for that frequency in his ears fried. BTW, I remember being able to hear the scan frequency of CRTs when I was a teen - but it wasn't something that hurt me.

    Anyway, here is my proof. I took an RTA measurement at the museum.
    Screenshot_20220417-150126.jpg

    Anyway, thanks for bringing this up and your honesty. Most dudes in audiophile forums tend to e-peen about how great their hearing is, and how they can still hear 22kHz at age 52, when it's obvious they are full of shit. Here are we honest with ourselves.

    Anyway, this is how the testing came out in the family with respect to moderate level ~80db SPL tones. This was done at the end of the day.

    13YO: hear distinct tone to 17kHz. sense sound to 20kHz
    17YO: hear distinct tone to 15kHz. sense sound to 18kHz
    52YO: hear distinct tone to 12kHz. sense sound to 14kHz
    56YO: hear distinct tone to 11kHz. sense sound to 12kHz
     
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    Last edited: Apr 28, 2022
  9. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    Honestly. I remember that tone from CRTs too. I read this and tested it on my Sony Trinitron TV I bought with my own money as a kid. I can still hear it if I get close. INSTANT TINNITUS AND PAIN. I definitely have hyperacusis there from the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis days.

    The damage from cranking up rock music in elementary school. On everything. Including with my dad.

    Then there's the drumming without protection damage. I quit due to hyperacusis.

    The ear drill electric guitar mids damage. Thank you Jim Marshall.

    The damage from death metal. Thank you Trey Azagthoth, Chuck Schuldiner, and Richard Brunelle and RIP to the last two.

    The damage from headphones and shows and car speakers being cranked.

    The damage from Chinese capsule mics being overloaded. Fuck them all. Fuck Chi-Fi. AWFUL. Worse than any "NEW NEWMANS ARE TOO BRITE MAN!" meme. They are but do not have open capsule distortion

    The damage from random noise bursts when mixing and recording. Ugh.

    And yet my hearing has grown more detailed each time. And will until I can't hear highs anymore. The USA is in recession again.

    Museums are entertainment. shame on them for torturing young people whose ears haven't been ruined by cranked lossy codec artifacts and CRT games. Show them some paintings, airplanes, and statues of guys with bad haircuts who killed thousands of people. Or who stabbed people over calls at tennis games like caravaggio. That's what museums are for.
     
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  10. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    Also, these tones that aren't high in nature or music, intermodulate themselves with other tones in your ears leting you detect the nastiness without hearing it yourself. Your brain knows something is wrong. Those ear rape upper mids, those distortion pedals, that high gain guitar amp that FILLS THE AIR and VIBRATES YOUR CHEST, those are natural as violin shrieks. I mean recording artifacts. Test tones. IMD. Aliasing. All the nastiness that can only come from poor use of human technology. Think hearing What's the story morning glory or death magnetic or californication. the ear pain. the distortion. the fuzz. tubes vibrating that aren't notched out. that's pain. that's unnatural. that's the death of the hairs in your inner ear. our recordings have been full of this for 25 odd years. tape would remove it for a period. then tape died. the machines broke, the operators grew old. the youth have been consuming it. it's worse than the crunch of old digital. because they have the crunch and are distorting again and again on mass. run a couple tones into these poor processors into poor processor into poor processor. wen before? we had just the crunch. and that was run into transformers and tape. instead of stacking up to be good. it stacks up to be awful. then it sucks even worse when consumed in lossy codec or hits a limiter.

    a lot of the blame is placed on bit crushers in modern rap. but a lot of those guys are actually careful. they make sure no nastiness hits the plugin with filters. same as the old electronica and rap with the 12 bit alesis samplers. same as the guys augmenting drums in the 80s and 90s with samples. if you hear their stuff on CD or FLAC download, it's fine. If you hear it on spotify, it's the most painful shit. that's just the lossy codec. same as what it doesto high gain guitars. modern rap with truncation as special effect vocals and 90s rock/metal with jcm 900 or the high gain pedals suffer the same fate. on CD it's fine. On Spotify or pirate MP3 or youtube? Awful. the codecs can't handle that. They can't handle fizz. So Spotify's most popular artists are disserved by the medium.

    I first noticed this with mp3s and then anything with snare samples on youtube in the 2000s. all of this rap and metal that sounded great on CD sounded awful on youtube. The codecs simply couldn't handle low level high frequency distortion that the ear can. So Wu-tang, Gangstarr, Sisters of Mercy were ruined and those guys usually sound great.
     
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  11. zottel

    zottel Facebook Friend

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    Thanks. This is exactly the kind of information I was looking for.
     
  12. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    WhyOhWhyOhWhy...

    Are all gadgets designed for the young? There is not a single beeping thing in this house that I can actually hear beep. The hearing aids help with this, partly by simple EQ, and partly by transposing frequencies that one cannot hear to ones that one can. That's clever, but far from audiophile.

    Might be bad for tweeters too!

    That looks very interesting. I've read interesting stuff about the ears and brain being, essentially, a digital sound-processing system. Part of that system involves rejection of noise. That there is an emotional/psychological side to hearing ability/loss makes perfect sense. And I have wondered about it. I suspect that there are many of us hearing-aid users, for instance, who see an upside in being able to turn the world down!
     
  13. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    Driving with windows down on long road trips was a big fuckup, young me didn't quite put together wind = noise.

    Other was Atomic Punks at Saint Rock, only time I've significantly lost hearing for days. It was a bit scary, I wore earplugs for half a week because I read after damage you can prevent more by letting your ears rest.

    I can still hear a little at 14khz so I'm only a bit worse than what you'd expect at age 38.
     
  14. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    IIRC correctly from an elective I took in college - all sounds damage your hearing in the highs. The following is a close approximation of why (simplified to fit into 3 sentences):
    The hairs towards the outside of the cochlea (the spiral shaped organ in ours ears with the hairs that "make" us hear) are responsible for us hearing highs. As you go further down the 2.5 turns, the hairs further down are responsible for mids, go further down to the "core" and the hairs are responsible for lows. Hence, when you hear lows, the "signal goes all the way down" and all of the hairs are being "worn out" whereas when you listen to highs, "the signal doesn't go very far" and only the outside hairs are being "worn out".

    Also, not sure if this still applies with current browsers, but usually when we test the extent of our high freq on browsers or software, they may interfere with the results too. Anecdotally:
    I remember back in college we used a physical signal generator (in physics lab) that also played the tone being generated for an experiment. At the time, I could hear a distinct tone around 22k and still hear indistinct but definite "noise" around 22.5-23k. However, if I used a computer with speakers or headphones, I could only hear up to about 17 or 18k. IIRC, I looked it up and the difference was due to the codecs used by most browsers simply cutting off sound above a certain frequency and likely was also due to other limitations with my setup at the time. If I downloaded a program instead of using a browser, I could hear a little higher with some software vs other software, so even then I suspect there were other limitations caused by the software, computer, or equipment. Verified the week after in that same lab that I could "still hear" tones up to 22k.

    If this information is outdated or otherwise incorrect, please correct me.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2022
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Seeing my son's (born after the age of CRTs) painful reactions to high frequency TV carrier signal. I now realize in horror what we may have done to all our babies. Anyway, it is possible that my son is a freak on one end of the bell curve. He's shown extreme sensitivity to cicadas and katydids on our nature hikes. I'll continue to test his hearing as he enters high school.

    ---

    https://ispub.com/IJORL/10/2/4039

    Table 4: Hearing loss number of times at different frequencies in Group A
    article-g05_400_125.jpg

    Table 5: Hearing loss in group A- Low frequencies Vs high frequencies
    article-g07_400_175.jpg

    Upp'd this to Home Page because our hearing is important and we should do what we can to protect it.
     
  16. Qildail

    Qildail Almost "Made"

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    About a year before Covid scattered us all to the winds, our office floor plan was rearranged and I was moved across the building. One of those awful cheap fluorescent tube ballasts in my office would squeal right at 16kHz, pretty much every morning. I would work in the dark for most of the day it was so annoying. It took weeks (and some contraption that looked like a portable chest x-ray) before the golden-eared retired radio engineer that was in charge of maintenance believed that the thing he didn't hear actually existed.

    Now, catch me on the spot, after a day full of electric lights and air filters and air conditioners and keyboard tapping and kids laughing and Zoom fatigue; and the chances of me directly picking up a 16kHz tone are near nil. But when it's still, I can still pick it up, either directly or as a harmonic of 8kHz (which I'm a bit sensitive to). It's fatiguing and irritating sometimes, even at low volumes, but it's there. Beyond that, forget it. It's a haze of noise, if I can detect it at all.

    I've had quite a few interactions here about how intangibles affect what we're listening to. Air temperature, air pressure, sinus pressure, mains power, altitude, and attitude all play their parts. All these things could be "measured" (no, this isn't a measurement argument), but in there are so many combinations as to be effectively random. Our listening environments can never be exactly the same twice - there are just too many variables.

    I believe if you're listening to something you know well, the brain fills in "missing pieces" where it needs to and can; because we know, intuitively, that cymbal shimmers here, or that piano key is hammered here, or that guitar solo climbs all the way to the top here. When those things are remastered out of the music we notice it in a hurry, but normally, if our environment or our equipment is just a bit off that day, the brain just fills in the closest approximation it can recall, and we move on to the next downbeat. Does it matter if you didn't actually hear that violin if your brain filled in that vibrato? Does it really matter?

    Apologies for a bit of meandering screed. Beyond the concept of taking care of our hearing (yes, please), this interaction of physiology and psychology of sound always fascinates me; and how that interaction drives our choices of both music and gear; and what we like and don't like.
     
  17. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Our brains also do a great job filtering stuff too. 60Hz hum (and multiples) in North America is prevalent in both home and office environments. When I go outdoors for an extended period of time, I will notice it when I come back to the house, but then not notice it in a matter of less than an hour. This one of the reasons why I prefer to look at THD instead of THD+N (the N is usually 60Hz and its multiples). Also, if we have been exposed to constant low or moderate level sounds, we will lose some sensitivity. For example, the JBL LSR305s are known to have hiss. Put me outside during moderate rain with the pitter-patter of raindrops. When I come inside, I won't be able to hear the hiss. My ears need to rest a bit before I can hear the hiss again.

    Ultimately, it doesn't matter. One of the most moving violin performances I heard was when I was driving in my Honda back to college from my parent's house. Midori was on the radio. She was young then and not nearly as good as she eventually got. I was in the right mood at the right time with the right traffic. No drugs needed.

    On the other hand, it does matter. Because better sounding gear gives us more quality real phenomena experience data for our brains fill in the missing pieces. We humans haven't developed powers like the Talosians to generate full illusions from scratch yet. Otherwise I'd be living the life of Drake right now.

    talosians.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
  18. Ken Tajalli

    Ken Tajalli Rando

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    A while back, my music system wasn't sounding right. It was dull and life-less.
    Looked for obvious stuff, is the tweeter broken? is the amp OK? etc. Tried super-tweeters, nothing worked. I finally resorted to an equalizer and dialled in a permanent 10dB shelf at 9kHz, but even that didn't sound right, so I just stopped using my gear for a while.
    A few weeks later, I got an ear-ache. My doctor vacuumed excess earwax from my ears, it was a little painful and afterwards everything sounded funny for a while.
    A week or two later, after my ears had settled down, I thought I play something.
    Immediately, it sounded bloody piercing! Wow, it was so sharp! un-listenable . . .
    Then it occurred to me, the 10dB shelf filter! Yep .
    I disabled it, and everything sounded lovely! Crisp and good, no EQ needed.
    Earwax vacuum! Best HIFI upgrade I ever got.
     
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