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Why does my voice sound so different when it is recorded and played back?

Timothy E. Hullar, an otolaryngologist and assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, replies



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Sound can reach the inner ear by way of two separate paths, and those paths in turn affect what we perceive. Air-conducted sound is transmitted from the surrounding environment through the external auditory canal, eardrum and middle ear to the cochlea, the fluid-filled spiral in the inner ear. Bone-conducted sound reaches the cochlea directly through the tissues of the head.

When you speak, sound energy spreads in the air around you and reaches your cochlea through your external ear by air conduction. Sound also travels from your vocal cords and other structures directly to the cochlea, but the mechanical properties of your head enhance its deeper, lower-frequency vibrations. The voice you hear when you speak is the combination of sound carried along both paths. When you listen to a recording of yourself speaking, the bone-conducted pathway that you consider part of your “normal” voice is eliminated, and you hear only the air-conducted component in unfamiliar isolation. You can experience the reverse effect by putting in earplugs so you hear only bone-conducted vibrations.

Some people have abnormalities of the inner ear that enhance their sensitivity to this component so much that the sound of their own breathing becomes overwhelming, and they may even hear their eyeballs moving in their sockets.

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