Why Do I Sound So Bad On Recording?

Making self recorded presentations and videos have become extremely common these days. (Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik)

The COVID-19 lockdowns we experienced taught us many things. We learnt about how quickly some diseases can spread, how mRNA vaccines work, the way technology has still allowed us to stay globally connected despite the lack of physical interaction and how badly our voices sound over recording?

 

Surely you noticed that right? Every time you did a recorded presentation, hearing your voice made your hairs stand on its ends, as you frantically turned down the volume or pulled out your headphones. I know I definitely grimaced every time I had to listen back on a recording of mine but there’s a very good scientific reason behind all of this. 

 

How do you hear things?

A girl with glasses listening attentively
How are you able to hear all the lovely sounds around us? (Image from evening_tao on Freepik)

To understand this, let’s go back to the basics. We hear sound because as an object moves, it bumps into the air molecules which makes them vibrate on the spot. These vibrating air molecules then bump into more air molecules, which bump into even more, until those vibrations hit your ear drum. A bit like dominos. Your eardrum then sends those signals through to three tiny bones, called the malleus, incus and stapes, which then turn the sound waves into nerve impulses for your brain. (Find out more here.)

 

When we talk about vibrations, that is the same as molecules oscillating at certain frequencies. Depending on the speed of the vibration or frequency, we hear a different sound. The human ear can detect frequencies of around 20 vibrations per second or 20Hz (the lowest frequency hearable by humans) to 20,000Hz (the highest frequency hearable by humans). See if you can find what range of frequencies your ear can hear here! 

 

But you haven’t told me why I sound so bad?

I’ve definitely made this face after hearing my own voice. (Image from cookie_studio on Freepik)

Your ear can detect many frequencies and in everyday life, the sounds we hear are a combination of lots of different frequencies combined together. One way to think about it is when someone plays the piano. They press down multiple keys at once, yet all the different keys have different frequencies, and together they create a harmonious symphony of sounds. Our voice is the same!

 

When we talk, our voice also produces a sound that is a combination of many frequencies. The sound is not only conducted through the air into our eardrum, but also through the bones in our head, known as external and internal conduction. The bones in our head tend to resonate more strongly with the lower frequency sounds, almost boosting those low frequencies. This means our voice sounds a lot fuller in our head. Some like to describe this as hearing your voice “through a cave complex inside our own heads”

 

Microphones unfortunately cannot pick up these lower frequencies from the internal conduction through your bones, meaning all the lovely lower frequency sounds are missing in the recording. This results in only the higher frequency sounds of your voice being recorded, which is why you often feel disgusted hearing your own voice in its high pitch form. Some people even struggle to recognise their own recorded voice! So next time you hear your recorded voice, it’s not you that sounds bad, it’s the microphone. 

 

Unfortunately, it really is all in your head. 

 

By Xingy Huang (Class of 2022)


11 Responses to “Why Do I Sound So Bad On Recording?”

  1. Emily says:

    Hi, this is a really interesting topic!
    If the sound resonating through our skull is what makes the difference, does that mean other people would hear our voices as higher pitch, too?

  2. Xingy Huang says:

    Hi Trevor, really glad you liked the piece and found solace in your high school memories! I definitely remember those times in high school when I had to do the same and I wish I had known all this back. It would have definitely saved me from a few headaches.

  3. Trevor Ly says:

    Hi Xingy, that was a well written and thought out blog!

    I like the logical step by step approach you took to explain how we hear things. I had no idea that sound is also conducted through the bones in our head when we talk!

    You reminded me of this occasion in high school where my classmates and I were tasked to record ourselves speak. I was horrified to hear how I sounded and since then, have always wondered why that was the case. So thank you for writing a blog that I needed to read!

  4. Xingy Huang says:

    Hey Elishia, thanks for the comment! I really hope that tech companies do start integrating better microphones into their devices. Phones are very quickly becoming necessary tools for work and improving the quality of microphones could really be a game changer in how we use our devices for productivity and for leisurely activities too. Throughout history, we have transitioned from large bulky PC’s to thin laptops. If our phones could have comparable specifications to laptops, this might even completely remove the need to carry around laptops. Better mic quality would definitely make all of us feel so much more confident when speaking, which is definitely a massive bonus!

  5. Xingy Huang says:

    Hey Riley, it seems like there are several tutorials on how to tune the recording to enhance the lower frequencies so your voice sounds more rounded. Also considering how artists record their songs, there are high-tech mics (condenser microphones for example) that are able to pick up lower frequencies, but just not the same ones we hear through internal bone conduction.

  6. Xingy Huang says:

    I had a bit of read online, and seems like hearing aids rely on a microphone that is situated on the top of the earpiece. I could make an educated guess and say that the microphone could pick up some of the resonance from inside the bones in your head because the microphone is right against the skull. But it’s likely that any that is picked up is very minimal and might not translate into much. I feel like this could be a really interesting field of research into finding ways to pick up the lower frequencies of our voice for hearing aid users. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Ava Cole says:

    Hi Xingy, I really enjoyed this post! I had no idea that your eardrums are not the only element of sound perception. I was just wondering if you knew if hearing aids use the principle of bone conduction to transmit soundwaves? Very interesting topic! :))

  8. Elishia Lim says:

    Hi Xingy,
    This answers so many questions I have about why I think my voice sounds worse on recordings compared to when I’m rehearsing it! With advancements in cameras on smartphones moving towards very high quality and professional settings, do you think tech companies will also work towards enhancing microphones to the same degree? I feel like they definitely have the resources to, and I personally think enhancing how people’s voices are conveyed on phones would make a huge difference to how we communicate. What are your thoughts?

  9. Riley Ferguson says:

    Do you think there are ways that these lower frequencies can be re-added to the recorded sound so we don’t sound so awful?

  10. Xingy Huang says:

    I’ve always been super interested in light and sound waves and personally for me, discovering that the reason I hated my own voice on recording all just boiled down to something as simple as resonance of frequency really just puts into perspective how science really does permeate every single part of our lives. I totally agree with you when you say that science is in every little thing and I think this was the main reason why I love science so much: it can explain so much about our world. Super glad that you enjoyed this and hopefully your further research is just as intriguing!

  11. bsimango says:

    Hi Xingy, this topic really hit close to home, and I think a lot of individuals would feel the same way ! It is so relieving to hear that it is all in our head. It’s so crazy that there is so much science that happens in such simple things like hearing a recoding of yourself for example the detection of different frequencies. Such an interesting post, I am excited to research a little more about this topic!

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