Science Behind Why Your Recorded Voice Sounds Strange

It's a common experience — you hear your voice on a voicemail, a video recording, or through some other medium, and something It doesn't sound quite like the voice you know and hear every day. In fact, it might even make you cringe. Why does this happen? Why does your voice sound so different when played back on a recording?

It turns out there's a scientific explanation for this common experience.

The Science Behind the Sound

When we speak, sound waves are created, traveling through the air and into our ears. This is known as "air conduction". However, there's a secondary way we hear our voice: through vibrations inside our skull set off by our vocal cords. These vibrations travel up through our bony skull and down into our ear drums. This process, known as "bone conduction," deepens the sound of our voice.

Bone conduction leads to a lower frequency vibration being transmitted than through the air, as bones are better at conducting lower frequencies. This means that when you speak, your voice sounds lower and fuller to you because you are hearing it through both air and bone conduction.

When you listen to a recording of your voice, you're only hearing the air-conducted version. The lower, richer tones enhanced by bone conduction are missing, hence why your voice may sound higher or thinner in a recording.

You can demonstrate the difference between bone-conducted and air-conducted sound with a simple experiment. First, say something out loud while you plug your ears; you'll hear your voice quite clearly despite your ears being plugged. That's bone conduction at work. Now, if you listen to a recording of your voice with your ears plugged, you'll barely hear it. That's because you're missing the air-conducted sound.

Psychology Plays a Role

There's also a psychological aspect to why we're often surprised or even uncomfortable when hearing our recorded voice. We form a mental image of how we think we sound. This image is built from the bone-conducted sound we've been hearing our entire lives. When our recorded voice doesn't match that mental image, it creates a cognitive dissonance that can be jarring.

The Role of the Inner Ear

There's another reason why your voice sounds different to you — the peculiar anatomy of your inner ear. The inner ear emphasizes sounds in the 2,000 to 5,000 hertz (Hz) frequency range. As it turns out, these are the frequencies used in most human speech. This phenomenon, known as the "resonance of the ear," can cause you to perceive your voice as being louder and lower when you're speaking than when you're listening to a recording of yourself.

In the end, the discrepancy between the voice in your head and the one on recordings comes down to acoustics and perception. Your bones and the unique anatomy of your inner ear color the sound of your voice, making it sound different to you than it does to others. So the next time you cringe at a recording of your voice, remember — that's actually how you sound to everyone else!