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Topic: Very strange trick of the ear...

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  1. #1

    Question Very strange trick of the ear...

    I discovered something very unusual about my ear. My left ear, to be precise.

    For quite some years now, I've noticed that it is more sensitive to loud noises than my right, and tires more easily. But this morning, I stumbled onto something quite bizarre. I was working on a module in Reaktor (an audio plug-in building kit from NI) and was testing some simple oscillators through separated left and right channels. I was using the headphones because my wife was still asleep.

    Here's the short of it. When playing a sine wave in at middle C in my left ear, the perceived pitch dropped dramatically when it got to a certain volume. Not so loud as to be painful, mind you. It dropped almost a whole step to Bb! This does NOT happen in my right ear. This also does not happen when I use a triangle wave, at least not at the levels I was trying. It wasn't the headphones (swapped left vs. right on my head to double-check), but it didn't seem to happen in the speakers (though I haven't tried at very loud levels yet.)

    I seem to recall in my acoustics class many years ago that perceived pitch should drop slightly at high db levels, but this was a dramatic drop, and in one ear only.

    Anyone know anything about audiology, psychoacoustics, or related matter that might shed any light on this? I searched around the web a bit, but have so far come up with little of any interest.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  2. #2

    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    I have absolutely no idea! That is pretty weird!

    But here's at least a guess. I know when the ears hear certain volumes they will automatically do a weird pressure thing, perhaps to try to stop the sound from being damaging. I'm not sure what volume this starts out, but each ear probably has a different level. It's that thing that happens when you yawn or swallow. You probably won't notice it when you're concentrating on a sound though.

    I really don't know . . .
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  3. #3

    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    This is interesting. No expert here, but I do a lot of late-night monitoring in phones and have noticed that pitch drops quite dramatically if I yawn, which led me to believe that the effect was somehow related to changing inner ear pressure. I also do a lot of recording of vocalists, and if the phones are too loud for the singer, the recorded pitch will be inevitably be flat, sometimes very flat. So if one of your ears is more sensitive to volume than the other, I'm not surprised by what you have seen.

    Jim

  4. #4

    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    Not to be alarmist, but you should probably see an ear doctor very soon. Just to be on the safe side...
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  5. #5

    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    Hmmm . . . let's see now . . .

    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  6. #6

    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    which led me to believe that the effect was somehow related to changing inner ear pressure.
    Makes sense. Um, perhaps I should repeat the experiment when I no longer have this nasty sinusy head cold?
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  7. #7

    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    Quote Originally Posted by Skysaw
    Um, perhaps I should repeat the experiment when I no longer have this nasty sinusy head cold?
    Yes, those colds with all the mucus in the throat probably don't help. Hope you feel better soon!
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  8. #8
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
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    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    WHAT DID HE SAY?
    I think Sean hit the nail on the head (Or eardrum with the stick) I recall having my hearing checked last year and the audiologist saying something on the same explanation. Her analogy is the feeling you get at high altitudes when someone throws you off a ... no no, sorry ... when flying in an passenger jet. The body naturally tries to compensate for the high Sound Pressure Levels filling with fluid. Regardless of headphones or speakers, you should experience the same because it's air that is being moved that causes the extra pressure.
    Then again, when was your last enema?
    Styxx

  9. #9

    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    My Dad (74) sings in a barbershop quartet, and absolutley has to remove his hearing aids before singing, or he sings real sharp by almost a whole step.

    Weird for sure!
    I too believe it is based on pressure.

    dpDan

  10. #10

    Re: Very strange trick of the ear...

    Quote Originally Posted by Skysaw
    I discovered something very unusual about my ear. My left ear, to be precise.

    For quite some years now, I've noticed that it is more sensitive to loud noises than my right, and tires more easily. But this morning, I stumbled onto something quite bizarre. I was working on a module in Reaktor (an audio plug-in building kit from NI) and was testing some simple oscillators through separated left and right channels. I was using the headphones because my wife was still asleep.

    Here's the short of it. When playing a sine wave in at middle C in my left ear, the perceived pitch dropped dramatically when it got to a certain volume. Not so loud as to be painful, mind you. It dropped almost a whole step to Bb! This does NOT happen in my right ear. This also does not happen when I use a triangle wave, at least not at the levels I was trying. It wasn't the headphones (swapped left vs. right on my head to double-check), but it didn't seem to happen in the speakers (though I haven't tried at very loud levels yet.)

    I seem to recall in my acoustics class many years ago that perceived pitch should drop slightly at high db levels, but this was a dramatic drop, and in one ear only.

    Anyone know anything about audiology, psychoacoustics, or related matter that might shed any light on this? I searched around the web a bit, but have so far come up with little of any interest.

    Generally speaking, this effect is not unusual: With ascending volume, sounds with a pitch of less than ca. 1000Hz are perceived as a lower pitch. Above ca. 1000Hz, the perceived pitch rises with volume. This has nothing to do with pressure, but with the fact that the cochlea is built logarithmically rather than linear. When you hear a sound with a given frequency, not only the corresponding point of the cochlea gets irritated, but also a certain area around it. With increasing volume, this area becomes broader. The area "above" the real pitch thus covers a different pitch range than the area "below". At ca. 1000Hz they are more or less equal. Hence below 1kHz, the area "below" gains weight, and above 1kHz, the area "above", due to the perceptive nerves being spread logarithmically across the cochlea.
    The fact that you only perceive this effect on one ear may be due to your ears being built slightly different. You might try other frequencies on both ears and see what happens.
    But then again, I am no doctor, so maybe you´ll want to see one, just to be sure everything is ok. I hope it is!

    Regards,
    Erik

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