If you’re like most people, you like the sound of your voice in your head. It’s comfortable. It’s your life’s narrator, low and smooth and familiar. But when you hear that same voice played back to you on a recording, it seems somehow distorted, tinny and whiny and foreign. That’s not your voice! You don’t sound like that! Do you?
The truth is, to everyone but yourself, that is your voice. The good news, though, is that unlike you, they don’t think it’s so bad.
“When you speak, the air comes from your lungs and goes through your larynx and through your head and comes out your mouth as complex sound waves (speech),” says Dr Susan Small, a professor of clinical audiology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. That’s what everyone else hears, and what you hear on a recording: the sound of your voice as conducted by air.
“The reason you sound different in your head than on a recording,” explains Small, “is because when you hear speech in your head, you hear what’s coming out of your mouth, but the voice also resonates in your head and reaches the ear through bone conduction.”
But don’t just take our air-conducted word for it. Try it yourself:
“If you put your hands on your face while you’re talking, you can feel the vibrations on your cheek bones and your jaw,” says Small. These vibrations reach your inner ear through bone conduction, while the sound of your voice travels out of your mouth, around your head and in your ear through the other side, creating the melodious, calming sound that is your own voice.
Plug your ears and you’ll sound even more distorted (like when you have a cold), because you’re trapping even more low-frequency sound in your sinuses, tissues and fluid inside your skull, and blocking the intake of much of the air-conducted sound.
Basically, you rattle when you speak, like a giant subwoofer made of human tissue and bone and fluid, and this changes how you hear your voice compared to how everyone else hears it. The reason you dislike the sound of your recorded voice is simply because you’re not used to it. It’s called the mere-exposure effect (if you want to get all science-y about it) and it just means we favour the familiar and dislike the unfamiliar.
It can be shocking, hearing your Frank Sinatra impression for the first time and realizing it sounds more like Kermit the Frog, but we all experience it, so at least there’s that. Though it does make you wonder what Sinatra sounded like in his head…