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Bose Hearphones (bose.com)
830 points by akramhussein on Dec 9, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 407 comments

Wow, this address a major problem I have.

I have decent hearing, but when I'm in a noisy environment like a bar, I can hear but can't understand what other people are saying. It's why I don't like going to bars/pubs with live performances or ambient music.

People think I'm bored or brooding because I'm not talking to anyone, but I just can't understand anything anyone says, so I can't participate in a conversation.

Are you sure you have decent hearing? I thought I could hear what people were saying in noisy environments, but couldn't understand anything. This was one of the major symptoms for me before I was diagnosed with moderate/severe hearing loss. It's very isolating. No problems now with a decent set of hearing aids.

Have yourself tested! The quality of life improvement from a set of hearing aids is incredible!

edit: I was 31 when I was diagnosed, so don't think because you're young that you're immune. Generally hearing loss is very gradual so you don't really notice it. If you frequently have to ask people to repeat themselves though...

I have a similar problem in loud spaces. Given my activities (motorcycling, guitar playing, powertools, etc) I had assumed my hearing was bad, but when I went to an ENT/audiologist for unrelated things I had them give me a good test on a whim.

For me, the results were that I have hearing ability on-par with a ~5 year old, and they only see adults like me every 18 months or so. I've got a printoff of the chart around here somewhere, but it's well outside the normal, especially for my activities.

On the flipside, I'm very ADHD, which I think hurts my loud-space conversational abilities some. I always figure my ears are trying to listen to all of it at once.

(Most lightbulbs and televisions drive me up a wall, because I can hear them all the time)

I went to an audiologist a few years back because I could hear certain things that would drive me up the wall. I thought it might be tinnitus or something like that- I ride motorcycles, am on the water in boats, use power tools, etc. Turns out I have exceptional hearing as well, and much better high frequency responses than an average 30 year old. Certain cheap lights and power transformers can drive me absolutely freaking crazy.

I'm glad to know it is not just me! Our cheap HP printer makes the worst racket, when the house is quiet I can hear it in all the way in the kitchen from the other side of the house. Nobody else notices it, and I tried unplugging it once and it made an even worse noise (probably would fade as the capacitors discharge but when I was trying to sleep without a fan in another room I didn't care to wait).

As a kid I always used to take the batteries out of clocks when I would sleep at other peoples houses on a couch or something but since becoming an adult around 29 I gained a little more mental control so I can deal with that stuff a little better.

Yep, I have to be in a top-floor apartment with earplugs and double pane windows. I live near the mountains and it has done a lot for my quality of sleep and quality of life.

That is a good point, when I started sleeping with earplugs at my parents house where I don't have a fan or some noisemaker it made a huge difference to me. I found I would fall asleep much faster even when there was no actual obvious noises to keep me up. I've noticed when I'm falling asleep even minor noises can 'jolt' me (its the best description I can think of) and effectively reset my progress of falling asleep. Putting in earplugs can cut my time-to-sleep in half when I'm away from home.

Intra-auricular earphones do the trick for me, temporarily. It's not earplugs but cancels enough to let me sleep.

Also known as the "I'm certain there's a TV that was left on somewhere in this house" phenomenon. I agree, annoying as hell.

Where "left on" means "merely plugged in, because they used a shitty noisy capacitor that whines even when on standby"

OTOH, unplugging those devices saves you energy.

I feel sorry for house dogs and cats, they must be going crazy listening to all the irritating electronic noises that most people don't notice.

Similarly: birds and old CRTs and fluorescent lights (they are much more sensitive to the flickering than we are)

i've noticed more and more cheap USB wall-wart chargers. I can hear them pulsing, it's sort of interesting, but super frustrating when trying to go to sleep (I end up just unplugging.. for which you can hear it scream as it drains)

I used to love the idea of a device without fans or spinning hard drive. But the last two "silent" tablets I've had randomly made very faint, but annoying, high pitch squeaking. Vibrating capacitors, I think. So ironically, I was better off with at least a low speed fan to provide white noise to cover up this faint electronic noise.

Exactly, it doesn't even need to have a picture on the screen.

I so happy to know there are other people that experience this. When I try to explain to people that I can hear a CRT TV with with no sound/muted just because it's on they think I'm crazy.

I'm 33, I got a powerline plug that emits a high-pitched whine that drives me crazy. When I was in Tokyo, my friends and I would pass outside a shop at night that would have a supremely annoying whine that made me quickly walk away from it, but none of my friends could hear it.

I also frequently have to ask people to repeat themselves and can't hear what they're saying well in noisy environments. I think I have superhuman hearing loss.

There are shops in Tokyo (and other countries) that emit a high pitched noise to keep teenagers from loitering

I'm in Osaka right now and you'll find those around the temples at night. They kill my ears but I'm the only one in my group that can hear them.

I think they're meant to scare cats away, but they work well for teenagers and people like myself (26)

While I don't think we have those, there are anti-marten devices for cars that are supposedly outside of the range of human hearing. They really hurt.

When I was a kid, we had a monitor that whined when there wasn't any video going to it. My parents couldn't hear it, but I could hear it from across the house. I'd get up when my father went to bed to turn it off.

Closer to what I think you're describing: The TV didn't "whine" really (at least, I was never completely conscious of it), but I always knew when it was on.

My hearing isn't quite as good now, but there are still a few devices that I keep unplugged because they're loud and high-pitched.

With an app like Spectral Audio, you can actually prove this to them. Though informing them of their inferior hearing may not be beneficial to a friendship. Ymmv.

I was 26 before I realized the whole world couldn't hear CRT screens.

I find that hard to believe (that the whole world can't hear CRT screens) as the capacitor or whatever it was, winds up/down - it's pretty loud. I think it's the case that there are a lot of older people that can't hear that high pitched scream, and its only younger people who can hear in that high frequency.

What you are most likely hearing are switched-mode power supplies, the cheaper the nosier.


"The operating frequency of an unloaded SMPS is sometimes in the audible human range, and may sound subjectively quite loud for people whose hearing is very sensitive to the relevant frequency range."

Even analog power supplies will generate a 50/60hz hum (depending on what the power-lines are providing)

The hum you hear is actually double the mains frequency (100/120 Hz) with emphasis on odd harmonics going up. Magnetostriction gives you two expansion/contraction events per wavelength, effectively doubling the frequency. (If everything is perfect, spherical cow in a vacuum, &c.)

Yes, the one that came with my Amazon Echo is the worst. I can hear it from 15 feet away. If I walk up to it and push on it it stops. I don't think pushing on it really makes the difference, I was guessing that it has to do with grounding it or something electrical changes when I touch it.

I can hear SSDs, consistently when I plug them, and the noise stops when unpluged, is that weird?

Hah. I discovered I could "hear electricity" when I was about 12 (and I still have a bit of it in my 40's), but luckily it was never particularly annoying (unless it was also quite loud).

Bonus: I leveraged it into the ability to emit (by sort-of-whistling with the tip of my tongue against my palate) sounds in the same frequency range (which has provided many hours of amusement over the years).

Oh, and this age-related degradation of hearing in the upper registers is also the basis of a few interesting things, like devices that discourage teens from loitering[1], and apps that allow teens to communicate under the noses of adults[2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mosquito

[2] http://www.psfk.com/2015/09/high-frequency-app-text-ringtone...

Same here. I have above average hearing (30 yo as well) and I hate so many high-pitched tones. But in a club or a bar I can barely understand anyone :(

Same same. Comparing my equal loudness hearing curve to that of my father is scarry, hehe. But neither of us understands too well when is noisy.

This happens to me as well. I'll walk into a restaurant and there is a high pitched ringing coming from the HVAC on the ceiling, I ask anyone else if they hear it… no one does.

I can hear when most TVs are on - actually as I type this I can hear the monitor. It's just a high pitched constant sound like a dog whistle.

Yet when I am in noisy environments I often am much less adept at figuring out what people are saying than others.

Are these two things related?

Probably not. There is a particular kind of hearing problem, where the brain doesn't process the frequency bins that sounds are broken down into very well. It impacts your ability to do source separation and tell the difference between different sources of sound. The symptom of this particular issue is that you can hear just fine when one person is talking, but have trouble in any environment where there are multiple sources of sound, so several people talking at once, background noise etc.

Because people have no problems in the classic quiet room, one person talking sound test environment, it tends to slip through the simple screening tests.

"Because people have no problems in the classic quiet room, one person talking sound test environment, it tends to slip through the simple screening tests."

This is exactly why every time I've had an Audiology test, I've never scored above "Average - Above Average", even though I can hear nearly every fluorescent light ballast, powered-on TV, etc. From my own personal tests that I've done with soundwave generators, I can hear up to about 20khz.

> actually as I type this I can hear the monitor. It's just a high pitched constant sound like a dog whistle.

Curse you for this! I've had this monitor for years without a problem and now I can't unhear it!!

By the way, I have the same exact problems as you do: hypersensitivity to high frequencies, and I can't hear / understand crap in a bar.

Printers, crt displays back when they were a thing, cheap chargers... even low-end LCD displays. All of them emit a high pitched frequency that can be maddening.

Interestingly it's pitched above the range of my tinnitus so I get to hear both most of the time :/

Summer here is my favorite time of year for that reason - the insect noise gets so loud at night, and falls right into the range of the tinnitus and e-noise such that it completely obscures them. It's almost like those sounds aren't there for a few months every year.

I've wondered if hearing loss can be induced purposely for specific ranges for cases like this. Maybe just loud sound of a given frequency would work since that would only resonate with and damage its associated hairs inside the ear.

This Reddit comment [1] suggests that people who work around CRTs a lot have a "notch" on their hearing tests at the CRT frequency of 15.734kHz. So yes it is possible.

On the other hand, you probably don't want the tinnitus that often comes with noise-induced hearing loss. Better to be able to turn off the noise (or wear earplugs) than to hear it all the time.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/1tepwv/why_is_t...

Naw. Just wear crappy earplugs (that is, that don't do a great job of silencing).

When I wear earplugs I can understand conversations better. Like many others in this thread, I have uncommonly good hearing but find it difficult to hear any conversation in a loud environment.

I have the same. They said it was hyperacusis. It's different than tinnitus.

This is me too. Also, treble-heavy noises like squeaks drive me insane.

There is not a hinge in my life that goes un-lubricated.

I need to get a hearing test, but I can often hear things that people around me can't (TVs, radios, bad speakers, etc). But put me in a noisy bar or restaurant and I'm at a loss. I figure it's my ADHD as well.

On a related note, this is why people talking during movies is so infuriating for me: while they're talking the movie is basically turned off for me.

Same for me and apparently many others in this post. Can hear fine with a single source of sound, little noises in distant rooms etc but put me in a noisy bar and I can't make out a thing.

That page seems pretty... unscientific. Sensitivity to coarse language, for example, is a social issue that has nothing to do with sensory sensitivity.

You might want to find an audiologist who knows how to diagnose/exclude Central Auditory Processing Disorder. It mimics some ADHD symptoms that aren't specifically hearing related, but also has as a hallmark not being able to separate foreground from background in noisy places and "hearing" people but not parsing the speech.

Some of the earliest work that Kahneman and Taversky (think behavioral economics or biases) stumbled upon that told them the brain was filtering/processing unconsciously and incorrectly was hearing focus. Different people would be able to recall strings of numbers played into each ear at varying levels of ability. The better you were at picking up more input streams, the better a bus driver, fighter pilot, or tank captain you would be.

Same-ish, I have perfect hearing and my eyesight is 20/15. I can barely hear people in bars or clubs. The best solution I've found so far are musicians ear plugs which attenuate most of the bass and highs in such environments. I've tried a few brands from Etymotic to Surefire to Alpine and I generally like the Alpine ones the most. Flare Audio also makes some, and I've looked at DUBS before as well. A few years ago, Etymotic was one of the only good products in this space, but there are a few now.

I'd definitely pony up for a pair from Bose. Their headphones don't impress me in the outright SQ department, but they have the best noise cancellation tech I've heard.

>"For me, the results were that I have hearing ability on-par with a ~5 year old, and they only see adults like me every 18 months or so."

Can you elaborate on this? Is this good? Does that age correspond with undamaged hearing?

Yeah, that's the implication. Age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis; it's quite common. Some of it can be attributed to being exposed to loud noises throughout our lives.

That makes sense. Thanks. I wonder what thing will be like after people have had 10-15 years of daily music listening through earbuds.

Hard as it may be to believe, earbuds/earphones/in-ear headphones were not invented with the iPod, or even the MP3 player. ;-)

Today, many adults already have significant hearing loss from having regularly listened to loud music on portable players like the Walkman starting 30+ years ago. The first research on this seems to have been done in the mid-80's.

>"Hard as it may be to believe, earbuds/earphones/in-ear headphones were not invented with the iPod, or even the MP3 player"

Believe I am well aware of that time before ipod/iphone/streaming services etc :)

However back then there amount of time spent by people wearing earphone and headphones was much smaller comparison. Even with the existence of the Walkman it was not common to see people using them for instance in the office and at their desks for hours at a time during the work day.

People also didn't spend hours on the phone chatting socially with them either.

My comment was really more about non-congenital hearing issues being potentially common place in the future as a result of this change.

> Even with the existence of the Walkman it was not common to see people using them for instance in the office and at their desks for hours at a time during the work day.

You're only considering adults. Teens definitely did spend hours a day with earbuds in.

>On the flipside, I'm very ADHD, which I think hurts my loud-space conversational abilities some.

Same. I'm also pretty sure that extreme difficulty sifting through conversations in noisy environments is a symptom.

I too have ADD and experience this.

For me (ADD) it help a lot with a couple of simple music ear plugs. It might sound a bit weird, but the lower volume helps me pick out voices much easier. Also concerts started sounding like music instead of mostly ... noise.

Has been like this forever and have never had any (other) problems with my hearing.

Can't agree with this more! Seriously, if you're a fan of live music, grab a pair and just try it at the next concert you go to.

Its a signal/noise attenuation, you'll hear _more_ detail, not less.

A pair like these are what I'd consider 'high end':


But I've always got a cheap set from the pharmacy in my pocket or the car somewhere. Something like this is perfect:


Interesting! I can totally see having hyper sensitive hearing being very annoying too. From one rider to another, make sure you always wear hearing protection under your helmet :)

I wonder if that's the problem - hearing is too sensitive - I have mysophonia (level 6) and I'm more likely to hear a packet of sweets being opened than someone talking.

Bar type conversations usually have me decoding people's facial expressions and nodding or grimacing at the right times.

I became unable to understand conversations in noisy bars and restaurants. I had my hearing tested, and it was normal. I can hear one person talking quietly from across the house, but can't understand a person right next to me in a bar. It's very frustrating.

A while back I was treated with cisplatin as part of chemotherapy. One of the side effects is ototoxicity. I acquired tinnitus that ranges from unnoticeable to distracting but not severe (I've noticed that green tea is a very reliable trigger for the rest of the day). I self-tested my hearing after chemo and found that I'd lost 15KHz and higher. I knew about the side effects before starting treatment, so I'd already run the same test. Pre-treatment, I could easily hear up to 17.5KHz.

I've adjusted to the hearing changes for the most part, but the most insidious new problem is acute sensitivity to nearby conversations when I'm talking to someone else. The best way to describe it is that I've lost the dynamic range of amplitudes. Rather than being able to focus on one conversation and hear it as louder than the rest, I feel that all of them seem to be at the same volume. The worst is when I'm out walking with another person to have a conversation, and we come upon another walking/talking pair. I need to let the other people go ahead until they're out of earshot.

No complaints overall. I'd have died without the chemo, so it was a favorable trade.

Like the others who have replied here, I've found that I have the same issue. I started noticing at maybe around 35 (I'm 38 now), and I know it was something new, as I spend a lot of time in social settings.

I assumed I was losing my hearing, which would make sense as I was a DJ in my later teens and spent a lot of time with large speakers and no ear protection. I went to get tested this past summer and I passed - my hearing is basically "normal for my age". They didn't have much else to offer, unfortunately.

What I've noticed in loud settings, like bars or busy restaurants, is that I can hear the music and everyone's voice at once, but I can't seem to pick out the voices directly in front of me.

It can definitely be a bit embarrassing as I'm constantly asking people to repeat themselves if it's a serious conversation, and if it's not, I try for a while until I lose the thread and then zone out and ask my wife about it later.

Same for me. I have had my hearing tested several times and always had pretty good scores. But I still don't understand people in loud environments. It would be interesting to try a hearing aid.

Some people with Autism Spectrum Disorder have this issue. I believe I had it when I was younger but it less noticeable right now.

Agreed. Social situations can be frustrating/depressing if you can't converse like everyone else.

I have the same problem and also was tested with "normal for age" hearing. But I know that most people can hear conversations in busy restaurants, loud cars, etc.

What could this thing be? ENT was very unhelpful.

I have this as well, and respond with talking louder since I think it is the same for everyone. Turns out it is not.

It can also be a neurological or psychological issue. I had my hearing tested after years of being totally unable to pick out voices in a noisy environment. Turns out my hearing is actually above average. My ENT suggested that I might just be "bad at hearing", in the same way that one might have poor memory, or have poor visual-spatial awareness. It's apparently a skill that can be trained.

I never thought of it that way but it makes sense. My hearing is fine and I can pick out quiet sounds, far away sounds, high-pitched sounds, etc... But I always have trouble turning the sounds that comes out of people's mouths into words especially if there's other noise. It's not a focus issue, either. I'm probably just bad at hearing speech in those situations for some reason.

I feel research in this area would be very relevant to foreign language learning. At some point you go from hearing gibberish to individual words, and then to being fast enough to assemble the words into meaning.

I have heard this[1] and my girlfriend (an amature musician) has worse hearing than me generally (subjectively based on quiet situations picking out very quiet sounds or high frequencies) but is way better than me in loud enviornments.

[1] http://io9.gizmodo.com/5839116/lifelong-musicians-can-unders...

An audiologist once told me that hearing is sort of mechanical; does the vibration in the air stimulate the nerves that send a signal to the brain? Processing is where we make meaning of the signal. They are distinct functions.

I hear just fine (slightly above average 'signal' for my age), but in a noisy environment I struggle to focus on the voice of the person in front of me and exclude the 'noise'. That's processing.

There are different aspects - I have good hearing (measured by quiet tones in an audiogram test) but a worse masking threshold than other people (so sounds are swamped by other, typically lower frequency sounds) but you are unlikely to find an audiologist who will test you for this, and anyway there is not much you can do about it.

I have mild hearing loss, but I never realized how much I relied on lip-reading until I started hanging out with a friend who habitually put his hand in front of his mouth while talking. "Brian, you've pressed mute again".

I have hearing aids, and I seem to recall reading at one point that lip-reading provides about a 10 dB improvement in speech comprehension.

I have similar issues and have "pretty good" hearing (been tested in the past 2 years)

My hearing is actually far better than it was when I was younger (32 now), I also had moderate/severe hearing loss from allergies (which I have mostly grown out of).

I always had a hard time understanding conversations, and thought it was my hearing but multiple audition tests confirmed that my hearing is just fine. I'm guessing it must be some mental inability to process words from the noise, since my hearing is fine. Hence, I don't think the OP necessarily has hearing problems.

I've had the same issue for a good chunk of my life. I have good hearing according to my standard and advanced 'musician' hearing tests (aside from tinnitus). But I have trouble focusing on a given conversation in a room full of noise. Places with flat walls reflecting sound make it especially difficult.

I have been tested in the past and I have very little hearing loss (other than some tinnitus), but I have trouble with the same things. If I'm in a bar or club if I'm not watching a person's lips I have trouble following the conversation.

Man, now I'm all worried.

In every physical where my hearing has been tested I've always gotten average results, but quite often if there is some noise in the room (like a dining hall or a bar) I have really hard time hearing what people are saying

Yeah, I'm sure, I've been doing audiometry tests yearly and the doctor says it's quite good.

Being able to pick out one voice in a cacophony is a learnable skill. If you don't have experience it's quite frustrating. I have decent hearing but I avoid these settings too. Talking in them is just too much effort.

I know I am half deaf(well have some hearing loss) and in loud spaces I have problems hearing people also

maybe a dumb question, but how do you get yourself tested? does a doctor have to order tests? is it a self-test?

No not a self test: you need to be tested by a professional. It's done in a sound proof booth using a standard set of tests, including mechanical things like measuring how well your eardrum responds to sound vibrations. I think I pay ~$75-$100CAD per checkup.

You usually don't need a referral as most hearing aid clinics will just let you call up and schedule an appointment. If you want to talk to an ENT specialist though, you'll probably have to go to your family doc first.

There's an iPhone app these days that will test your hearing called Mimi. Not sure how accurate it is. If you have symptoms you may want to confirm with a real doctor.

This is a known condition, apparently, called "Hidden Hearing Loss" and was covered here a couple months ago:


(if the direct link from here gets you to the paywall, it looks like a referral thing. Oddly going to it form Twitter worked, though Incognito and Web didn't: https://mobile.twitter.com/Jieqian_Zhang/status/780613322097...)

HN comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12637996

Direct link to the papers cited in the article: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep24907



(you can guess I also have interest in the topic...)

When I've described this problem to people in the past, I used my own term: "deconvolution issue". My mother and grandfather apparently have it too. Cool to see it's being researched.

I think of it more as a "demultiplexing" difficulty. I can hear the sound coming from their mouth, I just can't separate it from everything else and decode the language. I know that my hearing is good, even above average, and I don't suffer from tinnitus. I used to notice that I would have to ask people to repeat things a lot, and that other people didn't seem to have the same problem. I've found that watching the speaker's lips helps to some extent.

My own theory is that nobody can, in fact, hear everything that people say in such situations. But their mind does a great deal of work filling in the gaps. Our languages are surprisingly redundant, and quite often you can pick up everything you need to know from broken audio and other input like facial expressions and gesticulation. I think that my brain is worse at filling in the gaps.

Wow, never thought the synapses could be damaged. Very interesting to know, will tell the audiologist about these new tests.

Also, the link from Twitter worked, but the direct link hit a paywall.

You get no sympathy from people who can hear what's going on. They simply will not understand why you are so withdrawn.

Oddly enough, my wife has somewhat degraded hearing but she hears a lot better in noisy environments than I do. Must be like applying a filter to the noise, maybe she is losing the frequencies that cause confusion for me.

This will be an interesting product to try out - I hope there are more in the area of enhancing everyday interactions, rather than providing new distractions.

Enhanced vision is another area where I am hoping to see new products.

It's hard to express sympathy when you can't be understood. :)

Try these: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0044DEESS. I keep a pair in my pocket. They're shockingly good, and unless someone is looking closely for them they're not real noticeable.

They're also cheap enough that a lost pair is not catastrophic.

I was going to say the same thing. The general name for these is attenuating ear plugs. A lot of musicians, especially drummers, wear them on stage so they can hear their own instrument over everything else, at a sensible volume.

They vary primarily in their frequency response: some are flat and others are designed to cut specific frequencies more than others (e.g, for bass players vs guitar players).

I found out about them from a drummer who was wearing them in a nightclub after a gig. I initially thought he'd left them in by mistake, but he swore it made having conversations a lot easier. That, and he had no plans to go deaf from the loudness of the music (and you don't learn the drums if you dislike loud music).

I see a lot of live music. I am very lucky a doctor long ago told me I need to guard myself from hearing loss (he was treating me for an ear infection).

I always carry earplugs when I go to shows. Sometimes it's the nice plastic ones; sometimes I lose those and go back to the foam ones. Sometimes I forget and uses pieces of tissue (don't do that. When those pieces get stuck, it's slightly terrifying picking them out of your ear).

Last time I took one of those free hearing tests, I could still hear everything I should for my age range. I can still hear high pitch ringing (like from old CRT monitors), so I think my hearing is in decent shape for being in my 30s.

Hearing loss is a big problem in the US and it's spreading throughout the world. You don't want to be shelling out money of hearing aids later on in life (some are covered by medicare, but still) and once you start losing hearing .. you start to become isolated from people and friends. You will miss things and people won't bother repeating them or you'll just laugh and pretend you heard. It's isolating (according to a sign language instructor I had -- who wasn't deaf, but very impaired).

TL;DR Take care of your ears! Always have earplugs if you see live music a lot!

I don't go to concerts often but when I do, I tend to bring foam earplugs: partly to protect my hearing, partly because otherwise the music is usually subjectively painfully loud. Sometimes when I haven't brought them I make do with tissue.

Problem is, even without earplugs I always find it pretty hard to actually experience the music, comprehend the lyrics, etc. at concerts because it's so loud and distorted. Earplugs reduce the loudness (not as much as I'd like), but they also muffle high frequencies, making it even harder. I've sometimes resorted to the somewhat silly approach of having one ear plugged and one unplugged, alternating every few minutes, so I can hear the music better, while still somewhat reducing the volume accumulating over time. Probably not the best idea.

I haven't tried fancy musician's earplugs yet. I know they're supposed to provide a more even attenuation curve, but they also have less noise reduction overall, which isn't great. I suppose I should buy a pair and see what they feel like at a concert…

But do you have any advice? What's your impression of sound quality at concerts when you wear plugs?

Foam earplugs are absolute garbage. The difference is night and day.

With foam, it's like being at a rock show underwater. With musician's earplugs, it's like being at a rock show at a reasonable volume. Spend the $20.

With the sorts of metal and rock shows I go to, it seems like the 12-15db that flat response earplugs reduce isn't enough. My ears still ring with foams that do 33db, even with the highs being muddy. Are there any really expensive ones that have a flat response to at least the 20db level?

I also feel concerts can be painfully loud without earplugs (though I find foam reduces the volume too much, so either we have different preferences or you aren't getting a good seal with the foam).

I have the exact Etymotic attenuating earplugs mentioned a few levels up. They don't reduce the volume as much as foam, but they reduce it enough for me, and the sound balance is much better. I can understand lyrics better with those earplugs than any other configuration I've tried, including no earplugs at all.

They aren't magic and they won't get the volume/balance perfect for you, but for $13 they are pretty great.

The triple-flanged hearos are all you need[1]. I played drums in a few bands and always used these when practicing and playing live. Nowadays I take em to concerts as well. They sound great.


I regularly go to concerts as part of the audience, and also as part of a band. Getting ear-molded linear -15dB protections has been my best decision ever since I enjoy and practice music. I definitely recommend you give some a try.

Those are the ones I have - they make loud concerts much more enjoyable actually, since sometimes the volume seems to be adjusted for people who are already half deaf, as a result of going to loud concerts... it's a vicious cycle.

To be honest, I'd rather go to a loud show with earplugs than a quiet show without. Half the fun of a live show is the visceral punch of the literal sound waves.

Also covers the sound of people talking during concert (sometimes I wonder if it's intentional).

(another happy user of etymotics earplugs, was life changing for concert experience)

Having said that, earplugs can't protect against lower frequencies (that bass through the bone, rather than the air).

Because of this, even with ear protection, damage still occurs at clubs/concerts.

Your ears compress sound to a degree when it gets loud, I wonder whether there might be a difference in that capacity. I also can't hear a word in a noisy environment, I'm relatively sure my hearing is "fine"

Question: When you wear these, do you get the same sensation you get when you put your fingers/expanding foam earplugs in your ears? It is hard to describe but almost like a humming/pressure sound? Depending on how I put them in I can get that sound or not. When I don't get it, I'm not sure if they are working. When I do, the quality of the audio suffers.

I've been using these [0] for years at the initial recommendation of a colleague who goes shooting frequently. They've been great for travel on airlines, and for nights out at loud(er) events.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004DH0YOS

Nice. I use foam earplugs (usually worn by construction workers) when going to concerts.

I get some bad ringing in my ears for a few days if I don't wear them.

I'll have to try them out. I love Etymotic earphones and their support so far has been nothing short of fantastic.

I have the opposite problem. I can understand people fine in noisy environments, but I can't speak loudly enough for other people to understand me. The end result is pretty much the same, though. I end up not really talking to people much in super noisy environments because it's too much of a struggle for me to try to talk loudly enough.

Do you have a low voice? I think that's why I have the same problem. Lower voices don't seem to cut through noise as well as higher voices.

It is low-ish, but not abnormally or excessively so.

That's an early warning sign of Parkinson's disease. You might want to google and make sure you don't have any of the other early warning symptoms.

It's very interesting and a little scary that you mention that because, while I don't have any of the other warning signs, my grandfather recently passed away just short of the age of 80 from complications due to Parkinson's. For my own sanity I don't want to jump to any conclusions but I'll look into it, and I thank you for the suggestion. For what it's worth my voice has been relatively low and soft my whole life, so it's not a recent change or development. (I'm currently 27.)

In any case, talk to a doctor about it. Perhaps a speech and language therapist could help you.


We asked you to please not post like this, so we've banned the account. We're happy to unban accounts if you email hn@ycombinator.com and we believe you'll follow the guidelines in the future.


There is a lot more to hearing than just your ear. Signals have to be processed by the brain and that's often where the problem is. A good example are children with sensory integration problems: a child will often go through phases when it will have trouble "hearing", but the actual problem will be with processing. You then have to repeat things several times so that the child "hears" you, but at the same time the child will have no problem with hearing quiet sounds. Kids are especially interesting because as they grow (and with therapy) you can observe as these things change over time.

Same. I often wonder how bartenders do it.

Granted it doesn't stop me from being outgoing, but people having to almost shout or otherwise talk directly into my ear gets old after a while. I suspect it's not an issue with hearing itself so much as the brain processing the information.

In quiet conditions I can usually hear whispered conversations a good distance away.

I suspect my experiences bartending lead me to having the problem GP describes. Too much noise over and over... (although the summer jobs working with machinery and not enough ear protection and all the concerts probably contribute too).

But during bartending a few things are true:

* it's not too loud when you have time for a conversation.

* if it is too loud to converse, you're probably busy enough that interaction very simplified to a small subset of language - so lip reading becomes a big contributor to understanding. (e.g. basic greeting scripts, "can i get a..." and so on)

* when it's loud, it's pretty socially acceptable for the bartender to lean in to the conversation to hear - the "personal space bubble" of the speaker tends to shrink in that instance. Similarly a bartender asking you to repeat that a bit louder isn't considered rude.

edit: I wish I was clever enough to say this in as few words as BurningFrog did :)

The bartender API is very limited. The customer is either ordering one of a few enumerated things, or asking one of 3 questions.

This. As a severely hearing-impaired individual, context is EVERYTHING in a conversation. Or, like, 95%. In all but the best environments, I'm not actually hearing what you're saying, I'm pattern matching your garbled sounds to the closet logical words my brain can think of. The narrower the context, the better and faster I can do this.

This is why, for example, I don't answer unexpected phone calls. If I don't know the initial context of the call, the first minute is going to be very confusing for both parties.

burntwater is absolutely correct.

The human brain is remarkably good at filling in the blanks.

I rely on context, plus lip-reading, plus the sounds I do hear to figure out the rest.

For context - I'm not severely hearing impaired - I only have a mild-to-moderate loss in both ears, but it's enough to hamper me in normal conversations, particularly in group settings or noisy environments. I use Siemens hearing aids at work, at church etc. - basically, anything that's not 1:1, or where I can't easily ask them to repeat things constantly.

I really really am bad at hearing anything in a noisy environment yet I was a bartender for 3 years and never had a problem getting someone's order. You get used to reading people's lips given that there is only a limited amount of things they could be ordering.

Very often I didn't understand what the clients were talking to me about but then I'd hear keywords like "beer" or "tequila" and the quantity they want is very often requested using hand gestures (finger count).

Even then, the usual conversation between a bartender and the client is very short. To the contrary, when getting together with a bunch of friends you have to listen to entire stories which is way harder.


I've been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder somewhat recently. Before the diagnosis, I had my hearing tested a couple of times over the course of my adult life but nothing was found. It was during my ASD diagnosis that I've learned that people on the spectrum may sometimes have sensory issues, and sometimes hearing is affected. It explained why I can't understand what people were saying in noisy environments where everyone else seemed to carry out conversations normally.


I often have difficulty parsing speech in noisy bar/club environs. This has always made me into a bit of a wallflower. Then I started dating a woman who was also very wallflowery, but mostly because it was a lot of effort for her to talk loudly.

We ended up having a lot of arguments, because she'd say things to me, I'd tell her I couldn't understand what she was saying, then she'd refuse to talk louder but still hold me accountable for remembering what she said.

Oh how I know that feeling. The absolute biggest benefit of getting hearing aids was that my relationship with my wife improve immensely. Not joking at all, it was a constant source of friction between us even though logically we both knew neither one of us was really to blame.

Auditory processing disorder sums up a lot of what you are describing.


Same issue, although exacerbated by a misspent youth near noise sources like teletypes and machine rooms. Certain high frequencies in my hearing spectrum were damaged which, as an audiologist demonstrated for me once, means I can't hear some allophones, especially from people with high voices (children, women). When its nominally quiet, my brain can fill in what those allophones would have been and I "hear" them normally, but when there is wide frequency noise in that spectrum the missing allophones cause the phonemes to become impossible to decipher. She had this tool that would play back words and could remove frequencies with a notch filter and replace the missing sound with either silence (still understandable) or noise (not understandable). Tuning a hearing aid to boost those weak areas works well for me with the exception that hearing aids don't benefit from the brains ability to focus on sounds in particular directions so they enhance the spectrum areas from all around rather than just where I'm looking.

There's a little bit of a life-hack for this (assuming your hearing really is okay) in loud environments... Push the little flap of the recipient's ear (the flap is called the 'tragus') over their ear canal to seal it off. Then you can lean in and speak loudly enough to overcome the ambient noise without hurting them.

Assuming of course that the recipient is ok with you touching their ears...

The Army Rangers have headphones that cancel gunfire and explosions and enhance voices, they say they can have a normal conversation in the middle of a battle. Very clever!

Yeah, Peltors. Just don't forget to replace the batteries.

Indeed. I've got a set for range use and they work great (esp. on outdoor ranges).

Not only Rangers, but any unit that will order them for you.

I... Uh... Doesn't everyone have this problem?

Maybe this is another reason people think I'm brooding. I can only hear the people directly next to me in a noisy environment; not the people on the other end of a table for example. I typically assumed they couldn't hear me either, but now I'm wondering.

I work in a noisy (slot tech in a casino) and I was able to adapt to it to be able to hear people distinctly in a very noisy environment it's called the cocktail party effect.

Through a crowd of people and and multiple noisy machines I could hear someone ask me "Where is the bathroom" or "How do I..." I guess it's a learned skill.

Up to a limit I mean it's not a superhuman skill just existing in certain circumstances and in my regular environment. I'm sure I'd be terrible in a noisy environment I'm not used to.

Your description marks you as about average. What GP is describing is not being able to hear/understand people that are right next to them in a noisy environment, unless someone is literally talking directly into their ear.

That said, yes, it is entirely possible that someone at the other end of the table could hear and understand you.

My mother has this issue (and so do I). Her doctor told her that the problem was a cognitive issue. Apparently some brains have a hard time filtering all of the noise into something we can understand. Have no idea if it's true but seems plausible.

Did you get tested for ADHD? Many people with ADHD have problems with focusing on a conversation, especially when there is a lot of noise around.

Their hearing is perfectly fine, but they drift away a hundred times a minute.

You don't have to move a lot to have ADHD. Here is a fun test/explaination on how it works in adults: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iozAFIr3BEw#t=50

Yes, a psychiatrist evaluated me prescribed Ritalin.

I had a nice improvement in concentration and attention to what I'm doing at work, but I haven't gone out to a bar or concert since, to try talking in a noisy environment.

I have the exact same problem. This could really be a life changer for me. Only recently I was at a reception at work after one of our town hall style meetings and in the large room with many people talking, I could barely hold a conversation. It literally took all my mental effort just to hear what the person if front of me was saying. I left shortly after because I couldn't talk to anyone.

Actually just getting some earplugs helps this. Will filter your noise and make it really easy to have a conversation at normal level with someone near you. Use this myself for sports events, sometimes lounges, and of course flights. They cost way less than these headphones and work just as well to quell the problem you have.

Or if you don't want to use earplugs, just plug your ears when someone is talking to you. Same effect really.

I've recently started carrying earplugs on my keychain for basically this reason, everything just sounds much better. The only tricky thing is remembering to speak loudly enough so that everyone else can hear me.

Never thought about carrying them in the keychain, nice idea.

Possible fix:

I suffer a bit from tinnitus and as a result have taken to carrying earplugs for noisy environments. I find in addition to protecting my ears I can hear conversation better. I think basically the ears work better in the normal db range and don't function so well if overloaded. My kit, approximately:

Holder: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Large-Emergency-Cash-or-Pill-Keyri...

Wax ear plugs: http://www.boots.com/en/Boots-Muffle-Wax-Earplugs-5-Pairs-_1...

Wax is quite good because you can adjust the effect - put in loosely they don't block much, squish them down and they do. I also chop them down to fit which the packet advises against. I recommend for tinnitus avoidance if nothing else.

I'm the same and it drives me (and my wife if Im honest) crazy. For whatever reason I pick up background noise with much more intensity than most people. Surround sound is useless to me, I'll hear cricket chirps and background music over the dialog.

I can more of less push through it at a pub and in other social situations but its extremely draining.

You have described my problem exactly. It's impossible to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it. I've been tested and other than tinnitus, I'm told my hearing is normal. This could be awesome.

Please checkout King–Kopetzky syndrome:


Had that my whole life. I was diagnosed with "Hyper-Hearing" were normal people have a frequency bumps and dips in their hearing my was a straight line all at the top.

Now that I am lower I have ringing ears and lost the high frequency range of sound to a "slightly bellow level" and will probably never have to have hearing aids. My brain just couldn't figure out how to filter out all that noise.

Get medical help to test yourself. This is not to scare you but there are large number of sometime even trivial health issues that might cause this. It will hurt your social professional life.

I use to avoid drive-through, phone conversations etc. because there was always a 10% chance that everything I heard seemed like other person mumbling something. Medical help helped me correct the problem.

If you don't mind me prodding, what was the condition causing this for you?

You may have auditory loss that affects only certain frequencies.

The problem is easily masked in a quiet environment, since your brain has more aural information to put the words together, but in a noisy environment, where many of the speech frequencies are cancelled by ambient sounds, you don't receive enough aural information.

Woah, so many people "suffer" from the same thing!

edit. As for these hearphones, would be interesting to test them, but dont think I've used them. Never seen the problem as a big thing. More like annoyance perhaps. And yes, I am cheap.

+1 I have this same issue. I can hear but can't quite make out the details especially in places with a lot of background or competing noises.

This looks like a new spin on an old concept though. Perhaps it's made more practical since we all carry phones now.

Too many 80s rock concerts mean there's a giant downward notch in the center of my hearing range. I gave up on socializing in loud environments long ago because people speaking is what I hear the least. I will definitely give these a try!

Happy to see (with your comment and subs) that I am not alone. For my case, it is explained by the fact my right ear is deaf (I was born like that). The left one has perfect hearing, but I guess missing stereoscopic sound totally changes the game.

I have great hearing and totally agree. I am always annoyed being out with a bunch of friends around a restaurant table and no one can hear further than about 2 people away from them. This seems kind of neat!

Not to piggy back off randlet, but I would venture to say that most people would consider being unable to hear conversation when there is background noise the opposite of "decent hearing."

I have this exact same problem. It's been something that has bothered me for over a decade. I'm really excited to see if these work for me!

As a non native speaker I have same issue.

I'm not alone! I always assumed I had something like the auditory equivalent of color blindness.

This is an even bigger problem in a non-native language. Not just a social issue but hinders learning.

For me it's the height. I either have to lean in for 10 cm lower or I start missing pieces.

I thought I'm alone!

For what it's worth, this tech has been available in hearing aids for a long time already. I carry a remote that can:

* switch my hearing aids between 5 different programs depending on the environment.

* play "fractal" like tones to combat my tinnitus

* adjust the volume including muting the outside world

* play music from anything with a 3.5mm jack (bluetooth also available)

* hear calls from my phone

* probably more I'm forgetting

If it wasn't for the being hearing impaired part, having hearing aids is pretty cool :)

It looks like Bose is trying to bring this technology to a bigger market which is cool.

I think (or rather I hope) that it's the price tag and ease of acquiring them that makes this special.

I have wished to friends and to a couple people like me for a hearing aid for hyper-vigilant people. Something that turned down the entire world, except for human speech, by 10-20 dB. I have my fingers crossed that these Bose devices can be re-purposed for this, just by turning down the gain to near ambient, so I can finally have some fucking peace and quiet.

Then maybe I won't think these open seating environments are the worst development in software for the last twenty years...

My dad has tinnitus and pretty bad hearing (was a rock drummer in the 70's) but he found the hearing aids he got (they were at least a few thousand $ or more) made everything sound very digital/tinny and it was unnatural enough that he stopped wearing them. I wonder if these will sound any more or less natural than a nice set of hearing aids.

The older you get, probably the tougher it is to adapt too. Wearing hearing aids is very strange for the first little while since you're hearing all kinds of strange things again. For me everything seemed sharper/harsher initially but that's just because it all had been so muted for so long! It took me months of continuous wearing to get used to the sound so that it now sounds unatural to not be wearing them. He really needs to put them in when he wakes up and take them out for the shower/going to bed and thats it. If he only wears them occassionally, he'll probably never get used to them (my dad/grandpa had the same problem).

His audiologist can also set him up with a "training" program in his hearing aids that softens the amplification while he's getting used to them and after a few months go back to a more normal program. If he's not happy, have him talk to his audiologist...high end devices are highly tunable!

Thanks a lot for the info/advice. I will definitely share. He was wondering if a small directional speaker attached to some part of the ear that allowed the natural sound to just be augmented by an amplified speaker would be better than blocking the whole ear from natural sound and replacing with digital. I wonder what the "digital" effect of these Bose headphones will be. I would expect that they are inferior to hearing aids that have been under development for eons but maybe it will be a different approach that addresses different problems.

I had basically the same problem, but was unable to adapt. I got my hearing aid when I was 17 or 18. Everything sounded tinny and harsh, and my hearing in my left ear is more or less normal.

I guess the bigger problem was that putting it in my ear made me very dizzy, but I'd have tried to deal with that if the sound weren't so bad.

What do hearing aids with those feature cost? I feel like even premium Bose products would be cheap in comparison

Yes, they're expensive. I think I payed $6000 total for 2 hearing aids with a 3 year service contract and expect them to last 5-6 years (possibly longer). You can certainly get cheaper ones though without all the bells and whistles. You're right though, Bose is going to have to come in way below that price ;)

I've been amazed for a long time at the cost of hearing aids. Surely the tech is not that costly nor that specialised? How much do those $6k devices cost to make, I can't imagine it's even a 10th of the sale price?

I mentioned it in another post, but my guess is that it's due to insurance companies footing the bill (and government subsidies in Canada) so they can get away with charging more.

Thanks for the response. What kind of ongoing service do they require that a service contract would be desired?

I have a degenerative hearing disease called otosclerosis so my hearing changes pretty frequently. My contract includes yearly adjustments to change the amplification vs frequency curve of the aids to compensate for my personal hearing loss profile, and free batteries for 3 years (zinc-air batteries that last ~5 days).

I'll second the pricing - you can figure around $3,000 per ear, plus another $500-$1,000 for the premium accessories. Price varies of model and included services, but that's the ballpark, as is the 5-6 year lifespan if well cared for (I had older analog aids that could last 10+ years and even survived submersion in water. Digital, not so much).

> play "fractal" like tones

What does that sound like?

It's called Widex Zen. Here's a sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqWMa7fEH-4

I'm not sure if it's actually fractal like in nature (hence the quotes around fractal); it's just somewhat random tones that help distract your brain from the tinnitus sound. I like it, but in situations where my tinnitus is bad (quiet rooms) I usually opt to have music on instead.

Are those hearing aids linked together like the hearphones are? It seems to me that a large part of being able to cut down on ambient noise and boost local conversation is because local conversation is more directional than ambient noise.

Do you think they'd be worth getting just for the ambient noise cutting abilities alone? My daughter has complete hearing loss in one ear and normal functionality in the other. Normally she's fine, but in a crowd she's completely lost.

Mine are not linked and don't have real direction control but you can definitely get aids with that capability. It's certainly worth a shot. I'm not sure if she's wearing ha's yet, but many places will let you try a pair for 30 or 60 days to see if she likes them.

I would probably find it annoying to swap out my ha's for the hearphones regularly, but might be worth the annoyance if it allows here to converse more normally!

This sounds like something I need, what technology are you using, is this doctor recommendation equipment?

It's built into my hearing aids (Widex Dream 440's). I decided with my audiologist what the best features would be for me!

Can you share a link? I know someone who could really use the help

I use Widex Dream 440's[1] (superseded by the Unique 440's I think) but all of the major players (Siemens, Widex, etc) offer these features.

[1] http://www.ziphearing.com/blog/widex-dream-440-review/

Wow the pricing is amazing (think: price of 2016 MBP 15"). Is this due to the way healthcare equipment pricing works?

2016 MBP per ear!!! I'm not sure why the price is so high but I suspect it has to do with insurance companies footing the bill a lot of the time. I know Costco now offers hearing aids at cheaper prices but I don't have experience buying from them.

Thanks a lot!

I really wish someone was working to solve the problem of tinnitus. Would it be possible to generate anti phase wave out of these things to cancel out tinnitus? I would pay anything and/or wear any goofy device in my ears to live life tinnitus free.

A project I worked on suggests vibrating the bone just under the earlobe at around 50kHz with a piezoelectric stack might help. 8 years or so ago I helped make a pocket sized and rechargeable medical device that operates on this principle. Last I checked it was still in FDA hell but helping the majority of sufferers in the trials. The theory of operation is that is breaks up tiny air bubbles stuck to the hairs in the inner ear.

An interesting side note is that you could 'hear' a very high pitched sound when using the device even though 50kHz is far outside the standard human hearing range. We still are not sure but think we were hearing a lower harmonic of the tone bouncing around the skull.

I wonder if you are hearing a "beat" tone (a third tone which is heard when two tones of different frequency are played. Playing tones at 500 and 600 Hz will also cause a tone at 100 Hz to be heard). This is how 3D positional audio systems work -- they beam two ultrasonic tones, and the difference tone appears to emanate from where the ultrasonic beams intersect.

Sending 50kHz vibrations into the earn should interact with a 49kHz tone to cause the listener to hear a 1kHz tone.

(This is all from an acoustics course I took over a decade ago, so take it with a grain of salt!)

I would love to learn more. I know someone who suffers from severe tinnitus. Any improvement could be very life-changing!

edit: is this your project? http://www.tinnitus.vcu.edu/Pages/Tinnitus%20Improvement.pdf

Our device was very similar to this china manufactured version: https://www.melmedtronics.com/product/the-inhibitor/

Any chance you could provide some links? White papers, etc.?

Joining interested others to ask for any links to your work. Thanks!

I suddenly lost the hearing on one ear and it got replaced by a strong and permanent tinnitus. I quantify it as strong based on my talks with others with tinnitus.

What worked for me was stop fighting and start loving it. Now it's a perma mantra. Some somatic malfunction that enables me to ear the hum inside of me or whatever poetry works for you. Try it maybe.

> What worked for me was stop fighting and start loving it. Now it's a perma mantra. Some somatic malfunction that enables me to ear the hum inside of me or whatever poetry works for you. Try it maybe.

Whoa, what an interesting strategy. Here's a question for you: is your tinnitus a constant predictable pitch? If so, you could probably train a strong relative pitch skill enough to be able to spoof perfect pitch! That's pretty cool.

Been an amateur musician I did try that, but sadly what I hear has a big range of frequencies and it also changes. Curiously its pitch fluctuates when I move my head or eyeballs.

Thanks for the suggestion tho.

Part of tinnitus can be caused by physical issues - neck strain can exascerbate it

That is a very interesting approach. Nice idea, thanks.

I think there already is a kind of therapy. I read that they basically determine the exact frequency of your tinnitus. Then you give them music you like and they filter the frequency out. By listening to the altered music, the tinnitus is reduced. It seemed to work quiet well, but I forgot what the procedure is called.

I'm hearing a tinnitus for over 10 years now, so I know what it's like. :)

> It seemed to work quiet well

That's the most perfect typo I've seen in a while.

Whenever I need relief, I use this (or something like it) http://www.szynalski.com/tone-generator/

I found the frequency of my tinnitus (67hz) and changed the octave until I found the best result (268hz).

That seems straightforward enough that you could try it on your own?

I'm curious how you would go about determining the frequency of your tinnitus.

As long as you have decent pitch, it shouldn't be too hard. Just listen to square waves at various frequencies until you narrow in on the frequency of your tinnitus.

When you play two square waves that are slightly off, you also hear a really obvious pulse that corresponds to how off they are (1 pulse per second means they're off by exactly 1 hz, and so on.) I don't know what the experience of tinnitus would be, but assuming you can hear the tinnitus and a square wave at a close pitch, it should be fairly easy to isolate the exact frequency with a binary search.

I tried with the tone generator linked elsewhere in the thread. One, there's no pulse, which isn't surprising because tinnitus is all in my head. Two, at least for me, tinnitus is not a single well-defined pitch. It fluctuates. Sometimes just by concentrating on it I can move the frequency up and down.

I found a frequency that was pretty close to what I hear (it's convenient that my left ear is mostly normal), and cranked it in my right ear. I now hear something like a distant swarm of bees, or a server room full of very loud fans.

Yes, it does. But I had completely forgotten about it until now.

> Would it be possible to generate anti phase wave out of these things to cancel out tinnitus?

No. Tinnitus is not caused by a real sound. It occurs somewhere after the phase-erasing Fourier transform performed by the physical structure of the ear. If it were caused by a real sound, or the brain added sounds in the time space (rather than the frequency space), it would work. But neurons are not fast enough to handle time-domain sound processing, so they offload Fourier transformation to the ear and then work with the (presumably phaseless) frequency-domain representation.

But neurons are not fast enough to handle time-domain sound processing, so they offload Fourier transformation to the ear and then work with the (presumably phaseless) frequency-domain representation.

Then how is it that you can play one frequency into one ear and a slightly different frequency in the other ear, and the brain will register the beat frequency?

Keep in mind that the binaural beats community spouts a lot of BS.

Only for the lowest frequencies (say, under 100 Hz) are there reliable traveling waves to even measure in the brain. Due to the firing refactory period where a neuron resets its membrane potential, most neurons have a max firing rate in the range of 250-300 Hz, so it's not possible for difference tones to explain any binaural beats above those frequencies.

Even for lower frequencies in the range of delta-gamma waves, it seems deeply unlikely that difference tones are the explanation, because the neurons encoding for frequency are separated spatially, so it's not as if two traveling waves reach the same neuron, subtract out, and result in the difference frequency.

However the brain produces the beat frequency, it's nothing like the way signals subtract in other media.

Keep in mind that the binaural beats community spouts a lot of BS.

That's not where this is coming from. If, as you say, the brain is processing information in the frequency domain, then how would beat frequencies arise? I'm not debunking what you are claiming. That fits what I know about hearing. I'm genuinely curious as to how!

Ah, my apologies. We used to have an RA in my old lab who was a little too obsessed with binaural beats. He claimed he could use mp3's like drugs...

My primary area of study was perceptual consciousness in the visual domain, so I had to look a little more in-depth into binaural beats to answer your question. So, it appears that frequency coding is the norm for higher frequencies, but not for lower frequencies, which are the only ones we can hear binaural beats from. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find much relevant neuroimaging literature, so I don't really know.

Binaural beats are an auditory illusion, but I'm not sure of what process. The lower frequencies do record phase information, and use that for localization information (comparing phase differences at each ear for a frequency tell you the angle it came in from), so It could be related. Sorry again!

Any nonlinearities in the Fourier transform process (of which there are presumably many) will manifest as harmonics of the beat frequency. I'm on my phone right now, but if you take two simple-ratio tones, add them, apply a nonlinearity (like exponentiation to a non-1 power), and then Fourier transform, you will see the beat frequency and its effects. I imagine (but do not know) that this is the physiological mechanism for high-frequency beat frequencies.

For binaural beats with low-frequency tones, I can only guess, but you can actually reconstruct phase information from the frequency domain signal depending on your sampling period. As a trivial example, imagine f << 1/T; now you can treat the DC component of the Fourier transform as a time-domain signal that contains f. I imagine that's how binaural beats work, as they occur at sufficiently low frequencies for this to happen. It could also be that the ear transmits low-frequency time domain information as well as frequency-domain information.

> neurons are not fast enough to handle time-domain sound processing, so they offload Fourier transformation to the ear

This is my new favorite way to describe the process. Gonna use this with my students :)

There's a technique that has the potential to temporarily (around 1 minute) clear tinnitus.


It's not much and doesn't seem to work for everyone, but if you've been suffering from tinnitus for years, one minute is better than nothing.

I've tried this in the past. It gives me about 5 seconds of quiet time. Just enough to realize how loud my tinnitus really is :(

It worked for me but I'd forgotten what not having it was like, and I'm not sure I actually enjoyed the reminder. It was fascinating though.

see my other comment. I wish they didn't start by forcing you to have tinnitus to begin with. I'd use foam inserts if they were given out at concerts and clubs etc - but not if I'm the only one bringing them with me, that's ridiculous.

tinnitus is caused by people listening to music that is too loud. Music is too loud at most venues, if you are standing where you are meant to.


people don't like this comment, and point out that in many places inserts are available. All the same, the general clubs that I go to where I live, don't have them, and, more to the point, nobody else wears them. it's a social problem and perhaps a marketing problem. many bars / clubs are too loud and I as a consumer haven't been solicited to pay for a solution on-site. (even if this exists.) others I'm with don't wear anything either.

The responses here have convinced me that I likely should invest in some and bring them with me - but I don't like that I'm the only one doing so, and it seems kind of anal. i'm just being honest about how I feel. it would be easier if they were more readily available / being sold, and if everyone were using them.

I like to be cool and do the same thing everyone else does. just being honest.

I've learned that it is just necessary to bring foam earplugs to a lot of events. (even movie theaters now).

In general, if the performers are wearing them, you probably should be, too. Your health is not a good place to think about being worried about what other people aren't doing to protect theirs.

You should look into something like these instead of regular foam. http://www.etymotic.com/consumer/hearing-protection.html

I got a pair for EDC after realizing the foam earplugs were ruining the music. These reduce the volume with minimal muffling. Also pretty cheap considering they'll last a long time.

I picked them up at guitar center - they can help you get the right ones.

For those that use earphones a lot at work or on public transit or whatever, I also highly recommend Etymotic's in-ear isolating earphones. They are basically those musician's earplugs with a small driver in the tip. They reduce external noise on-par with foam plugs, so I can listen to my music at much lower volumes rather than cranking the volume of the music to drown out my surroundings. The sound quality is quite good as well. I have the hf3 model and they are by far better than any other earphones I've used that are sub $200.

Their headphones are great in terms of the quality of sound they produce, but their durability leaves a lot to be desired. I've used both the MC5's and HF5's and both ended up with shorting out on one side (HF5) or falling apart (MC5) on me within just a few months.

Interesting, mine have held up pretty well. My hf3s are going on four years old. I've used them on a near daily basis at work and fairly frequently under a motorcycle helmet. The exterior sleeve of the cords is starting to fray at the attachment points to the actual earphones, but they still work just fine. I expect I'll have to finally replace them within the next year or so, but I'll do it happily because they've outlived everything else I can remember in my daily rotation including two phones, a laptop, a wallet, and a backpack.

>The exterior sleeve of the cords is starting to fray at the attachment points to the actual earphones, but they still work just fine.

That's how it started with my MC5's. I put a piece of heat shrink tubing over the fray in order to postpone their demise but ultimately the plastic housing of the driver itself broke. The HF5's one day just stopped working out of one ear. I was never particularly rough with them or anything and only really used them at the office, but that was it for me.

I since moved on to a pair of Sennheiser MM 550-Xs but stopped using them because there was Bluetooth interference in my office (every one of about 70 desks in an open plan has a Bluetooth phone headset). Plus, the band messed with my hair and scalp.

Now I'm on a pair of Sennheiser CX 686G SPORTS that I originally bought for running but now use at the office. Sound's good enough and the build quality is superb since it was designed to be tossed about while doing active stuff.

I would gladly go back to Etymotic if they came out with something new in the $100ish price range, but for now I'll stick with Sennheiser. I've bought probably 6 different pairs of headphones from Sennheiser of varying styles in the past decade or so, and they all still work (with varying degrees of wear and tear). The only time a pair has broken on me was because I stupidly tried putting them on after they spent a night in a below-freezing car and didn't give them time to warm up, snapping the plastic headband, and their warranty service still replaced them with no questions asked.

Shure SE series are good for this as well. Sometimes I just have the earphones in with no music to cut background noise.

I'll corroborate. I'm a musician, and I can play music wearing Ety-Plugs! (I used to buy the ER-20 "baby blues" but the same object is now called "Ety-Plug.") They are far from perfect, but for the money, they're pretty darn good. (Freq response is not flat. However, it's way flatter than the foam plugs.)

Another vote for Eytmotic's earplugs from me. I like going to metal concerts but hate how loud they crank the volume since it muddles the sound. With these earplugs you can actual pick out individual instruments during the performance, plus the added benefit of not destroying your hearing.

I second this. I've mostly used datacenter earplugs over the years, which really mangle music. These earplugs are sold to musicians and are really great for music.

Absolutely. I have a pair of these and they go everywhere with me. Movies, concerts, sports events--anything with loud sound--these are perfect. They're small enough to tuck away in my purse so I never forget them.

It's insane how loud some movie theaters are nowadays. My first experience with this was three years ago in Hong Kong, watching "Pacific Rim". At first I thought it was a technical problem and looked around me to see how other guests react, but nobody seemed to mind, apart from our small group of Europeans. I seriously contemplated leaving because it was almost unbearably loud and I was worried about my hearing. Lately I've had similar experiences here in Austria, so it seems the trend is moving towards louder movies in cinemas, though I really hope they at least make an exception for children's movies, since it would be a shame to submit them to such a loud environment for hours at a time. (not that it isn't bad for grown-ups too, it's just especially worrying with children)

What gets me is how arbitrary sound levels seem. I'd expect sampling in the theatre to set the volume level to avoid hearing damage and make the levels comfortable but what appears, to me, to happen is the projectionist sets the sound level - so if you get a projectionist that is [seemingly] practically deaf then the volume level is far too high.

Went to a kids show, some disney tripe or other, volume was painful for me and made my youngest at the time cry ... movie theatres clearly have a thing about being loud but surely that doesn't help to make them a place anyone wants to be. Yes, I went out and spoke to someone and had the sound level lowered, it was still loud; I'm sure it was beyond the safe working volume set by Health & Safety Executive [UK] though. Amazed that it's not monitored and set automatically.

I always have these available around my house... I used to carry them with me everywhere.

I started using them in the 90s rave scene in SF. I would go to a party and would always bring earplugs with me, extra ones and hand them out. Especially to people who appeared to have had... a little too much. Sometimes handing a plastic bag of earplugs to someone who has had too much is a great thing from them as it helps them center a bit more.

I personally think that all concert ticket windows should hand these out with each ticket purchase/pickup.

I used to do this at Ska concerts in NY. I am a woodworker and always have a gigantic box of them at home, so it was easy to fill a ziplock.

One time I got grabbed by a bunch of bouncers and forcibly expelled from the venue - they thought the purple earplugs were drugs. Once they realized they were super apologetic and we had a good laugh about it.

>I wish they didn't start by forcing you to have tinnitus to begin with. I'd use foam inserts if they were given out at concerts and clubs etc - but not if I'm the only one bringing them with me, that's ridiculous.

No one is "forcing you" to have tinnitus. And what's so "ridiculous" about protecting your own hearing?

We are responsible for our own self-destructive behavior, like going to concerts without ear protection. Almost everyone's done it, but let's not blame other people for our own recklessness.

Just bring them with you. Better yet, invest in a pair of better earplugs[1] - they have a flatter frequency response, so the music sounds way better than it does with the foamies.

Most venues will also either give you or sell you (for $1) a pair of foam earplugs at the bar. Do it.

1: http://www.etymotic.com/consumer/hearing-protection.html

tinnitus can be caused for other reasons than loud music, some that are not that well understood. Any sensorineural hearing loss can be accompanied by tinnitus. Autoimmune inner disease (AIED) and meniere's disease can bring about tinnitus. Tinnitus sucks. I think the best guess is nerve cells in the inner ear firing improperly and generating a random noisy signal that gets interpreted wrong by the brain.

I've got otosclerosis which causes tinnitus too. It sucks, but thankfully you get used to it somewhat and listening to background music brings me a lot of relief.

all right - sounds like you know a lot about it. Is it fair to say most tinnitus in the world is preventable, and most (as a percentage of people suffering from tinnitus) have had as a direct cause loud noise? (So that if they had had earing protection, they would not have tinnitus.)

open-ended question.

Hearing protection is worthwhile. I don't know if we understand tinnitus well enough to say whether most of it is preventable.

At the concerts I go to, at least 1/4 of people standing near the front will be wearing earplugs. Sometimes it's the majority.

Perhaps that's the scene (metal, northern Europe). Most venues will sell for 1EUR, or give away, free foam plugs, but most people have better ones.

I keep a pair of high-quality earplugs[0] on my keychain. They're completely invisible and always there when I need them. I find myself using them about once a week.

Nobody is going to protect your ears for you.

[0] http://www.earasers.net/

I love earasers. Best I've used so far. Super comfortable, tiny, and discreet. No one even knows you're wearing them, and they work so well for concerts, without making everything muffled. I use them for everything with noise at this point,mowing the lawn, snowblowing, etc.

My tinnitus is hereditary, from my father's side. I have a constant ringing that my mind usually filters out unless I think about it, but some nights it can be pretty "loud".

I quote the word because I can hear even the slightest sounds like the ticking of a watch in another room in complete silence, while at the same time being overwhelmed by the ringing. I had a hearing test done a couple years ago at a neurological institute to try to diagnose other issues (migraine-related), and my hearing was higher than they could measure. So it's not damage. It's quite fascinating.

I've gone to only one concert in my lifetime, and I don't listen to loud music. I haven't been around loud equipment for any length of time.

Does it get louder when you clench your jaw? Sometimes tinnitus is due to teeth/jaw issues. Sometimes people report tinnitus getting worse or better after getting teeth removed or jaw work done. For a variety of reasons, I'm starting to think my ringing is at least partially due to pressure on my teeth and jaw. Now I need to find a TMJ specialist who will be willing to try to figure out what might help.

That's an interesting observation! Yes, it does, and it's a higher pitch.

That might be something to explore; thank you for that. I also grind my teeth aggressively at night (which I wasn't aware of until ~1y ago when my wife told me).

tinnitus is a symptom with many causes.

Loud noise being just the most common--and least treatable--cause.

Another cause is otosclerosis, which is preeminently treatable.


If you have tinnitus, don't assume that nothing can be done. See an audiologist.

I've stuffed paper towels in my ears in spinning or zumba classes. The loudspeakers are in front of the students blasting right at us. The teachers are behind them and generally younger.

The foam earplugs are pretty cheap in bulk. I've brought bags with me to concerts and given them out. (I want to help make the world safe for acoustic music.)

My tinnitus was caused by a movie theater. It was the first showing in an imax theater and I was seated in the top row (probably directly under a kicker).

Most venues and festivals I have been to have free ear plugs

that's cool - maybe I go to different places. I'm in Europe and go to just general concert venues or clubs etc.

Don't know if it's mandatory, but I think every concert I've been to in Switzerland has had free earplugs (foam and sometimes better ones). They also often have tinnitus prevention posters shown. In practice many people use them (and a bunch of people bring their own better earplugs).

I find that really nice (and wish more countries would do the same).

I'm afraid that's not possible. There are, however solutions that help making it easier to endure. Here is one: http://www.oticon.global/solutions/accessories/tinnitus-soun...

I believe tinnitus is neurologic, in that there is no noise to cancel out.

Longtime sufferer of tinnitus. This has been my understanding as well. From what I understand, once the hair dies, the brain seems to compensate by filling it with eternal noise. If there is a cure (my hopes are low), my guess is that we need to have a better understanding of the brain.

A random idea: that mechanism reminds me of phantom limb pain. I wonder if there could be a treatment analogous to mirror therapy, at least for monaural tinnitus.

Searching just now turns up http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2010/01/11/tinnitus_the_ea/ and http://www.therasmusforum.com/tinnitus-type-is-similar-to-ph...

I've tinnitus, and hearing lost since 20 years old, I was musicians, playing keyboards. Now I am 42 y old. I hope, maybe soon we could have a solution, take a look this article -> https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229662-400-deaf-peo...

Can be from physical damage to the stereocilia in the inner ear.

An ex-coworker founded http://www.neuromoddevices.com/technology. It's still in the clinical research stage, but it's a cool device that utilise bi-modal neuromodulation and aim to promote positive therapeutic change within the human nervous system.

I can't personally endorse their services, but there are companies working on treating tinnitus. Check out http://www.ttsrelief.com/

There was some discussion (on HN I think) a while ago where basically you flick/drum fingers at the base of your skull about 10 times.

I've tried it and it seems to work at least for a while for me. YMMV.

I have read that NMDA agonists (DXM, Ketamine, PCP, other arylcyclohexamines) work pretty well for this. Anecdotally, their withdrawal symptoms include tinnitus so I'm not surprised the inverse could be true.

It also looks like more specific NMDA agonists are being developed as a treatment? http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal....

I found blocking loud noise with earplugs allowed my ears to recover naturally over time to a fair extent. It may not work for everyone but it's easy and cheap to try.

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