Have you ever said, “I don’t sound like that!” after listening to a recording of your voice? Well you’re not alone. We’ve asked the experts to explain why we hear our voices differently when we speak vs. when it’s recorded.
Let’s start with the basics! We hear by sounds entering our ears through two separate pathways, air conduction and bone conduction. Air-conducted sounds reach our inner ear by traveling from our environment to the ear canal, eardrum and middle ear finally arriving in the cochlea (the fluid-filled spiral in the inner ear). Bone-conducted sound reaches the cochlea directly through the tissues of the head.
When you speak, you release sound energy into the environment and the sounds reach your cochlea through air conduction. In addition, when you speak sounds also travels from your vocal cords and other structures directly to the cochlea (via bone conduction), and the mechanical properties of your head enhance its deeper, lower-frequency vibrations. So when you speak what you’re really hearing is the combination of sound carried along both pathways.
When you listen to a recording of yourself speaking you are no longer hearing the bone-conducted pathway. This is why your voice will often sound funny or unfamiliar.