5 Sounds You Probably Can't Hear
Think you have perfect hearing? There are still plenty of sounds in the world that you can’t detect. The low range of human hearing starts around 20 hertz, and tops out at about 20,000 [PDF]. By contrast, bats can hear ultrasonic sounds with frequencies up to 110,000 hertz. Other animals, like elephants, hear sounds many times lower than those a human can perceive. And as people age, their hearing gets even worse, eliminating even more sounds from the range of audible noises. Here are just a few sounds most people are missing out on:
1. Sounds for young people
As humans age, their hearing changes. Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, means that older people can’t hear some high-pitched sounds they would have heard in their youth. Most people over the age of 18 cannot hear the 17,400 hertz tone in the video above.
2. Music designed for cats
In 2014, activists from Pussy Riot rigged an electric piano to play music designed specifically for cats. Cats possess ultrasonic hearing, meaning they can hear a much wider frequency of sounds than humans (or most other mammals, for that matter) can [PDF]. Although people could hear portions of the concerto Pussy Riot staged to protest Internet censorship, the melody is a whole lot more complex from the feline point of view. For what it's worth, the cats seemed to enjoy it. Research has shown that cats are pretty into feline-specific tunes, in general. (We have some video evidence.)
3. A dog-specific Beatles’ song
In the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life,” the band included a whistling noise at a frequency of 15,000 hertz right after the last chord of the song, designed to be heard by canine Beatles fans. “We’d talk for hours about these frequencies below the sub that you couldn’t really hear and the high frequencies that only dogs could hear. We put a sound on Sgt. Pepper that only dogs could hear,” Paul McCartney told the BBC in 2013. (The sound starts just after the 5-minute mark.)
4. Ultrasonic finger friction
When you gently rub your thumb and index finger together, the friction creates an ultrasonic signal [PDF]. The action is a useful way to test out the function of a bat detector, which converts ultrasonic sound from bat echolocation into noise humans can hear. In the book Insects Through the Seasons, entomologist Gilbert Waldbauer writes that pet bats can be trained to respond to the sound, and fly toward it.
5. Infrasonic elephant calls
Elephants can hear and make sounds well below human range, to as low as 14 to 16 hertz. They can also produce these infrasonic calls at extremely high volumes, around 85 to 95 decibels. For comparison purposes, 95 decibels is the equivalent of the noise of a subway train from 200 feet away. These loud, low sounds allow elephants to keep in touch with each other over distances of more than a mile. Listen to an example of these elephant rumbles from the Elephant Listening Project.
See Also: 9 Strange Sounds No One Can Explain