Image by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash.

What does it sound like to have hearing damage caused by noise?

I’ve put together a short audio playlist of noise-induced hearing loss simulations. These give a small idea of what it’s like to live with tinnitus, difficulty understanding speech, and loss of music enjoyment because of preventable sensorineural hearing damage.

Please listen at your own discretion and use a soft (low) comfortable volume for these audio simulations.

Note there are no simulations for hyperacusis or decreased sound tolerance where the brain over-amplifies sound. Imagine the ear/head pain from sound alone is like banging your elbow on a table or stabbing a knitting needle through your eardrum.

Simulation: Tinnitus

People with noise-induced tinnitus hear sounds in their ears or head when there is no outside sound source, e.g. buzz, hum, whistle, static or some combination of sounds.

Tinnitus has been compared to a bright red dot in the middle of a person’s visual field that never goes away.

Imagine hearing these types of sounds 24/7.

The Sound of Tinnitus from Simulated Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (1999) by WorkSafeBC.
Audio begins with information about tinnitus.
Tinnitus sounds start around 01:00.

Simulation: Problems Understanding Speech

These audio simulations help show what speech sounds like when people have mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss.

Noise-induced sensorineural hearing loss includes damage to the inner ears (cochleas), hearing nerves, and central sound/speech processing systems in the brain. This causes distortion plus loss of hearing.

Note the estimate of noise-induced hearing loss risk in Canadians is now up to over 6 million people. It’s around 70 million people in the USA, and over a billion people worldwide.

While you’re listening, imagine how difficult it would be to have conversations if you had sensorineural hearing loss.

Notice how making the audio louder doesn’t help much, because of distortion from noise damage.

Ali Baba Story from Simulated Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (1999) by WorkSafeBC.
Audio begins with information about hearing loss.
00:40 Story starts in quiet with normal hearing followed by mild, moderate, and severe high frequency hearing loss, again followed by normal hearing.
02:00 Story continues with normal hearing in quiet compared to moderate hearing loss in quiet and background noise, followed by normal hearing in background noise.

Simulation: Music Distortion

Do you enjoy listening to music?

Noise damages pitch and loudness perception so music is distorted plus loss of high frequencies. In a worst case scenario, noise can cause diplacusis, or such severe pitch distortion that a single audio input can be heard as different pitches in each ear.

Music sounds terrible from a noise-damaged hearing system.

These audio simulations are also from Simulated Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (1999) by WorkSafeBC. They show what music sounds like if you have normal hearing, mild, moderate, or severe sensorineural hearing loss, and then normal hearing again.  

Notice how music changes even with mild hearing loss.

Imagine losing clear, crisp music to enjoy because of preventable noise damage.

Classical: Mozart

Folk/Pop: Graceland (Paul Simon)

Folk/Pop: You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon)

More Music Simulations

Here are some more genres showing what music sounds like with noise damaged hearing.

These are from Auditory demonstrations II: Challenges in speech communication and music listening by NASA Glenn Research Center, Acoustical Testing Laboratory.

The audio simulates progressive noise-induced hearing loss exposure from repeated exposure to 90 dBA average noise.

The hearing loss gets worse with every beep, assuming 5 more years of unprotected harmfully loud exposure.






How can you protect your hearing health?

If you have to lean in or raise your voice to talk to somebody within 1 meter or 3 feet away, then the ambient noise or music is too loud.

If your personal listening volume is set around 50% or higher, you could be putting your hearing health at risk.

In your daily life, if you notice temporary muffling, sound distortion, or tinnitus after noisy or loud sound exposure, it’s a sign of early noise damage.

Don’t wait until you notice hearing problems. You can prevent damage from ever starting.

Even if you already have hearing problems from loud sound exposures, it’s never too late to stop damage from getting worse.

  • Turn audio volumes down, when possible.
  • Avoid loud to very loud personal listening.
  • Always wear properly fitting hearing protection when needed, whether hunting, going to loud concerts, or using noisy home or garden equipment.
Note: The above audio simulations are intended for free educational use. 
Author content is her own and does not represent WorkSafeBC in any way.