Can you hear 20 Hz when you reach 50 or 60+?

Ren Kitchener

Ren Kitchener

Junior Audioholic
I read that the older you are, the less of the top end you can hear (I'm at 13 kHz at a push), but on the plus side, you can hear lower frequencies. So, I did some tests using my Agilent sinewave generator, into a good set of AKG headphones, that are claimed to go down to 15 Hz.

I soon found out that with a poor THD headphone amplifier, you can hear down to 20 Hz, but it's not 20 Hz that you hear, it's the harmonic distortion. So I used the direct output of the Agilent. in this case, I genuinely could not hear down past 33 or 35 Hz.

Are there any older folk here (or younger) that can hear a sinewave below 35 Hz? Of course, you can indeed 'feel it' from a good loudspeaker. If so, I may need better headphones or a good 'spring-clean'...
 
slipperybidness

slipperybidness

Audioholic Spartan
At 20Hz, that is right about where you start to feel the audio more than hear the audio. I can certainly hear 30Hz on my BMRs, I played a 30Hz test track to confirm that my DIY BMR was digging as deep as it should be.

So, I am not surprised that you did not hear 20Hz on headphones. That 20Hz signal takes some SPL to feel it too, like when you can feel all the hairs on your arms vibrate, and you will never get that from a set of cans.
 
TLS Guy

TLS Guy

Audioholic Slumlord
I read that the older you are, the less of the top end you can hear (I'm at 13 kHz at a push), but on the plus side, you can hear lower frequencies. So, I did some tests using my Agilent sinewave generator, into a good set of AKG headphones, that are claimed to go down to 15 Hz.

I soon found out that with a poor THD headphone amplifier, you can hear down to 20 Hz, but it's not 20 Hz that you hear, it's the harmonic distortion. So I used the direct output of the Agilent. in this case, I genuinely could not hear down past 33 or 35 Hz.

Are there any older folk here (or younger) that can hear a sinewave below 35 Hz? Of course, you can indeed 'feel it' from a good loudspeaker. If so, I may need better headphones or a good 'spring-clean'...
You are not going to hear 20 Hz with headphones.

At 20 Hz it is more of a feeling state then a hearing state. If it is produced at power, you will feel pronounced vibration in your internal organs. Unless you have a really strongly constructed home and room, the room will suffer mechanical vibration. The one I have now does not, but the theater chairs vibrate, and you would think you have a butt kicker, but there isn't.
 
S

sterling shoote

Audioholic Field Marshall
I'm 70 and I can feel 20 Hz, don't know that I've ever heard it. My 15 inch JBL B380 sub, powered by a 560 watt amp, gets down to 23 Hz at -6db and from test records I can just barely hear the presence of tones down to 23 Hz. This is at a SPL of about 60db average at my seating area.
 
S

shadyJ

Speaker of the House
There is some debate about audibility of frequencies below 20Hz. I think you can hear 20Hz a lot easier than you can feel it. For bass to be 'felt,' it needs to be at a very high SPL level or it needs to hit the resonant frequency of some part of the body. Headphones are not a great way to explore what can be heard at very deep bass frequencies. There can be a lot of distortion, and the way that the headphones are fitted on your head has a huge impact on the low-frequency response. You need those headphones to have a tight seal around your ears to get a good bass response.

You really need a sub that can play deep with low nonlinear distortion levels.

Keep in mind that our sensitivity at around 20hz is very poor, and you need a fair amount of SPL just to even begin to hear it. Look at this graph:

The lowest curve in that graph is the minimum SPL you need to sense any sound in that frequency. What that is telling you is that you need many thousands of times more SPL energy just to sense 20Hz than upper midrange and lower treble frequencies where our hearing is most sensitive.
 
S

sterling shoote

Audioholic Field Marshall
There is some debate about audibility of frequencies below 20Hz. I think you can hear 20Hz a lot easier than you can feel it. For bass to be 'felt,' it needs to be at a very high SPL level or it needs to hit the resonant frequency of some part of the body. Headphones are not a great way to explore what can be heard at very deep bass frequencies. There can be a lot of distortion, and the way that the headphones are fitted on your head has a huge impact on the low-frequency response. You need those headphones to have a tight seal around your ears to get a good bass response.

You really need a sub that can play deep with low nonlinear distortion levels.

Keep in mind that our sensitivity at around 20hz is very poor, and you need a fair amount of SPL just to even begin to hear it. Look at this graph:

The lowest curve in that graph is the minimum SPL you need to sense any sound in that frequency. What that is telling you is that you need many thousands of times more SPL energy just to sense 20Hz than upper midrange and lower treble frequencies where our hearing is most sensitive.
Your graph here pretty much is my experience that I mentioned in my earlier post. I now am managing multi-channel bass from my OPPO; and, just one setting is working for music, as well as movies. Instead of attempting to match channel levels by ear, I instead set by SPL for a 60db average at distance from speakers.
 
TLS Guy

TLS Guy

Audioholic Slumlord
There is some debate about audibility of frequencies below 20Hz. I think you can hear 20Hz a lot easier than you can feel it. For bass to be 'felt,' it needs to be at a very high SPL level or it needs to hit the resonant frequency of some part of the body. Headphones are not a great way to explore what can be heard at very deep bass frequencies. There can be a lot of distortion, and the way that the headphones are fitted on your head has a huge impact on the low-frequency response. You need those headphones to have a tight seal around your ears to get a good bass response.

You really need a sub that can play deep with low nonlinear distortion levels.

Keep in mind that our sensitivity at around 20hz is very poor, and you need a fair amount of SPL just to even begin to hear it. Look at this graph:

The lowest curve in that graph is the minimum SPL you need to sense any sound in that frequency. What that is telling you is that you need many thousands of times more SPL energy just to sense 20Hz than upper midrange and lower treble frequencies where our hearing is most sensitive.
That is the point though you will feel it more than you here it. For me when I play a 20 Hz tone, it is hard to know with what senses you are detecting it. It is all enveloping.

On Jonathan Scott's organ Prom in RAH August 29, 2020, the BBC commentator mentioned that her internal organs were vibrating and the wooden panels in the building were vibrating. That is exactly the effect you get in this room playing it at concert levels. For the organ in the RAH that is very loud. When it was installed in 1871 the air supply was powered by two huge steam engines! I bet that made the stockers raise a sweat.
 
Last edited:
Ren Kitchener

Ren Kitchener

Junior Audioholic
There is some debate about audibility of frequencies below 20Hz. I think you can hear 20Hz a lot easier than you can feel it.
Thank you shadyJ - the graph illustrates the point well. My Agilent outputs an exact flat amplitude from near DC to 15 MHz. So, it's clear that to hear 20 Hz, I would need a significant level increase, but to move the 'cone' enough in my headphones, they will probably reach their peak displacement and distort.

This is the 'paradox' in my question I think.

About 8 years ago, I constructed a 1kW amplifier to power an 18" 650 W speaker, that had a resonance of 18 Hz. The cab was the size of a large fridge, and twice as heavy - tuned to 18 Hz.

I remember testing it at 18 Hz (at about 100 Watts). I definitely couldn't t hear it, but I could certainly feel it - it wasn't a pleasant feeling (after about 30 seconds, I felt a tad unwell).

~Ren.
 
pcosmic

pcosmic

Full Audioholic
Thank you shadyJ - the graph illustrates the point well. My Agilent outputs an exact flat amplitude from near DC to 15 MHz. So, it's clear that to hear 20 Hz, I would need a significant level increase, but to move the 'cone' enough in my headphones, they will probably reach their peak displacement and distort.

This is the 'paradox' in my question I think.

About 8 years ago, I constructed a 1kW amplifier to power an 18" 650 W speaker, that had a resonance of 18 Hz. The cab was the size of a large fridge, and twice as heavy - tuned to 18 Hz.

I remember testing it at 18 Hz (at about 100 Watts). I definitely couldn't t hear it, but I could certainly feel it - it wasn't a pleasant feeling (after about 30 seconds, I felt a tad unwell).

~Ren.
Low frequencies are even used as torture tools. Many guys on this forum might be masochists because they pay big money for it. Lol
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Overlord
At 20Hz, that is right about where you start to feel the audio more than hear the audio. I can certainly hear 30Hz on my BMRs, I played a 30Hz test track to confirm that my DIY BMR was digging as deep as it should be.

So, I am not surprised that you did not hear 20Hz on headphones. That 20Hz signal takes some SPL to feel it too, like when you can feel all the hairs on your arms vibrate, and you will never get that from a set of cans.
Ever talk to an audiologist? We start to feel the sound a lot higher than 20Hz- more like 150Hz. If you have ever seen a thing from the late-'70s into the early-'80s called a 'Bone Fone'? It used bone conduction as the way to get lower frequencies to the listener and if you hold it away from the body, it's all mids & highs.
 
TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Ninja
Low frequencies are even used as torture tools. Many guys on this forum might be masochists because they pay big money for it. Lol
Not just for low frequencies, either! I love seeing all the room curves well above 90 dB..... there's gonna be alot of people that can't hear when they're older! (hopefully they don't actually listen that loud)
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Overlord
I read that the older you are, the less of the top end you can hear (I'm at 13 kHz at a push), but on the plus side, you can hear lower frequencies. So, I did some tests using my Agilent sinewave generator, into a good set of AKG headphones, that are claimed to go down to 15 Hz.

I soon found out that with a poor THD headphone amplifier, you can hear down to 20 Hz, but it's not 20 Hz that you hear, it's the harmonic distortion. So I used the direct output of the Agilent. in this case, I genuinely could not hear down past 33 or 35 Hz.

Are there any older folk here (or younger) that can hear a sinewave below 35 Hz? Of course, you can indeed 'feel it' from a good loudspeaker. If so, I may need better headphones or a good 'spring-clean'...
Claiming 15Hz is great, but does this show anything like 15Hz-20KHz ± 3dB? If not, the spec is optimistic at best and useless, at worst. Lots of things reproduce 20Hz, but it's inaudible because it's not loud enough to hear.

We don't hear deep bass and headphones don't reproduce deep bass at high output because on-ear phones would damage our ears irreparably if they did. The excursion and pressure would kill ear drums because the volume of moving air would be greater than the volume in our ears and ear canal. Our ears were never supposed to hear 20Hz (or below) and that chart for the Equal Loudness Contour shows how well we hear at various frequencies- flip it over and you'll see it- it looks like a terrible speaker response curve but the way it's usually shown indicates the level needed in order to hear the sounds at the same perceived level.
 
Ren Kitchener

Ren Kitchener

Junior Audioholic
Claiming 15Hz is great, but does this show anything like 15Hz-20KHz ± 3dB? If not, the spec is optimistic at best and useless, at worst. Lots of things reproduce 20Hz, but it's inaudible because it's not loud enough to hear.
I agree highfigh - the headphone's 15 Hz claim is probably embellished. It would be interesting to know how low us older folk can hear (a note), compared to the younger folk, when comparing 'apples with apples', and I'm not sure there is an easy answer to that, without conducting numerous tests.
 
Trell

Trell

Audioholic Field Marshall
I agree highfigh - the headphone's 15 Hz claim is probably embellished. It would be interesting to know how low us older folk can hear (a note), compared to the younger folk, when comparing 'apples with apples', and I'm not sure there is an easy answer to that, without conducting numerous tests.
It all depends at what level and for how long one has listened to sounds that will accelerate the natural ageing related hearing deficiencies. There is also several illnesses that can cause hearing damage, and even your mood on a particular day (not kidding, really).

In EU there are regulations for how loud a signal, say mobile phone, can output (unless overridden), for good reason. Similar for concerts, traffics, drilling, etc, etc.

There are many sources for hearing damage in our modern society.
 
pcosmic

pcosmic

Full Audioholic
Not just for low frequencies, either! I love seeing all the room curves well above 90 dB..... there's gonna be alot of people that can't hear when they're older! (hopefully they don't actually listen that loud)
I am no evolutionary biologist, but, to me the FM/loudness contour curves indicate that this is a evolutionary adaptation to protect hearing.

One of the reasons i do a lotta music listening in multichannel (take a break from stereo) is because i crank it up less in multichannel. The enveloping and immersion can be obtained at much lower spl levels than stereo. Of course, higher resolving speakers and gear help crank it up less as well.
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Overlord
It all depends at what level and for how long one has listened to sounds that will accelerate the natural ageing related hearing deficiencies. There is also several illnesses that can cause hearing damage, and even your mood on a particular day (not kidding, really).

In EU there are regulations for how loud a signal, say mobile phone, can output (unless overridden), for good reason. Similar for concerts, traffics, drilling, etc, etc.

There are many sources for hearing damage in our modern society.
Yeah, we have regulations for jobsites, residential noise ordinances and other situations- the issue is that on a jobsite, the business can be held liable if they don't provide hearing protection but the workers don't always use ear plugs- over-the-ear protection would be better and easier to see, but it doesn't fit under a hard hat or while wearing some uniforms. Large concerts and festivals are another place where peoples' hearing is damaged- the max SPL readings are taken at the mixer, but that may be well over 100' from the speakers and everyone at the front is getting their hair parted by the sound and if the limit is supposed to be 95dB at the board, the first row may be getting more than 120dB, which is definitely more than enough to cause damage- OSHA limits exposure to 120dB to 15 minutes per eight hour work day.

Even driving a car with the windows open will cause hearing loss and the car, itself, can be extremely quiet- it's the wind noise and other vehicles that create the excessive SPL. Well, that and the need to hear the stereo over the noise.
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Overlord
I am no evolutionary biologist, but, to me the FM/loudness contour curves indicate that this is a evolutionary adaptation to protect hearing.

One of the reasons i do a lotta music listening in multichannel (take a break from stereo) is because i crank it up less in multichannel. The enveloping and immersion can be obtained at much lower spl levels than stereo. Of course, higher resolving speakers and gear help crank it up less as well.
Intelligent design aside, our bodies adapt to whatever we need them to do, over time and to some extent. Older people have big ears and we also lose hearing acuity as we age- coincidence? I don't think so. Probably a good thing that our eyes don't become larger.......:eek:
 
M

MrBoat

Audioholic Samurai
I can't hear naturally beyond 12k, meaning, without trying. It would be too distracting if I had to focus on that range.

OTOH, I don't feel like I am missing anything. It occurs to me that, maybe I never did hear above 12k.

It also occurs to me that speakers in general have gotten a lot better. Even the budget lines of many, are contenders. Tweeters have gotten so good, that I am now into all of the tiniest percussion accents to where I sometimes pick a band (or genre, for that matter) based on it's percussionist/s section. Take Latin jazz, for example. There is so much cool sounds going on in the background, and the tonal quality is incredible.

Main point being, if not being able to hear beyond say, 10khz is a handicap, I am ok with it. I have not enjoyed audio as much as I do now in my life that I am aware of, unless it's just another of those 'hindsight' tricks, that aging also plays on us. Anything else? Being born in a time of well exercised imaginations, due in part to lack of technology as part of that learning curve, I can pretty much bank on that to fill in the missing bits. We're hearing the resonant harmonics of the friction of a bow on a violin. If music didn't match our aged hearing as well as it does, we would not be driven to listen so obsessively.

Good time to be alive.
 

newsletter
  • RBHsound.com
  • BlueJeansCable.com
  • SVS Sound Subwoofers
  • Experience the Martin Logan Montis
Top