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Turn Down the Volume: Talking Quieter with Headphones On

What is the first thing you do when you plug in your headphones? You turn up the music, right? Maybe it’s just me. But how often have I seen someone wearing headphones and speaking loudly to their friend or colleague next to them who can’t hear anything because they are wearing headphones too! It’s really frustrating. So how do we speak quieter with our headphones on?

Due to the “Lombard Effect,” we speak up not just to help others hear us but to self-monitor our own output, typically due to something limiting our hearing. You purposefully increase the audio level to compensate and hear it yourself to ensure it sounds right.

So while it seems like something you do without thought it is actually something biologically driven from deep within. You basically need to hear yourself to make sure you are being heard which causes you to amp up your voice based on the number of ambient sounds.

Why Do We Speak Louder?

There’s a constant sense that we need to hear our voices right now. So, when we’re wearing headphones, we tend to talk louder since it will be more difficult for us to hear our own voice over the noise in our ears.

We have a raised voice, and the sound from the pair of headphones is more focused on our ears, allowing us to mask noise when we talk. As a result, we do all possible to raise the volume of our voice to compensate while wearing headphones.

When you’re at a loud concert, the same thing happens. The sounds from the speakers and the live audiences are adding to the noise in the venue.

That is why the majority of those in the crowd speak at a considerably louder volume. They are attempting to hear their voice so that the other person understands it as well leading to volume levels increasing to compensate.

When listening to music on headphones, we tend to speak more loudly for a variety of reasons. It isn’t just because of the loud noise or the music in the background.

Additionally, this can be understood due to an overall hearing problem. Even if you’re not listening to music, talking louder because of a hearing problem is natural.

Why Do We Hear Our Voices Differently?

We try to modify our voice whenever we communicate so that it feels right, something we can hear properly and which sounds good. When we attempt to listen to our voice via recording, however, it seems significantly different than when we speak.

That is why, after hearing your voice in a recording, you tend to hate it and feel unsatisfied since the voice you hear isn’t “yours”, but instead the one everyone else hears and we are not used to hearing our voice differently.

The reason for this is that we can hear our voices internally and externally. When you speak, the sound will come out of your mouth and sound waves will travel to your ears; this is known as external hearing.

We normally can hear ourselves internally when we speak since the vibrations produced by our vocal cords travel up to the bones up to our heads. As a result, when we only listen externally, we notice a considerably higher voice.

When we listen to our voices from a recording, however, it sounds considerably higher in pitch. It’s because we are hearing it only externally through the sound waves traveling from our mouths losing that important internal vibration.

When we listen to music on wireless headphones or earbuds, the same problems occur. Without being able to hear yourself speak well to level-set your external voice, you tend to boost your own speaking volume.

This internal voice is insufficient all by itself since it is merely vibrations generated by our vocal cords. It would be difficult for us to hear our external voice, especially in a noisy environment causing you to speak louder and more forcefully.

However, since you now know this information and the cause of this loud voice projection, you can be more aware and choose to lower the volume of your voice. Try to force yourself to talk naturally and conventionally whether or not you can hear your own voice when speaking through your headphones.

The “Lombard Effect”

A French otolaryngologist (an ENT or Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor) discovered that people raised their voices when you blocked their ears from hearing effectively.

Lombard used a “deaf-making instrument” invented by Nobel Prize-winning Viennese physician Robert Bárány, which produced a loud noise in one ear. Lombard observed people’s conversations while they were exposed to the isolated sound, and his research revealed that their speech was altered in several ways.

In “Lombard speech,” you use considerably more lung power, elongate your vowels and raise the pitch of your voice. You also place more emphasis on important terms, typically being overly descriptive to convey your point.

Final Thoughts on Talking Quieter With Headphones On

If you’re wondering how to speak quieter with headphones on, it’s important that you remember how our ears work. When we use headphones, earbuds, or any electronic devices, not only do the sounds come out of the speakers and into our ears, but they also travel up to them internally.

Because we can only listen internally while wearing headphones, we tend to hear ourselves at a much lower volume in comparison because there are no external sound waves due to the audio device blocking them.

This may lead us to believe that talking louder will make it easier for other people around us who can’t hear us well enough due to background noises; however, by doing so we are actually making communication more difficult since these increased volume levels cause others’ voices just become louder and indistinguishable.

Instead, you could choose to use the headphone volume control to lower the volume in your ears which will help you hear more of the normal volume from them in addition.

This also can be an issue with noise-canceling headphones due to them muting external noises, choosing instead to use headphones without noise cancellation may help you hear yourself much better for better speaking.