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Cold and sound...
#282747 12/17/09 02:20 PM
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Each year, I notice the same phenomenon, but quickly forget about it, especially since I automatically put it in the "psychosomatic" category. But this year, it just hit me to post the effect and see if anyone as actual info and verify that it is caused by sensory perception.

The phenomenon is as follows: when it is cold enough outside, my iPod starts sounding better (clearer, neater, cryspier). Yesterday and Today, temperature are between -15C and -20C in Montreal and the sound change took me by surprise yet again.

So, is it due to the cold changing our (my) senses and making us (me) perceive sound differently, or is the cold changing enough the frequency response of my (our) headphones that I (we) notice a... noticeable change?


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Re: Cold and sound...
EFalardeau #282751 12/17/09 03:06 PM
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Hi Eric,

Very cold temperatures will certainly affect the frequency response of transducers (speakers, headphones, microphones, phono cartridges) but almost always negatively, i.e. high-frequency response usually suffers. In speakers, cold will thicken the ferrofluid liquid that surrounds the voice coils and inhibit the movement of the voice coil, slowing it so it doesn't respond fast enough to high frequency movement, and the speaker will sound muffled or muted. Similar effects may occur with damping materials in microphones and cartridges, but it's odd that you find the sound from your iPod ear buds "crisper" in the cold.

I've not seen any conclusive data on the response of our eardrums to cold, other than the speed of sound changes with humidity and in the cold the air is very dry, but that still wouldn't support your experience.

Regards,
Alan


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Re: Cold and sound...
alan #282752 12/17/09 03:14 PM
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Cold normally helps clear up your sinus/ear passages, my guess is your less clogged up.


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Re: Cold and sound...
EFalardeau #282754 12/17/09 03:17 PM
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Hi again Eric,

The more I think about this, the more I believe it's a psycho-acoustic effect. Certainly when you are in very cold weather (and I recall that Montreal winters are brutally cold), you seem much more alert, keyed up. It's almost shocking when you first encounter really cold temperatures. So perhaps, as you've noted, it's simply that your senses, including hearing, are heightened.

I was thinking about ear buds or headphones: your body heat would keep them relatively warm and insulated from any termperature effects on the voice coils, so the effect you are experiencing is a heightened sensory perception. . .this would seem to be fertile ground for some post-grad student to investigate.

Alan


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Re: Cold and sound...
alan #282760 12/17/09 03:39 PM
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Thanks. I had always dismissed this as being a perception thing, but I thought I would throw this to the forum.
I will pay attention when it gets actually cold (-15C/-20C can only be described as "somewhat colder" \:\) ), but I might be too preoccupied with survival than music...


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Re: Cold and sound...
EFalardeau #282767 12/17/09 04:25 PM
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I agree with Alan that it is a possible combination of psycho-acoustics and actual changes occuring in the body which could possibly alter your senses.

Cold is a threat to the human body so naturally there is some natural survival insticts/changes happening and it will alter your perceptions. Under "normal cold" within the threshold I would think there would be an initial attempt by the body to send warm blood to the brain, ears, feet, hands etc. When changes are occuring in the brain, anything is possible. It is possible under your conditions it could heighten the senses. Under extreme conditions over a period of time that warm blood will get diverted to save the brain and other vital organs and the "less important" areas such as the feet, hands and ears would be sacrificed. No bloodflow or reduced bloodflow in cold equates to frostbite and lack of sensation. I guess this could be equated to the sensation of your arm "falling asleep". Sensation/perception and blood flow are definitely intertwined \:D ( I won't go there) :D.


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Re: Cold and sound...
BlueJays1 #282789 12/17/09 06:02 PM
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I’ve never really dug into this, but I’ve always “thought” that I could hear better when ambient air temperature is colder. Hunting first thing in the morning as the sun comes up on a cold autumn day for example. It always just seamed that I could hear things better than later in the afternoon.

But now that I’m thinking about this in response to reading the thread, I think there is some theory to support this thought. When you consider the speed of sound, it is rated at 68 deg F. The equation changes as the temperature changes or if the humidity changes. Also, sound travels faster in water than air. All this leads me to believe that a human being can hear better, or at least differently as the ambient temperature fluctuates.

I’ll be pondering this for a while……….

Re: Cold and sound...
michael_d #282791 12/17/09 06:07 PM
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Could it be that the closer you get to the dew point the better the sound moves through the air as it now conatins the most moisture it can hold for that given temperature? The dew point is usually achieved in the early to late evening and morning hours.


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Re: Cold and sound...
EFalardeau #282797 12/17/09 06:41 PM
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Are you using the iPod outside *in* the cold? Or do you mean just *when* it's cold outside. If it's actually *in* the cold, then there could be some physical reason. Maybe a prelude to those fancy-pants liquid nitrogen treated frozen speaker wires that some purveyors sell. ;\)

But if you just mean *when* it's cold out, and you're using the iPod inside a heated space, then I think it's just in your head. Well, I guess it's all in your head, regardless. ;\)

I wouldn't think that atmospheric conditions could make a difference to the sound waves themselves in this scenario. There's just so little atmosphere between the headphones and your eardrums. And most of that distance is inside your head anyway, all of it if you're using IEM's. Whatever space the sound is traveling through is going to quickly warm to near body temp & humidity anyway.

Certainly, atmospheric conditions affect sounds over a distance. The scenario of hearing better in the woods on a cool autumn morning is likely caused by temperature differences. If there is enough of a temperature difference between the woods and the atmosphere above, or even between the spaces within the woods, sound will react to those different densities. I'd suspect that it would cause sounds to be more readily reflected around within the spaces. So like being in an echoey room, things seem louder. And later in the afternoon as the temperatures equalize, there's less of a trapping affect. Sort of like how WWII submarines would hide from destroyers under different thermal layers of the ocean.

But yes, cold definitely can mechanically affect speakers. But not in a good way, in my experience. The easiest way to observe this is in a car if it sits out in the cold. On a bitterly cold day, the speakers will often sound tinny and distorted until the car warms up a bit. It's especially noticeable with speakers that have rubber surrounds.

Randy might be on to something. The cold, dry air of winter will dry out your sinuses. And since ears are part of the whole mucus-and-earwax network in your head, it could just be that your hearing is a bit better when your head's dried out. \:\)

Interesting topic. I look forward to hearing what other's have to say about it.


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Re: Cold and sound...
PeterChenoweth #282808 12/17/09 07:17 PM
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Yeah, we just dipped down to about 60F (about 16C) the other morning. BRRRRRRR! \:D

I like the theory of hearing better when your head is less clogged up. I have pretty bad allergies and sinus issues, but when I was going to college in Indiana, I would LOVE the winters because I could wake up every morning without being stuffed up. Would make sense that the clearer your head is, the better your ears work.

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