The sound of construction, chatter, and of course, the music in the air, helps define and make our lives more colorful. But of course, too much of anything is also a bad thing.
All this noise can cause trouble if you hear too much of it at one time.
Why? Because sound is NOT FLAT.
It’s made up of different frequencies — the most significant of which are low frequency and high frequency sounds.
In this article, let’s try understanding what these are to help you determine how to deal with any noise or sound problem around your home!
What Is Sound Frequency?
Before we delve into the difference between low and high frequency waves, we first need to determine what sound frequency is.
For starters, let us define first what sound is.
What Is Sound?
Sound is a wave — specifically speaking, it is a mechanical wave caused by the vibration of particles in a medium. This medium can be water, air, or even a solid material.
When a sound wave reaches our ears, our eardrums are the medium that vibrates to allow us to listen to music and the speech of our loved ones.
What Is Frequency?
Frequency refers to the number of cycles in one second.
A long wavelength would correspond to a fewer number of cycles in a single second. Such a sound would be classified as one with LOW frequency.
On the other hand, sound waves with short wavelengths would mean more cycles in a single second. This is classified to have a HIGH frequency.
The different frequencies help make up the different sounds around us. It is measured in Hertz (Hz) and is related to pitch.
FUN FACT: Pitch is responsible for the difference in the many musical notes in musical instruments that help us to perceive the different songs we enjoy.
What Are Low-Frequency Sound Waves?
Low frequency sound waves have a frequency of 500 Hz or under.
Extremely low frequency sound, also called infrasound, has a frequency below the lower limit of normal hearing (around 20 Hz). A typical person usually cannot perceive infrasound.
While infrasound cannot be perceived by the regular person, exposure to it can still cause nausea and head aches.
Low frequencies are associated with a lower pitch. Some examples of sound that fall in this range are waves, avalanches, elephants, and hippopotamuses.
Another example would be the lowest notes in music, which produce musical notes that fall between the 5-70 Hz range.
Low frequency waves are more prevalent in our environment in low frequency noise.
For example, when you turn up the bass in music, you will be hearing more low frequency sounds.
What Are Medium-Frequency Sound Waves?
Middle frequency sounds have frequencies ranging from 500 and 2000 Hz.
This is usually the range wherein you can regularly hear sounds and where intelligent human speech is perceived.
An example of a sound falling in this category would be the middle C in a piano’s treble clef, which is just above 500 Hz.
What Are High-Frequency Sound Waves?
High frequency waves refer to those with a frequency of 2000 Hz or higher.
Some examples of sounds in this range are whistles, mosquitos, and Janet Leigh in the iconic shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
The highest notes on the piano and flute are at 4000 Hz and 21000 Hz, respectively.
When you turn up the treble in music, your ears can pick up more high frequency sounds than low frequency ones.
While anything lower than 20 Hz is considered infrasound, any sounds with a frequency above 20,000 Hz are called ultrasound.
While ultrasound is above the upper limit of human hearing, it can still affect us by causing nausea, headaches, and fatigue.
High-Frequency Hearing Loss
As we age, we tend to lose our ability to hear and for our ears to pick up on sound waves.
High frequency hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss.
As most people grow older, their hearing ability may be affected as they find it more difficult to pick up on these sounds.
While this type of hearing loss is common among the aging population, it is not unseen in individuals exposed to loud sounds, such as construction workers.
Those with high frequency hearing loss may not determine the sound of certain consonants spoken at a higher pitch, such as s, h, and f.
It may also be especially hard to hear over the phone or TV. They can also have trouble hearing the speech of those who speak at a higher range, such as women and children.
This is often caused by damage in the inner ear due to extended noise exposure, disease, and age.
Low vs High Frequency Waves: Is Higher or Lower Frequency Better?
If we are talking solely of high and low frequency waves that aren’t above the limits of human audibility, NEITHER IS BETTER.
They are just the different pitches of different sounds.
While both extremes (high and low) are bad for us, high frequency hearing loss is more common than low frequency hearing loss. This is due to the parts of the human ear that detect these sounds.
High frequency sound is detected by the LOWER part of the inner ear. Low frequency sound is detected by the hairs at the UPPER part of the ear.
Since ear damage usually happens from the bottom up, high frequencies are more likely to create hearing damage before low frequency sound does.
Frequently Asked Questions
To clarify things further, we answered some of the most frequently asked questions regarding high and low frequency sounds.
Is High-Frequency Louder Than Low?
Short answer: NO
Frequency only refers to the pitch of the sound. As mentioned above, it is how many complete cycles there are in a second.
The difference is that the intensity, or rather how loud a sound is, is determined by the amplitude or height of the wave. Amplitude is very different from frequency.
You can measure intensity in decibels (dB) while frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz).
HIGHER decibels correspond to a higher volume, while LOWER decibels mean a lower volume.
Higher frequency waves do NOT affect the volume in any way.
Does Higher Frequency Mean Better Sound?
Not necessarily. It just means that something has a higher pitch.
There are some sounds that are meant to have a low frequency, and giving them a higher frequency won’t make them any better.
For example, hearing high-pitched elephant sounds would sound really weird.
Is It Easier to Hear High or Low-Frequency Sounds?
We wouldn’t say that it is easier to hear either sound, as different parts of the ear detect different frequencies.
However, due to low frequency sounds needing less energy to propagate, they can reach further distances.
Thus, low frequency noise is more prevalent in our environment than higher frequency sounds.
Here’s a brief summary of the things we’ve covered in this article.
Frequency correlates to the pitch of a certain sound, which is measured in Hz.
- The lower the frequency, the lower the pitch.
- The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch.
Very low frequency sounds that have a frequency of below 20 Hz are considered infrared, while higher frequencies that are above 20,000 Hz are called ultrasound.
Infrared and ultrasound are beyond the regular hearing range.
FAST FACT: Human speech is most likely to be a medium frequency sound, which is between 500 and 2000 Hz.
Both ultrasound and infrared sound can cause hearing damage to a person, especially in large amounts.
While high frequencies are more likely to cause hearing damage, low frequency noise is more common in our environment.
That’s about it!
We hope this article taught you everything you need to know about sound frequency and how it affects us in our everyday lives.