Why do my headphones sound louder when I switch them around?
October 9, 2010 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Why do in-ear headphones sound much louder when I put the left-labelled one in my right ear and the right-labelled one in my left ear?

Two years ago, I got what turned out to be glue ear in my right ear. A year after that, I saw an audiologist, who said my hearing was perfect, and then an ENT, who fixed my problem by sticking a tiny tube through a hole he made in my ear drum. The tube was supposed to fall out on its own eventually, but I think mine might still be in there. My right ear is MUCH improved, but I still feel like it's not as good as my left ear any more. This headphones thing is the same with every pair I've tried, and I first noticed it at some point after the tube insertion; I don't know if it was going on before that. Now I always wear them reversed, for maximum volume efficiency.

So, does this happen to other people? Why is it happening to me? Is it normal?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is it possible that you get a better seal when they are reversed due simply to the shape of your ear canals? In-ear headphones work by sealing off the ear canal and moving the small amount of air left inside. Perhaps when worn as labeled the seal is not as tight, and some of the amplitude is lost.

I'm not sure if this has anything to do with your ear condition, tubes etc, because as you describe it you notice a change in volume in both ears, not just one.
posted by reeddavid at 10:03 AM on October 9, 2010


Agree that it's an ear-canal shape issue. With in-ears, the ear canal itself becomes part of the speaker (q.v. baffles & ports) - and the seating and seal (as mentioned by reeddavid) is important to the overall sound. You have just found that the in-ears sit more correctly for you if reversed... If it's comfortable that way, there's no reason for you to not continue to wear the as such.
posted by benzo8 at 11:03 AM on October 9, 2010


I agree that it's an ear canal thing. I've definitely had pairs of earphones where they worked much better reversed.

You have just found that the in-ears sit more correctly for you if reversed... If it's comfortable that way, there's no reason for you to not continue to wear the as such.

It is, of course, just fine to wear your earphones however you like. But, keep in mind that if you wear them backwards, you're receiving the stereo channels backwards. For most music, this is irrelevant. But, sometimes even pretty conventional artists will work with the pan of the stereo as an effect. For instance, Blackalicious has a track where he raps, "I could be to your left; or even be to your right", as the stereo pans back and forth between them; this might annoy you to hear backwards, if you're the sort like me. And binaural recording (my current kick) may sound quite disorienting.

But, other than a few individual songs and one obscure recording medium, there should be no downsides to wearing them backwards.
posted by Netzapper at 11:24 AM on October 9, 2010


Yup, all true Netzapper... I was really meaning "physical reason" - but as you correctly point out, there are audiophile reasons not to do so.
posted by benzo8 at 11:50 AM on October 9, 2010


there are audiophile reasons not to do so.

Also, if you're watching a video with stereo sound, the audio effects won't match up spatially with the visuals.
posted by decagon at 6:20 PM on October 9, 2010


Thanks so much, everyone. Your explanation makes sense, even if it is a bit sad to learn that my ears are on backwards.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:28 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older How does one identify emotional issues related to...   |   Whiteboard software Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.