FYI re old age and hearing loss

This is an FYI piece about psychoacoustics and presbycusis, the gradual, inevitable loss of high frequency hearing with age. TL;DR — old age may not be as bad as you fear.

Many or most of you are young enough that at most you’re obsessing about having to strain to hear anything above maybe 15 kHz. I’m in the back half of my 70s now. For me, anything above 9 kHz is silence. Yet when I got hooked on headphones some seven years ago, that cut-off was 12 kHz. I’m sure many older audio addicts are reluctant to mention their age or report on hearing loss. But not being invested in expensive gear, I have no such concerns.

What high frequency cut-off numbers don’t tell you is the subjective experience. Psychoacoustics is real. My brain continually monitors the nerve signal from the inner ears. If it finds a loss has occurred, it starts checking to see if the change is stable and/or predictable. It next evaluates whether the change negatively impacts survival, based on what seems to be hard-wired criteria. If so, it compares the new signal with its prior experience templates and uses them to supply any missing data it can locate. The result of this is that my experience both in daily life and in listening to recordings contains a typical high frequency component.

Back in my (acoustic) guitar playing days I spent an embarrassing amount of money chasing just the right timbre in ever more expensive instruments. I also played several other acoustic instruments and once roomed with a viola player. Whether I play the guitar now or am listening to recordings, I am not hearing any change in timbre. Whatever high freq. components it takes to make an acoustic instrument sound like it should, my brain is seamlessly supplying it. If, in actuality, there are spikes above my 9k cutoff, I’m blissfully unaware of them. Same goes for people’s voices in daily life.

That said, it’s not all roses and rainbows. I only have the crudest form of stereo hearing after an ear infection loss several years ago in the 1.5 to 2 kHz range in one ear. This effects my ability to localize sound sources in daily life. My brain can back-fill the missing amplitude information from the good ear side, but not directionality. In addition, any air frequency sense of room acoustics has been missing for years.

This also applies to presbyopia, by the way. I have quite a cocktail of cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. My brain is able to recover maybe a 20/25 or 20/30 visual field in familiar environments. But in unfamiliar environments, or with unfamiliar elements in familiar environments, there is a greater level of blurring. There is also a swath of vision in one eye that is totally blurred out for half a second when looking at unfamiliar content. But then my brain fills in the missing area using data from the other eye.

One final point — a lot of this is sleep dependent. The brain does a lot of pattern analysis during sleep, so after a poor night’s sleep both audition and vision are noticeably degraded.


Thanks for addressing the subject. I have often spoke to people in the recording and high end audio fields about hearing loss (usually in private, as they dont always feel comfortable telling others that they may not have perfect hearing, despite winning recent Grammys for engineering).

I just turned 62, but enjoyed being a competitive target shooter for many years. While I always used hearing protection, once they slipped off in the worst possible situation. In a strange twist of fate, I have better than normal hearing in one ear and a minor loss of the next to highest tones (not the highest oddly) in the other ear. After the hearing damage it took several years for me to fully enjoy my gear again as things seemed somewhat distorted and annoying, Shrill sounds like unloading the dishes from a dishwasher were really bothersome. (Mostly around dusk, I wonder what the explanation for that is? Probably allergies?) But all seems well now and I’ve even been doing some recording studio work in the last few years,

I have often wondered if the topic you touched upon was an entity, such as blind people having their other senses make up for the loss of sight due to their brains either lack of distraction, or adapting to the importance of the other senses.

One of my discussions was can people who have hearing loss in some ranges actually compensate by increasing those volumes, or is the hearing just gone, not lessened?

Good thread, thanks DD.
I have many thoughts in response to what you post. I will share just a few.
This is my first post, so an intro: I have been into audiophile two channel systems for 40+ years. I have a very good system assembled over time, mostly bought dealer demo due to financial constraints. Due to limited cash flow, I entered the quite different world of HeadFi almost a year ago. I finally bought a used set of Sennheiser IE900s and a little battery powered flat response portable dac/amp. Upgrade cable is next to add some warmth and more prominence to mid-range/vocals. Cable selected, awaiting $.

I saw/heard all the rock greats of the hippie era, many at the Fillmore in San Francisco. That was LOUD! I lost some highs right away. Yes, my experience is the same as yours, these miraculous bodies compensate, had to in order to survive aeons ago. In the late mid 1990’s the owner of a high-end audio store took me under his wing and over a couple years taught me how to listen, what to listen for and, as a consequence, how to hear. My hearing got better and my music addiction was sealed. I had Audiophilia Terminalis.

When I got over the usual initial tendency to listen analytically, to the resolving ability & characteristics of the playback system, I started listening to and hearing the music. With my two channel system, I knew I had arrived when some years ago, after a component upgrade, I kept forgetting to listen to my system because the music kept distracting me. I am nowhere near that place yet with HeadFi, but soon . . . hopefully . . . and at reasonable cost . . …

So I had to ask what was it that had changed in what I heard the brought the music into predominance. I knew which musical selections moved and nourished me emotionally, but why? I discovered in a book detailing many two-channel audiophile tweaks that the emotional response is primarily based in three factors which perfectly matched my experience. Rhythm which depends on the accuracy of timing (involuntary foot tapping, head nodding, etc). Timbre which depends partly on bit depth of the source or better yet DSD (intimacy, chills up the spine, hair standing up, and such). Dynamics which depends on how resolving of minute changes the playback system is able to decode and present to the listener (holds our attention as we listen deeper, engrossing). All these come though independent of what frequencies I can consciously hear. What I love about 2 channel is the effect of sound waves impacting my body independent of whether I can hear them or not. (This is where there could be a discussion about the differences between two channel and Head-Fi, Harmon curves, pinna compensation etc, but that would be off topic.)

I have never felt the need to have my hearing checked, so I do not know what an audiologist would tell me. When I listen to a very high resolution slow frequency sweep from 0 to 30kHz, my hearing usually cuts out between 9Hz and 13Hz. It can vary from day to day. Yes, in my experience sleep amount and quality is definitely a factor, as is diet, or medications, or stress of the kind that produces mental hyper activity, etc.

As long as the music is enjoyable, moves me, nourishes me, gives me relief from a challenging day, I find no reason to be concerned or even worried about my hearing loss. We can upgrade our play back systems, not much I know of to upgrade our ears or the brain’s decoding of the oscillations that are sent to it. Seems the intelligence of nature has taken care of this in the adaptability and resilience of our bodies.
Enjoy the music with the systems you have.
With my best wishes to all,
Leon (aka timbrehead)


One of the best first posts ever.

I give thanks every day that other than very minor tinnitus my 70 year old hearing is still pretty damn good.


In my prior post two hours ago i failed to mention that I am 83 years old.
I hope, plan to be listening to music on continually upgraded 2 channel and HeadFi systems for many years to come as long as dwindling cash flow allows.
Leon (timbrehead0


Are there any major audio purchases that you failed to make in the past that you have regretted? I only ask because I’m a skinflint at heart, and chortle at Zero balance credit cards.


No. I buy very carefully and slowly. I am in south east Iowa and do not have any audio dealers closer than 5 hours away that carry anything I might be interested in. I read a lot of reviews and pay attention to deciphering the reviewer’s sonic preferences on the lookout for those that like what I like. I have nurtured trusting relationships with dealers both in person when they were accessible and for the past years with online dealers via telephone and email. When we understand one another’s preferences, I get good advice. And I get good deals.

I have made mistakes in the past but they were when I did insufficient research and acted impulsively.

I almost never worry about missing a “deal” because prices come down over time (for various reasons) and I shop dealer demo, open box & used a lot, though I am more cautious with used.

I too abhor credit card balances, I have carried a balance only once since I completely changed how I manage my personal finances in 1992. I already have the money or I do not put it on a card. Period. I haven’t had a zero intereset card since the late 1990s. Now I have a high limit card that gives me 2% cash back that I use for anything over a couple hundred. They now pay me for using their card. I have reaped many thousands over the years.

Trade in of my gear has also helped and the money from selling gear I am no longer using. $1500 from stuff sold at TMR (The Music Room) just put much needed new power tubes in my 2 channel pre & amp. Once money is in audio gear, it remains in audio gear.

Making money was never a motivator for me. So I never made much and it is now in my “mature” years that I feel the small bite. But I lack for nothing and continue to evolve my audio systems. I have enjoyed and learned from everything I have done and have no regrets.
More than you asked for, but hey . . . I’m a transparent kind of person.