A recurring range of numbers pops up when searching for headphones: 20Hz-20kHz. And if you’ve ever wondered why you should care, well, it’s because that’s the range of human hearing… kind of.

Human Hearing 101

Human hearing test: A photo of a man wearing Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones.

An easy way to combat noise-induced hearing loss is by using noise cancelling headphones.

It’s not wise to assume that your ears are completely undamaged, but alas, we’re inundated with noises expressed in varying degrees of loudness all the time. We’ve subjected our ears and their inner components to damage, from the tiny hair follicles to the Big Kahuna eardrum itself.

Hearing loud noises over a lifetime—and general degradation over age—causes our sensitivity to deteriorate. While the thought of losing something can be upsetting, it’s just a natural part of aging. Granted, there are certain ways to protect your eardrums (i.e. wearing earplugs at a concert, or keeping the volume below 85dB when listening to music), and we can’t stress enough the importance of protecting your kid’s hearing.

A lifetime of concert-going or construction work can irrevocably damage the inner workings of our ears.

But at the end of the day, and during it, most of us don’t even notice our own auditory deficiencies, and we’re bumbling our way through life just fine.

Onto the test

OK, it’s pretty easy: put on some headphones and play the following tones.

First up is a 20Hz tone, it flanks the lowest range of our hearing

If you heard that, nice job. We’re impressed. This next tone shouldn’t be a problem for people with average hearing as it falls in the middle of the human hearing spectrum and is the fundamental frequency of some higher-pitched voices: 2kHz.

All right, that was an easy one. Now’s where things start getting hard. If you’re in your 30s, you probably can’t hear the next two, so let’s start with 16kHz. This is about where AAC cuts out on many Android phones, so if you can’t hear this: you don’t have to worry about quality loss!

This final tone, 20kHz, is the hardest tone for adults to hear that still falls within the human hearing range.

Chances are—unless you’re a bat—you just enjoyed 30 seconds of silence. Congrats, you’ve meditated for the day.

Why it matters

While all this testing is fun and interesting, it’s important to know that although hearing loss is a natural process, all too often we overestimate our abilities when it comes to our senses. Hearing is especially fragile, and making decisions based on the assumption of perfect “golden ears” only leads to confusion and overcomplicating simple decisions. Seriously, Bluetooth headphones are more than fine enough—even if that tech isn’t perfect.

If you’ve ever gone to too many concerts, did construction work sans hearing protection, listened to your music above 85dB for long periods of time—you don’t have perfect hearing. So stay safe and enjoy the music, after all, we have a vested interest in your ears remaining healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is described by Mayo Clinic as the perception of noise or ringing in the ears when no external sound is present; these are also referred to as phantom noises. Tinnitus isn't a condition in and of itself, rather it's a symptom of a condition, often age-related hearing loss, an ear injury, or circulatory system disorder. Those experiencing tinnitus report perceived sounds like buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, humming, and ringing.