General Question

Quagmire's avatar

What's so different about each of our ears that we need to know which earbud is for the left ear and which is for the right?

Asked by Quagmire (2088points) August 23rd, 2009

What’s supposed to happen to the sound if I dare put my left earbud in my right ear?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

25 Answers

Darwin's avatar

I have no idea, but I have yet to meet an earbud that is comfortable or stays in without constant fidgeting.

Perhaps the horn section simply moves from left to right stage while the drummer simply stays in the middle.

jrpowell's avatar

It is the shape and not the sound.

sdeutsch's avatar

I always assumed that it was so that stereo effects (like a sound moving from one side to the other) would go in the direction that they were intended to, but I’m just guessing at that. I’ll be interested to hear the answers…

@johnpowell Really? My earbuds appear to be exactly the same shape – but maybe there’s minute differences that I just can’t see…

dpworkin's avatar

It’s just to keep the stereo soundstage correct.

jrpowell's avatar

They are the same shape, but they are mirror images. There are some that look like tubes and if you are talking about those I don’t have a answer. example

But mine are very uncomfortable if I put them in the wrong ear.

ragingloli's avatar

for the stereo. for example if you play an fps with headphones, you will want to hear whether your enemy comes from the right or the left.

jrpowell's avatar

I think @ragingloli is correct too. This could also apply to watching movies with headphones on too.

Quagmire's avatar

You guys are right, however, Apple designated “L” and “R” earbuds when the only thing you used them for was the iPod music. It’s got to be something additional.

WiseOldUnicorn's avatar

I’m pretty sure it’s just to make sure that stereo effects sound right. Movies and video games aren’t the only things with stereo effects; a long of songs have them as well.

rrmkdynuupye's avatar

@sdeutsch is exactly right it’s not used often but for instance maybe with books on tape if you’re reading a kids book and they talk about someone creeping up on the left side of the main character they may have creaking noises louder on the left bud than the right to simulate the effect. If you have it backwards you might say “that’s just stupid”.

For the most part I’d say 98% of what most people listen do has the exact same sound coming out of both ears. It’s a shame I used to remember some songs that had very clear separations but I don’t remember any right now. There’s “Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt 4 from the Dedication 3 Mixtape but I don’t have most of my music with me.

Some earbuds are shaped to fit the ear and yeah having the L/R makes sure they fit most comfortably.

DarkScribe's avatar

The ears are as different as the feet in much the same manner, mirror imaged. As for the sound, if you are listening to stereo and there is a car driving from left to right, reverse the earpieces and the car will seem to drive from right to left. It changes the stereo effect. If you are watching a video with the sound reversed it get really weird when a sound that should come from one side comes from the other and when the characters on one side of the screen seem to keep throwing their voices to the other side.

It doesn’t matter as much if your stereo system doesn’t have distinct separation.

PerryDolia's avatar

Its both shape and sound.

The shape of the L and R ears are mirror images of one another. They are not round.

All ear buds are marked L and R to denote the correct track for that ear. Stereo music has a L and a R.

In addition, some (usually higher-end) ear buds slightly curve the shape of the bud so the cord will exit just below the Tragus link, the bump on the front of your ear. The buds curve different ways for L and R.

So, it can be both.

simpleD's avatar

Stereo recording is not just for left/right movement effects, but at its best creates a 3-dimensional soundspace. Well engineered stereo will allow you to locate each musician, not just left to right, but forward and back as well.

People who are able to hear with both ears can place objects in the environment as near or far, in front of us and behind us, coming or going, because the sound enters each ear at a different moment.

Stereo doesn’t necessarily mean better, however. Listen to the original mono release of the Beatles Sgt. Peppers. They took excruciating pains to make it sound magnificent. Each instrument can be heard distinctly, though each appears to come from a central point. The stereo version, which they produced for market pressure reasons and spent only a few weeks on, has much less clarity, though the novel left/right effects are more pronounced.

rrmkdynuupye's avatar

Stereo recording is not just for left/right movement effects, but at its best creates a 3-dimensional soundspace. Well engineered stereo will allow you to locate each musician, not just left to right, but forward and back as well.

all true but that would require more than just two buds. a full stereo system can give you the full 2D effect (left/right front/back) but with just two buds you’re only going to get one dimension (left/right) or am i wrong on this?

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Left and right channels still apply with headphones.

rrmkdynuupye's avatar

L/R yes but no front, rear, or center

eponymoushipster's avatar

it’s because the lobbyists for the “Tiny L and R” sticker people are super-powerful.

WiseOldUnicorn's avatar

@rrmkdynuupye You actually can fake full surround sound with just two speakers (or earbuds, in this case). I’m not an audio person so I have no idea how it works, but I’ve heard it done. It’s pretty amazing.

hearkat's avatar

Late to the party again…

With the Apple earbuds, the shape is different between the L/R phones. Even many headsets have the phones angled differently.

The stereo effect through binaural separation is acheived by mimiciking the head shadow effect on sound, as well as the reflection of sound in an empty room. This is the simplest way I can explain it.

dynamicduo's avatar

Earbuds never work for my ears, but the concept is the same for headphones that can be flipped.

The only reason to differentiate left and right is so that if any of the music has effects which pertain to left and right, they can be presented as the artist intended originally. Some songs that include a spilt track include one of my favorite songs, Space Oddity by David Bowie. The vocals are all on one track with the instruments on the other. It gives a very weird effect to the song, which is completely appropriate for the mood.

Most songs don’t use this though, so in my experience at least there’s no real effect from switching. That said, I use behind the ear clip headphones now where it’s impossible to not wear them correctly, so this is not a problem with me.

gailcalled's avatar

Having had some trouble with one ear after a nasty fall, I know that one ear has a much narrower external auditory canal than the other. Additionally, I now wear a little state- of the-art hearing aid in that ear; the device has generated a small callus.

(Earbuds are torture. I use old-fashioned children’s sized ear muffs.)

hearkat's avatar

@gailcalled: a properly fitting hearing aid should not cause calluses to form in the ear canal. I’m a bit concerned about that, as it could have long-term implications for future fittings.

simpleD's avatar

@rrmkdynuupye: Humans only possess 2 ears (microphones) at most. If you close your eyes and listen, you’ll be able to identify sounds that emanate from a 3D sphere around your head. You don’t need a 5/1 surround speaker system to recreate the world for you. You only need two speakers, one for each ear. If the original recording was engineered to recreate the 3D space of the studio (real or imagined), you’ll be able to hear it as if you were there.

rrmkdynuupye's avatar

@simpleD fair enough. I’m willing to admit i was wrong on that point. andnot just because I don’t care anymore.

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