The colour of noise

Time To Read: 7 minutes

Did you know that sound has a colour?
We take a look at the spectrum of noise and what they're used for and how they may help you combat tinnitus.

  • The spectrum of sound
  • White noise
  • Pink noise
  • Blue noise
  • Red noise
  • Noise makers and tinnitus

Does sound have a colour? There are some people for whom that is true. They experience something called chromesthesia in which heard sounds automatically and involuntarily evoke an experience of color.

The first recording of this phenomenon goes back to 1690 and noted physician and philosopher John Locke.

It’s now known today at ‘the scarlet trumpet’:

A studious blind Man, who had mightily beat his Head about visible Objects, and made use of the Explication of his Books and Friends to understand those Names of Light and Colours, which often came in his way, brag'd one Day, that he now understood what Scarlet signify'd. Upon which his Friend demanding, what Scarlet was? the blind Man answer'd, it was like the Sound of a Trumpet.

And it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Scientists who mapped brain activity suggests that the phenomenon is a result of 'cross-activation'.

It turns out that the primary colour area of the brain is next to the part that handles numbers and letters. And another region that also processes colour is near an area that processes sound.

Other researchers have been able to reproduce the phenomenon using psychedelics.

Most of us, however, don’t experience sound as colour but you might be surprised to know that we interact with colour in sound every day.

The Spectrum of Sound

There is a way of seeing noise as colour. The one most people are familiar with is white noise but they are other ‘colours’ too. This refers to the power spectrum of a noise signal

The same principle applies to light. All the light spectrum together is white light, when you expose light beam to a prism you see the different colours - just like a rainbow after the rain. 

White noise contains all the frequencies. But when you subtract frequencies, the spectrometer represents them as different frequencies.

Used in the right applications, different colours of noise can help reduce the sound of a noisy office, help you sleep, enable you to concentrate better and event mask tinnitus.

White Noise

Can be particularly helpful in masking ambient noises and in large spaces like open plan offices using white noise in conjunction with sound absorbing material can make all the difference.

People use white noise generators to help them sleep or relax under circumstances where wearing noise cancelling headphones, isn’t appropriate. 

The higher frequencies found in white noise can be distracting, so other colours of noise might be better.

Pink Noise

According to one study, pink noise, which eliminates some of the top frequencies found in white noise, increased deep sleep and improved memory in older adults. Apparently, it enhances brain activity associated with deep phases of sleep.

Blue noise

Audio engineers use blue noise in sound mixing applications to reduce the audibility of distortions.

So what colour of sound might work for you? There are plenty of web sites and applications where you can have a play with to find a ‘colour’ that works for you. This one is fun and easy to use.

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Red Noise

Sometimes red noise is referred to as brown, or Brownian noise. But Brownian noise has nothing to do with the colour, but is named for a Scottish scientist Robert Brown who has a fascinating connection with Australia.

A small scale study looked at which colour of sound helped people with tinnitus. The results showed participants preferred white noise, but some showed a preference for red noise.

Noise maskers and tinnitus

Today, modern hearing aids have built-in tinnitus masks, but we recommend that you use normal amplification first. Only turn on the masker if hearing a full range of sound is insufficient to hide the tinnitus.

We take a quick look at three of the most popular hearing aid manufacturers and their tinnitus masking programs.

Phonak's Tinnitus Balance Portfolio enables you and your tinnitus hearing professional to customize a tinnitus management plan based on sound therapy that exactly matches your unique needs, to deliver day-long tinnitus relief.

The Portfolio consists of three key elements that are essential to your personal tinnitus management plan: Tinnitus Balance hearing aids, a broadband noise generator and further sound therapy via an iOs and Android app. A digital wireless accessory for streaming sound to the Tinnitus Balance hearing aids completes this flexible solution.

From Signia, Tinnitus Notch Therapy is an approach that amplifies the sounds coming through your hearing aids, while leaving out the frequency of your tinnitus. This personalized approach makes it easier to ignore your tinnitus, even making it possible to forget it entirely.

With this technology, you can train your brain to “tune out” tinnitus. For many people, this could mean never being hindered or held back by their condition again. It’s an opportunity to return to their normal lives, improving their focus, sleep, and enjoyment of sound.

Oticon’s Tinnitus SoundSupport offers a variety of sounds, from soothing ocean-like sound to steady white noise. Customer feedback has shown that natural sounds are dynamic, yet soothing. They show great promise in decreasing the annoyance of tinnitus. You can adjust the volume level of relief sounds directly on the hearing aid or via the Oticon ON App.

Further reading

When hearing aids are an integral part of your lifestyle, it helps you get the most out of life. We share some lifestyle articles here: