Take a Hearing Test Online

Try out several types of hearing test online. Learn their uses and limitations.

electronic test instrument with headphones
Image courtesy of US NIOSH
Are you curious how well you can hear? You can find quite a few websites that offer a free hearing test online. These might be from hearing health associations, deafness research organizations, university physics departments, audiophile groups, or hearing aid manufacturers or retailers. How useful are these tests?

Three Types of Online Hearing Test

Most online hearing tests fall into one of three basic categories:

  1. Tests that play tones at various frequencies, and let you check whether you can hear each one. Superficially, these may seem similar to the most common type of test that is given in a professional hearing exam. But there are some crucial differences:

    • The tones are not calibrated for volume. (This would require instrumentation in addition to your regular PC.)

    • In most home environments, it's not possible to reduce the background noise to a level that would allow you to discern sounds that are just at the threshold of your hearing. This is the level that you need to test in order to measure your hearing acuity.

    In addition to these inherent limitations, some tests check only a few frequencies. Also, some tests use audio encoding technologies that do not deliver pure frequencies, which invalidates the results because you might be hearing frequencies other than the ones being tested for.

    While they cannot be used to measure hearing acuity, these tests can be entertaining and educational and can let you compare your frequency range of hearing with those of your friends and family. Here is an online test that uses an appropriate audio technology and offers a good range of frequencies, 20 different tones ranging from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz:

    Egopont's "Test Your Hearing Range"

  2. Tests of speech discrimination in the presence of background noise. In these tests you hear someone pronouncing a word, mixed with some level of background noise, and you are asked to identify the word being spoken. Although these tests are also unable to measure hearing acuity directly, they have some advantages over the pure tone type of test:

    • It is not necessary to calibrate the volume; it is the relative level of the word against the level of background noise that differentiates each test item.

    • It measures a very practical effect of hearing loss, one of the most important factors affecting the quality of life for a person with hearing loss: the ability to understand what other people are saying.

    Here is a good example of a speech discrimination style of hearing test online:

    "Speech in Noise" test on Hear-it.org

  3. Screening questionnaires. A screening questionnaire is a list of questions that doesn't use audio at all. While perhaps not as entertaining as an audio test, hearing screening questionnaires are versatile enough to use in a variety of situations and don't depend on your PC's audio capability, whether or not you have headphones, or whether you can find a quiet environment. Rather than trying to assess your physiological hearing capability, the questions focus on the kinds of hearing problems you might encounter in everyday situations, and how they affect your daily living. Since different people are affected in different ways by hearing loss and other hearing problems, a questionnaire is a good way of gauging the real-life practical effects of your individual hearing profile, with its strengths and weaknesses.

    Here is a typical ten-question hearing screening questionnaire, from the US National Institutes of Health.

Next Steps

The real value in online hearing testing is in identifying whether you might benefit from having a professional hearing examination. If the results of any of these tests suggest that you see a health care professional, or if you have any reason to be concerned about your hearing, don't delay in getting an evaluation. You can learn more about hearing exams and hearing health care professionals here.

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