But, they’re actually describing a very real phenomenon: color noises are scientifically recognized (although the “colors” assigned to them are more to designate/separate the various sounds, as opposed to representing physical colors).
There are many different color noise signals, each with their own properties that can help peole with different issues, physical conditions, and even mental disorders.
Today we’ll examine the different color noises, as well as their practical applications in the real world. Let’s get going!
What Are Color Noises?
Every sound you hear is a variety of audio signal.
They sound different to your ears due to their makeup and their frequencies. When sound is visualized through an oscilloscope (the wavelike machine you’ll see in nearly every mad scientist’s laboratory in cheesy ’50s sci-fi movies) or through recording software, sounds each have their own unique image and texture.
Audio signals are studied and manipulated in many fields of study and work: physics, electronics, audio engineering, and many other fields utilize and categorize different kinds of sounds.
The color of a noise simply refers to the power spectrum (strength) of a given noise’s signal. It’s a relatively simple concept for those with an audio or science background, but let’s assume you have training in neither of these fields.
Perhaps you’re still wondering, “What the heck does sound have to do with color?” Well, the practice of associating sounds with colors all began with white noise.
What is White Noise?
When we talk about “white noise”, we’re not talking about music that only white people enjoy (Dave Matthews Band, for example). Okay, that was kind of a cheap shot–sorry for the mean joke.
Let’s explain what white noise really is, and what its uses are:
White noise is so-named because of its similarity to “white light,” which has a very flat spectrum. It has equal power at all pitches (i.e., the higher notes are just as strong as the lower notes).
Because of this feature, white noise’s frequencies combine to produce a powerful cacaphony of sound. In fact, to most people, white noise sounds like static (not unlike the noise your radio or television makes when it is not tuned properly to a channel).
Practical Uses of White Noise
Many people find white noise useful to tune out environmental distractions so they can focus. It’s particularly useful in busy offices, where cross-talk, ringing phones, and other distractions can make it hard to accomplish tasks that require your deep attention.
Pink Noise: Not Just for Girls!
Nearly all people find pink noise more pleasant than white noise, comparing it to the sound of a waterfall, or the ocean’s waves. Pink noise has a lower, “more consistent sounding frequency” than white noise.
Pink noise is similar to white noise, except that it is more attuned to the human hearing spectrum.
While white noise has a uniform strength across all sounds, as mentioned above, it’s important to recognize that humans don’t hear all frequencies equally well. As such, with white noise, the human ear perceives some frequencies as louder, and some as being much quieter.
“Wait a second, didn’t you just get done explaining white noise?”
Well, yes. However, this is a fairly complicated subject. To successfully explain the various color noises in layman’s terms, we’ll have to do a little doubling-back to make comparisons and analogies–unless you want to read an article filled with words like “linear logarithmic scale” and detailed explanations of the Hertz associated with different frequencies.
Pink noise is to the human ear what white noise is to a sound-analyzing machine. It’s commonly used as a reference for audio engineers attempting to equalize and adjust sound frequencies.
Practical Applications of Pink Noise
Because pink noise mimics the unique properties of human hearing, pink noise is more useful for relaxation; as such, it’s a much more common choice for people who need to de-stress or go to sleep. Pink noise provides your brain with a consistent rhythm and a relaxing tone that can help your brain accomplish a more restful, relaxing sleep.
What is Brown Noise (Sometimes Called Red Noise?)
Brown noise has a much deeper sound, that is perceived by our ears as “stronger” and more intense. Some people find it a bit too rough to listen to for extensive periods of time.
Brown noise has been described by some people as “like thunder, but deeper.” This isn’t far off base. For people with sensitivity to higher sound frequencies, brown noise can be useful in the treatment of migraines or even ear conditions like tinnitus.
Other (Less Common) Color Noises
In addition to white, pink, and brown (red), you’ll sometimes find references to the following color noises:
- Green Noise: The isolated middle frequencies from white noise. The human ear perceives it as being louder at the lower end of the spectrum.
- Blue Noise: Described by listeners as being “like a hiss of spraying water,” blue noise is a very intense and unpleasant sound for most human ears.
- Gray Noise: Like pink noise, gray has a “balanced” sound to human ears. It’s often used to treat individuals who are agitated by “normal frequency” sounds.
- Orange Noise: Much less common than the other color noises, orange noise is a clashing, out-of-tune sounding noise (not like the garage band playing across the street).
- Black Noise: Simon and Garfunkel (and recently, heavy-metal rockers Disturbed) sang about the “Sounds of Silence,” which is the perfect way to describe black noise. It doesn’t have any power at all–no matter the frequency. It’s the rarest sound, because we’re nearly always surrounded by at least some noise–even your heartbeat counts as a frequency!
Ear Problems and Color Noise
Tinnitus is one of the most common ear conditions; in fact, it affects nearly 15% of people worldwide. Sometimes described as a “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus’s most prevalent symptom is an individual “hearing the same sound continuously,” even when there is no sound around them.
If you went to rock concerts as a teenager, chances are that your mother admonished you to wear ear plugs–tinnitus is the reason for this. Noise-induced hearing loss is one common cause of this condition, but it can also spring up as a result of a head injury, a build-up of wax in the ears, or in the most serious cases, a brain tumor.
Each of the common color noises can help with different forms of tinnitus–someone whose ears were damaged by low frequencies (drummers, for example) will benefit from different color noises than someone affected by high-frequency sounds (the humming of fluorescent lights, crying babies, or even machines like chainsaws).
Experimenting With Color Noises
Color noises are easy to experience for yourself–YouTube and other sites are full of examples of these noises. Bear in mind that these audio samples vary wildly in quality; some examples are of poor audio quality, while others may not even be the noise they describe!
There are also professional-quality sound producing machines, if you decide you want an offline, non-computer option for your relaxation or treatment option.
We advise you to do your research to find out which color noise will help you most–but, dont’ take our (or the internet experts) word on it. All ears are different, and will respond in different ways to sound stimuli.
We hope you found this article informative; there’s lots of articles out there with more detailed, science-y definitions of these color noises if you’re interested (and well-versed on the industry-specific language of audio engineering and physics).
Take our advice: try using different color noises (at a reasonable volume, of course), and see what happens! You just might like it. Sound good? (Sorry for the pun, we just had to leave you with one more bad joke.)
If you have comments or questions, we’re happy to answer them–let us know in the comments below.