The Mosquito Ringtone, Can You Hear It?

Last Wednesday night my friend’s thirteen year old son demonstrated the mosqito ringtone for my friends and I. Of the five adults who were present, only two of us could hear it. I’m 34 years old and my other friend who could hear it is 30. The ringtone is a high pitched (17kHz) squeal that made me want to throw the phone out the window to stop it from piercing my skull. If you haven’t heard of the mosquito ringtone, you can get the full story from this NY Times article.

It was originally marketed to shopkeepers who wanted to drive away the kids loitering in front of their stores without disturbing their adult customers. I first heard about it last spring on NPR. It didn’t take long for people to figure out that they could market it as a cell phone ringtone, thereby turning the tables on adults. Since kids aren’t allowed to have their cell phones turned on in school, this ringtone is a great way to circumvent that.

It’s also a fun way to goof off in class. My young friend said there are times when up to 9 kids have the tone blasting from their phones, their teacher none the wiser. Given that the tone is so incredibly annoying, I’m sure they’ll get tired of that aspect in not too long and restrict its use to alerting them of new text messages and phone calls.

By the time most people reach the age of 18, they can’t hear sounds above 16kHz. By the time they’re 30 they can’t hear above 14kHz. I found a handy chart and a link to a free tone generator on Alec Saunder’s blog. He’s another adult who can hear the mosquito tone. I downloaded the tone generator from NCH software and gave myself a little hearing test. I can hear tones up to 20kHz. I ran Steve through the test (he’s in my age bracket) and he could only hear up to 15 kHz, which is actually pretty good for our age group.

Why can some adults hear the tone and others not? I regularly hang out in loud clubs without earplugs. I figured my hearing would be suffering by now. Trolling the Web, I saw theories suggesting that migraine sufferers (which I am) and those with tinnitis can hear higher tones, and that age-related hearing degeneration is genetic rather than inherent. My dad can’t hear the alarm on his watch, the beeping sound trucks make when they back up, or the chirping of a smoke alarm. My mom on the other hand, can hear a pin drop two rooms away. My dad gets migraines, my mother doesn’t. From my own experience I’m going with the genetic explanation. Of course, my dad lost some hearing when a mortar launcher went off too close to his head during the Korean War, so maybe he’s a bad example.

In any case, try out the hearing test for yourself and feel free to post the results. To use the tone generator once you’ve dowloaded, installed, and launched it, highlight “Sine 1 Frequency” and increase the value to at least 10,000.00Hz. That’s a pretty good baseline to start with and then you can increase the frequency from there.

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4 Comments »

  1. iggi Said:

    actually – in my own defense – i could hear it when he put it right next to my ear…and it made me feel unnerved and a little nauseous.

    not that i need to defend my terrible hearing, i’ve earned it through a long life of earphones, squeeling amps, and loud guitars.

    they need to find a frequency that only adults can hear so we can talk shop without the kiddies listening in…

  2. Helen Said:

    I’m 41 and I can hear it. Like you I get migraines. I’m currently trying to find out if it can cause them, it certainly made me feel sick.

  3. zakk Said:

    anyone know where i could get for free without signing up for anything

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