Can you hear “The Hum”?

Cabin12 22 June 2011 74

Myself and my partner moved to Canberra from Sydney nearly two years ago. Whilst living in the inner west, around 2008, we both became aware of a low-pitched humming noise, a little like the hum sometimes omitted by old stereo speakers that are on the way out. It sounded decidedly electrical in nature, and the sound seemed to oscillate between a low constant bass note and a note about an octave about it. It was most noticeable between 2am and 4am, but also at other times, and had us completely baffled. We ruled out all possible causes that we could think of (faulty electrical equipment, primarily), but the sound continued.

Thinking we might be free of it in Canberra, it was not to be – we can also hear it here in the capital. If you search the internet for hum phenomenon, you’ll find that there are various known hums around the world (Taos, USA; Bristol, UK, Auckland, NZ; Bondi, AU), which various “experts” all seem to be at odds to explain adequately. My own feeling is that it is some sort of auditory response to the microwave radiation that we are all bombarded with constantly these days, which some people pick up on and others don’t.

As the hum in our part of Canberra, not too far from Mt Stromlo, was particularly bad around 1am this morning, I’m curious to know whether anyone else in our fair city can hear it too. And please, no “you’re a nutter” comments – this phenomenon is very real (to some of us, at least).


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74 Responses to Can you hear “The Hum”?
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Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:27 am 08 Apr 20

Are you wearing your tin hat?

Chillie Marie Chillie Marie 3:29 am 08 Apr 20

Yes. I hear this in Brisbane every night, some nights more noticeable than others, what is it?? The earth?

LSWCHP LSWCHP 9:27 pm 08 Nov 11

MountainHouse said :

I hear the Hum. You’re description of the sound was nice. The low vibrating hum seems to have a disturbingly random rhythm as it oscillates between the higher and lower octave, both being extremely low however. I’m in a small mountain town in California, US. I thought I was getting away from all the noise of the city when I moved here. I’ve got a huge communication tower a mile or so from me. I don’t know if that is where the sound is coming from. Like you, I’ve ruled out the most likely scenarios. I’ve even heard the hum during power outages in the middle of winter? I think it’s coming from the Banner Mountain tower.

Yes…the Banner Mountain tower…yes indeed…slowly back away…check for escape route…

MountainHouse MountainHouse 8:57 pm 08 Nov 11

I hear the Hum. You’re description of the sound was nice. The low vibrating hum seems to have a disturbingly random rhythm as it oscillates between the higher and lower octave, both being extremely low however. I’m in a small mountain town in California, US. I thought I was getting away from all the noise of the city when I moved here. I’ve got a huge communication tower a mile or so from me. I don’t know if that is where the sound is coming from. Like you, I’ve ruled out the most likely scenarios. I’ve even heard the hum during power outages in the middle of winter? I think it’s coming from the Banner Mountain tower.

Deref Deref 8:37 am 22 Sep 11

micky_c85 said :

Skeptoid.com asked the very same question in this episode:

“Can you hear the hum?”
http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4090

+1 Excellent find.

bugmenot bugmenot 11:28 pm 21 Sep 11

Cabin12, your description matches my experience precisely! I am in Melbourne and have heard it on & off during the last few years, although not in recent months. The key attribute you mention, “it seems to oscillate between a low constant bass note and a note about an octave about it” is exactly the same as my perception of it, mainly at night in either of the two rooms at the back of my house. The point about the frequency variation indicates it is not related to mains power effects.

nobody nobody 8:23 pm 30 Jul 11

Tinnitus, or global conspiracy perpetrated against millions by evil villains for reasons yet to be exposed.

The conspiracy theories sound more appealing than than an ageing problem, but I think it’s Tinnitus.

Tinnitus – is the perception of sound within the human ear in the absence of corresponding external sound.

Twojay54 Twojay54 4:01 pm 30 Jul 11

Cabin12, I too have recently become aware of the hum. Most noticable at night in the upstairs bedroom of my new home. My wife can’t hear it. It is like a low rumble as in a far off diesel generator but I can also feel the vibration slightly. I can also hear it at work, 70 k’s away in a city high-rise, but only in the quieter moments. Certain noises will diminish it’s effect, most noticable when wathing TV. Load noise and fans seem to block the sound completely. It is not tinnitus, but something different, and it appears to be coming from a long way off and not in your head. I read that it is not apparent if you are underground, so will have to test this out on my next cave visit. Don’t listen to the nutters.

loubanger loubanger 9:46 pm 19 Jul 11

Someone rang up Dr Karl’s show on JJJ a few months ago and asked the same question – he put it down to cosmic radiation from memory.

Diggety Diggety 2:10 pm 29 Jun 11

Meconium said :

Diggety said :

And I remember one film using a similar noise (though not as distant) either in a scene or even throughout most of the film.

I just can’t remember what it was called or what it was! Perhaps because I tried to forget it.

I’m certain you’re thinking of Irreversible.

Perhaps. That was a film I tried desperately to forget. It was good, but just too confronting!

ConanOfCooma ConanOfCooma 1:43 pm 29 Jun 11

Get 100 people over to visit at the time you hear the noise the most, and ask them if they hear it as well. Results from this will determine what course of action to take.

Meconium Meconium 1:12 pm 29 Jun 11

Diggety said :

And I remember one film using a similar noise (though not as distant) either in a scene or even throughout most of the film.

I just can’t remember what it was called or what it was! Perhaps because I tried to forget it.

I’m certain you’re thinking of Irreversible. I didn’t hear the bassy sine wave noise during the movie though, probably because of the crappy TV speakers, only heard about it afterwards, reading about the movie online.

As for this hum – I’ve never heard it myself but I have no reason at all to doubt that it’s real. Some people are just more sensitive to things like this than others. Must be annoying, not least with all the comedians out there who doubt its existence.

Make sure you rule out any possible sources of domestic noise. Make a list of all the nearby electrical or plumbing etc sources that you can control, and give a reason the noise can’t be caused by each source.

And don’t expect to be able to record it. It may be some kind of ambient electromagnetic radiation interacting with your brain or ears, stimulating them in such a way so that you think you’re hearing something when you’re really not. It might not necessarily be radiation causing it either, it could be chemical. Heaps of different drugs including aspirin cause tinnitus-like symptoms.

Good luck finding the cause, and have faith that one day a sufferer of this annoying hum will get down to it and find out where it comes from. Maybe someone already has a good idea; it might pay to read about the many people around the world who experience this.

micky_c85 micky_c85 11:32 am 24 Jun 11

Skeptoid.com asked the very same question in this episode:

“Can you hear the hum?”
http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4090

Rusalka Rusalka 3:46 pm 23 Jun 11

dungfungus said :

How far are you from the Cotter Road water treatment plant? Could be the pumps (motors) transferring water at an “off peak” time. There is a lot of concrete in that plant and low frequency noises can get amplified in these structures. Also, the main sewerage line to the Lower Molonglo Treatment Works crosses under the T’Nong Speedway and they “vent” the pipe in the middle of the night through vertical towers near the road (sometimes you can smell the “marsh gas” as you drive past). It is possible that the rushing air makes a sound like a big organ pipe.

Dungfungus, I think you you could be on to something with this, for my particular hum anyway. I’m very close to the Parkway and there is that ActewAGL structure just in Chifley on Waldock St on the way up Mt Taylor. I’ve never paid attention whether it’s water treatment or electricity or what. But it could be an option. Close enough for you to hear Cabin12?

I mentioned this to my mother last night, to see if she’s ever heard it as she usually is awake at strange times at night. She said she’s heard it off and on for the last 20 years or so in different suburbs around Weston Creek. She has heard the same hum come out of a street sweeper once, and decided it must be people sweeping the streets at 2am.

I personally don’t think the ACT Government is capable of being that diligent however, but I’m a cynic.

PBO PBO 3:10 pm 23 Jun 11

Diggety said :

And I remember one film using a similar noise (though not as distant) either in a scene or even throughout most of the film.

I just can’t remember what it was called or what it was! Perhaps because I tried to forget it.

Pontypool?

Diggety Diggety 3:00 pm 23 Jun 11

And I remember one film using a similar noise (though not as distant) either in a scene or even throughout most of the film.

I just can’t remember what it was called or what it was! Perhaps because I tried to forget it.

Diggety Diggety 12:32 pm 23 Jun 11

Erg0 said :

There’s an informative analysis of the “Hum” phenomenon, including a link to a claimed recording of the “Auckland hum”, here: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4090

Have you tried earplugs? If so, did they help?

I’ve heard similar many times, both in Canberra and Brisbane.

– Only when things are quite, i.e. very early morning.
– Only when my ears are wet internally, e.g. shower before bed.
– Never felt physical vibrations

Then again, I can here my own blood pulsating loudly and at these times.

mtb_rider mtb_rider 12:15 pm 23 Jun 11

The comments on this thread are very interesting.
I’ll just highlight some key points from my research in this topic:
* The noise is not associated with utility services – water, gas, electricity, mobile phone towers.
* The noise is not affected by environmental conditions – temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind – Although wind does tend to mask the affect of the noise.
* The noise is typically more pronounced during colder periods of the winter months, but is still audible at other times of the year.
* The noise is not generated by the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Tracking Station
* The noise is not specific to Canberra and surrounds, but is a worldwide phenomenon.
* It is not alien spacecraft, although I haven’t seen one of these either. 🙂

Perhaps Cabin12 and others can help out here. My understanding (as described in work with others – not my own experience) is that the ‘hum’ presents itself quite often as a pulsing sound, almost mechanical in nature, and is felt rather than heard. The noise ‘feels’ very low in frequency, and may cause feelings of nausea, unsettledness or anxiousness.

Regarding low-cost sound level meters, A & C weighted filters on inexpensive handheld Sound Level Meters (SLM) are typically no good below about 250Hz, have a relatively high noise floor, do not provide statistical analysis and only measure broadband noise. These units do not provide frequency specific analysis. The Apps available for iPhone are also limited, although some do provide freq. information – but once again, pretty unreliable at low freq’s. They are certainly useful as a guide for measuring louder sounds.

I have also tried to measure this noise on several occasions, at various locations and over several years. I use a professional handheld SLM (costing in excess of $20k) using a Z-weighted filter with frequency specific analysis. The measured results are not conclusive, however it is expected that the hum may be in the order of 7Hz or lower (below the threshold of audible human hearing) and with a ‘loudness’ of approx 15dB SPL.

People who have experienced this noise have done a few things to live with it including:
* playback low level background music or radio during sleep – but this usually affects the partner
* playback relaxation music
* playback low level pink noise to ‘mask’ the noise – although to be effective, a high quality audio system capable of low freq playback is usually required.
* attended therapy to teach the brain to ignore the noise – most effective method to date
* sleeping with the windows open (not too popular in winter!)
* move to a new location – I’ve had one person that regularly would go to Sydney to get away from the noise!
* use high doses of sleeping tablets

So hope this helps a little. I’m really interested to hear more comments.

ThatUniStudent ThatUniStudent 11:18 am 23 Jun 11

johnboy said :

ThatUniStudent said :

Have you considered getting in sound testing equipment to detect if there is actually a noise? OH&S people generally can get people in to test noise levels in the office, so surely there is equipment they could use to measure sound in your home. A Decibel Meter should do the trick. You could even buy one. They are not very expensive. Typically less than $40 on eBay
http://shop.ebay.com.au/?_from=R40&_trksid=p3907.m570.l1313&_nkw=decibel+meter&_sacat=See-All-Categories

or free on a smart phone.

Got a link to download an app?
Not that I have a smart phone, but the OP might have one.

excession excession 10:42 am 23 Jun 11

Yep, in Pearce, around 1am, low level humming. I used to think it was the water heater using off-peak power, it would sometimes wake me up, but I never investigate it further. Definitely only a ‘late at night’ effect.

I have tinnitus (reminding me of it makes me aware of it again) which is a constantly changing high-pitch sound (in both ears), and the hum is more a visceral sound, you can almost feel it.

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