Is my new car stereo distorted or is it my hearing?

Hi everyone, first post on the new forum. Good to be here.

In the past 18 months, I have developed tinnitus…really bad ringing in the ears. A year ago, I got a hearing test and it showed some loss of hearing. I had a new test this week and it showed I’m hearing only 84% in right ear and 72% in left ear. They said I’m having the biggest trouble with higher frequency sounds.

Two months ago, I purchased a new 2-seater sports car. This replaced my 4-door sedan. I did not have a problem hearing music and enjoying the high quality in the sedan. That car had 13 speakers and the music was all around. In the new car, I thought the stereo was defective, because on the iPod and some SAT radio, the music often sounded distorted, “fuzzy”, and scratchy-sounding…like static. This happens mostly with midrange stuff, guitar sounds, and when there’s “a lot going on” in the song. Quiet songs with just piano or synth or something…that sounds pretty ok. Bass stuff is ok.

I have taken the car back to the dealership FIVE times because I thought the stereo was defective. They said the speakers tested out just fine. Then, I went to a high-end car stereo place, in an effort to maybe upgrade the car stereo I have now. They put me through a listening test of their best equipment and I was shocked to find out…I STILL heard some distortion, even though it’s supposed to be crystal clear.

Has anyone else experienced this? I am just surprised that this was not an issue in my 4-door sedan. Is that maybe because the sound was spread out more evenly? In the new sports car, all the 9 speakers are up front…nothing in the back.

Will putting in a hearing aid help? I just want to enjoy my music again!


David…does it sound muffled? like a sock over your ears? Then it may be your hearing.

I’m no expert…but given your speech recognition scores, it may be worth trying hearing aids. If you get them, you can trial them for 30 days to see if they are right for you. If not…you can return them.

At the very least, it is worth a try.

Thanks for the response. No, it does not sound muffled. Sounds more like there’s some underlying static or distortion/hissing. I would say it sounds kind of “scratchy” or “fuzzy” in nature. This is mostly experienced with midrange sounds, guitar noise, etc. Deep bass is mostly fine and VERY high-pitched sounds aren’t that bad.

I was going to write it up to the car’s defective stereo but when I went to the car stereo installer’s shop and listened to his speakers (playing a high-quality DVD-Audio disc on Hertz reference speakers) and still heard a bit of hissing, it made me think the problem has more to do with my hearing than the car.

Have taken the car back to the dealership several times and they say the speakers test out fine and aren’t defective. Not sure if something else is at play here, but it’s driving me crazy. This is a brand-new expensive 2-door sports car.

I have had pretty bad ringing in my ears for 18 months now. However, I did not have an issue with the stereo in my 4-door sedan. That car had 13 speakers evenly placed throughout the car and had a Logic 7 system, which perfectly balances the audio to hit your ear at the exact right time. The new 2-door sports car has 9 speakers, all in front of me…nothing behind.

Do you hear this issue when you play the stereo with the car’s engine turned off? It’s possible the ignition system is causing some interference, but that’s not really where I’m going with this, which is, namely, that you’ve switched from a sedan to a sports car. Sports cars have deeper, noisier engine sounds when running. Speaking of which, does your new car have a subwoofer that your old one didn’t? I’m wondering if lower frequency sounds may be interacting with your tinnitus and bothering your brain’s ability to interpret what you’re hearing.

Since another difference for you is that you had speakers behind you in your previous car, a car stereo installer can add speakers behind you, but I would think that when you sat in their demo unit you did have speakers all around you, no? It seems likely to me that if you’d sat in the stereo installer’s demo unit (which I assume had no car background noise, either) before you got your new car and listened carefully, you’d have perceived the same issue you’re hearing in your new car. It may just be that changing cars made you more attentive to changes that have taken place in your hearing.

It is possible that getting a hearing aid will help, but it’s not guaranteed. The right audiologist should be willing to work with you on this, and help you try out hearing aids to see if it makes a difference. My audiologist offered free trials of certain models. I could walk away after a few weeks of trying aids out and owe nothing other than a few hundred dollars and testing and fitting fees. Not every audiologist will do this, and you certainly don’t want to abuse the privilege. Many states mandate that audiologists must accept returns of aids for a refund within a brief time such as 30 days.

I did get from my audiologist one of the aids I had demoed with her. I actually had more issues for a while being able to hear the car stereo with the new aids. Given that my mild to moderate loss (also with tinnitus) is sensorineural and is related to overexposure to loud sounds, I had stopped playing the car stereo loudly years ago to avoid inflicting more damage. But when I got hearing aids, it brought up the background noise louder in the Camry and made the stereo seem more muffled to me. I wasn’t perceiving static noise. The answer for me was to use a customized noise reduction program (“restaurant mode”) in the aids, particularly on the highway, and set the stereo slightly louder. Still, I hear music better at home in a quiet setting than I do in the car even with aids. I don’t want to blast the car stereo any more to overpower the background noise.

Hamjor, thanks so much for your response and your shared information.

I have also wondered whether the car was off, running, or parked might have something to do with it. I have tested it running vs. parked and not found much difference, but have not tested it with the ignition off. I definitely will sometime today.

When I went to the car stereo installer to test some better speakers a couple of days ago, they had the sound only in front of me on a speaker wall…not behind.

Unfortunately, my new 2-door sports car (SLK350) has no space in the back for rear speakers, which is a real shame. There is the option of perhaps adding a Logic 7 sound processor, which times the sounds and speakers to each hit your ear at the exact right time. I could try to upgrade to better speakers also, if that might help? Not sure if it would. I DID have a Logic 7 processor in my 4-door sedan, though it also had 13 speakers all around me…including the rear.

Last night, I played my iPod on my home stereo system and sadly, could hear some scratching and fuzziness again. I don’t think I can write this all up to the car, I’m afraid…but I am just wondering why sometimes the static/fuzz in the car is so bad and at others, it is not. Could it be the frequency of the particular song??? The notes?

Very odd.

Thanks again for your kind response!

I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice, but I think you may be describing a variation of hyperacusis, which is often specific to certain frequencies or narrow ranges of them.

Get your doctor to refer you to an ENT specialist.

Thanks for the info…I will definitely let my ENT know and the hearing aid specialist when I have my appointment in 2 weeks.

By the way, I tested the car today with the ignition off (the stereo still plays) and could not really detect any difference vs. having the car running or driving the car.

At its worst, the music sounds horrible. These are tracks directly ripped from CD, so they are not poor quality recordings. It pretty much sounds like the static of a radio station that is poorly tuned in or not quite dialed in right. And it’s making my favorite songs sound like garbage :frowning:

I also think an ENT workup would be a good idea for you at this point. It does seem as if something has changed dramatically within a fairly short range of time in the way you are processing sound, in a way that is atypical for most of us with simple sensorineural loss.

I am scheduled to have an inner ear test (VNG) in 2 weeks, but this has more to do with recurring dizziness that I have had after exercise for about 6 years now. The hearing issue is much more recent. Do you think the VNG test and the hearing aid consultation are enough at this point? Not sure what else the ENT will tell me, apart from that.

Take a look at this article:

The combination of dizziness (though not necessarily under one specific condition such as after exercise), hearing loss, tinnitus, and distorted sound at times can all be found in Meniere’s disease, which can progress from one symptom such as dizziness to others developing later. However, it’s more common though not necessary, as the article states, for Meniere’s to be found in one ear only and to be characterized by low frequency loss rather than high frequency loss which may suggest you don’t have this disorder. Still, it’s something to check out for you.

PLEASE NOTE that I am not a doctor or audiologist, just a hearing loss patient with no personal experience with or special knowledge of Meniere’s. An ENT is definitely the right specialist to determine whether such a diagnosis is correct for you or whether some other inner ear issue could be responsible for your symptoms. As the article says, lots of other disorders can mimic Meniere’s, and if one can be ruled in, that normally rules Meniere’s out.

Try not to freak out over this article, Sometimes a little knowledge can cause a disproportionate level of worry… medical Internet syndrome. The doctor may take one look at your history and symptoms, and say, Naaaah, you don’t have Meniere’s, and meanwhile, you’ve been losing sleep over it for two weeks. Let the ENT check things out and then decide how to proceed.

In your situation, I would just describe the symptoms I was having especially including the static sound one since it’s particularly annoying you at the moment and could be related to the dizziness, and let the ENT decide what tests to run.

It’s the car, man. I hate for you to suffer like that so I’ll take the SLK off your hands for a few weeks and you can drive my red 2005 Buick Rainier. It has Bose and heated seats so you should be comfortable. :slight_smile:

Thanks, Hamjor. People have mentioned Meniere’s before but it wasn’t seriously investigated. Maybe the VNG inner ear test will tell us something.

Incidentally, I visited a Lexus dealership today and sat in a 4-door sedan and played around with their stereo and EQ. Very interesting stuff…they had a switch to control Midrange sound. When I turned Midrange up, the distortion got much worse. When I turned it down, the distortion decreased. Treble and bass had no noticeable impact.

I am not saying Midrange is the lone culprit here, but it definitely has something to do with it. There are so many frequencies at play here and so many possibilities, that it may be too general just to say Midrange is the only problem, but it’s a start.

Do they make hearing aids that specifically target Midrange deficiencies? I have my hearing aid consultation in 2 weeks.

LOL, Don… :slight_smile: I hear ya.

That’s the long suit of the newer digital aids. The audiologist will use (an often wireless, now) connection between the aids and the audiologist’s PC to tailor the response curve and other settings on the hearing aids to fit that one patient’s need.

But I would suggest that a hearing aid consultation may be premature at this point for you. You might be better off waiting until the ENT has run some tests and reached a diagnosis, and it may take more than one ENT visit to get to that point. At the very least, if you do proceed with a hearing aid consultation, you want to share with the audiologist the possibly related symptom of dizziness and what’s going on with the ENT. If there’s still doubt about the diagnosis, an audiologist who’s truly working in your interest might suggest a hold or slowdown on aids at that point pending the ENT’s findings and might offer to work with the MD with your consent.

Well, I have an inner ear test (VNG test) scheduled in 2 weeks (that was scheduled due to my dizziness issues). The music distortion has only really become an issue in the last couple of weeks. The hearing aid consultation is a few days after the VNG test. That was set up after the hearing test found 84% in my right ear and 72% in my left. The ENT suggested I might want to look into getting hearing aids.

I guess I could schedule another ENT visit but not sure he will recommend anything other than what I have already been scheduled for. But I will investigate it…thanks.

Having another hearing test and seeing my ENT tomorrow. We’ll see what happens! Thanks to those of you who posted your feedback…appreciate it!

Hey David…I’m no professional but I’ve worn hearing aids since my mid-twenties…and I’ll tell you that WITHOUT aids, and even with music turned up ridiculously loud?..things sound static-y and unclear. This may be what you’re experiencing…but WITH aids things are clear and not distorted (depending on the aid, of course.)

People assume that if you’ve got an appreciable hearing loss, things just need to be louder. In reality it’s more like “a faulty speaker” rather than a speaker that’s not loud enough. If that makes sense.

Hi Melissa…yes, that makes perfect sense. In fact, the volume of the music does not affect the static I am hearing. Even if the volume of the stereo is low, I hear the static. Of course, turning up the volume just means I hear the static even more.

I am really looking forward to getting the hearing aids, though my ENT today says he wants me to hold off on the evaluation until I do the VNG test (for my dizziness issues after workouts).

By the way, had another hearing test today. They found decreased clarity in my left ear. Other than that, results were similar to last month. They did confirm Midrange hearing loss from 1000-4000 Hz. I guess this would explain the distortion/static I am hearing with guitar stuff and the Midrange EQ in the car I tested out.

Can’t wait to get the hearing aids!