Best of Hear the Music: American Pharoah and Hearing Protection

Xmas treeI am off on holidays this week, but hope you will enjoy this top post from Hear the Music in 2015.


This past week, American Pharoah won the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.  The last time that this was accomplished was 37 years ago, and the time before that was 41 years ago by Secretariat.  (Secretariat’s trainer was a Canadian, eh?)   The difficulty of the Triple Crown lies in the fact that the first two legs are shorter tracks where horses that are built for speed have an advantage.  The third leg (at Belmont) is a very old track and is designed for distance and endurance.  Speed and endurance are not generally found in the same horse, but American Pharoah is an exception.   After the race we had a chance to interview American Pharoah:

Interviewer (MC):  American Pharoah!  American Pharoah!  Over here!  I’m the reporter from  Would you have a few minutes for an interview?

American Pharoah:  Sure, it’s not as if I am doing anything right now.

MC:  Thank you.  May I call you Pharoah.

American Pharoah:  No.

MC:  May I call you American?

American Pharoah:  No.

MC:  OK, then… American Pharaoh.  I see that before the race, you were wearing hearing protection.

American Pharoah:  Yes.

MC:  Can you expand on why you were wearing hearing protection?

American Pharoah:  No.

MC:  Well, was it because the crowd noise was just too loud and you were finding it distracting?

American Pharoah:  Yes.

MC:  Can you tell me anything about the hearing protection?

American Pharoah:  No.

MC:  Let me rephrase: was the hearing protection a form of musician earplug that used an acoustic network to allow you to hear the jockey but generally lessen the amount of noise overall?

American Pharoah:  I don’t understand the question.

MC:  Well, since 1988 there has been some specially designed forms of hearing protection that use an acoustic element that interacts with the volume of air in the earmold to re-establish a flat or uniform form of attenuation.  In this way the crowd noise would be reduced by about 15 dB but you would still be able to hear the jockey.

American Pharoah:  What’s a dB?

MC:  Oh dear.  Let me try a different tack.  My voice is getting a bit horse from all this talking.  Did a horse audiologist come and take earmold impressions of your ears, send them to a laboratory, and come back a week or so later and show you how to put them in your ears?

American Pharoah:  No.

MC:  Well let me change the subject and just ask whether you were able to hear the jockey when you were running?

American Pharoah:  No.

MC:  Was that because his voice sounded muffled and there was too much attenuation above 1000 Hz?

American Pharoah:  No.

MC:  Well, why couldn’t you hear what the jockey was saying to you?

American Pharoah:  The jockey does not talk to me.  I’m a horse.

MC:  Of course, but surely the jockey may say something to you on occasion, and wouldn’t it be nice to be able to understand the jockey?  If you had musicians’ earplugs where the attenuation at 80 Hz was the same as at 16,000 Hz, the balance between the lower frequency vowels and nasals (also called sonorants), and the higher frequency consonants (also called obstruents) would be maintained.

American Pharoah:  Huh?

MC:  If you had conventional hearing protection, for any given mass, because of the relative wavelengths of lower frequencies and higher frequencies, there would always be greater higher frequency attenuation than for the lower frequencies.   The consonants would therefore not be as audible as the lower frequency vowels and the jockey’s voice would sound mumbled.  Right?

American Pharoah:  What’s a sonorant?

MC:  Never mind!  You are the stupidest horse I have ever interviewed, and you can’t even spell your name right!  It’s Pharaoh and not Pharoah!

American Pharoah kicks the interviewer in the head and walks off to taste some Champagne.

About Marshall Chasin

Marshall Chasin, AuD, is a clinical and research audiologist who has a special interest in the prevention of hearing loss for musicians, as well as the treatment of those who have hearing loss. I have other special interests such as clarinet and karate, but those may come out in the blog over time.