This question reminds me of that episode of ‘Family Guy’ where Lois hears her voice on tape for the first time and unhappily remarks that she sounds “all whiny and nasal”, this is, of course, an in-joke for the fans watching at home, because Lois does actually sound like that. However, it is a feeling that most of us can relate to.
The sad truth is that, when you hear your voice on tape, you really do sound like that. Sure, the sound is slightly distorted by whatever microphone recorded it, but not to a great extent. You watch police car sirens on TV and then you hear them in real life and the difference isn’t huge, is it?
So, why is this?
Effectively, when you begin to speak aloud, you automatically trigger your pre-vocalization reflex, which is, effectively, a contraction of the muscles in your inner ear (particularly around your ossicles and your ear drum, which are two of the most important pieces for hearing). The end result is a tightening of the tympanic membrane, which dulls the sound of your own voice, causing the familiar, pleasing sound that you only think is the way your voice sounds to others.
So, you are hearing yourself without the dampening effect of the pre-vocalization reflex, which is unfamiliar to you.
The other reason that you may be inclined to hate the sound of your own voice when played back from a recording is probably psychological. Its only a pet theory of mine, but if the voice you hear is different to you and yet still recognizable as you, its a bit like getting an extreme new haircut when you aren’t prepared for it – its a challenge to self image. This actually causes a bit of a dilemma for the psyche, which is probably why it makes us so uncomfortable.
This may also go some way towards explaining that friend you have (everybody has one) who labours under the delusion that they can sing, when they actually have (to quote Billy Connolly) “a voice like a goose farting in the fog”.