Introduction: Sound Flipping Headphones!

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Haven't you heard? These sound flipping headphones will turn your world of audio in to just plan odd-io. Left is right, and right is left, and you'll find that conversations, ambient noise, snaps and claps, all seem to come from invisible sources on the wrong side of your body. With this easy to make science set, you won't just flip your hearing, but the fashion world, too! They actually work, and are actually wonderful.

  • What: Sound Flipping Headphones
  • Where: Over there! Wait, no, over there!
  • Concepts: sound, perception, waves, physics
  • Cost: ~ $5 with old hearing protection, $15 if bought
  • Time: ~ 45 minutes
  • Materials:
    • Ear Protection (construction grade works great)
    • Sump Pump Tubing (available at hardware store)
    • Two Funnels (any size)
    • Zip-ties
    • Duct Tape
  • Tools:
    • Drill Press (if available) or Drill
    • Scissors
    • Hand Saw
    • (though pictured, glue not necessary)

Prosthetic-altered perception has long fascinated, well...everyone! Besides the large fields of corrective devices like glasses and hearing aids, there have been famous musings such as upside-down glasses, a smell printer, giant ears from World War II, all in the amazingly complex world of perceptual adaptation. I was inspired by exhibits I saw in the Exploratorium to this effect, and wanted everyone to be able to make this on their own in classrooms and at home.


Step 1: Drill Those Headphones

First up, take out the insulation in your headphones, and save them. Find a drill bit that is the same diameter as your sump pump tubing (ours was about 1 1/4"), and drill in to those hearing protectors. I tried for a second to do it with a hand drill, but found using a bracing jig on a drill press to be way easier. Drill lightly to avoid cracking, and whipping around your headphones. At the end, use a metal file to smooth out some of those rough edges.

Special bonus if your hearing protectors come off the headband! This makes it a lot easier to drill.

Step 2: Insert Ear Tubes

Push the tubing into those ear holes. If you cut it just right, you can use the ridges to help lock it in place. Cut a length of tubing for each (mine were about 20"), and use some duct tape on the outside to keep it in place. If you have curve in your tubing, line it up, so that it will go up and over the headband.

Step 3: Cut Listening Holes

Take your insulation, and cut holes in the center so that what comes down the tube (sound) can go straight in to your head. Then stuff the insulation back in to your headphones. This will help block out other ambient sounds, too!

Step 4: Re-Connect and Correct!

If you took your headphones off the headband, replace them now so that the tubes point upright. Fold the tubes over the headband, and check to see if the tubes are the right length. I cut just a little bit off of both tubes so that the ends of the tubes could reach roughly to directly above the opposite ear.

Now is actually a fun time to try them on, even with the tubes flopping around.

Step 5: Add the Funnels

Funnels will help you hear more than the tube alone. Cut your funnels with a hand saw (I used a small plastic saw), so that the cross-section hole is just smaller than the sump tubing. You don't have to be too exact here, and can correct a lot of things with duct tape at the end. Repeat on both sides!

Step 6: Zip Tie and Get Pumped!

Fold the tubes over so they are facing in opposite directions. Bundle them and zip-tie them to the headband in two different places. For mine, I had to use two zip-ties chained together. The ridging on the sump tubing give excellent valleys to hold the zip-ties in place. After you're all set, cut off the extra bits with a pair of scissors.

Step 7: Flip Your Sound. Flip the World.

Get ready for your mind to explode, because flipping sound is really, really weird! And super fun! Here are a few things that are great to try:

  • Have two people have a conversation with each other while standing on either side of you
  • Close your eyes and have somebody snap near one ear. Try to guess and point where they're standing.
  • Have somebody make a constant hum, or listen to a car drive by to see how your ears pick it up
  • Try wearing them for a longer period of time and go out in public (you'll look awesome), and see if you can start to adapt and get used to it

I would absolutely love to see your sound flipping headphones and hear ideas that you've come up with for how to use them! Post below, and I'll respond!

Have fun, go wacky, and keep exploring!