How long would the shortest perceptible sound last?

I'm guessing there'll be a frequency at which we can hear short sounds best but I don't need to find that. Admittedly this is also completely dependent on the hifi too.

(I'm working on an audio processing algorithm and would like to know)

4 Answers 4


According to my copy of the absolutely essential (!) Master Handbook of Acoustics, to hear shorter tones, that is sounds with a short impulse, they need to be louder:

A 1,000-Hz tone sounds like 1,000 Hz in a 1-second tone burst, but an extremely short burst > sounds like a click. The duration of such a burst also influences the perceived loudness. Short bursts do not sound as loud as longer ones... A pulse 3 milliseconds long must have a > level about 15dB higher to sound as loud as a 0.5-second (500 millisecond) pulse. Tones and > random noise follow roughly the same relationship in loudness vs. pulse length.

The 100-msec region is significant... Only when the tones or noise bursts are shorter than this amount must the sound-pressure level be increased to produce a loudness equal to that of long pulses or steady tones or noise. This 100 msec appears to be the integrating time or the time constant of the human ear. (Everest 2001, 60-61)

Apologies for the poor phonecam image - my scanner is out of commission!

(Everest 2001, 61)


There is no shortest sound detectable by the human ear. Any impulse with enough energy is audible.

The shortest detectable tone, identifiable as a tone, would be on the order of 100 ms. It might be shorter for tones of high pitch.


If you create a soundfile at 44100 Hz with only silence in it, and set exactly one sample to a non-zero value, you will hear the non-zero sample as a click. This is essentially a sound of 0,0227 ms (the duration of one sample). You can do this with Audacity, or any wave editor that lets you zoom in onto a WAV-file and move the individual sample points around.

With higher sample rates, I expect this to work too.

one sample click


The shortest length of time your eardrum can respond to a given sound depends on its frequency.

The higher the frequency, the shorter the response time and the shorter time required for the ear to register a perceptible noise.

Thus, for one who's highest audible frequency is, say 16kHz, the shortest length of time the sound would have to last is 0.0000625.

The shortest sound at the lower end of the range, say 15Hz = 0.0666secs. I would not perceive a sound at this frequency which lasted less than this time.

For any given frequency 1/'x' will give you the answer. Remember to convert kHz/MHz to Hz first.

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