When enjoying media for entertainment purposes, what specific sounds shatter your suspension of disbelief?

For me, it is the call of a loon. I grew up in Muskoka, which is a cottage district in Ontario. My ears prick up whenever I hear that bird song. I am immediately transported to memories of starry nights camping, or sitting on a dock at dusk.

Yesterday, while watching 24 S01E02, I heard a loon call out in the Mojave desert. Maybe they migrate that far... maybe... but still - it made me chuckle.

The biggest example of a bird song that ALWAYS cracks me up is approximately 3 minutes into Thriller by Michael Jackson.

"They're out to get you. Demons closing in on every side." CUE LOON.

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  • Funny about loons…I grew up in Maine and have the same reaction when I hear one. Summer nights on the lake is my exact memory. I admit I'm a bit guilty on this point as I have often taken a bird call out of context and used it for a purely emotional reason. But hey, if I didn't do that, what would the Audobon people have to complain about? :) Apr 16 '10 at 6:29
  • Ah, I am newly arrived to Maine. I don't know if I've heard a loon yet...
    – VCProd
    Apr 16 '10 at 14:11
  • Really?! Where in Maine? PS. To find a loon, go to the nearest lake! Apr 16 '10 at 17:23
  • Not sure if you guys have seen this, but it's an interesting read - must be tough to be an ornithologist. :) pages.cthome.net/rwinkler/hollwood.htm
    – Joel Raabe
    Apr 16 '10 at 19:08
  • I'm in Portland. I have not met any sound people up here yet (post or production), but hooked up with some film makers in the Boston area.
    – VCProd
    Apr 20 '10 at 1:42

23 Answers 23


That accursed semi doppler horn used for every big rig truck in every movie. Period. (You know the one from the Premiere Edition CD library.)

Premiere Edition Library

  • Agreed...can't stand that one.
    – Justin P
    May 23 '11 at 16:04
  • 2
    Oh...and the crowd gasp reaction from that library is in EVERYTHING....almost every movie promo ad.
    – Justin P
    May 23 '11 at 16:06
  • It's so noticeable and in so many things that even my wife, who is a non soundy, has begun to notice it.
    – Si Charles
    May 25 '11 at 20:43
  • I have yet to record a truck horn doppler that sounds even remotely like this one. It makes it even feel more 'canned' to be because of that. Jul 21 '11 at 22:50

In general, when I recognize a sound that I have used from a library I get propelled out of the story, it just jumps out at me like crazy.

One specific example: There's a certain door from Sound Ideas, which is used everywhere. You know the one with the squeak... in The Simpsons it's used for every door (indoor, outdoor, massive, metallic etc.). I think it's a joke, it has to be.

  • The otherwise-pretty-cool miniseries "The Lost Room" used that door effect for the signature sound of the Lost Room's door, and it took me out very time. May 14 '10 at 17:51
  • There's a wood door in the 9000 series I believe which I have affectionately called "The South Park Door" Jul 21 '11 at 22:41
  • @Stavrosound hehe. I'll have a listen. Jul 22 '11 at 9:12

For me it's The Wilhelm Scream. I don't find it annoying but it always makes me laugh whenever I come across it in a film.

I currently use it as my text message sound which is hilarious if you're in say a shop and suddenly someone screams. Cue everyone looking around wondering did I just hear a scream?

+1 for the big rig horn. There's also an overly used telephone that appears in almost every television show - 2 examples are "Friends" and "Spaced" (UK Version).

Wilhelm Scream

  • 1
    I totally agree! & I loved it when on the Simpsons they showed a POV shooter game & every kill had the wilhelm on it....
    – user49
    Apr 18 '10 at 7:24
  • I personaly cant stand the Wilhelm scream. Everytime I hear it I cringe. Knowing it, and frankly how lame of a sound it is, takes me right out of the moment.
    – Auddity
    May 24 '11 at 5:16

Proximity effect on dialogue when characters are outdoors. There's something about seeing characters walk through a desert, say, and having their voices sound like their lips are just by your ear.

  • 1
    Oh my lord does that irritate me. They're 400 miles away and you can hear their tongues moving around in their mouths.
    – g.a.harry
    May 23 '11 at 7:51

Three words: DESERT HAWK SCREECH. It's so bad that I hear red-tailed hawks outside, for real, in nature (a common occurrence), and I at least crack a smile if not start laughing outright. Film has made nature a cliché!

  • Ha! Great one. Oh nature... always ripping off movies.
    – MtL
    Apr 21 '10 at 18:14

There's a great list of these at filmsound.org: http://www.filmsound.org/cliche/

Mic feedback whenever someone uncomfortably steps up to the mic always seems to get on my nerves...

  • 1
    YES. Thank you. That drives me crazy. As though a microphone sitting idly on a mic stand will just feedback as a result of someone approaching. So as to get your attention. The funniest thing, is that it's an audio myth perpetuated completely by sound designers who should know better! (I jest. I'm certain that's the kind of sound that is at the impulse of a "higher authority" - read, the director.)
    – MtL
    Apr 17 '10 at 2:52
  • as though every live sound engineer on the planet is incompetent...yeah, that one ticks me off! May 14 '10 at 17:52
  • Yeah - I thought Fight Club pulled it off well though Jan 22 '16 at 15:11

For me... "Dr. Forest please Dial 118, Dr. Forest please dial on,one, eight...". I hear this in EVERY SINGLE HOSPITAL HALLWAY on TV, and I KNOW what library it comes from. Always pulls me out of the moment. I mean really, how hard is it to hop on a mic and record custom pages? I've had directors, producers, and even my cats paged in hospitals!

  • I'm told CSI custom records their own radio calls through a set of walkies using the LVPD codes etc Jul 21 '11 at 22:45

You know, it's less about sounds that are present than sounds that are missing. Very quiet restaurants and crowded bars, quiet airports, etc. One set of sounds that bothers me is from coffee shops - the constant air hose-sounding HISSSSSS of an espresso machine, but nothing else related to making espresso like grinders, clicks, bubbling milk.

The other thing that really brings me out of the movie is poorly matched ADR. When someone is in a long concrete hallway and they sound like they're in a padded box, it's very distracting.

  • This makes me think of bars where people are dancing in the background. I am always watching for rhythmic cues in their bodies to see if they are each dancing in silence to the (varying tempos) of the music in their head.
    – MtL
    Apr 16 '10 at 14:54

What about that crowd/audience surprised 'oh' gasp reaction?

I always notice it when someone does something obscene in a crowded place e.g. restaurant, sporting match.

It drives me crazy!


Wilhelm doesn't bother me so much. Maybe I'm just forgiving because Ben Burtt is the coolest. This scream does burst my bubble, though:



  • This one bursts my bubble too!!! Is that the name it goes by? "Youraagh 2"?? Man I dislike this scream May 5 '10 at 4:59
  • Someone identified it as "Screams 3; Man, Gut-wrenching Scream And Fall Into Distance" from Hollywood Edge's Premiere Edition #1, Disc 13, Track 44. If my sources are correct, the company began in 1990, implying that this scream (being that in appeared in their first edition) has been in use for about 20 years. May 5 '10 at 6:02
  • Wow 20 years of this scream!!! Thanks for the info Matt! May 5 '10 at 18:56

One sound that bursts my bubble is a specific SHIOUFFF sound that is often used for the ignition of fuel fires, molotov cocktails, fireballs or fire rushing towards something. It's also mixed in with car crashes a lot. Don't know where it comes from, but I used to have it in some library as well.

A tribute to the Wilhelm Scream, a sound that apparently Burtts bubbles even outside the sound design world:

That Calls for a Wilhelm Scream rap

  • I know exactly what you're talking about!!! There's also the sound effect that the video-game Diablo used for when you clicked on a button - sort of like an anvil hit/shing or something. But I know exactly what fireball soundeffect you're talking about. That's hilarious.
    – Utopia
    May 6 '10 at 16:53
  • I think you talking about sound from Sound Ideas 6015 - 28 Fire Ball Impact I also agree, this is one of the most overused sound.
    – Conant
    Jun 2 '12 at 14:17

I work a bunch with the Hollywood Edge libraries, so I catch a lot of these. "cute child giggle" gets to me, as does the "red tailed hawk screech"

One that really bothered me, however, was throughout the BBC show "Robin Hood" they used the SAME horse whinny sample EVERY TIME A HORSE WAS IN FRAME!

It was as if every horse in England sounded exactly the same.


Wilhem scream cos it is overused and puts me out of the movie. The overused whistle sound for arrows and the effected whip sound for a fireball. (though it was really cool when I first heard it)


Actually, these days it's often hearing too much.

Sometimes it seems that current sound design follows the idea of 'everything must make a sound', even if in reality it really doesn't make a sound. For example, the other day I was watching an action film, one of the current big franchises. The main character unplugged a security camera, like a little 12v thing and it made the sound of power station being switched off....

Why? It was totally unnecessary.

Just because we've got enough tracks for everything to make sound it doesn't mean everything should.

End rant.

  • could not agree more!! I feel the same about heavy handed foley. "Eyelash foley" I've heard it called. Not everything on screen needs a sound. If something does make sound, how it makes the sound, it's loudness and performance should be dictated by the story, not the overzealous audio guy wanting to hear every detail of his/her craft.
    – Brad Dale
    May 30 '12 at 16:56
  • totally agree! does blockbuster = total lack of restraint?
    – user49
    Jun 5 '12 at 0:10

Anything out of sync.


Alley cat! The cat that's always in New York backstreets or other scary urban areas.

Shop door bell is also one of those sounds... I live in Sweden and some studios here are just plain lazy and choose whichever sample is the closest. So it turns out that every door and every shop has the same sound. And there is also abuse of an owl sound here in Sweden whenever we show images of dark forests there the certain "hoot hoOOot" and it just... well. Much like the loon.

There's a great movie called "in a better world" or "hämnden" (the swedish title). The movie is danish so of course it's hyper realistic in acting and events. Everything "feels real" and it's a breathtaking movie, really stunned me. And it had its grip on me, I had been crying and had a real physical emotional experience of this movie and this freakin' owl just starts hooting! Why? Cause there's an image of a forest with a lake nearby. GAH

So even danish sound designers are lazy, it seems. Actually the sound of that movie in general was quite mediocre. :/ OT: But nonetheless a fantastic movie that I greatly recommend :)


the sound of silence, it always gets me good


The one that's been annoying me two-fold lately, is the 'gun cock' sound.

Firstly, when two clearly different weapons have the same cocking sound e.g. assualt rifle and a handgun.

Secondly, when a character simply raises a weapon and all of a sudden the cocking sound appears. I understand the reasoning for this in regards to story telling purposes but sometimes it just really pulls me out of the scene. I'm not saying rasing a weapon doesn't make a sound, but I'm pretty sure most guns don't automatically cock when raised from 180 degrees to 90 degrees...

  • To my ears, this has become worse in the three and a half years since this answer was posted. I've watched stuff recently where literally every time a gun appears on screen it makes a random noise for no reason. Once scene had two groups who were enemies of each other, everyone was armed, and they all pointed their guns at each other at the same time. The cacophany was deafening. Jan 8 '16 at 16:06

Besides the obvious Wilhelm Scream, there are several other overused library samples and loops that particularly ruin things for me. Strangely I seem to have first heard a lot of them them used in computer games or music.

For example, several of kids laughing: these samples were used throughout the Rollercoaster Tycoon computer game series, used in countless documentaries and even used in Star Wars Ep.1 as some kids run past the pod racer Anakin is working on.

There's the sound of a (tropical?) bird that I hear again on a lot of documentaries etc. I first heard it in Age of Empires 1 computer game and whenever I hear it I just think of that!

There are some other ones, door opening/closing creaks, and a drum loop that I've heard used in 4 songs by different bands I like, and seems to be used in theme music for several TV programmes. I even have the drum sample that the Cake Boss theme tune uses in my own collection!

EDIT: I've just been able to listen to the Loon sound and that's the bird noise I was referring to above!!

  • I am a big fan of Age of Empires so that sound doesn't bother me too much. Jan 22 '16 at 15:14
  • I've also started to noise a car driving off effect from the BBC Library that is used all the time in film and TV. I think it's "23 Ford Fiesta, 1-1 L Hatchback".
    – Skarik
    Sep 7 '16 at 6:30

A short list:

  • All keyboards are mechanical. It's weird hearing a MacBook making the sound of a Model M.
  • "Silenced" guns. I get the feeling someone once just read the name "silencer" and assumed the rest. A silencer doesn't render a gunshot to a whilstly "theew".
  • Anything with a timer also beeps every second.
  • Doesn't matter if you've been shot in the lung/head or stabbed in the neck or had your neck broken - if you fall off something whilst dying you scream.
  • All recent robots are powered by Skrillex noises.
  • All alarm clocks have the same alarm.

I'm surprised the Apple Logic/Soundtrack 'Alarm' hasn't come up yet. That one has always driven me crazy. When the iPhone/Pad came out and included that sound as one if it's few sound effects, I thought it would disappear from movies, TV and commercials. Nope.

It gives me this uncontrollable urge to mock the TV. I have to mimic the sound back at the television in the most ugly and abrasive way I can with my voice.

Every once in awhile I'll hear it pitched up or down or treated in some way. You'd think that would make it better or alleviate some of the gut-hurt. But somehow, it just makes it worse.

  • Just out of curiosity are those SFX allowed to be used royality free, are they the same ones from like Garageband or iMovie? Jun 3 '12 at 2:12
  • I believe the GB/iMove SFX/samples are subset of what comes with Logic. Apple provided content is royalty free. Just can't resell them. support.apple.com/kb/HT5175
    – troglobyte
    Jun 4 '12 at 18:53

Apart from the regular cliche's and other common sounds, this one that I posted about seems to get my attention lately mainly in video games but isn't too big of a deal.


The Hollywood Edge baby crying slowly sound effect. Disc 40, Track 14. I hated that sound effect. It makes me want to cry and thinking about commiting suicide. This sound effect has been used in countless cartoons and shows (e.g. Ed Edd n Eddy). I first heard the sound effect on a Baby Born doll commercial from the 2000's and I started to hate that sound effect ever since. Can you tell me what sound effect has been originally first used? I love to know.

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