The Virtual Barber Shop Makes Your Ears Tingle While Testing Headphones

published Jul 1, 2013
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Those who’ve grown up going to a barbershop will recognize many of the sensations connected to getting a haircut: the scarf-like comfort of the tissue and silk cape wrapped around the neck, the smell of the mysterious blue liquid where combs reside perfuming the air, and of course, the ghostly head and neck tickling sensation of scissors and clippers dancing around the head. While researching headphone testing resources, I happened upon a convincing aural simulation which may leave listeners looking for wayward pieces of trimmed hair afterward…

Plug in your best sound-isolating headphones, find a quiet spot, press play, close your eyes, and listen while “Luigi” takes care of you from a barber’s chair:

The same tingly sensations from the back, top, and sides of my scalp, neck, and ears experienced during a real hair cut are somehow reproduced completely by sound, with the brain filling in all of the additional sensory feedback through a process called ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response).

The Verge has a great report about this sensory phenomena further describing the sensations triggered by sound, noting some people are using ASMR to treat insomnia and depression. As Slate’s Mark O’Connell notes, there’s a lot of whispering going on in many of these ASMR videos, making a connection between a segment of ASMR characteristic hushed delivery and the relaxing nature of Bob Ross speaking while painting.

YouTube is filled with countless ASMR tagged videos, some with accompanying visuals. My favorite being this video documenting the construction of a tiny edible Japanese candy hamburger and fries.  I previously could not pointpoint exactly why I found the video so engaging, but now I know it’s likely because of the mesmerizing symphony of crackling sounds (unlike this potato chip clip which evokes a strong salivary response). But after several tests of various ASMR videos, it was the Virtual Barber Shop and other “close your eyes” clips which got my ears most…ahem…aroused.

ASMR might prove one of the best ways to test and compare headphones, because when done well, the ASMR experience does a much more convincing job of real world sounds than most simulated surround sound technologies. And at worst, it offers anyone a lunchtime visit to the spa without the need to ever leave the desk.