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male versus female voice over

Voice123 clients sometimes ask whether they should use a male or female voice over for their script. There lots of debates online about when to use a female for your commercials (beauty products, weight loss, children’s products, etc.) and when to use a male (home improvement, trucks, ya know, man things), but is that really how it works? I came across a study posted earlier this year that asked 30 men and 30 women to rate the “attractiveness” of the voices they heard.

tl;dr: According to this study, it’s not really about the pitch or tone of a voice that makes us listen, but how closely that voice resembles our own. It makes sense, right? We trust people that sound similar to us in age, gender, and accent. This means that what makes a voice “attractive” is much more complicated than previous studies have suggested.

Droppin’ Science

What vocal qualities make a voice more attractive? This study measured:

Duration: Males typically have shorter durations than females. This was measured from the onset to offset of spectral energy for each word and averaged for each talker.

Spectral Tilt: This is a measure of voice quality where, in general, higher values of tilt indicate breathier voices while lower values indicate creakiness.

Jitter: This is a local measure of deviation in periodicity; i.e. the averaged deviation of subsequent pitch periods, which makes this a measure of voice smoothness.

Shimmer: This is a local measure of variation in amplitude, i.e., the averaged deviation in amplitude of subsequent pitch periods, which makes this another type of measure which assesses voice smoothness.

Yeah, I totally copied and pasted that info from the study because I had no idea there was so much going on when we talk!

What did they find out?

Female voice analysis: Listeners rated female voices with “lower fundamental frequencies” as more attractive, but they said that this result was actually pretty miniscule. So, do we like women with deeper voices? Yes, but only slightly.

Listeners also liked women with more “fronted productions” of /u/ (like the “oo” sound in “goose”).

And, for women, breathier is better!

Male voice analysis: Apparently, this was a bit trickier, as results were more varied. Listeners were more likely to rate a male voice as attractive if they pronounced the /i/ and /u/ with more “back cavity,” which in my understanding, is a “throatier” sound. Here’s another study all about vocal resonance if you want to really nerd out. Male voices were also rated as more attractive if their productions were on average shorter in duration.

Conclusions?

male vs female voices graph

Hey! Look at this fancy graph with science and stuff!

What is this graph showing us? Ratings for male voices were much more variable and female voices were overall judged as more attractive. The interesting thing here is that while males and females give female voices much the same attractiveness ratings, males rank fellow male voices as less attractive as a group than females do. Perhaps guys are nervous about saying they find another man’s voice attractive?

This study also found that many men and women preferred voices of people from their own regional area or community.

What does it all mean??

For radio and TV commercials, use a talent with a native accent to the area, especially if that region has a strong accent, i.e. New York or Cockney.

Use a voice of someone that is in your target demographic. If you’re selling to middle aged women, use a middle aged female voice.

In general, people find female voices more attractive, so it might be a good idea to use a female voice for your company’s phone system.

This study was published online in the journal PLOS ONE on Feb. 19, 2014.

Still not sure whether to go male or female for your script? Listen to some of our amazing male and female voices here.

What do you think? Does the science match what you’ve experienced?