Auditory-olfactory synesthesia

Also called sound-smell synesthesia

With this type of synesthesia, certain sounds – musical sounds particularly, although it can also apply to general sounds – evoke consistent smells. It is relatively uncommon (in Sean Day’s study, only 1.58% of the 1,143 synesthetes questioned considered they had this type), although it appears that people with other forms of auditory synesthesia can have occasional experiences with it. When it occurs more permanently, for some people each musical note might have its own odour, for example, while for others the aromas are triggered by each chord or key or by particular musical genres, songs or the timbres of each instrument or other aspects. It is also possible that a characteristic of the music evokes an emotion in the listener and this emotion in turn triggers a clearly perceived smell. And some synesthetes have a specific olfactory reaction to people’s voicesIt can sometimes accompany other types of auditory or musical synesthesia such as chromesthesia, in which case the smells coexist with, or are dependent on, the colours perceived. It is consistent: the same sound, voice or musical stimulus tends to produce the same olfactory concurrent. A certain degree of focus, concentration or relaxation appears to be necessary in order to experience the smells. Which are not always pleasant by the way: bad smells are described equally or more often than good ones.

Here are some descriptions written by people with this type of synesthesia:


General sounds-smell

“The sound of stepping on a stick like you'd find in a forest smells like cinnamon and French toast.”

(Source: This post and comments on Reddit/Synesthesia2015. This person has olfactory concurrents for many types of sounds – general and musical, and also voices.)


“Acoustic guitars smell like honey, drums smell like pine needles. It all depends on the way it’s all played though, too.”

(Source: This comment on Reddit/Synesthesia2018.)

Musical note-smell (could also be considered pitch-smell or tone-smell)

"F smells like flowers and has a hollow wood sound like a xylophone. B smells like tropical fruits like pineapple. G smells like antique wood. C smells somewhat like chlorine. (…) 

I mostly get them when the notes are played without reference."

(Source: This post and comment on Reddit/Synesthesia2023.)

Musical genre-smell

“I can't listen to reggae for example, it smells bad to me, the rhythm and the guitars...”

(Source: a comment posted in the Facebook group “Synesthesia”. 2018.)

“I smell music the majority of the time, though a lot smells either very tangy and citrus-y, or nature-like. When I'm in band class, we all smell salty like the ocean.”

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia2015.)


“Songs have very vivid smells for me, but only songs I’ve heard before. Usually it’s the smell of the place where I first heard the song, occasionally it’s the smell of where my most impactful listen through the song took place.
I don’t smell new songs until the second listen.”

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia2020.)

"A few songs have scents, which are not always simple ones like roses, lemon, peppermint or whatever. Pink Floyd’s 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' Parts I - V, which begins the album Wish You Were Here, smells like the dryness of a desert, and 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' Parts VI - IX, which closes the album, has the overpowering scent of a thunderstorm on the verge of breaking."

(Source: an anonymous synesthete. 2021.)


“It's a general impression or even an emotion. For example I find some classical music (and atonal) oppressive or 'disappointing' and that gives me a kind of rotting smell, some positive, happy parts of music look and smell like cherryade, a smell of silk is also something positive, I get a burning smell sometimes and I haven't yet worked out why. I only get smells occasionally, while I get visuals almost all the time.”

(Source: Synesthesia Tree author Pau 365, in this post on Reddit/Synesthesia2018.)

Other musical subtypes would be chord-smell and key-smell.


The smell of the same person's voice can change a bit depending on pitch, especially with singing and shouting. But the smell tends to be similar to the "default" smell.

For example, a Twitch streamer I watch has a voice that smells like blood and when he's talking it smells like stale blood but if he sings it smells more like fresh blood. A friend of mine has a kind of sulfur-scented voice, and when she sings or shouts, it becomes distinctly more egg-like the higher the pitch goes.

Accents can affect it too, but not always. (…)

Voice impressions change the smell as well. (…) For example, if I listen to Seth McFarlane doing his Kermit the Frog impression, since it is so accurate it will smell like Kermit's voice not Seth McFarlane's voice. This also makes it easier for me to learn voice impressions!"

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2021.)

An artist paints the fragrance he perceives from music

For some synesthetes, olfactory experiences accompany colour experiences perceived with music or sound, as part of chromesthesia, rather than existing independently. This painting by artist Ninghui Xiong shows his impression of both colour and fragrance as he listens to a piece of classical music. Ninghui perceives scent impressions from unique timbres, so a particular musician playing a specific instrument can create a perception of fragrance for him, which he then represents using the colours that also form part of his experience.

Lexical-olfactory synesthesia

This is a type of synesthesia where words have a smell. It can be triggered by reading the words, hearing them spoken, or simply by thinking about them. If the impression of a smell comes from words that are heard it could perhaps be considered a kind of auditory-olfactory synesthesia, although it would probably be better classified as a conceptual type of synesthesia as it is also related to the semantics of the word and not merely its sound. If the olfactory concurrent is triggered by letters that are heard or the individual sounds contained in words it would be a case of phoneme-to-smell, and if it is in response to the part of the word that carries its basic meaning, i.e. the root of the word, it would be lexeme-to-smell. These latter types are rare and I am not aware of any cases of them, although a similar case involving phonemes and taste rather than smell is described in the page on lexical-gustatory synesthesia.


Go to the page on lexical-olfactory synesthesia (words to smell)

Go to the page on auditory-gustatory synesthesia (sound to taste)

This page last updated: 2 April 2024

1 comment:

  1. I smell some nouns as they smell by seeing them (images or text) or hearing the word.