Voice-colour and voice-shape

Subtypes of auditory-visual synesthesia

The sound of people speaking or singing can trigger very specific visual concurrents for some synesthetes. Although this is a little-researched phenomenon, it can be considered a subtype of auditory-visual synesthesia. Visual synesthetic concurrents induced by voices include colour, texture, shape, size, spatial position and direction. It can either coexist with other types of auditory-visual synesthesia (so the same person might also have timbre-shape or tone-colour, for example) or exist independently of any other sound-to-sight synesthesias. It can be considered a type of chromesthesia (a general name given to any type of synesthesia where the inducer is sound or music and the concurrent is, or includes, colour), particularly in the case of singing, as the term chromesthesia is preferably used in reference to musical sounds.

This type of synesthesia was researched in one particular study: A. Moos, D. Simmons, J. Simner and R. Smith, Univ. Glasgow/Edinburgh, “Color and texture associations in voice-induced synesthesia” 2013). The following quote is from this study:

“Some voice synesthetes “see” the voice better when the person is singing. For some synesthetes colors vary little between voices but for others, colors depend strongly on the individual speaking. Concurrents may also be influenced by familiarity with the voice or the medium it is transmitted through, such as direct personal communication vs. radio. Some voice synesthetes identify the pitch to be a strong influence whereas others cannot define any criteria of the voice that change their concurrents. In Fernay et al. (2012), the synesthete's perceptions included color, size, and location of the associations. The authors found that a higher pitch, or fundamental frequency (f0), resulted in lighter color associations and a higher position in vertical space. Male voices induced larger shapes than female voices.”

Synesthetic reactions to voices are idiosyncratic and very varied, and the following examples have all been mentioned by different synesthetes describing their own particular experience:

-  brighter colours correspond to higher-pitched voices and darker, muted colours to deeper voices

-  the colour, texture or shape depend on the accent

- only familiar voices, or those of people the synesthete knows, have colour, while those of strangers do not

- the colour of the voice is the same colour as the one they associate with the person (go to the page on person-colour synesthesia)

- men’s voices tend to be black, grey or brown, while women’s voices can be any colour

- the texture corresponds to the type of emotion expressed: angry, tired, upset, etc.

- different voices create specific colours and also specific tactile sensations linked to each colour

As with other types of auditory-visual synesthesia, if the synesthete perceives the visual concurrent physically appearing in front of their eyes they would be a “projector” synesthete, whereas if they visualise it in their mind’s eye they would be an “associator”, this latter type being more common. As with other types of synesthesia, it is consistent: the concurrents may vary depending on different factors (see list above), but they are always the same for each particular synesthete.

Some examples: Voice-shape

Since I was about 9, I’ve associated certain shapes with people’s voices. They’re rods coming from either the left or right side of my vision, always gray, with a different cross-section depending on the voice. Men’s voices usually have this trapezoidal aspect to them that women’s voices don’t have. Women tend towards teardrop-shaped voices. The “default” shape is a very standard ellipse, like the end of a maraca. (…)

There are some voices where I’m like “dang, that is such a round voice” (e.g. glados in portal 2, whose voice is almost a perfect circle except for two symmetrical divots in the sides), and other times where it doesn’t even occur to me. (…) Once a voice has an associated shape, anything else feels Wrong. Well, except for that the shape can change depending on the tone - it’s not person-by-person. Someone’s public speaking voice has a different shape than their just-woke-up voice.

Sometimes voices have textures like the inside of an aero chocolate bar.

Is this really not universal? Do people not get what I mean when I say that a voice is trapezoidal?

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2023.)


“Some things I’ve associated with people’s voices are - a wooden block, just cubic with a couple of weird crater holes in them because of the airy tone - a thick, dense, maple syrupy texture that sort of pours out of a bottle - the soft and cool pinch of spraying cologne on your wrist (don’t ask idk either LMAO) - a bag of yellow chips puffed up with air.”

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2022.)

Four interesting cases of voice-colour synesthesia, including one from over 100 years ago

"My boyfriend's voice is like a really low saturation sandy beige-ish, looks like faded cardboard. When he laughs, though, it looks like golden hour sunlight shining through honey-coated brown stained glass."

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

2. (Voice-colour-tactile sensations)

“I think a good example for me would be any song by Kimya Dawson? She has a kind of desaturated, pinkish plum coloured voice and I feel it on my nose and the bottom ridges of my eyes. Sometimes, when her songs get more ‘white’ I feel it on my sternum as well.”

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

In the case below, a man describes how he perceives and has learnt to interpret changes in the colour of people’s voices that show whether or not they are being sincere. So he knows when they are lying… it bears a similarity to the purely fictional cases of synesthesia that are so popular in TV series and detective novels, but in this case it is absolutely real.

"I see the color in my mind's eye. (…) Everyone has a certain color/shape/rarely texture to their voice, and when it changes that means something is off about what they're saying. I can tell a lie when the color of their voice shifts too much.
People's voices are almost always yellow or green. Yellow for logic and green for emotion. (…) When the color shifts, it means they're changing into a different style of communication. It doesn't always indicate they're lying, but usually indicates they're hiding something.
(I’ve had it) all my life. I didn't realize that it was rare until a couple years ago, in my mid 20's.
I don't know if it's a change in their pitch or not. I just know that the color changes. It could very well be that the pitch level changes or their mannerisms change which is why I pick up on it, but for me the color of their voices just changes.
I think the most interesting anecdote I've learned through this is that it's much easier to lie as a logical person than an emotional person. I very rarely see yellow shift to green, indicating a logical person had to access their emotional side. Occasionally I'll see an increase in orange around the yellow when a person is unhappy with something, meaning that something is off with them. Emotional people have to rationalize something before they lie, and give themselves away far too easily in the process of rationalizing."

(Source: This post and comments on Reddit/ IAmA - Ask Me Anything. 2011.)

This newspaper article published in the San Francisco Call in December 1905 has a shocking headline: “COLOR OF HUMAN VOICE REVEALS THE CHARACTER. SCIENTIST ASTONISHES LONDON. Strange Discovery Is Made by a Woman.” Reading further, we discover that “Mrs. Northesk Wilson has seen the color of the voices of various English notables and recently lectured on them to a fashionable Mayfair audience. She says Beerbohm Tree's voice was a deep red all the time he played the part of Svengali, though his natural voice has a much pleasanter hue. G.P. Huntly, the English comedian of ‘Three Little Maids’ fame, has a ‘charming green voice’, and various other stars have different colored voices ranging from pale pink to ultra violet.” Mrs. Wilson was clearly a synesthete! You can read the whole article here, in the California Digital Newspaper section on the website of the Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research.

Ticker tape

Another voice-related type of visual synesthesia is “ticker tape”, which is when words are automatically visualised in the form of “subtitles” on hearing people speak. Go to the page on ticker tape synesthesia

Go to the page on voice-to-taste synesthesia

Go to the page on auditory-visual synesthesia in general

This page is about voice-color synesthesia
This page is about voice-colour synaesthesia

This page last updated: 12 November 2023


  1. i believe i may have something similar, but not exact. i see people's voices as a pattern of white lines on a black background. everybody's line patterns are different depending on the tone variation, grumbly-ness, crackly-ness, breathiness, use of speech fillers, pitch, etc.

    1. Yes, that certainly sounds like you have synesthetic visuals from voices. Very interesting! And as you say, slightly different from the examples here.

  2. What about like 3d dna strands? With geometric shapes to determine pitch and like the texture of the voice can determine what state the shapes or the strand intelf is, uh the strand follows the same path the voice came from, and if the voice is confused or confuses myself then it becomes something like bob the hand bug on the windsheild
    And dependi g on the type of voice, the voicw can drip liquid or be frosty or hard like a rock
    Although once i knew a giy and the only thing i could imagine from his voice was a vaccum cleaner in a library

  3. As a child I was a very creative. I had numerous concussions, this is when I began to see a person’s singing voice (accapella) in a single color and then fade lighter as they went to a higher note and the shade deeper when they went to a deeper note. When I would hear a song accompanied by instruments and/or other voices; I’d seeing many colors and they’d be almost tormenting because I was already an energetic child but I’d try to scribble the song on paper and could not keep up. I eventually gave it up when I told my mother “that lady’s voice is orange” and she of course didn’t understand and told me to stop being “silly”. So, I kept this “magical” thing to myself. It never went away but I’d learned to push it down and fight it. Fast forward 45 years. I had a major Traumatic Brain Injury that has left me permanently disabled (high functioning but unable to work). I’ve been told I probably have CTE - what the football players get because I’ve had well over 100 head injuries, most not reported. Since the last one in 2017 that left me disabled, the “seeing singers or seeing songs” as I used to call it, because I also saw colors in instrumentals… I now have it much stronger. At first because I had such horrific migraines, wasn’t allowed on screens, had to stay in a dark room, I wanted to listen to music but when I did it was painful to see the colors. Now- wow! It is fun. Certain currently famous artists have a color. Such as Taylor Swift is always, in every song, plum. When she goes high the plum fades lighter but it stays plum. When she goes low, the plum goes very dark but never turns any other color- just an extremely dark plum. I had to laugh when I saw she had a song called Lavender Haze. No, she’s not Lavender but she is plum- at least in my brain. And I actually do see it on the walls as soon as I hear her voice. The funny thing is, I listened to here speak in an interview and I did not see color. I thought I would. A friend of mine is getting started in Nashville a singer- songwriter. He is always a mid-tone navy blue and goes deep navy on deep notes and pale navy on high notes. I have colors I see for many artists- same colors no matter what they sing (same color, different shades). I’m actually going to paint canvases to represent each artist. When I try use colored pens to do the entire song sounds, I get frantic just like I did as a kid! I’m now able to actually tune out the background and hone in on the singer’s voice. I no longer feel scared of it or weird. It’s one of the few blessings of having a debilitating brain disability. Thank you for your website!