02 June 2008

Sheffield professor reveals formula for the perfect voice

Linguistics Professor Andrew Linn from the University of Sheffield has worked out a new mathematical formula for the perfect male and female voices.

The study, commissioned by Post Office Telecoms, asked people to rate 50 voices. Analysing the highest scoring voices with sound engineer Shannon Harris, keyboard player for Rod Stewart and Lily Allen, the research came up with a mathematical conclusion on elements that the ideal voice should contain.

The formula is based on the combination of tone, speed, frequency, words per minute and intonation. Vocal traits associated with positive characteristics, such as confidence and trust, scored highly with listeners.

They concluded the ideal voice should utter no more than 164 words per minute and pause for 0.48 seconds between sentences that fall rather than rise in intonation.

It found the best female voice to be a mixture of Mariella Frostrup, Dame Judi Dench and Honor Blackman. Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon did best for the men.

Professor Andrew Linn said: " As humans we instinctively know which voices send shivers down our spine and which make us shudder with disgust. The emotional responses panellists had to the voices were surprising and go some way to explaining how voiceover artists or radio DJs are selected, or why particular celebrity voices appeal."

He said most men found presenter Mariella Frostrup's voice "mesmerising" because it was deep, slow and confident.

While actor Jeremy Irons came very close to the ideal voice model, speaking at 200 words per minute and pausing for 1.2 seconds between sentences.

Prof Linn said this explained why his "deep gravely tones" inspired trust in listeners. He said: "This formula gives us an exciting glimpse into the way voices work and what makes them appealing or repelling."