Follow TV Tropes

Please don't list this on a work's page as a trope.
Examples can go on the work's YMMV tab.


Can't Un-Hear It

Go To

The tendency when enjoying a story to "read" or "hear" a character's voice depending on the observer's preference. More frequent when a character does not or did not officially have a voice (such as a book), especially until some much later adaptation.

Movies are frequently cited/accused as creating the assumed voice of a character even when there's no objective reason this should occur (e.g., it is simply the actor's normal voice or an actor doing his own interpretation). If the work is frequently adapted, this is usually based on the most popular actor portraying the role. Many writers do in fact "hear" and "see" their characters but generally don't feel the need to enforce this view on the audience except in Broad Strokes.

Interestingly, why one voice is locked into our minds may not be related to how good, official or genuine it is. It might be that the "official" or mainstream interpretation is seen as pretty terrible or disingenuous by the observer. Maybe the audience remembers an obscure adaptation which existed as the sole version until recently as a childhood memory, or maybe there was something merely memorable (or infamous) about said "voice".


Not to be mistaken with Brain Bleach. Also, has nothing to do with Mondegreens or Ear Worms.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • An often obscured argument in the old "dub vs. sub" wars is that some audience members prefer a character they largely can't understand simply because of voice intonation, while others prefer a newer interpretation if the original is seen as an overdone Pigeonholed Voice Actor. It's even possible, with a sub, to "hear" the character speaking English in the non-English VA's voice when you try to remember it, because you were paying attention to how the voice sounded and the English subs, not the exact sounds the voice actor was making.
  • Similar to the Hubert Farnsworth example below, someone on 4chan posted a page out of an eroge featuring Tsuruya saying "My breasts... Megassa squeeze them" - a reference to a verbal tic she's Flanderized into saying repeatedly in Fanon, despite saying only once in canon. The next post had a picture of Jar-Jar Binks with the exact same line. Hilarity, and Brain Bleach, soon followed.
  • Many fans consider Megumi Han's performance as young Obito Uchiha in Naruto to be a lot more memorable than that of the character's original voice actor, Sosuke Komori.
  • Sailor Moon has a few permutations for the manga and various fanworks.
    • The original Japanese cast of Kotono Mitsuishi (Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon), Kae Araki (Chibiusa/Sailor Chibi Moon), Aya Hisakawa (Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury), Michie Tomizawa (Rei Hino/Sailor Mars), Emi Shinohara (Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter), and Rika Fukami (Minako Aino/Sailor Venus), respectively. Mitsuishi was a big enough influence for Naoko Takeuchi that it was said to inform her of Sailor Moon's lines as if she were saying them.
    • The original English dub, with so many changing voice casts is harder to pin down. Tracey Moore (first actress) and Terri Hawkes (second actress) (Moon), Stephanie Beard (second actress) (Chibiusa), Karen Bernstein (first actress) (Mercury), Katie Griffin (Mars), Susan Roman (Jupiter), and Stephanie Morgenstern (first actress) (Venus). For 90s fans, there's debate between Tracey's more childlike voice, and Terri's more mature but better-acted. Stephanie Beard's cute voice for Chibi was, and to this day remains a fan favorite. Bernstein memorably gave Mercury a precise diction and clipped tone that did a great job at depicting her intelligence without being overstated. And Roman's deep, powerful voice was so good even her modern actress agrees. Also, even those that dislike anything but the original Japanese track have a hard time thinking of Luna without that trademark British accent.
    • The re-dubbed version by Viz Media has produced some notable voices of its own. Stephanie Sheh gives Usagi a bubbly voice that just might top all others in sheer cuteness, Sandy Fox particularly among Flonne admirers have started to accept her as Chibi for getting the casting down to an almost painful degree, Cristina Vee being a very popular dubbing actress won praise as Mars before the release was even out, Amanda Céline Miller adopting a very similar tone for Jupiter to her previous va, as well as being an Ascended Fangirl in regards to the character endeers her to many, and Cherami Leigh's naturally warm voice became unexpectedly beloved with Venus fans.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • The Latin America Dub has Mario Castañeda regarded as the official voice of Adult!Goku in many parts of the continent, the same with René García as Vegeta, Carlos Segundo as Piccolo and Laura Torres as Kid!Goku and Kid!Gohan. They are so beloved as the characters that many were enraged when the voices were recast in Dragon Ball Z Kai.
    • The European Portuguese Dub. Due to averting Crossdressing Voices, there is only one Goku,note  only one Bulma,note  etc. This even happens with the few characters who did change voice actors along the waynote . The first voice used in DBZ is usually the go to for parodies.
    • For people who watch the series dubbed, to them, Sean Schemmel IS Son Goku.
    • There's Ian James Corlett, Goku's Ocean dub voice (which Schemmel's voice is an adaptation, impersonation, and refinement, of).
    • For fans of the original Funi dub, Stephanie Nadolny IS child Son Goku, and young Son Gohan (At least in his Cell Games incarnation).
    • Many fans of Dragon Ball Z Abridged have gone on record to state that they tend to hear dialogue between characters in their Abridged voices rather than the very well-established official voices from Funimation. Considering how big the Funimation dub of Dragon Ball Z is in the public consciousness, that's saying a lot.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series constantly hear the abridged voices instead of the normal ones. The character Duke Devlin in particular has fans hearing "Sexy Back" when he is on screen.
    • Fans of the English dub will likely imagine the characters in those voices; Dan Green as Atem, Eric Stuart as Kaiba, Megan Hollingshead as Mai Valentine, Greg Abbey as Tristan Taylor etc.
  • For fans, the Badass Baritone in Pokémon: The First Movie will always be Mewtwo's voice in your mind.
    • For the anime as a whole, in the Latin American dub most fans consider Gabriel Ramos to be Ash's official voice, instead of his replacement Miguel Ángel Leal.
  • For fans of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Takehito Koyasu is DIO. Even Daisuke Ono never goes by without his role as Jotaro Kujo being referred to.
  • It's a credit to the Superlative Dubbing that a number of fans can't unhear the English voices for My Hero Academia. Heck, to put things into perspective, this fandub of Asui's side story uses accurate impressions of the dub voices of Tsuyu Asui and Izuku Midoriya.
    • Kohei Horikoshi admitted in an interview that after the anime had aired for a while, it became impossible for him to not write Katsuki Bakugo without hearing Nobuhiko Okamoto.
    • A popularity/favoritism poll on Behind the Voice Actors' entry on Daiki Yamashita was won by a landslide by Izuku Midoriya.
  • Maya the Bee: In Poland, Ewa Złotowska's performance as the titular protagonist for the anime has left a strong impression with polish fans of the series. Especially since Złotowska still actively voices Maya on occasional tie-in material (such as numerous Maya the Bee albums, a brief speaking role for Amadeo's remix of the theme song, and the PC Game). She even returned to voice the titular character for the CGI series by Studio100 alongside it's first two movies. When news broke that the voice cast for the CGI incarnation would be replaced for the DVD release. Polish fans of the series weren't happy, since Złotowska's performance is iconic and beloved by generations of people in Poland.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Who can read Garfield and not think of the late, great Lorenzo Music? It probably helps that every voice given to the character since has at least sounded like an imitation of his performance. Same for Gregg Berger who has consistently provided Odie's barks in animated appearances.
  • It's even more likely you will read U.S. Acres with the Garfield and Friends voices as well, especially since the show in fact outlived the strip and became more the mainstream interpretation for a while.
  • Those who watched the Dilbert cartoon probably have trouble reading the actual comic without hearing Daniel Stern as Dilbert, Larry Miller as The Pointy-Haired Boss, Gordon Hunt as Wally, Kathy Griffin as Alice, Tom Kenny as Asok and Ratbert, etc.
  • Readers of Over the Hedge will forever hear Bruce Willis as RJ, Garry Shandling as Verne, and Steve Carell as Hammy.
  • Try reading the Popeye comics without imagining Popeye with Jack Mercer's interpretation of the character, from the raspy voice to the almost impish-like mumbling.
  • When one reads Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse strip, it's impossible to not imagine either Walt Disney, Jimmy Macdonald, Wayne Allwine, or Bret Iwan's voice as the title character. Of those voices, Disney and Allwine are usually the ones most associated with the character, Disney, of course, was the original voice, while Allwine's tenure lasted from 1977 up to his death in 2009, making him the definitive voice for the character for multiple generations of fans.
  • While the Peanuts voice actors have changed over the years due to them being voiced by actual children, the voices from the original 60's specials, such as Peter Robbins as Charlie Brown, Christopher Shea as Linus, Sally Dryer as Lucy, Kathy Steinberg as Sally, and Glenn Mendelson as Schroder, while likely be the first ones that come to reader's minds, and the fact that the two best remembered specials in the franchise both come from that era may have something to do with it. And of course, there's also Snoopy—when he's properly thinking words, readers may think of them in the voice of either Robert Towers or Cam Clarke, while if he makes any other noise, such as barking, grumbling, or howling, it will always, always, always be imagined in the voices supplied by the late animator and director Bill Melendez.
    • Producer Lee Mendelson made a point of trying to match the new voice actors to the ones who first played the roles, in a few cases even using younger siblings (e.g. Christopher Shea's brother Stephen voiced Linus for a while in The '70s).
    • And of course, despite the fact that they have no words in the strips, Who doesn’t pause to hear trombone sounds right before a kid responds to an adult’s words.
  • Thanks to the Viz animated adaptations in the early 1990s, it's hard to not hear Peter Cook as Roger Mellie the Man on the Telly, along with Harry Enfield as his Straight Man Tom. Or for that matter, Kathy Burke as one of the Fat Slags.
  • This was one of the many reasons Bill Watterson never adapted Calvin and Hobbes into other media. He didn't want any of the characters to have their voices and speech patterns "crystallized", as it were, as that interpretation would bleed back into the strip and would not only prevent readers from enjoying their own interpretations of the characters but would subconsciously affect his own views of them as well. He once recounted being troubled simply by the thought of whether Calvin would be voiced by an actual child actor or an adult imitating a child.
  • Dennis the Menace (UK) is either Susan Sheridan (The Beano video releases), Richard Pearce (nineties series), Sophie Aldred (season one of Dennis and Gnasher), Chris Johnson (season two) or Freddie Fox (Dennis and Gnasher: Unleashed).
  • For the US version, reads might hear the voices from the 80s cartoon or the 1993 movie.

    Films — Animated 

  • Regarding the Penguins from the Madagascar franchise, even though Chris Miller and Christopher Knights are the the original voices for Kowalski and Private, a lot of people consider their replacement actors, Jeff Bennett and James Patrick Stuart, to be the definitive voices for them mainly due to how they provided a lot of charisma to their personalities. This is taken a step further in which people think that the latter two should've returned for Penguins of Madagascar rather than the former two.
  • Even though Will Ferrell voiced Ted (the Man in the Yellow Hat) in only the 2006 Curious George movie, Jeff Bennett is often considered the definitive voice for him since Will only voiced him for one film, while Jeff replaced him for all media afterwards.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • John Hurt as Aragorn.
    • Peter Woodthorpe as Gollum, who would reprise his role for the BBC Radio version a few years later (as would the voice for Boromir, Michael Graham Cox).
  • Given that the first Bambi film by Disney intentionally minimised dialogue, the midquel's voice cast often had more lasting effect for many fans. Try reading the original novels or any Disney tie-in material and not hearing Patrick Stewart as the Great Prince.
  • James Earl Jones played Mufasa in The Lion King, giving him a role as the Big Good and loving father in one of the cultural landmarks of cinema, animated or otherwise, who suffers arguably the most dramatic death in an animated Disney film. Thus, when the time came around for the 2019 remake, Jones was the only surviving original cast member to be brought back to reprise his role. Jones’s recordings from the original film were even reused for Kingdom Hearts II.

    Films — Live-Action 


    Live-Action TV 


  • Just try singing "Daisy Bell" normally after watching Doctor Who's "The Talons of Weng-Chiang".
  • After watching Steven Universe, it's almost impossible to listen to Estelle's music and NOT imagine Garnet singing them.
    • This actually became something of a meme with Deedee Magno-Hall, Pearl's voice actress. A rap portion of the song 'L.A.' by the party that she sung was turned into a meme by YouTuber McKenzie Atwood in her 'Pearl's Secret Rap Career' series. See Steven Universe for more details.
  • While listening to Sam Cooke's cover of "Blue Moon", just try not to hear "JESUS CHRIST!" and sounds of intense agony.
  • After watching Young Frankenstein, try listening to another version of "Puttin' On The Ritz" without imagining Peter Boyle as the Monster.
  • You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown has the song "Schroeder", written around the Moonlight sonata. Once you've seen the musical, it's impossible to listen to a normal performance of the sonata without hearing Lucy's lines, especially "Do ya know something, Schroeder?". Same would apply to the gang arguing over a stolen pencil to the tone of "Home on the Range" during "Glee Club Rehearsal".
  • Once you've seen Disney's Sleeping Beauty, it's hard not to imagine the words to "Once Upon a Dream" being sung to "The Garland Waltz" from Tchaikovsky's ballet composition.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • It's pretty much a requirement for Undertale let's-players nowadays to read Papyrus's dialogue in Skeletor's voice. Likewise, Sans often sounds like Cr1TiKaL. And a lot of people can't hear Flowey as anyone except Jacksepticeye now.
    • Alternatively, fans of Undertale the Musical can place that production's cast into the roles of the characters they portray.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • The voice a given fan associates with Mario largely depends on the age of the fan and how they got introduced to the character:
      • Younger fans, however, can't imagine anything but the Charles Martinet voice, to the point where most parodies and impressions of Mario will be of the Martinet voice.
    • Anyone who's seen enough YouTube Poop videos featuring the infamous "Mama Luigi" episode will never be able to hear this song again without hearing the voices from the opening scene of the episode.
    • Luigi's voice will come in one of two flavors for younger fans: the timid, deeper voice of Martinet, and the Brooklyn-style wisecracking of Tony Rosato's memetic performance in Super Mario World. The former voice is considered a great fit with his game appearances, but the latter is seen as the definitive voice out of the two he had for the adaptations.
    • Some people still prefer Bowser's more human voice in the Nintendo GameCube era. Doesn't help that James' Bowser seldom speaks, much less a full sentence compared to Burns' Bowser. Older fans may even relate a lot of his typed dialogue to Harvey Atkin of his "King Koopa" portrayal in the cartoons, not helped at all by RPGs making Bowser almost as snarky a Card-Carrying Villain as his animated counterpart.
  • Has anyone who has seen the animated adaptation of Pac-Man been able to play the game and not think of Marty Ingels?
  • In Final Fantasy VII, the character Cait Sith was a robotic cat with no discernible idiosyncrasies in speech or diction, expressed or implied. As of the fully voiced 'Compilation' entries, however, he has a thick Scottish accent.
  • Thanks to Freeman's Mind, it's very hard to imagine Gordon Freeman sounding like anyone other than Ross Scott. If Gordon ever canonically said anything, that is. Ironically, Ross initially got complaints from people who couldn't imagine his voice coming from Gordon, only for him to quickly shut them up by posting a picture of himself showing that, at the time, he looked practically identical to Gordon.
  • This is one of the points of contention in the Touhou Project games: While many video fan works featuring the characters were voiced by fans, it was not until the Musou Kakyou: A Summer Day's Dream fanime (who was voiced by professional voice actors and not fans) when you cannot picture the characters with other voices, especially Mai Nakahara's rendition of Reimu Hakurei. This is averted in the Koumajou Densetsu doujin game: Despise being also voiced by professional voice actors, since the whole topic of the game is an Alternate Universe Fic of the whole franchise, this is not a big problem per se, since the personalities of the characters in this game are different from the established canon. Nevertheless, everyone pretty much agree that Miyuki Sawashiro's frosty adult woman voice is the best Sakuya Izayoi.
  • Are you an aspiring amateur YouTube voice actor and want to make your own Ridley voice? Be prepared to see your comments section flooded with complaints that you didn't give him a screechy New Jersey accent.
  • People who've seen Kirby: Right Back at Ya! will have a good chance of imaging Dedede with his Southern voice and Meta Knight with his Spanish voice. It becomes a problem when you hear Meta Knight's voice in Super Smash Bros. as it just sounds like a deep, gravelly, menacing voice... until you listen real closely. He still has the accent!
  • A certain demographic of North American Mega Man fans will still hear the voices of Ian James Corlett and Scott McNeil as Mega Man and Proto Man/Dr. Wily respectively, thanks to the Mega Man cartoon. The faux-German accent that McNeil used for Wily is especially deeply entrenched.
  • For fans of the Ace Attorney series, it can be incredibly difficult to read the word "objection" without hearing one of the characters shouting it at the top of their lungs.
  • Before Sonic the Hedgehog had a voice in his games, Jaleel White was the definitive voice, largely due to voicing him in three different cartoons. When it comes to the games, it's Ryan Drummond, Jason Griffith or Roger Craig Smith. There's even Ben Schwartz for fans of the 2020 film.
  • It's hard not to remember playing the Colin McRae Rally games without hearing Nicky Grist on the intercom relaying pacenotes on where to go and what lies ahead.
  • Even though King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!'s voice acting is generally considered amateurishnote , Josh Mandel's voice for King Graham is still well-regarded by fans and he's reprised the role in multiple Fan Remakes of earlier King's Quest games.
  • For many Metal Gear fans, David Hayter is (Solid and Naked) Snake. So much that when Kiefer Sutherland replaced him as Naked for Metal Gear Solid V, there was fan outrage.
  • After Devil May Cry 3, let's face it, you can't imagine Dante not being voiced by Reuben Langdon.

    Web Comics 
  • This xkcd comic describes "Freemanic Paracusia: a disorder wherein you hear everything you read in the comforting voice of Morgan Freeman."
  • Homestuck has a popular base of amateur voice actors. Particularly, the portrayal of Eridan by Octopimp caught on in the fandom so much that some of the Verbal Tics he used for the character (for instance, his habit of saying odd nasal whiny nonsense sounds like 'nyeh' and 'wweh') hit Beam Me Up, Scotty! levels. "Wweh" did actually get a Fandom Nod in Homestuck eventually... by putting it in the mouth of a character representing Tumblr Fan Dumb.
  • Phil Foglio, creator of Girl Genius, has expressed a desire to have BRIAN BLESSED voice the Large Ham Castle Heterodyne, should the comic ever be adapted to film or animation. A more perfect casting choice could not be made.

    Western Animation 
  • Thanks to a 4chan post, it's become memetic that any picture of Farnsworth with the caption "Good news, everyone!" will cause the viewer to read it in his voice.
  • Putting a unit of time (particularly "One [X] later..."') on a tiki-style background, a la SpongeBob SquarePants, will probably make you read the unit of time in a Mock Cousteau voice.
  • For anyone who grew up with Cartoon Network in its earlier days, listening to any character played by Eddie Deezen (and, in many cases, Deezen himself) may cause them to automatically think of Mandark, especially since Mandark's his most famous roles (at least in terms of cartoons).
  • Hanna-Barbera's sound-effects library. Almost everyone who has watched cartoon comedies has heard at least one sound effect from them. They're so ingrained in the human consciousness that their own competitors began using them as well, especially during The '80s and The '90s.
  • Depending on which continuity you grew up on, Optimus Prime is either Peter Cullen or Gary Chalk or David Kaye. The same applies to Megatron; either you hear Frank Welker's, David Kaye's, Hugo Weaving's or possibly even Fred Tatasciore's take on Megatron, depending on his characterization.
  • Disney has strict policies when it comes to voicing their most iconic characters. No matter what other characters sound like, Mickey Mouse needs to sound like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck needs to sound like Donald Duck, Goofy needs to sound like Goofy, and so on. Since those characters' voices are so iconic, and so ingrained into pop culture, they'll accept nothing less than exact impressions. That said, the various voices over the years have had subtle and not so subtle differences that make the various takes on the voices distinct in fans' ears. As such, fans that grew up in the 90s and 2000s can't hear anyone but Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo and Bill Farmer as Mickey, Donald and Goofy.
  • Mel Blanc as the Looney Tunes gang. 'nuff said.
  • A meta-example in King of the Hill. The reason why Bobby never underwent puberty, despite his friends Joseph and Connie doing so, is because the creators were so attached to Pamela Adlon's portrayal of Bobby that they didn't want to replace Adlon with a male actor as they had done with Brittany Murphy when Joseph had his growth spurt. The in-universe reason for Bobby not aging is that he's a late-bloomer.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • Considering that Matt Lanter's very popular performance as Anakin Skywalker has played a major part in retroactively redeeming Anakin in the eyes of many from a whiny kid to a noble yet deeply flawed hero, it's not surprising that many consider him the definitive actor for Anakin.
    • James Arnold Taylor's excellent performance has made him the definitive voice actor for Obi-Wan.
    • Due to her popularity, Ashley Eckstein IS Ahsoka Tano since she puts a lot of her personality into Ahsoka's character.
    • Dee Bradley Baker's vocal performance as all of the clone troopers (which gave every single one of them a distinct personality despite being clones of Jango Fett) has made him the definitive actor for the clone troopers.
    • A significant amount of the voice actors that vocally performed as Jedi became the definite voice actors for the characters they voiced. They include James Arnold Taylor as Plo Koon, Olivia d'Abo as Luminara Unduli, Phil LaMarr as Kit Fisto, Jennifer Hale as Aayla Secura, Brian George as Ki-Adi Mundi, Meredith Salenger as Barriss Offee, Chris Edgerly as Eeth Koth, Angelique Perrin as Adi Gallia, and Tasia Valenza as Shaak Ti.
    • Sam Witwer's chillingly awesome voice acting has cemented him forever as THE definitive voice actor for Darth Maul. It is to such an extent that he got the unexpected honor of reprising his role as Maul in Solo.
    • Tom Kane's iconic narrating of the series. Admit it you read the opening crawls of the films in his voice.

    Real Life 
  • Stephen Hawking is forever associated with the distinct voice of his speech-synthesizer, so much so in fact that he said before his death that it precluded any hope of ever upgrading said speech-synthesizer. It has also led many to erroneously believe him American.
  • People who grew up watching the post-original Star Trek series are still waiting for the day that Siri, Alexa, or Google sound like Majel Barrett. Even though that can’t ever happen.
  • Stephen King conceded that after seeing Jack Nicholson as Randle P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, there wasn't any other way of seeing the character when you read the novel. King cited it as a bad thing, however, as he claims it hobbles the reader's imagination to an extent.
  • Stanley Kubrick said that this was the reason why he cast Malcolm McDowell as the role of Alex in A Clockwork Orange; Kubrick had just come off of watching McDowell's performance in the film if.... (1968) before he read the Anthony Burgess novel, and as a consequence, could not get McDowell's face and voice out of his mind when reading the narration of Alex.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: