The Auditory System Explained Simply

Have you ever wondered how the auditory system helps us hear and maintain balance? Each part of the ear plays a critical role in the way we interpret sound from our environment and manage our equilibrium. Learning about our complex auditory system and its functions to help us maintain our balance and hearing health can be helpful in understanding how we hear.

The auditory system consists of three main parts: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. This article will help explain each part to help you get a better understanding of their functions and how they help you hear.


The Outer Ear 

When thinking about the auditory system, we should start with the outer ear, which is responsible for collecting sound waves from our environment and funneling them through the ear canal into the middle ear. The outer ear consists of the pinna (auricle) and the ear canal (meatus). The pinna is the visible part of your ear and is made of cartilage. The ear canal is the pathway sound waves travel to reach the eardrum (tympanic membrane). The ear canal is also responsible for protecting the auditory system and creates earwax from the glands to help protect you from infections. The earwax created in the ear canal works by collecting and keeping dirt and other debris out of the middle ear. 

  • Sound is collected here
  • Two parts: The pinna and the ear canal
  • Pinna: The visible part of the ear that is made of cartilage and skin
  • Sound is transferred from the pinna to the ear canal
  • Ear Canal: The pathway to the middle ear
  • Earwax is made from skin glands in the ear canal
  • Earwax protects the canal and middle ear
outer ear anatomy diagram

The Middle Ear 

The middle ear can be divided in two parts known as the tympanic cavity and epitympanic recess. The middle ear contains three very small bones known as the auditory ossicles: the malleus, incus and stapes. The Eustachian Tube is a canal that connects the middle ear to the nasal cavity. It helps regulate pressure in the middle ear.

The main function of the middle ear is to transmit vibrations from the eardrum. The eardrum separates the middle ear from the outer ear and turns sound waves from our environment into vibrations that are transmitted to the inner ear through the auditory ossicles, the three smallest bones in our bodies. 

  • Two parts: The tympanic cavity and epitympanic recess
  • The eardrum separates the middle ear from the outer ear and turns sound waves turn into vibrations
  • Ossicles: Three tiny bones behind the eardrum that help send vibration to the inner ear
  • Malleus: Attached to the eardrum and amplifies vibrations
  • Incus: Attached to the malleus and amplifies vibrations
  • Stapes: Attached to the incus (smallest bone in the body) and amplifies vibrations
  • Eustachian Tube: A narrow tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and acts as a pressure valve to balance the pressure on both sides of the eardrum
middle ear anatomy

The Inner Ear

The inner ear is the innermost part of the ear and consists of the cochlea, auditory nerve, vestibule and semicircular canals. The inner ear is a maze of tubes and passages, referred to as the labyrinth. The inner ear is mainly responsible for balance and detecting sound. The cochlea contains the cells responsible for hearing, the auditory nerve is responsible for sending the information to the brain and the vestibule and semicircular canals contain receptors for balance. The cochlea works by converting sound pressure patterns from the outer ear (vibrations) into electrochemical impulses (signals) that are transmitted to the brain through the auditory nerve. The vestibular system contains semicircular canals with fluid that alerts our body of our physical position, thus making it responsible for balance.

  • The inner ear is made up of the cochlea, vestibule and semicircular canals
  • Middle ear vibrations turn into electrochemical signals in the inner ear
  • Cochlea: Is snail shaped and turns vibrations into electrochemical signals and sends them to the brain through the auditory nerve
  • Vestibular: Look like three tiny connected tubes that help keep you balanced
  • The semicircular canals are filled with fluid and tiny hairs that move around whenever your head moves
  • Cochlear Nerve: Sends sound signals (information) from the cochlea to the brain

Thank you for reading about the auditory system. We hope this article was helpful in showcasing how the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear work together for hearing and balance.

AudioCardio is a technology company focused on hearing health and wellness. Learn how AudioCardio can help maintain and strengthen your hearing with your favorite headphones or hearing aids at

Inner ear anatomy diagram