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[s] and [f] are hard to distinguish over a phone line, or so I've read in
several reputable places, because phone carriers don't bother to transmit
very high frequency noise over the phone lines to save on the amount to
information that they need to convey, since most differences are in lower
frequencies it works, but [s] and [f] are only really distinguisable in a
frequency that's not transmitted over phone lines, hence they sound the
same. if you look at some spectrograms of [s] and [f] you'll see what I
mean.

http://clas.mq.edu.au/speech/acoustics/speech_spectra/fricatives.html

there's an [f] in the first spectrogram and an [s] about halfway down the
page, I belive they cut it off around 3000 Hz or maybe 3500 Hz