Last week I was asked to make a presentation about dynamic compression and the loudness wars with two of my class mates, one of which blogs here.
One of the aspects we talked about is the area of listening to music in environments such as streets and various types of transport and the ultimate health implications of loud music production and the modern world. As a person with some hearing damage, the area of music making with consideration for our listening health is very important to me. This blog aims to address, albeit briefly, the aspects of modern life which I think are creating a deafening generation.
The world we live in has never been louder. Cities and streets are full of loud engines, tyres and angry motorists with a loud button (beep beep). To take an example of tyres, the EU now states that new tyres have to have a volume rating for potential customers to consider. The volume or loudness of the tyre is what is being measured. To take my car for example, the tyres have a rating of about 71dB.
A decibel (dB) is a unit of measurement which is used for sound.
So, if you were walking down a street listening to music on headphones and my car passed you over and over every second or so you would have to play your music over this 71dB noise floor so you could hear it and enjoy it. So, to listen to music and enjoy it we need to battle this noise floor by making the music louder than the noise and a bit louder still. Our living rooms have a very low noise floor unless you open a window out to a busy street for example.
The table on the left uses a traffic light style to show what is good and bad. The red section is where employers are required by law to provide hearing protection to their workers, which starts at 85dB.
The table on the right tells us how long we should be listening to certain sound levels before hearing damage is certain to take place according to the European Agency for Safety and Heath at Work. Without ear plugs 85dB can be tolerated for 8 hours before hearing damage is said to occur.
Alarmingly, night clubs range from 110 to 119dB. A 110dB nightclub can be tolerated without earplugs for less than 2 minutes before you start to lose your hearing. A 119dB nightclub is less than 14 seconds!!
It should be noted that every 3dB you add to the volume the daily dose is halved. For every 3dB you take away from the volume the daily does is doubled.
Going back to Noise Floors and the Music Player
Headphones can have a maximum output of anywhere between 95dB and 110dB. Going back to the start of this blog where I talk about listening to music while my car passes you continually, you will have to listen to music over the 71dB noise that my car is making. You will then play the music a little louder still so you can hear it “comfortably”. Comfortably here means that you can hear and enjoy the music how you would like.
These playback levels creep into the orange level and busy streets or roads would have many cars which makes more noise and brings the noise floor up to 85dB. Now, imagine heavy traffic like trucks, coaches and building machinery into your city walk. Now imagine some angry motorists beeping their horns and the odd police car using its siren. Finally, add your music on top of that and you are well into the red section of the graph. If you max out your music player, wearing loud headphones then you are hitting the levels of night clubs.
I have measured in ear headphones, the ones you slide all the way into your ear canal, made by a very popular and renowned brand. At ¾ to full volume they output figures in the range of 95 to 115dB.
Back to Reality
We all love music and listening to it is a very personal thing but sadly, every once and a while we have to shift our attention back to the reality of situations. City streets, loud public transport and cars are places that maybe we should never listen to music as we tend to raise the volume to combat the noise around us. Our ear then gets used to this and we do not register any pain or discomfort but it’s the amount of time we spend in these situations that hurts us in the long run.
For me, I cannot attend night clubs without wearing earplugs. This is mostly out of principle because I am an audio person but also because I have permanent tinnitus. Night clubs, rock concerts and other fun things damage hearing. This is something that we cannot ignore. We have all experienced ringing in our ears that goes away after a day or two. That is temporary tinnitus. Tinnitus can be permanent too and it doesn’t always sound like a ringing. This ringing is a sign that damage has taken place. It is not reversible and the hearing system does not repair itself like broken bones or grazed skin does, even if the sound goes away.
The damage is permanent and the ringing is a sound of it being too late to do anything about it. So rather than advise everyone to stop going to these places all I would say to you lovely readers is to get a set of those cheap sponge like earplugs. They can be bought very cheaply and I found out recently that night clubs have them at the door or behind the bar. I have found they make understanding people in clubs easier!!!
It is very easy to say that it won’t happen to us and sadly even ear infections or hitting our head suddenly can cause tinnitus. But for the majority of cases where it is noise related, it cannot be stressed enough that the ringing or noises in our ears are signs of permanent hearing damage. This damage is the same damage that occurs naturally over time which is a loss of the ability to hear high frequency sound, at first this may not matter as only very high sounds like dog whistles live up there. As we age (or abuse our hearing) the hearing loss gets closer and closer to the frequencies where speech is which is what makes us need hearing aids.
Essentially when we expose ourselves to extremely loud environments we are ageing ourselves extremely fast. Even light to moderate hearing loss in a 22 year old can mean that the person has the hearing of a 30 to 40 year old, and then factor in ageing on top of that as well as being one of the unlucky people who get perminant tinnitus on top of that!
To sum up this admittedly seemingly alarmist and dramatic blog please turn your speakers down and take heed of the warning at the beginning of this video, slowly bring the volume up so you can hear. At the end of the day this is real and it is spreading. 10 million people (1 in 6 people) have hearing loss in the UK and at the rate of growth of this figure points to 14.5 million in 2031
The Sounds of Tinnitus
This blog has received good reviews on Twitter and I am very happy to see messages coming back saying that it made a positive difference in peoples thought processes. This is fantastic.
It must be said however that I made a mistake by thanking a Twitter account who claim to sell a tinnitus treatment. These treatments never work. I will never support these products without conclusive research showing their ability to help. Only peer reviewed academic/medical papers etc. will be considered.
Although I am pleased that the blog is being reposted I am not happy that it could lure people into parting money for a product that won’t work. I just had to make this small point clear.
The table data and other statistics were sourced from
and European Agency for Safety and Heath at Work and http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk