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Safe listening volumes?

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 

Well I didn't really know which thread this should go in but anyway I figured this would be it, since it concerns IEM usage. (Though apparently there's been a study done that says that there's really not that much of a difference between supra-aural phones and IEMs in terms of ear-damage) Have always been concerned about damaging my ears after using earphones in the long term (since I have friends who are partially deaf from blasting music) but I've been wondering what would be the maximum safe listening level or how we could discern for ourselves.

 

Also, I usually try to stick to a minimum possible to hear the details in my music, but it seems that the higher the volume is pushed the more the music just appears. Is there a balance to it? And after long periods of listening (especially on the train, by the road etc.) I notice that my music starts to seem soft and I have to raise the volume of the player in order to hear the same amount of detail that I was hearing 2 minutes ago. Does this temporary desensitization mean anything?

 

Would love to hear an audiologists' opinion. (:

post #2 of 35

I am no audiologist. The hearing levels for permanent ear damage are easy to find online, from memory anything below 100-120db is ok. For prolonged periods of listening....well you're not supposed to have prolonged periods of listening, you're supposed to take breaks to allow your ears to breath and relax. What you describe, this desensitization, is the normal response of the ear to prolonged loud noise. The same thing happens to the rest of your senses, e.g. when smelling a strong odor, after a while it stops being so stong.

 

To get a general view of your hearing, I suggest visiting an audiologist and getting a hearing graph, which will show you your listening potential in various frequencies.

 

 

Edit: About the higher volume=more details thing you mentioned. From what I know that depends on the iem sound signature. U shaped sound signatures tend to sound better at low listening volumes, while flat lines tend to sound better at higher volumes.


Edited by Vash-GR - 8/16/10 at 7:56am
post #3 of 35

Used properly IEMs should protect your hearing by allowing you to listen at LOWER levels in noisy environments.

post #4 of 35

Using headphones can easily damage your hearing however it can be safe as well--if one is aware of some things:

 

--Ambient noise and its masking effects will cause us to raise the volume of headphones to compensate.

 

  • An anechoic chamber is not silent--has an ambient noise level of 10-15db.
  • Inside an average apartment/house is 40-50db ambient noise level!
  • On a train or on the street is probably 80-100db just my guess.

 

The nice thing about IEMs is they typically offer around 25db isolation as compared to typical closed cans around 8-15db with some up to 20db (or "extreme isolation" headphones around the same as IEMs)

 

That being said, IEMs send the sound directly to your ear canal (inner ear) which is prone to nerve damage while over the ear send sound (bass) to your outer ear which is not.  So with cans your outer ear is taking some of the load while with IEM your inner ear is doing all the work.

 

These issues of isolation and ambient noise are important to keep in mind because we often don't realize how loud our headphones actually are, we just know how well we can hear the music and we adjust the volume to suit.  Keeping in mind the ambient noise levels and the level of isolation our headphones are providing is important to keeping the SPL reaching our ear at a no-risk level.

 

Also it is not just about SPL reaching your ear--it is also the amount of time spent listening.  People often overlook this fact.

 

One can listen at 85db (normal listening level at which our perception of all frequencies is balanced) for a certain amount of time without damage but after a certain duration this level will start to damage our ears.  At higher db's duration gets shorter and at very high dbs damage is instantaneous.  So the key is to take breaks, don't fall asleep with your stereo on infinite repeat.  Also is the factor of desensitization and fatigue which you mentioned, which causes us to turn it up.

 

So, listen at a moderate level, make sure to take breaks and keep in mind how noisy your environment is and how much you are compensating for it with volume.  I listen no longer that 45 minutes at a time before I take 30 minute break.  That is not scientific just what I am comfortable with.

 

post #5 of 35

Something to add: There are some common misunderstanding that thinking 85dB from IEM will done more damage than 85dB from big cans. Headphone SPL is actually measured on the eardrum position so regardless of where the source is, the same SPL is still going to do the same damage. If big can's sound is measured 85dB on the eardrum, it would have exceeded 85dB directly on the front of the transducer. The point is to keep the volume as low as possible, regardless of which kind of headphone you are using.
 

post #6 of 35

Keep the Vol. as Low as possible......But do enjoy your tunes! I think 100-DB is way to loud for extended periods of time.....A nice range of "EVERYDAY NOISE LEVEL DBs was just posted not to long ago.......I don't know how old most of you members are but as you may know you loose some hearing of the upper range as we grow older.....Try this test and say "Damn" when you hear your results....Leave your car radio/CD player at the Volume you were listening the night before...The next morning/or when you get into your car keep your tunes at that setting, YOU won't believe how loud you had the Volume "UP" the night before.........   We tend to increase volumes as the day wears on....Your inner ears need to relax...Just some words of advice from an old fart who still has excellent hearing!  PS I have to wear hearing protection on my job........I also wear them if I use tools or the mower etc.etc around the house doing chores etc.....Why spend all of our money on great gear if we won't be able to really enjoy "IT" later in life when we have a lot more free time to listen, JMO


Edited by 9pintube - 8/16/10 at 10:45am
post #7 of 35
Thread Starter 

Haha generally I put my ipod volume at minimum with my amp set to boost it at about.. 130-140% or so, on a pair of headphones with average resistance (32ohms), so I think there's no way I'm damaging my hearing right now. But I'm often dissatisfied with the level of detail cos it's honestly too darn soft to do any active listening (like background music, more of) and then I want to turn the volume up, but am unsure of how much is too much. That and the fact that turning up once never stops there, it keeps going up to keep the same level of perception.

 

And @Vash yeah it's easy to find the dB levels, but impossible to measure how many dBs your headphones/IEMs are putting out (unless you happen to have one of those head-acoustic mimicking recorders), so some other sort of measurement would be a better explanation? (:

post #8 of 35

I think many reports state that 80 db is as loud as you're going to want to get.  Once you kick it up past 80 you are starting to do permanent damage to your hearing.  I believe I read a report not long ago that says once you have exposed your ear drums to those dangerous levels, there is no way to get that hearing back. 

 

I'm not sure how loud an MP3 player will go if you had it on full blast, but I would think it's gotta be over 120 db.  I think the concensus rule of thumb is to never play your player over 50 percent volume. 

 

I know I am constantly turning my kids ipods down.  They think I'm an old dolt, but that's just too bad.  I see them cranking theirs up between 3/4 and full all the time.  Can't let them use the excuse that they can't hear me when I tell them to clean their rooms!! 

post #9 of 35

This is pretty much the standards that are accepted before ear damage is done. These are the two excepted level charts. There is disagreement which is more correct.

85 dB                      8 hours

88 dB                      4 hours

91 dB                      2 hours

94 dB                      1 hour

97 dB                      ½ hour

100 dB                    15 mins.

103 dB                    7 ½ mins.

106 dB                    3 ½ mins.                  
 

90   dB SPL - 8 hours
95   dB SPL - 4 hours
100 dB SPL - 2 hours
105 dB SPL - 1 hour
110 dB SPL - 30 mins.
115 dB SPL - 15 mins.
115 dB and higher - 0 mins. - (Pain Threshold) - In other words, instant permanent hearing damage.

post #10 of 35

Good info.

 

How do you know when you've hit 90 db spl?  Would that be your portable on max volume?
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by KingStyles View Post

This is pretty much the standards that are accepted before ear damage is done. These are the two excepted level charts. There is disagreement which is more correct.

85 dB                      8 hours

88 dB                      4 hours

91 dB                      2 hours

94 dB                      1 hour

97 dB                      ½ hour

100 dB                    15 mins.

103 dB                    7 ½ mins.

106 dB                    3 ½ mins.                  
 

90   dB SPL - 8 hours
95   dB SPL - 4 hours
100 dB SPL - 2 hours
105 dB SPL - 1 hour
110 dB SPL - 30 mins.
115 dB SPL - 15 mins.
115 dB and higher - 0 mins. - (Pain Threshold) - In other words, instant permanent hearing damage.

post #11 of 35

I have a spl meter so I can test my cans. I find when the music starts to be so loud that it is bothersome, I am averaging about 90- 95 spl. This may help with aprox volume from a portable.  http://www.physorg.com/news80304823.html

post #12 of 35


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nightslayer View Post

Haha generally I put my ipod volume at minimum with my amp set to boost it at about.. 130-140% or so, on a pair of headphones with average resistance (32ohms), so I think there's no way I'm damaging my hearing right now. But I'm often dissatisfied with the level of detail cos it's honestly too darn soft to do any active listening (like background music, more of) and then I want to turn the volume up, but am unsure of how much is too much. That and the fact that turning up once never stops there, it keeps going up to keep the same level of perception.

 

And @Vash yeah it's easy to find the dB levels, but impossible to measure how many dBs your headphones/IEMs are putting out (unless you happen to have one of those head-acoustic mimicking recorders), so some other sort of measurement would be a better explanation? (:


Look at the bottom
That should give you an estimate of db in various situations.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by nonsupremous View Post

I think many reports state that 80 db is as loud as you're going to want to get.  Once you kick it up past 80 you are starting to do permanent damage to your hearing.  I believe I read a report not long ago that says once you have exposed your ear drums to those dangerous levels, there is no way to get that hearing back. 

 

I'm not sure how loud an MP3 player will go if you had it on full blast, but I would think it's gotta be over 120 db.  I think the concensus rule of thumb is to never play your player over 50 percent volume. 

 

I know I am constantly turning my kids ipods down.  They think I'm an old dolt, but that's just too bad.  I see them cranking theirs up between 3/4 and full all the time.  Can't let them use the excuse that they can't hear me when I tell them to clean their rooms!! 


80db is quite low for permanent hearing damage. See link above. Also, the ear drum does not get damaged, its the sensory neurons that get damaged. If you live in Europe, there are regulations imposed for max levels on mp3 players through firmware. But still I don't think an average player could get 120db. Not even close imho. Also don't forget that its hugely dependent on the headphones/iems/earbuds you use, their resistance and sensitivity. For my RE0 to reach listening levels through my sansa clip+ I need at least 60% vol, probably more (if you use rockbox I am at -30db to -24db depending on ambient noise)

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by KingStyles View Post

I have a spl meter so I can test my cans. I find when the music starts to be so loud that it is bothersome, I am averaging about 90- 95 spl. This may help with aprox volume from a portable.  http://www.physorg.com/news80304823.html


Yep, my point from before. The average portable mp3 player could not reach the insant-harm levels of noise. Also nice paper, but stock apple buds? I don't think anyone in here uses these anymore

post #13 of 35

Keep it under 80db and you  will be fine, even if 75db is way too loud for me.

post #14 of 35

I try to keep headphones low and raise the volume until the music has 'presence.'

 

However, one thing that I feel is missing from many headphone reviews (everywhere) is the volume at which each headphone sounds good. I find that different headphones 'focus' at different levels of sound. For some people, a headphone with sucked out mids for instance could sound good at lower volume perhaps? (because the way that we perceive sound at low volume is different)

 

For me, the Senn HD650 sounds better at high volume.

The AT AD700 better at lower volumes.

 

It may be that the AT headphone turns a little sibilant for me as I turn up so I prefer it down.

 

I've always wondered whether it would be useful to add most appropriate listening levels to headphone reviews.

post #15 of 35

Great thread...very important subject that every newcomer should pay attention to.

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