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Safe listening volume on headphones

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

 

I recently started spending more time listening to headphones when before I was listening almost entirely to speakers.

 

I noticed that this has affected my ears in some negative ways, including causing mild but persistent high-frequency tinnitus.

 

My SPL meter (with the cardboard sealing trick) showed that I listened at levels that don't exceed 80dB for the most part (60s and 70s most of the time), other than some peaks in the mid to high 80s. The only exception is some electronica music that I listened to for a short time (maybe 45 minutes total) at a pretty constant 82dB.

 

I didn't think this would affect my hearing since my impression was that I'm safe up to 85dB. I was wrong... There's some information saying that 85dB is safe for up to 8 hours a day. This is either wrong, or it doesn't apply to listening to headphones. Some other sources say that over 70dB is bad for prolonged listening, and this is more consistent with my experience.

 

At this point, I don't know what is really safe. I started reducing the levels by 10dB which feels safe to my ears and results in much less fatigue, but I don't know if that's really safe either.

 

I find that listening at low volume reduces the enjoyment from the music and the level of detail quite a bit, unfortunately. It also makes the differences between amps mostly irrelevant. There are still differences between headphones, but they are also of reduced consequence. Much of the audiophile sound analysis discussed on these forums isn't very applicable to low-volume listening.

 

I'm wondering what other people's experience is with headphones listening levels. For people who get tinnitus from headphones - at what levels were you listening?

 

My guess is that there are differences in SPL tolerance before damage happens between individuals and also different age groups; my personal experience is that even 70s with peaks in the 80s is not safe. I'm in my mid forties.

 

post #2 of 26

I never had a problem with my ears ringing, I do find that greater isolation allows me to get greater detail at lower volume levels.   Ultrasone says that their headphones give you a greater perceived volume at lower pressure levels, just throwing that in there

 

 

 

post #3 of 26

Well.. 

I Could be wrong but, I was once told "if you want to listen to your music louder, your only trying to compensate for something."


Try experimenting with the equalizer and find out what you want more of.

 

Assuming the music is audible  and your not straining to hear it... then you find higher levels for some reason outside of volume.

 

Maybe you want more bass? or the mids to be clearer? 

 

I am not the best.. but, when I was told that I decided it was time to upgrade from ear buds of the ipod variety..

 

Stuck to it every since..

 

I'm only 22 and I have a lot of music to listen to before I let my hearing go out..

post #4 of 26

I do not have an SPL meter, but I assume my listening volume is indeed unnaturally low.  I give my headphones to everybody around me, and they have the volume gobs higher than what I would listen to.  Makes me think everybody's going deaf.

 

If it's any reference, I used to listen to my AD700s at 45% volume on iPod touch 4th generation and M50 at 50%.


Edited by TMRaven - 4/11/11 at 3:12pm
post #5 of 26
Thread Starter 

I'm mostly interested in hearing from people who measured their listening levels with an SPL meter.

 

I've been aware of the risks of high-volume listening for a long time, which is why I made sure to measure the SPL that I was listening at for different types of music.

 

The main (unfortunate) revelation for me was that dB levels that I thought were safe (60s-70s with peaks in mid-to-high 80s), weren't actually safe.

 

post #6 of 26

You are/were inappropriately applying a standard that is designed to prevent occupational disability to the prevention of "mere" impairment. As you have learned, the two are not the same thing. The OSHA (and related rules) are intended to prevent clinical deafness (and the related legal liability); the rules are not intended to protect fine aural acuity. Audiologists have been advising the public for decades to turn the volume down, but their warnings have largely fallen on deaf ears . . . so to speak. wink.gif

 

As far as I know, there is no "safe" exposure level that guarantees no loss of acuity; but I am not an audiologist, and claim no special expertise. If you have the inclination and the time (I have neither at the moment), you could plumb the depths of PubMed to learn more; or see if your doc will refer you to a specialist . . . assuming you want professional advice.

post #7 of 26

I normally use a rule of thumb

If it's open, then use a slightly higher actual volume. For example, I use my grado's at 15% in a quiet room, but 30% in a crowded one and 45% outside.

If it's closed, use 10% inside, 20% in a crowded on, 40% outside.

 

BUT. that's just my own preferences. YMMV.

My point being that you should make it exponential to the interference from outside.

 

post #8 of 26

Two ears with headphones and I found my hearing not as good before, and I only do listening now and then. I am now using some Hearos plugs during travel time to allow more rest to my ears.

 

It evades scientific explantion but I guess having sound reflected from the pinna of outer ears is not the same as pushing it direct into the ear canal.


Edited by Greeni - 4/15/11 at 8:04am
post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by crayonhead View Post

I normally use a rule of thumb

If it's open, then use a slightly higher actual volume. For example, I use my grado's at 15% in a quiet room, but 30% in a crowded one and 45% outside.

If it's closed, use 10% inside, 20% in a crowded on, 40% outside.

 

BUT. that's just my own preferences. YMMV.

My point being that you should make it exponential to the interference from outside.

The problem with this approach is that the assault to your hearing will exceed ambient noise - your music is not intrinsically less damaging than noise pollution.

 

post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by MtnSloth View Post

The problem with this approach is that the assault to your hearing will exceed ambient noise - your music is not intrinsically less damaging than noise pollution.

 


Yeah, it's really a dangerous rule of thumb. You're combating noise with more noise. If you're in a noisy environment, don't use open headphones. Simple as that. If you want to enjoy your music, you need to block out the ambiest noise, not play your music above it. If the ambient noise is too high... go somewhere else or get some iems.

 

post #11 of 26

I constantly listen to music between 80-90 spl without any problems. Using the spl meter with the cardboard, you dont want to shove the spl meter in the hole, just flush with it. The sound still has to make it down your ear canal to the ear drum which will take a little bit off the spl. Just moving the meter just a hair away from the hole drops the spl rapidly. You might be sensitive to headphones or mayby your headphone setup is bright or has sibilance or something else in it which is causing the issue and not the actual sound level.

post #12 of 26
Thread Starter 



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MtnSloth View Post

You are/were inappropriately applying a standard that is designed to prevent occupational disability to the prevention of "mere" impairment. As you have learned, the two are not the same thing. The OSHA (and related rules) are intended to prevent clinical deafness (and the related legal liability); the rules are not intended to protect fine aural acuity. Audiologists have been advising the public for decades to turn the volume down, but their warnings have largely fallen on deaf ears . . . so to speak. wink.gif

 

As far as I know, there is no "safe" exposure level that guarantees no loss of acuity; but I am not an audiologist, and claim no special expertise. If you have the inclination and the time (I have neither at the moment), you could plumb the depths of PubMed to learn more; or see if your doc will refer you to a specialist . . . assuming you want professional advice.



Based on my experience, you're right. I think a lot of people make the mistake of relying on the OSHA guidelines, though, so I wanted to point out the risk in doing so.

 

 

 

post #13 of 26
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by KingStyles View Post

I constantly listen to music between 80-90 spl without any problems. Using the spl meter with the cardboard, you dont want to shove the spl meter in the hole, just flush with it. The sound still has to make it down your ear canal to the ear drum which will take a little bit off the spl. Just moving the meter just a hair away from the hole drops the spl rapidly. You might be sensitive to headphones or mayby your headphone setup is bright or has sibilance or something else in it which is causing the issue and not the actual sound level.


I wish I could handle that kind of SPL from headphones... I guess there's a lot of variation between people in terms of SPL tolerance. Are you sure you don't have tinnitus or hearing damage from this?

 

As I mentioned, I recently got some mild tinnitus from listening to headphones (at what I thought was pretty reasonable SPL - never exceeding 80s) Fortunately, it's better now, but not completely gone. It took two weeks for it to improve. I dropped my listening levels by 10dB so that I don't go beyond 70s, and I don't listen for long stretches of time anymore.

 

post #14 of 26
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greeni View Post

Two ears with headphones and I found my hearing not as good before, and I only do listening now and then. I am now using some Hearos plugs during travel time to allow more rest to my ears.

 

It evades scientific explantion but I guess having sound reflected from the pinna of outer ears is not the same as pushing it direct into the ear canal.


I'm not sure what it is exactly, but headphones definitely have more negative impact on my hearing than speakers. I don't know if it's the difference in the distance of the music source from the ears, the fact that headphones seal the ears so the sound waves hit the ear differently, or just a tendency to listen to headphones louder, but there's definitely some issue.

 

post #15 of 26

i listen to my shure srh840s at 60 - 75% on my ipod classic is this to loud. also its rockboxed fyi.

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