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Question about volume and possible hearing damage

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

I've always owned a cheap pair of headphones and just recently purchased online some high quality headphones to try out. I've always had my volume around 30% of max on my iphone and never louder, but realized that a lot of people apparently have it much higher. I want to increase the volume so i can hear the music more clearly once I get my new headphones, but what is a "safe" amount that won't damage hearing? Are earphones "worse"? I don't really know much about this just that I never put music so loud that its made my ears ring.

 

Apologies in advance if this isn't the right section to put this topic in.

post #2 of 9

IEMs are good. Mostly, you want to hear the music, not external noise, and IEMs can attenuate outside noise, so you don't need to push the volume up.

 

Technically, of course there's a way to tell, anything >80dB for long periods can damage hearing. But for daily use, I'd say its just based on 'feeling'. 

post #3 of 9

You can reffer to the OSHA standards for ear-damage related to loudness & time exposure. Technical name is "occupational noise exposure". What I found here is more instructive: http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/education/information-center/decibel-exposure-time-guidelines/

 

There's a treshold of the level of noise your ears can handle. Basically the louder you get, the faster you'll damage your ears. And that's an exponential relationship, not a linear one, You can easly estimate it yourself, for every +3dB loudness increment, you need only half the time to cause damage. If I recall correctly, anything above 130dB basically means instant ear damage.

 

Anything that leaves your ears ringing is BAD. Really bad. It can become permanent (tinnitus). You don't want that if you want to continue enjoying music all life long.

 

What I actually love about (closed) IEMs is that they have great isolation capabilities, so you don't have to crank the volume up too much to get to hear the details.

 

And I too have had the same experience as you: When I borrow someone my headphones for a listen, they usually crank up the volume. People usually thinks "louder is better".


Edited by Elektrospeed - 11/26/12 at 9:34pm
post #4 of 9

Your problem here is you'd like to know how loud is too loud based on a volume setting on your iPhone.  Since headphone sensitivity varies, and even if you knew it you don't know the specific power of your iPhone at a volume setting, what you really need is a reference.

 

Here it is: normal speech at conversation distance in a room with average to low background noise ends up at 65 - 70dB SPL.  If you set your music level, then take the cans off and listen to a someone talk, you'll have a rough reference.  A +10dB change is perceived as a doubling in volume, and a -10dB change, cutting volume in half.  If your music sounds twice as loud as conversation, you're running 75 - 80dB SPL, which is still safe for fairly long periods.  Peaks in music will go higher, and that's still safe, as long as they are momentary. 

 

You may need to compare speech and your music several times to get a good feel for it.  Take your time. 

 

Also keep in mind that the iPhone's volume setting is just a setting of it's own internal control and does not represent the volume of anything its playing.  Music can be mastered to be very loud, or not.  There is actually a rather startling range, about 15dB or so, between mastering levels, but as a rule contemporary pop, rock and country are all mastered loud to win the loudness war.  Anything older than 15 years, probably not so much.  Anything 25 - 30 years old, probably fairly low levels on the master.  

 

iPhones and iPods have a tool called "Soundcheck", which you can switch on.  It scans each track for a level, and applies a fixed correction during playback.  The idea was to prevent uneven volume levels as you play back all kinds of music.  It's not perfect...not by a long shot...but much better than nothing.  A very useful tool if you're concerned about being careful with play levels.  You'll find it in Settings/iPod/Soundcheck for the iPhone.  

post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 

Are there any guidelines for hitting a sweet spot where the volume is loud enough to hear subtleties of the music yet not damage your ear?

post #6 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by shisnitty View Post

Are there any guidelines for hitting a sweet spot where the volume is loud enough to hear subtleties of the music yet not damage your ear?


One way is to use familiar sounds to get an idea:


Decibels |  Sound Source
150           Firecracker
120           Ambulance siren
110           Chain saw, Rock concert
105           Personal stereo system at maximum level
100           Wood shop, Snowmobile 
95             Motorcycle
90             Power mower
85             Heavy city traffic

60             Normal conversation
40             Refrigerator humming
30             Whispered voice
0               Threshold of normal hearing

 

 

Anything in Red is harmful.

 

So usually, if you're able to hear things clearly, its loud enough (normal conversation, 60dB).

 

Using an IEM, it typically attenuates around 30-40dB of noise, so you'll hear the remaining 30-40dB in outdoor environments. 

 

Therefore, using IEMs if your music is loud enough so that you don't hear any outside noise, it should be fine.


Edited by proton007 - 11/27/12 at 1:24am
post #7 of 9

30-40 dB of noise? Not even custom filled silicone molds can do that.

I'd say 12 dB attenuation is more common with perfect fit, with best being about 26 dB.

 

Foams attenuate a bit similar to silicone custom molds, but attenuate highest end more, making the isolation subjectively higher.

post #8 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by AstralStorm View Post

30-40 dB of noise? Not even custom filled silicone molds can do that.

I'd say 12 dB attenuation is more common with perfect fit, with best being about 26 dB.

 

Foams attenuate a bit similar to silicone custom molds, but attenuate highest end more, making the isolation subjectively higher.

 

Ofcourse, higher and mid frequencies are attenuated more. For example Shure claims an attenuation of 37dB, but here's the isolation:

 

 

Typically, higher frequencies are considered more harmful, and they're attenuated pretty well with an IEM.


Edited by proton007 - 11/28/12 at 1:59am
post #9 of 9

That is about 24 dB isolation. You should use a harmonic mean there, not an average, since dB SPL are ratios... and you're perceiving the sound in parallel, not serially.

(RMS = geometric is also acceptable, but not exactly correct)

 

Best would be equal loudness-weighted harmonic mean.


Edited by AstralStorm - 11/28/12 at 1:09pm
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