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Hearing Damage - Closed cans vs Speakers vs Open backed cans

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

Hi everyone,

 

I'm interested in why headphones are more damaging to our ears than speakers. I see a lot of people say so but without explanation. (I'm not talking about those people who use iphone earbuds on the subway - or in fact any earphones - only headphones). 

So let's say you listen on headphones in a silent room vs speakers in a silent room, both set at the same volume, or at least at the same SPL at your ear. 

From what I can see the reasons headphones are more damaging are: 

1. "In loudspeaker reproduction, sounds must travel several feet before reaching the listener’s ears. By the time they arrive, a portion of the high frequencies have been absorbed by the air. Low frequencies are not absorbed as much, but they are more felt through bone conduction than actually heard. With headphones, the ears hear all frequencies without any attenuation, because the transducers are literally pressed against them. Thus, when listening to headphones at the same effective volume level as loudspeakers, headphones may still transmit louder high frequencies that are more likely to cause hearing damage." 

So as I understand that, with speakers you feel it's loud enough without it actually being as loud in those higher frequencies as with headphones..? 

2. Closed back headphones reflect all sound directly back into your ear so there is no respite or pause as with speakers, and perhaps some resonance can occur in your ear (?) 

3. This one is partly psychological: Due to lack of external cues such as conversation or noises, the headphone listener gradually becomes accustomed to the volume and feels the need to increase it. 

- What do you all think about these three points? Are there any others? 

- Are open backed headphones better because of these reasons? 

 

I ask because I will have to mix on headphones for some months quite soon and I am trying to figure out which are the best to get to avoid hearing loss.

 

(P.S This is a cross post from another forum where I am a member as I thought there might be some interesting opinions here.)

 

Thanks for your advice!

post #2 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by needhelp209 View Post
 

Hi everyone,

 

I'm interested in why headphones are more damaging to our ears than speakers. I see a lot of people say so but without explanation. (I'm not talking about those people who use iphone earbuds on the subway - or in fact any earphones - only headphones). 

So let's say you listen on headphones in a silent room vs speakers in a silent room, both set at the same volume, or at least at the same SPL at your ear. 

From what I can see the reasons headphones are more damaging are: 

1. "In loudspeaker reproduction, sounds must travel several feet before reaching the listener’s ears. By the time they arrive, a portion of the high frequencies have been absorbed by the air. Low frequencies are not absorbed as much, but they are more felt through bone conduction than actually heard. With headphones, the ears hear all frequencies without any attenuation, because the transducers are literally pressed against them. Thus, when listening to headphones at the same effective volume level as loudspeakers, headphones may still transmit louder high frequencies that are more likely to cause hearing damage." 

So as I understand that, with speakers you feel it's loud enough without it actually being as loud in those higher frequencies as with headphones..? 

2. Closed back headphones reflect all sound directly back into your ear so there is no respite or pause as with speakers, and perhaps some resonance can occur in your ear (?) 

3. This one is partly psychological: Due to lack of external cues such as conversation or noises, the headphone listener gradually becomes accustomed to the volume and feels the need to increase it. 

- What do you all think about these three points? Are there any others? 

- Are open backed headphones better because of these reasons? 

 

I ask because I will have to mix on headphones for some months quite soon and I am trying to figure out which are the best to get to avoid hearing loss.

 

(P.S This is a cross post from another forum where I am a member as I thought there might be some interesting opinions here.)

 

Thanks for your advice!

 

I did some reading on this recently and found the information really lacking.

 

The only potential risks I could find were that headphones and earphones are more prone to creating resonance in the ear (as you mentioned) which can cause a significant spike in volume (dB) at certain frequencies. What I can't work out is whether we would feel this spike as discomfort and therefore be able to reduce the volume or choose a different 'phone that didn't cause the same total amplitude at those frequencies.

 

The Sennheiser IE800 includes a design to specifically reduce the resonance spikes of the ear canal at around 7-8kHz so it makes sense that these are the spikes to be wary of if indeed that's a problem.

 

Further to that, my theory is that if you keep the volume sufficiently low (i.e. around or below 80dB average) then there's room for the occassional spike without it causing your ears any long term harm.

post #3 of 15

1. I think the designers of headphones would deliberately account for any differences that result from the speaker being directly beside your ear. Ideally a headphone would be tuned so that the sound you hear is exactly as it would be if the sound was present in the room. There are no hidden ear damaging frequencies generated by your headphones. If more high frequencies are reaching your ears with headphones than with speakers or natural noise, you would hear it and it would be clearly apparent to you that the headphones sound very bright.

 

2. Similar to 1, what you hear is what you get. Whatever sound is being reflected in closed headphones, you will hear it. If closed headphones are louder or more damaging because of this, you will hear that they are louder and just set the volume lower to achieve the same listening level. If there were enough resonance for it to somehow cause the headphones to me more damaging, you would clearly hear it, and it would probably sound terrible.

 

3. Sounds like a valid point. Just set the headphone to a good level in the first place and keep it there, then this won't be a problem.

 

I think the main reason is that people just listen to headphones louder. You are not concerned with disturbing others while listening to headphones, so you listen louder than you otherwise would. Headphone listening is also a more personal experience and you probably don't want to hear any outside noise while listening, so you listen louder to drown other noises out.

post #4 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by needhelp209 View Post

Closed back headphones reflect all sound directly back into your ear so there is no respite or pause as with speakers, and perhaps some resonance can occur in your ear

There's no respite or pause, either, with loud speakers.

I would imagine that if the SPL entering your ear drum is the same, then it's the same. If there is sound being directed back into the ear, than that should be part of what is being measured when you talk in terms of SPL.
post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 

Interesting replies.

 

I still think that there may be something to the first point in my original post. I was thinking how with speakers you can perceive it to be louder when it's actually not - because of feeling the bass in a more physical way, and therefore you get fewer of those high frequencies entering your ears than you do with headphones. Apparently it's those mid to high frequencies that are most damaging. I think that first point may have been taken from some university research years back, but like you say it's so difficult to find anything concrete about this.

 

On a new tangent - I'd really like to know what SPL I'm getting in my ears from my headphones, but it's not as simple as holding a sound meter to them. I guess I'd have to build an enclosure around the earcup!

 

Anyone have any kind of reference figures? With my headphones connected directly to my laptop I usually listen at between 4 and 6 out of 100 on the volume. But then that is for about 2-3 hour long mixing/mastering sessions. I can't imagine the dB being above 75 at that volume.. so I'm guessing I should be ok.

 

Oh also! I forgot to mention in reply to MindsMirror that there is a range of headphones which apparently do account for point number 2 - the Ultrasone ones. Check out their literature... pretty interesting stuff. Taken from their site:

 

"S-Logic™ sends music around your head not just into it, because this technology uses decentralized driver positioning. S-Logic™ allows at the same time a reduction of sound pressure levels at the eardrum by up to 40% (3 - 4 dB)."


Edited by needhelp209 - 8/6/14 at 2:10am
post #6 of 15
Is the HF energy still there with speakers only masked?

I would guess that demographic is a factor: headphone listeners at the low-fi end overlap more with those low-lifes who blast their car speakers than they do with the speakers set.
post #7 of 15
Thread Starter 

No the HF is not there as much with speakers as with headphones.

 

See above re the Ultrasone headhphones. From what I can tell this is a legitimate concern - headphones giving a loudness perception lower than true loudness and therefore increasing chance of hearing damage..

post #8 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by needhelp209 View Post

I still think that there may be something to the first point in my original post. I was thinking how with speakers you can perceive it to be louder when it's actually not - because of feeling the bass in a more physical way, and therefore you get fewer of those high frequencies entering your ears than you do with headphones. Apparently it's those mid to high frequencies that are most damaging. I think that first point may have been taken from some university research years back, but like you say it's so difficult to find anything concrete about this.

So you are talking about perceived loudness, not actual SPL. That could makes sense. When I run my sub with my desktop speakers, it gives me a sense of a fuller, immersible sound stage. And it's because the lower bass frequencies are non localizable.

I would imagine the biggest problem comes from people with v or u shaped headphones where they turn it up really loud (a) to get more bass and (b) to hear the mids, and they are getting blasted with high frequencies.
post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 

Yea, I think one point is definitely to do with perceived loudness, although where that perception comes from is interesting too.

 

But then I was also thinking:

 

Let's say you have 80dB hitting you and it's all under 100Hz, versus 80dB hitting you and it's all between 5kHz and 8kHz. Do you think one is more damaging than the other given the same amount of time exposed to them?

post #10 of 15
It's a known fact that the higher frequencies are more prone to causing hearing damage.
post #11 of 15
I'm wondering if there's some confusion here about the perceived loudness issue. If you are wearing only 1 earphone (like some musicians do with a single IEM) then you will perceive the loudness of the single IEM to be lower than if you had a pair. The problem is that the ear with the earphone IS still receiving the full SPL even though we perceive less due to it being into only one ear.

Not sure if this fact is muddying our understanding of how an equal pair of ear/headphones are perceived.
post #12 of 15

If you are that worried about hearing damage with headphones, use SPL meter. Stick it in between the ear pads and squeeze them together. SPL meter with long neck would be best so you can get nice "seal" with the ear pads. 85db is the limit where you start to get hearing damage when exposed to it for extended periods, around 8h.

After that every +3db will cut that time with half so about 88db would be 4h. If you can measure the SPL, just slap a sticker on your volume pot with a arrow showing where it reaches 80db if you can't remember the position.

 

In my opinion, people who use lower grade audio equipment tend to listen to a lot louder than people with higher end audio equipment. I think one of the reasons is the details and clarity.

People try to dig the details with increasing the volume, while higher grade audio equipment will show those same details already with low volume. Its likely the same thing happens with equipment that has V shaped sound signature or U shaped. Also headphones with veiled or muffled sound can lead to using higher volume. Some noises are lower in level and sometimes it can lead to increasing the volume to hear those sounds better.

Funny thing is that its a paradox increasing volume to able to hear details better, since person will lose the ability to hear finer details with high DB.


Edited by Notus - 8/6/14 at 5:44pm
post #13 of 15

Found this on the subject http://www.randombio.com/noise.html

post #14 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Notus View Post

In my opinion, people who use lower grade audio equipment tend to listen to a lot louder than people with higher end audio equipment. I think one of the reasons is the details and clarity.

I have the opposite problem. (LOL)

With low grade equipment, the poorer sound quality is apparent the louder I turn it up, so I don't turn it up that loud. Get some speakers or headphones and an amp that can play really loud and clean? That's nice biggrin.gif
post #15 of 15
Thread Starter 

Yea, I generally agree that when the equipment is really nice I have to control myself not to turn it up... it just sounds so nice when you do (unlike with low-grade stuff).

 

I'm pretty convinced from all I've read now that with headphones a person might be more prone to damaging their ears due to perception of loudness and proximity of high frequencies to the ears.

 

Now I wonder if open backed is better than closed backed. I'm not sure.

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