Synopsis: Sensaphonics dB Check is an important hearing preservation device. Connecting between your iems and your amp or source, it can tell you, in real time, exactly how loudly you are listening to your music with your gear. The dB Check then gives you safe listening times for that volume. It’s portable and has a mic for measuring ambient noise levels in a room or space as well. The main drawback is that it only works with Shure and Sensaphonics in-ear monitors.
Introduction: Dr. Michael Santucci, the founder of Sensaphonics, is an audiologist who’s serious about hearing preservation. His custom in-ear monitors, like the excellent Sensaphonics 3MAX I had a chance to review, are as much hearing protection devices as they are great earphones and stage monitors. That’s why he uses the superior isolation and comfort of silicone for his ciems—protecting your hearing so you can enjoy your music for your whole life is in every part of the design.
In working with his pro-musician clients, Dr. Santucci started measuring just how loudly the pros were dialing up their music on stage. The whole idea with using ciems as stage monitors is that the musicians can hear themselves and their music at a lower, safer level, due to the isolation the ciem provides and because you no longer need an external set of speakers playing back at the musicians adding even more noise. However, Dr. Santucci found that people were dialing up their ciems to the loud volume they were used to hearing before they went to in-ear monitors. So, there had to be a way to help them see exactly what volume was going through their earphones with the music they were playing. The dB Check is the result and it is a very useful tool for seeing exactly how loud you are playing the specific music you play or listen to.
What it looks like:
The dB Check is very small and very portable. It’s about 3¼ in. by 2in and ½ in. thick.
How to use it: The dB Check goes between your iem (Shure or Sensaphonics iems only, for now) and whatsoever source or amp/source you use.
Once it’s on and set to iem mode, you just choose the Shure/Sensaphonics iems model you have, and then set the amount of time you want it to measure for.
Now you can play any kind of music you like at whatever volume level you like. After the amount of time you’ve set has arrived, the dB Check tells you the following:
1)The average volume in decibles (dB) you’ve been listening to your music.
2)The safe listening time for your volume by the newer NIOSH hearing preservation standards. That’s the number before the “n”.
3)The safe listening time for your volume by the older OSHA standards. That’s the number before the “o”.
The newer NIOSH standards give shorter safe listening times, so if you want to be safe, stick to those.
Relatively small reductions in volume give surprising benefits in reduction of risk of hearing damage.
When I decided to play my music at what I would consider to be "really quite loud", but which will be normal listening for a lot of folks, I was at 98dB, which is only safe for 24minutes by the NIOSH scale.
The dB Check doesn’t get in the way of your music as you listen. I do find there’s a bit of added hiss, but remember, it’s not that you would use the dB Check every time you listen to music. Rather, it’s a key part of training your ear to listen at a safer level. For different types of music, or from different amps and sources, you will want to go back and check again.
You can also set the dB Check as a straight-up ambient volume level meter to see how loud you are listening or playing in a room with speakers, etc.
Personally, I found that I was listening louder than I thought and it was a key player in my move to slightly lower, much safer, listening levels.
Conclusion: The dB Check is a really important hearing preservation tool. If you want to be able to enjoy your music for years to come, then you need to protect your hearing. For now, there’s nothing better for that than the dB Check. It’s worth every penny and I highly recommend it. I just hope that in the future more audio companies will step forward and put their iems on it, too.