The EU volume cap mystery
Mar 9, 2012 at 5:21 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 8

Wouter

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Every now and then messages pop up to the effect of “how do I disable the EU volume cap on my device”.
Some people even choose go through the hassle of importing their devices from outside Europe, in order to avoid the volume cap, accepting the risk of not being able to address the official importer of the brand with warranty issues. Although I fully understand the reasons for the volume cap legislation, personally I’m not really fond of these capped devices either. I suspect the limit was set using the standard earbuds while I prefer using on ear headphones. These may require extra power to reach the same volume as earbuds do.
 
I’ve tried to find out what exactly this legislation dictates and to my own surprise it seems that users of portable music players are in fact “allowed” to listen to music at any desired volume level, but when their device is about to exceed the “safe” volume level, they should explicitly choose to accept the risks.
My source for this is among others:
http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/09/1364
[size=11pt]“The safe exposure levels defined above shall be the default settings on products.[/size]
[size=11pt]Higher exposure levels can be permitted, provided that they have been intentionally[/size]
[size=11pt]selected by the user and the product incorporates a reliable means to inform the[/size]
[size=11pt]user of the risks.”[/size]
 
Yet it seems it is never implemented it that way. The volume level is simply limited and often it is either impossible (new Sony series Walkman) or quite difficult to disable the cap (iPod apparently requires jailbreaking in order to do that).
 
So I wonder, why don’t the manufacturers of portable music players simply implement the option to choose to disable the volume cap? (which is according to the legislation).
Or have I been wrong about the legislation in the first place?
Any thoughts?
 
Mar 9, 2012 at 5:47 AM Post #2 of 8

skamp

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The software part often receives less attention than the hardware part… Someone on another forum even warned about a DAP (from Philips, IIRC, not exactly a no-name brand) that didn't even show track numbers. Another example is the lack of gapless playback, IMO an essential feature in any music player.

I believe the Sansa Clip (which happens to be a superior DAP in many respects) has a "region" option that you can set to "world" in order to get rid of the limitation. Yes, it's an easy fix. Why doesn't everyone do it? Probably because no-one was thoughtful enough to include it, or the product was rushed…
 
Mar 10, 2012 at 5:08 AM Post #3 of 8

Wouter

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I'm afraid it comes down to a certain laziness of the manufacturers indeed....which is highly disappointing.
Like Sansa, Cowon also seems to provide the option to change the region. Any other region than Europe will disable the volume cap. However, this is not really a neat solution, is it? After all, I'm afraid I'd also loose my language settings, wouldn't I?
 
Would it be so difficult to implement a message on the screen when turning the volume up which says "Warning, a higher volume level may harm your hearing. Do you wish to continue? Yes/No". Such a feature is the whole intention of the EU volume legislation, yet no manufacturer bothered to implement it (If I would be a manufacturer of DAP's, I'd implement it right away and get me a unique selling point in Europe...)
 
Indeed there seems to be a number of features which would be highly appreciated by customers and which seem not that difficult to implement, but which are very often ignored by manufacturers of DAP's.
Apart from option to ignore the EU volume cap, or to provide gapless playback, there is also the lack of SD card slot for example (Sony, Apple), lack of line out, lack of digital out over USB (Android) and access of the tracks through the directory structure (Apple).
 
In fact I feel that anyone who has a reasonable music collection struggles with storage space on their devices as most don't provide more storage than 32Gb and some 64Gb. Only a few DAP's which still use a harddisk instead of flash memory provide more storage. Again, how difficult is it to add more flash storage capability to a device?
 
I kindly requested Sony in the Netherlands whether the Z series walkman will be volume capped and "customer services" replied by saying "We cannot answer that question, because it is not available in the Netherlands yet, so we don't know the technical specifications". Rubbish, of course. Exactly the same device is in almost every Sony store in Europe now, except in the Netherlands, most likely because they still haven't managed to translate the manual. So the technical specs are well known, but "customer services" decided to ignore the question.
 
 
Mar 14, 2012 at 6:14 PM Post #4 of 8

tienbasse

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Let me summarize the situation, because I don't think you get the right picture out of this.
 
The volume of DAPs in Europe has been capped since the early 90s (starting with the first iPod, which was easily passing the 115dB with sensitive earbuds / IEMs). Capping was set at 100dB, through a software limitation of the output voltage (which was a poor implementation since it will mostly affect high impedance headphones and not so much sensitive IEMs).
 
Even if it could be circumvented in some cases, it was not a choice let to consumers, and very serious studies had shown the long-term damages of high volume noise, starting at 85dB and appearing much more quickly at 100dB.
 
What you quoted in you first post is from a new EU law proposed in 2008. The goal was to further cap at 85dB but since damages at 85dB were not universally recognized, choice was supposed to be given to users to apply this stronger cap or not.
This new law was never voted since EU countries couldn't agree on 85dB.
 
So the limit is still 100dB, which should be plenty in theory, but since it is implemented through capping of the output voltage, results vary dramatically from one DAP to another.
The Sony A84x series for instance is severely capped, although it is only an issue with headphones above 32ohms, so it's just fine with 99.9% IEMs. Sony A86x DAPs are a bit less capped although they're very similar, go figure.
 
 
One last thing: I see a lot of comments about "personal freedom" or "it's my choice" for volume capping.
While the technical implementation of capping is not ideal at all, people have to consider this: in some countries including France, you're not paying for your own health insurance only. You pay a health insurance to the government which split the health coverage money between everyone.
So when your "personal freedom" to listen music at dangerous levels will damage your hearing, many people will have to pay for your "so-called freedom", not only you. In the US for example, you pay for your own health insurance only. So when you're injured, you'll have to pay for your own coverage ("you break, you pay" policy).
Now do you realize why some governments would like to protect you "for your own good" ?
 
As someone said a very long time ago: your personal freedom stops wherever other people's freedom start.
wink.gif

 
Clinical studies about hearing loss are to be taken seriously, it's not like it was difficult to prove, measuring hearing loss is not exactly rocket-science.
 
 
Mar 14, 2012 at 7:39 PM Post #5 of 8

kova4a

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^^^ Well, you're right to some extent - but the issue is another. It seems that manufacturers are not capping output voltage but raising output impedance which is way worse and I'm pretty sure that's what Sony's doing with some of its DAPs  in Europe.
 
Mar 15, 2012 at 5:21 AM Post #6 of 8

Wouter

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Quote:
Let me summarize the situation, because I don't think you get the right picture out of this.
 
The volume of DAPs in Europe has been capped since the early 90s (starting with the first iPod, which was easily passing the 115dB with sensitive earbuds / IEMs). Capping was set at 100dB, through a software limitation of the output voltage (which was a poor implementation since it will mostly affect high impedance headphones and not so much sensitive IEMs).
 
Even if it could be circumvented in some cases, it was not a choice let to consumers, and very serious studies had shown the long-term damages of high volume noise, starting at 85dB and appearing much more quickly at 100dB.
 
What you quoted in you first post is from a new EU law proposed in 2008. The goal was to further cap at 85dB but since damages at 85dB were not universally recognized, choice was supposed to be given to users to apply this stronger cap or not.
This new law was never voted since EU countries couldn't agree on 85dB.
 
So the limit is still 100dB, which should be plenty in theory, but since it is implemented through capping of the output voltage, results vary dramatically from one DAP to another.
The Sony A84x series for instance is severely capped, although it is only an issue with headphones above 32ohms, so it's just fine with 99.9% IEMs. Sony A86x DAPs are a bit less capped although they're very similar, go figure.
 
 
One last thing: I see a lot of comments about "personal freedom" or "it's my choice" for volume capping.
While the technical implementation of capping is not ideal at all, people have to consider this: in some countries including France, you're not paying for your own health insurance only. You pay a health insurance to the government which split the health coverage money between everyone.
So when your "personal freedom" to listen music at dangerous levels will damage your hearing, many people will have to pay for your "so-called freedom", not only you. In the US for example, you pay for your own health insurance only. So when you're injured, you'll have to pay for your own coverage ("you break, you pay" policy).
Now do you realize why some governments would like to protect you "for your own good" ?
 
As someone said a very long time ago: your personal freedom stops wherever other people's freedom start.
wink.gif

 
Clinical studies about hearing loss are to be taken seriously, it's not like it was difficult to prove, measuring hearing loss is not exactly rocket-science.
 


Thanks for this explanation tienbasse. I was quite difficult to find the actual legislation regarding the volume gap, so when I found the source I mentioned I presumed that was it. Apparently that was never approved by the general assembly of the EU. I understand the risks of hearing damage and like I mentioned in my orginal post, I suspect that the volume cap is often set using the standard earbuds. However this may result in a much lower maximum volume when using high impedance headphones.
 
 
 
Mar 15, 2012 at 1:34 PM Post #7 of 8
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i was on the understanding it was law in france but nowhere else.  its simply that because products in one eu country can be sold to any that manufacturers just slay the cap on everything eu wide so they dont then have to worry about non france units making it to france.
 
Mar 15, 2012 at 5:32 PM Post #8 of 8

tienbasse

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Quote:
i was on the understanding it was law in france but nowhere else.  its simply that because products in one eu country can be sold to any that manufacturers just slay the cap on everything eu wide so they dont then have to worry about non france units making it to france.

I was under the same impression as you some time ago, but national laws on noise limits (not limited to DAPs) have boomed nearly everywhere in the EU, usually in the 99-103dB range.
 
 
 

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