I have spent a lot of time on the radio, talking about overuse of personal music players and earbuds. I’m in Australia, “a sunburnt country”, in the words of the poet. Now many of us are heading towards making it the the “leisure noise deaf country” (with apologies to Dorothea Mackellar). The fact is, most personal music players come with pretty ordinary earbuds. When you are wearing them, the tendency is to secure your personal world and turn up your music player to block out outside noise, But this means that the sound energy reaching your ears may be damagingly intense. Research suggests that people turn the the players up well over industrial safety limits.
It probably is true that if you can hear someone else’s music player that it’s too loud and damaging their hearing. It’s certainly annoying to other people. Three cheers for quiet carriages – V-line has just started them. But the story is more complicated than that. They are loud to other people partly because there is sound leaking out of the back of them. Headphones with padding round them, or earbuds with noise cancellation make it easier to listen without turning the sound up so much, and they don’t annoy other people. You might just get run over, instead, of course.
Did you know that every time we damage our ears we damage permanently the detection cells. It’s just like sunburn, where we permanently damage our skin cells. So you can have a lot of noise for a few minutes and cause permanent damage, or lesser sound levels for longer and cause permanent damage. Good for Mayor Bloomberg in New York raising this issue.
What can we do?
- Go into Settings on your iGadget or media player and fix the maximum output to about halfway.
- Get some good ear buds or headphones that reduce outside noise. Or you can get personalised instant earpieces customised to fit your earbuds into. I can make some for you, if you happen to be in Melbourne. I like ear buds that trick the hearing system into thinking there is more bass than there really is (psycho-acoustic bass).
- Make sure you don’t listen for hours at a time without breaks. Like the advice on sunshine, consider a day off from headphone use (10 to 2, stay in the shade)..
- And instead of “slip, slap, slop” “turn down, take off, stop”
It would be sad not to be able to listen in your thirties.
To the Radio presenters out there – have a rest from ear buds and headphones when you get home. You’re probably fine, as long as your studio has bought you excellent quality headphones.
We all know that music isn’t really noise (unless it’s someone else’s music) – it’s just that we haven’t got another expression yet for sound that’s damaging our hearing. Maybe we should talk about “good sounds” – soft and “bad sounds” – loud.
Either way, if you aren’t careful, you will eligible to be my customer soon. You could of course come into our office and we’ll make some custom pieces to go round your standard ear buds. That will help – and it will stop them falling out. What colour do you want?