Hearing problems aren't just for Christmas

Hearing problems aren't just for Christmas

29 December 2011 by Chris Edwards

According to the latest data from analysts such as Flurry, a lot more people received gadgets such as iPhones and Android handsets this Christmas than the last one. And, although one of the first things that people did with their new devices was to download some more apps, one of the most likely uses for many of them will be to listen to music through earbuds. And this is not good news unless you fancy a future where people stare at each other shouting "what did you say?"

A study by Tel Aviv University and published in the the International Journal of Audiology found that a quarter of the teenagers who took part in the research were at severe risk of developing hearing loss within less than 20 years and much earlier than through the effects of natural aging.

Professor Chava Muchnik who led the research says there is a need to look more closely at music-related hearing loss - as many safety regulations are focused on industrial noise - but that the tactic taken by the European Union to limit the output of iPods and similar devices to a sound pressure level of 100dB is sensible. However, people tend to find ways around these limits by jailbreaking their devices. And the tendency for music to be mastered with much higher average sound pressure levels than were common just 20 years ago makes it important to find out how long-term exposure to even these levels affects hearing. The Israeli study found almost 10 per cent of the teenagers were listening on earbuds for more than four hours a day.

The trouble is that the brain likes music to be loud: it seems to sound better that way. Mixing engineers have known for years the dangers of making tweaks to tracks that, in reality, do very little good to the sound but, because they increase overall loudness, make things sound a little better. It's only when they level-match the before-and-after sound that they realise they were well on the way to wrecking the mix. So, even educating people to try to listen more quietly is going to face problems. So, the attention is beginning to fall on technology.

Mass-market earbuds are a compromise between size and performance and they are leaky - so people often turn them up to mask sounds from outside. Sound-isolation versions make it possible to hear music better at much lower volume, although the user does have to contend with the inabilty to hear much of the environment around them, which could be a lot more immediately dangerous than just hearing loss. A combination of noise cancellation and sound isolation, coupled with some intelligence to let environmental cues through, may provide a way to encourage people to turn the music down rather than limiting the output at a fairly arbitray level so that they then try to find ways to boost the ouput back to normal, and riskier levels.

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    Posted By: Chris Edwards @ 29 December 2011 06:31 PM     General  

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