Q: I've got a 15 year old son who loves to listen to music and play video games at very loud volumes (we can hear his music even when he's listening with his earbuds). We're worried he's going to blow out his hearing before he turns 16. Do you have any recommendations for ways to protect his ears, but let him enjoy his gaming and music?
Sent by Patricia
Editor - A few years back at national conference at the "Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children at Work and Play", a study by researchers, Cory D.F. Portnuff, B.S. and Brian J. Fligor, Sc.D., was specifically devoted to the topic of safe music listening levels with young children and teens. With the popularity of iPods, cell phones with MP3 playback capability and more sound immersive audio in video games, it's no surprise auditory health is more of a concern.
Their study concluded:
The typical individual can tolerate about two hours of 91 dBA per day before risking hearing loss. Individuals can listen to their iPods for a total of 1.2 hours a day with the supplied earphones if the volume is at 80 percent of maximum levels. Listening to iPods at full volume is not recommended for more than 5 minutes per day (if using the supplied earphones or other earbuds), 3 minutes per day (if using "isolator" earphones that block out background noise), or 18 minutes per day (if using "supra-aural" earphones that are placed over the ears rather than inside them). Summarized in table 1, these guidelines take into account, for example, that earbud-style earphones are inserted closer to the ear and they typically deliver sounds at levels 5.5 dBA higher than the supra-aural ones.
With one in five teens reporting significant hearing loss (Journal of of the American Medical Association), the issue is getting to the point when your teen isn't listening to you, he or she may not be just exhibiting adolescent disinterest, but actual hearing issues.
Sharing the information with your teen about safe listening levels is the first step. But a secondary precautionary step might be to offer a tech solution with auditory health in mind. dB Logic has released two products, a headphone and earbud design, which incorporates a volume limiting circuit (SPL2). At just between $29.99-$39.99 (with the addition of a child-size version), the headphones themselves are relatively affordable, and monitor audio volume under the safer 85 dB range (inbetween the sound of a vacuum and someone shouting).
Frequency range is 20Hz-20KHz, with a maximum output of 100mW. Sound quality was on par with other headphones in this price range, though we wish the cable length was slightly longer (1.2 meters) and the headband was supplemented with a little padding, as they felt a little thin.
We tested the headphones with our most quiet music (Brian Eno) and our loudest (Amon Amarth), with even a little annoyingly catchy pop (Katy Perry) thrown in for good measure, and for budget cans, they did a more than fair job of handling bass and the mid-range. The upper range of certain tracks would occasionally sound tinny when pushed, but the Sound Pressure Level Limiting technology would have the added benefit of keeping users from pushing the headphones beyond not only their healthy limit, but also their technical range, making these a recommended solution for parents looking to protect the ears of their children without too much investment.
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