By Jack Sharkey, August 17, 2015.

Back in the day we had a rule of thumb about loud music: If your ears were ringing after you left a show, it was a good show and a good time; if your ears were ringing the next morning, you managed to give yourself some level of permanent hearing loss.


Back then there was a certain amount of bravado in admitting your ears were ringing the next morning. Now of course, my ears (mostly my right one) ring – from the tinnitus I gave myself over years and years of aural over-use and occasional abuse. I don’t have a bad case because I started to get serious about protecting my ears fairly early on in my career, but the buzz in my ear sits at about 4kHz and 40dB 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m lucky though, because all I have to do is find a fan that runs slightly louder than 40dB and I can drown out the tinnitus and get some sleep (that was my doctor's advice because there is no cure for tinnitus).


That’s kind of the same thing a lot of you do with your earbuds and headphones. Subway noise, traffic noise, airport noise, whatever noise you are trying to drown out, it's intuitive to think that it all can easily be overcome by simply turning up the volume on your Smartphone to let your earbuds mask all of that nasty noise up for you.


Let’s say you’re on a subway platform in Manhattan – the ambient noise around you will be anywhere from 80 to 114 dB. If your earbuds or headphones don’t block noise out sufficiently you are fighting a 100 dB subway platform with 80 to 100 dB of music. If your earbuds or headphones fit properly, filter out noise, and perform with quality thereby reducing the amount of volume you need to hear your music, you can get away with significantly less. But unless you've selected your earbuds or headphones wisely, the simple fact is you are probably damaging your hearing trying to prevent your hearing from being damaged as you try to out-volume the world around you.


Generally, hearing loss begins at 85dB after 6 to 8 hours exposure. A nearby lightning strike (125dB) or firearm (140db +) will cause instantaneous hearing loss.


This chart will give you an idea of what your ears are up against: 

Loudest Concerts Ever

In 1972, three audience members passed out at a Deep Purple concert in London where the sound pressure level (SPL) was measured at 117dB.

The Who then took the title for World’s Loudest Band with a 126dB measurement (from 32 meters) in 1976.

Electronica act Leftfield played a show in Brixton in 1996 where SPL was measured at 137dB.

At a show in 1998, Hanson mmmm’bopped their way to a 140dB measurement that even drowned out the sound of all those screaming teenaged girls in the audience.

KISS was asked by neighbors in Ottawa to turn that damn music down after reaching 136dB at a show in 2009.

I should note here that the Guiness Book of World Records stopped accepting “loudest band” or concert volume records out of fear of encouraging people to make themselves deaf on purpose.


Here's the Point 

A standard personal music system with stock earbuds can produce 100dB of SPL at your eardrum, which is enough to cause hearing damage after 15 minutes. So, yeah, the next time you crank the volume up in your head you might want to think about how soon before your ears pay you back by not working. 


Here’s the rub folks, there is no such thing as temporary hearing damage – you damage your hearing permanently when you damage your hearing, and the affects over time are cumulative. That means if you started with hearing that was a 10 on a scale of one to 10 when you were a teenybopper, after one Hanson show your was never the same again. Every time you damage your hearing you drop down the scale permanently and irrevocably. 


At KEF, we’re fans of great sounding music and movies, but mostly we’re fans of all of you music and movie lovers out there, so protect your ability to enjoy the things you love by protecting your ears. Keep noise levels to a minimum by using only quality gear, and keep volume levels safe.


Sources used:

3M Hearing Conservation Archives

Dangerous Decibels dot Org 

WebMD Children's Health