Rock out for longer!

Russ Dickson
23 January 2012

Want proof that you rock harder than your parents did?

Music is louder today than it was 20 years ago. New recordings are mastered to be louder each year. But is louder really better? Consistent loud music can cause serious, permanent hearing loss. But if you want to save your ears, read on. Here's the science of how to keep your music pumping and your hearing safe.


Did You Know?
Sound engineers argue that louder tracks actually sound worse.

The trend of increasing loudness as shown by waveform images of "Something" by The Beatles mastered on CD four times since 1983. (Wikimedia commons).

Loudness is how we experience sound pressure, which is measured in decibels (dB). A conversation is about 60 dB and a rock concert is about 120 dB. Listening to sounds of 85 dB or louder for long periods of time can cause permanent hearing damage.


Did You Know?
The mosquito sound is a very high frequency noise that people with noise-induced hearing loss can't hear. Test yourself and your parents!

iPods, at full volume, can generate sound up to 130 dB. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, hearing damage can occur after just five minutes a day of 130 dB sound. This research also showed that the majority of people listen to music at a level that could damage their hearing when in noisy environments, like on flights or subway rides, that make it difficult to hear the music.


Did You Know?
Most music players have features designed to improve sound quality at reduced volume. Try using features like bass boost, sound check and volume limit or check your music player's instructions.

Turning up the volume to counteract background noise is dangerous. Instead, to preserve your hearing, you can get a good pair of noise isolating or noise cancelling earphones. Noise isolation earphones fit snugly in the ear and work like an earplug with a speaker inside: they block outside noise, so you hear more music at lower volumes.

Even better, noise cancelling earphones actually counteract background noise so all you hear is your music. These earphones send out sound waves that match the annoying outside sound. The sound waves and background noise cancel each other out so that all you hear is your music. However, to be safe, don't wear earphones when walking near traffic or train tracks. Not hearing traffic increases your risk of getting injured in an accident.

So here's your excuse to get a really nice pair of earphones – your music will sound better at a lower volume so you can enjoy your music for longer each day... and longer into your life.


Did You Know?
Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University have actually been able to grow hearing hair cells in mice, which may lead to treatments for hearing loss. Still, that's no excuse to damage your hearing now!

Learn More!

Music is getting louder

Sound Science: Pete Townshend blames headphones for hearing loss

Teens crank up iPod volume, risk hearing damage

How bad are iPods for your hearing?

HowStuffWorks "How noise-canceling headphones work"

Train strikes, kills Canmore woman listening to iPod

Article first published on January 25, 2010.

Russ Dickson

I am a PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Western Ontario. My work is in the field of bioinformatics, the science of using computers and information science to solve problems in molecular biology. When I am not writing biological software, I play hockey and make games for the PC, iPhone and Nintendo DS.

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