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Portables Hardware Science

Is the iPod Generation Going Deaf? 632

prozac79 writes "Ars Technica and Wired News are both running interesting articles on how personal music players are a major contributor [ArsTechnica] to early hearing loss [Wired]. According the ArsTechnica article, an increasing number of people are now living in "noisy" environments that is only made worse by blocking it out with even louder music. The article also suggests that listening to music for one hour a day is considered safe. So now you have a choice... go deaf early or go insane listening to your coworkers chatter."
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Is the iPod Generation Going Deaf?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:29AM (#13554674)
    I have a pair of Bose Quietcomfort headphones, and I wonder if the noise cancelling is actually damaging my hearing. What do you think?
  • Walkmen (Score:2, Interesting)

    by esaloch ( 733370 ) <hergerbk@m[ ]io.edu ['uoh' in gap]> on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:33AM (#13554693) Homepage Journal
    Was this not a problem when the walkman was introduced or is our environment a lot noisier now? I'm just curious as it seems this would affect every generation since the walkman was introduced not just the "ipod generation". Then again, I admit I didn't rtfa.
  • by pieterh ( 196118 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:34AM (#13554696) Homepage
    Deafness is a useful adaption to the modern working environment. A touch of deafness blocks out the computer fans, the traffic noise, the endless airplanes flying overhead, the neighbour's kids, and the wife. The only problem is that it takes more and more volume to produce that "oh, yeah!"effect when listening to music. But that's someone else's problem.

    Personally, I went partly deaf at the age of 16 from spending too much time on a firing range. But most of my peers went similarly deaf not from the iPod, but from the Sony Walkman.

    This story is about 25 years too late. I guess each generation reinvents the "we went deaf because..." story.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:38AM (#13554723)
    They block outside noise by 23db, so you don't have to turn the music up to drown out the noise. I sometimes leave them in even without listening to music. They are nearly as good as a pair of headphone style hearing protectors.

    http://www.etymotic.com/ [etymotic.com]
  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:39AM (#13554733)
    It also doesn't help that iPods come with earbud-style headphones. If they came with larger ones that covered your ears, then you wouldn't have to turn the volume up so loud to hear it.
  • Probably not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jpardey ( 569633 ) <j_pardeyNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:45AM (#13554775)
    Even if they are active, they will just cancel out the external sounds. I am not sure how to work it out, but I would expect the energy to transfer to heat or somethin'. I would think that noise cancelling headphones would reduce hearing loss, as you don't need as much sound.
  • by Mustang Matt ( 133426 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:50AM (#13554793)
    I don't have an ipod, but I do listen to music through headphones. I'm a bit hard of hearing and for the past year or so when I listen to music I play it at the absolute lowest volume that I can hear it. Maybe it's just in my mind but I've noticed an improvement in my hearing. Not to mention it's less of a distraction to my development (and/or slashdot postings).

    Consequently, this behavior makes me realize that I need a quieter PC case. I've got a home made hack job case too many fans. I think it's time to upgrade to a professionally built case that would be quieter but I'm still having a hard time justifying dumping $150-$300 on a case.

    After that I've still got fish tanks that make a significant amount of noise. Not much I can do about that other than keep the water levels full or get rid of them alltogether.
  • by JonTurner ( 178845 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:58AM (#13554844) Journal
    It's not just mp3 players, it's car stereos (especially the 1000+ watt "boom cars") and loud exhausts. Some of the cars on the streets in my town can produce sound pressures that are actually painful -- from a distance of ten feet, in another car, with the windows up!!

    Even base stereo systems these days are 60+ watts. That's enough to cause substantial hearing loss in a matter of weeks if listened to repeatedly, for an hour or more per day.

    I can't even imagine how profound the boomcar boyz hearing loss must be. Not that I care... karma and all that.

    Ever attended a rock concert? It's a near certainty that you did permanent damage toyour high frequency hearing.

    Bring lawn tools into the equation (leaf blowers, lawn mowers, chainsaws, etc.) and that == more hearing loss.

    However, it's not just the under-thirty crowd. Many of our fathers served time in the military, when hearing protection meant sticking your finger in your ear before the guy next to you threw a grenade or fired a 30.06. Hearing loss didn't mean shit when your biggest concern was not being shot on a beach landing. The difference is the genX'ers are *choosing* to damage their hearing.
  • by panurge ( 573432 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @03:10AM (#13554899)
    I'm deliberately starting a new top level thread because the previous poster on this is getting negative moderation on some of the replies, and there is then no point in responding to them.

    Noise cancelling headphones if correctly implemented are rather more complex than just inserting an inverted signal. For the record, I am deaf (artillery and large engines, as if you care) and because of the strange hole in my hearing response I use a digital hearing aid. The configuration screen for programming this runs to a number of pages, and I can have it set to include or exclude things like refrigerator and fan noise. In fact, I have one program that does optimised noise cancelling to get the best speech response, and another that does no noise cancelling which is useful for music and for checking that things like HDDs are making the right noises.
    Noise cancelling technology is already used in professional telephone headsets, and I am surprised that it is missing from iPods and the like. It would be easy enough to have a button which switched between cancelling and not cancelling external noise sources and which, like my hearing aid, has a setting which allows through a sudden loud noise when in N/C mode, as a safety factor in traffic. This would mean the ability to listen at lower volume levels in noisy conditions.

    I have a local inductive loopset (one of the few good things to come out of Nokia in my view) which allows me to use the cell phone and to inject another sound source. With the hearing aid switched to inductive pickup only, and to block external sound, I can make a phone call in noisy conditions without difficulty.

    Conclusion: the technology exists to fix these problems and enable people to listen at lower volumes, manufacturers just can't be bothered.

  • Dumb And Dummer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cannuck ( 859025 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @03:17AM (#13554928)
    Temporary or permanent hearing loss can happen if: a) sound above 85 decibels - the louder, the more damage (got meter?). b) 85 decibels one hour or more in duration - the longer the more damage. c) and if the maximum output is forced into the 4000 Hz range - that does the maximum damage (like the Hollywood idiots boost sound during trailers - dumb and dummer). d) smoking cigarettes causes permament hearing loss. e) drinking alcohol cause temporary hearing loss. f) worse case scenario - guy who smokes and drinks and has been running sound boards at concerts for several years (dumb and dummer) - likely 50% hearing loss. g) notion is that if someone beside you can hear what's playing on your earphones/buds - you are having a hearing loss happening.
  • by zakezuke ( 229119 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @03:41AM (#13555007)
    I'll make the typical audiophile quip: If you like the sound of Bose you have nothing to worry about, you're already deaf =)

    This shouldn't be marked as funny. For people like truck drivers, machine operators, or generally anyone who's around whole bunches of loud noise the first thing to go sub-base to base followed by the high range. And these people, no insult intended, when picking out speakers that sound the best to them pick out things with a strong mid range. These are the people who can't tell the difference between a Bose Wave Radio and a decent Cambridge SoundWorks set, or don't mind if their 5.1 DVD player doesn't filter out that horizontal refresh noise, or worse yet have bad ground loops. The statement "no highs no lows... must be bose" isn't always true except for those things people tend to buy... those ultra low profile solutions that cost an arm and a leg are where this statement tends to ring true.

  • Re:Solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @03:48AM (#13555027) Homepage
    Noise cancelling or isolating headphones.

    Etymotic, Shure and Koss all make noise isolating headphones, which are generally cheaper and have higher quality sound than noise cancelling gimmicks like the Bose headsets.

    Not sure if this is the case with noise-isolators, but I have a pair of the early (gimmicky) Sony ND-5's (noicse canceling)... but they're impossible to use with the noise-cancelling on in a car... the anti-noise circuit is too slow, resulting in a choppy sound... happens sometimes in planes too, but only if I'm near the wing.

    One other thing: Noise cancellers abosolutely rule for eavesdropping in the office. Without the whine of the workstations, people who are wispering or talking softly in cubes near your you sound loud and clear if you turn your music down >:)

  • Feedback (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meburke ( 736645 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @04:02AM (#13555078)
    I've been thinking about this for years, in a minor way off and on, and I'm still waiting for someone to invent a good feedback system for hearing level. If the music can be heard clearly at 80-85db, thenit is probably safe, right? However, all the studies I've seen measure db in the environment, not the energy approaching the ear. And if you're wearing earphones, how do you prevent hearing loss when you don't know what you are delivering to your ear?

    Reactive noise-cancelling earphones would seem to be a good idea, especially if they can reduce the ambient noise to 50 or 60db and alow music to be heard at less than 85db. In fact, without music, I would be relieved sometimes to have noise-cancelling headphones to simply provide some near-silence. It would be a worthy project for competent technicians to come up with an inexpensive (less than $20) noise-cancelling headphone with signal contrast (outside noise less than 50db to inside noise less than 85db), easy equalization, and galvanic skin response sensors to indicate when the music was causing discomfort. (GSR might not be sufficient. Many recent studies showed that the type of music listened to can produce a variety of emotional and chemical responses ranging from peaceful, healthy, joyful to irritated, angry and unhealthy. Here's a a different question: If you knew loud rap and metallic rock were as bad for your system over the long run as cigarettes, would you quit listening to it?) An article written in layman's terms with good references can be found here: http://www.headwize.com/articles/hearing_art.htm [headwize.com].

    Although the general consensus is that much hearing loss is irrepairable, I have heard rumors of people recovering some hearing ability by listening to specific music. (I think I first saw this in a book called "Superlearning 2000", and have heard subjective reports since then, but I haven't noticed any scientific papers.) Also, if high-frequency loss is a problem to you, I've heard good things about Echophone.
  • Re:Have a Heart (Score:4, Interesting)

    by twoshortplanks ( 124523 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @04:05AM (#13555087) Homepage
    The main worry is the noise on the bus PLUS the extra level of noise you have to insert if you want to hear it clearly.

    You shouldn't have to crank up the sound level if you get yourself some proper headphones. I use shure e2c headphones that are buds that completely close off the ear - following a design that was originally intented for use as a 'monitor' for live performances so that artists could hear what they were playing and block out 90% the external sound from the rest of the band. The key thing is that I use the same volume level if I'm on a bus or in a quiet room. I wouldn't wear them (in both ears at least) if I'm crossing the street however - I'd be worried that since I was so deaf I'd be run over.

    (additionaly note for audiophiles: Yes, I know the e2cs don't have the best sound in the world, but they're truely exellent for listening to audiobooks or the cricket and what everyone agrees with is that they're good at blocking external sound.)
  • Obvious? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BenjyD ( 316700 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @04:27AM (#13555143)

    Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital determined that listening to a portable music player with headphones at 60 percent of its potential volume for one hour a day is relatively safe.

    60%! I would have thought it was bloody obvious that going over 60% of an iPod's volume was a danger area. I just tried mine at around that volume with the normal headphones and found it uncomfortably loud. Apart from anything else, I could tell which song was playing from the other side of the room, so anyone listening that loud on public transport deserves to go deaf.
    I had always assumed that the only reason it went so loud was for powering external speakers etc.

  • by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @04:27AM (#13555148) Journal
    Don't forget about:
    • people in cars with the loud, thumping stereos
    • import tuners with the whining exhausts
    • the motorcylcists on Harley's without mufflers
    • sport bike street racers with the extra loud exhausts
    • Gamers with 500W 6.1 surround sound systems
    • Data center workers.
    • Computer geeks with the 8 PCs running 24/7 with 4 fans and 4 HDs per box
    • Live music lovers who go to show at 150dB
    • Club-goers dancing to music at 130dB

    You better believe it is a growth industry. I am looking for some good companies to invest in.
  • Tinnitus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lheal ( 86013 ) <lheal1999@ y a h oo.com> on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @04:36AM (#13555177) Journal

    I have tinnitus [wikipedia.org], "ringing in the ears". I hear a constant sound, like a high-pitched squeal, all the time. It's worse when the ambient noise is low, but I barely notice it when there's noise around. In a very quiet place the sound I perceive can be very intense.

    It comes from damage to degeneration of the nerves in the inner ear, or so I've been told.

    Any constant, low-level sound tends to "mask" the ringing, so I can ignore it. Riding in a car with the windows down or in an airplane I don't notice the sound at all.

    Noise cancelling headphones are an ironic sort of hell for me. The sound is a lot better, but in the breaks between songs I hear the tinnitus sound, like a freight train braking for a herd of violin-screeching crickets in my head.

  • by /ASCII ( 86998 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @05:06AM (#13555274) Homepage
    Since the headphones actually reduce the amount of sound, the are not damaging your hearing.

    On the other hand, since noise cancelling only works on low to mid frequency noise, and hearing loss is caused by high frequency sound, they aren't helping either.

    On the third hand, if you are using noise cancelling to allow you to listen to music at a lower volume in a noisy environment, then they might actually help out a bit.
  • by david.given ( 6740 ) <dg AT cowlark DOT com> on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @05:55AM (#13555426) Homepage Journal
    Consequently, this behavior makes me realize that I need a quieter PC case.

    A while back I tried to figure out how to do this on the cheap; I eventually ended up with the computer box in the attic, with long wires connecting up the keyboard and monitor. USB was ideal for I/O, but I didn't have a USB CD drive so instead I used a slightly over-spec IDE cable --- which eventually turned out to be unreliable if I had DMA turned on, which was less than ideal. If I were doing it today, I'd use Firewire.

    It was an incredible bodge job, and did involve having to cut a hole in the ceiling, but pressing the switch on the wall and hearing the slight bong as the monitor powered up --- and nothing else --- was wonderful. You won't realise how wonderful a truly silent computer is until you get one.

  • by Kaldaien ( 676190 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @06:09AM (#13555469)
    I have mild hearing damage in my left ear, unrelated to headphones. In my case, it has to do with years of practicing the violin without an earplug in my left ear (which is most vulnerable to damage in violinists).

    Nevertheless, I think the iPod generation is in luck, because they are also one of the first generations where genetic therapy is not purely science fiction. In the past couple of years, researchers discovered that the production of a protein (Rb1) was responsible for the behaviour shared by the inner ear hair cells of all mammals, or more to the point... the reason the hair cells do not divide and hearing does not regenerate. Recently scientists discovered the gene that was responsible for producing this protein in mice. Given 5 to 10 years, I am optimistic the naive iPod generation, senior citizens and even I will be eligible for gene therapy to reverse the effects of hearing loss.

    It is important to protect your hearing, but damage is inevitable no matter how careful you are. Luckily, for musicians and the ignorant iPod generation, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon :)
  • Riffle fire... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by all204 ( 898409 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @06:37AM (#13555566)
    I've spent 6 years as an infantry soldier and I can say that I do have hearing damage from it. The little yellow foamies that are given to us like candy do nothing for percussive sounds. (Riffle and machine gun fire, explosives like grenades, firing mortars, etc...) It even comes with a warning on the packages. The only thing that really works would be a combination of the foamies and the full sized earmuffs. Now, you cannot wear earmuffs with a helmet. So we wear the foamies when we can.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @07:19AM (#13555710)
    Whenever doctors check my hearing they say it's fine. And yet I'm having a lot of trouble understanding conversations when there's background noise.

    I have abused headphones and car audio systems in my day, but as the doctors can't find any problem with my ears I wonder if my problem might be in the part of my brain that translates sounds into words.

    Any useful input appreciated!
  • Article is wrong (Score:2, Interesting)

    by technoextreme ( 885694 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @07:20AM (#13555714)
    I read the same thing in the newspaper and it said listening to your muisc at sixty percent volume is safe for one hour not what the person wrote.
  • by boyce111 ( 893865 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @07:37AM (#13555780)
    I hate ipod people. There is nothing worse than being on the London Underground, full stop, Unless you are stood 2 meters away from a person and able to hear their music.
    I've also had the joy of being able to over hear their music over my own.
    9 time out of 10 you when you look up to find who it is, they'll have the little white ear buds half hanging out.
    If you love music so much, why use the crap cheap earphone that comes with the thing?
    Go buy a decent pair, ones that other people don't have to listen to.

    Last year when I went to Japan it had become socially unacceptable to listen to music which was audible to other people.
    This came about as a result of the offending people being smacked in the face. I'm all for this remedy.

    Be a have-a-go hero and smack an ipod user in the face. You'll be able to hear them coming and they have no social awareness so they won't notice you at all.

    Your headphones are crap and I hate you!
  • It happened to me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by prudek ( 164025 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @07:44AM (#13555799) Homepage
    This is very real threat. Headphone induced hearing loss happened to me. And I did not even have flash player or walkman.

    When I was 35 I noticed that I often do not understand what people say, especially in noisy environments, while all other people around me understood each other. Medical exam revealed 30% hearing loss. Doctor questioned me about my history and we soon pinpointed it: between 15 and 25 I often listened to music via headphones at top volume for 2 or more hours at a time.

    Now doctors recommend that I should wear hearing aid. I wish it did not happen. But such hearin loss cannot be cured at all. It can only get worse.

    Doctors told me that if I do not start to wear hearing aid now, my hearing will worsen because the brain will pay less attention to a sense that is degraded, and that a sense of hearing, if not used, will fail as a result. And they pitched expensive hearing aid products.

    I got suspicious and asked a friend who happens to be an ORL specialist. He said that these claims are false, aimed at selling the hearing aid products... and that my unassisted hearing would get somewhat worse if I started to wear hearing aid, but I would hear more thanks to the hearing aid. So I decided not to buy the aid. And I found that I can enjoy quiet music just like loud music. And subjectively my hearing improved somewhat.
  • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) * on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @08:28AM (#13556039)

    I don't understand why the noise cancellation headphones are so popular. They just reduce the background, making the cellphone shouters more clearly audible.

    I use gray noise - equalized pink noise (See the Wiki [wikipedia.org]). It covers up everything with an even background that you forget you're even hearing. Turns a busy office into an acoustic oasis. Even better is to pop in some plugs on top of that.
  • Rural Chinese (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CrazyMik ( 842019 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @08:47AM (#13556147) Journal
    I read once that Rural Chinese have higher rates of hearing damage than people in cities. Why?

    Well, if I remember correctly, it was because they are exposed to very little noise, and then very loud firecrackers. It seems the constant and loud background of cities conditions the ears somehow.

    So this sounds like a complex problem...

  • by panurge ( 573432 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @09:04AM (#13556270)
    Actually I have two: A Siemens, and a slightly simpler Widex as backup. They are both excellent and I would strongly recommend them. The Siemens is more sophisticated, has wider bandwidth and more power, and longer battery life, but is physically larger. The Widex is smaller, the audio is not quite so good, but is better for active environments.

    Oh, and I don't need any sympathy. The truth is, I am not a lot more deaf than many people of my age. I'm just willing to admit it and get it fixed. My mother wouldn't admit it till she was 82, and it caused her a lot of problems. I get a lot less inconvenience from the hearing aid than the glasses I use for driving. Looking at other people fiddling about with Bluetooth headsets, iPod earpieces and so on, I basically plug in in the morning, put my phone in my top pocket with its loopset, and then the most complicated thing I do all day is switch to noise cancelling mode if the phone rings in the office. If manufacturers were really interested in a clever product, they would make devices with the same functionality as in the ear hearing aids which similarly communicated with phones, iPods and the like. Hands free, cable free, but I do get looked at as if I'm mad as I walk round making a phone call with no visible phone, no bluetooth headset...it's only a downside if you don't like people giving you extra room on the sidewalk.

  • by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @09:44AM (#13556587)
    With a good system, you should be able to point out where the instruments are - can't do this with the Bose, piece of cake with the Magnats.

    From a soundperson perspective I find this discussion 'A is better than B' a bit pointless. In a discussion "Bose vs Magnat", "Better" is relative.

    First of all recording technique makes a huge difference in this. In signals recorded with crossed microphones (x/y), locating the instrument is a piece of cake, though it might lack in 'spatial' feeling. When recorded with 2 parallel mics (A/B), things might sound very spatial but locating the panorama of the instrument in the stereo image is much harder. For this reason, most pop recordings are recorded in X/Y (mono compatible for radio play, good panning, does not sound very spatial) while most classical/jazz is recorded A/B (spatial sound but poor localization of instruments. Phase problems may occur, possible mono incompatibility).

    Something similar happens in playing back the sound. Bose designed their speakers to have an as large as possible 'sweet spot', resulting in a more consistent spatial sound across the room, however this is at the cost of localization of the instruments.

    The magnats have a relatively narrow 'sweet spot' compared to the bose speakers. As a result, localization of the instruments in a stereo image is more accurate, but the 'sweet spot' is much smaller.

    All other things left out of consideration, if accuracy in stereo image is your thing, you'll prefer the Magnats. If you prefer consistent sound all over the room, you'll prefer Bose.
  • by Unknown Poltroon ( 31628 ) * <unknown_poltroon1sp@myahoo.com> on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @11:42AM (#13557688)
    I have worked several jobs wehre there was EXTREME loud noise at the jobsite(within 10 feet of unmuffled generators and a carousel pipe organ that could be heard 2 miles away). I always wore earplugs, the simple wax or foam ones from the drugstore. I was the only guy on the job that did. Whenever i had to listen to something, i would remove the right earphone, I always kept the left one in. Additionally, when out walking around, i only use the right headphone of my walkman. I can notice a diffrence in the hearin on the right and left sides of my own head from the minor damage over the years. The hearing in my left ear is much more acute overall, and can hear frequencies that the right one cant.

Loose bits sink chips.