Hearing Loss: Learn How To Protect Your Ears

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Hearing Loss is no joke. It is not uncommon for house and techno events to play music at dangerous levels. There are a number of veteran DJs who have suffered hearing loss, both from years of exposure and a number of isolated incidents. Examples include Lil Louis, Larry Levan, and Paul Oakenfold.

8 hour exposure at 85dB is enough to cause hearing damage. For every 3 dBs over 85dB, the permissible exposure time before possible damage can occur is significantly reduced. At 120 dB damage is done immediately.

Chances are, we’ve all experienced ringing after attending an event. Sometimes immediately leaving the venue and still after waking up. This ringing is one of the early moments of the most common hearing damage in our industry. Tinnitus is the name, to be specific. There are tens of thousands of tiny hairs in your ear, each of which picks up vibrations at its own distinct frequency. When these hairs are exposed to loud sounds for an extended period, or even for short periods with extremely loud sounds, the pressure causes them to break. While the ringing goes away, the hearing damage is permanent.

For a DIY way to test your hearing, the youtube clip below features a tone moving from 20Hz up to 20kHz over the course of a minute; give it a listen to test your frequency perception. You’ll hear frequencies cutting out at times, and eventually you will hear silence. Don’t panic when you hear silence in the very high end. The average adult human male can only hear up to 16kHZ, while the average female can hear up to 18kHZ.

Hopefully by this point we’ve convinced you to take the time to protect your ears and utilize safe practices from hear on out. Check your ears – make an appointment with an audiologist if you have serious concerns, or consider investing in a pair of earplugs for those nights out. (More on earplugs below)

One thing that can really help when you are at home or on the go is to avoid earbuds, instead grabbing some over-the-ear headphones. The earbuds will not block external sound like a pair of headphones will. Pair that with the sound being emitted from much closer to your eardrums, as well as the fact that, on average, people set their earbuds 6dB louder than the surrounding background noise, and you have a pretty gnarly mix. In a loud environment, listening to music at  seemingly harmless levels with earbuds can cause hearing loss pretty quickly.

For Everybody

Wear earplugs. Nobody will judge you. There’s always been this stigma about earplugs at electronic music events. Let’s put an end to the earplug shaming once and for all. While the standard foam plugs from a drugstore will absolutely help, they’re not very comfortable and tend to fall out. If you’re ready to shell out a couple hundred bucks, then definitely consider having a custom-molded pair made by an audiologist. A good pair of custom earplugs will have several interchangable filters to change the level of sound reduction, often providing up to 15 dB of reduction.

Keep in mind that the two options are not the only two extremes. Dubs Acoustic Earplugs by Doppler Labs (click here to read) are an incredible ear plug new on the market that won’t cost you an arm and leg. Dubs are an amazing option as they provide 12 dB of reduction, they sound great, they stay in, and they are exceptionally comfortable. For $25 these are a steal, and probably everyone’s best option.

For Clubbers

Don’t stand too close to the speakers. Not only will this save your ears from harmful levels, but the music will sound way better a bit further away. Take breaks frequently. Rather than combine your bathroom break, refill at the bar, and visit to the smoking patio into one trip, try doing these things separately, prefarably every hour or even more frequently, depending on how loud the party is. That being said…

Know your levels. You can easily get a free dB meter on your iOS or Android device. Learn how to recognize sound levels that are dangerous and painful.

For DJs

In terms of protecting your ears during your set, in-ear-monitors are a great investment if you can fork up the cash. If not, practice smart monitoring techniques such as removing headphones and lowering the booth monitors when you finish your transitions, and keeping your headphone cue level as low as you can tolerate.

Try to keep your cue volume and booth monitors as low as possible, especially between transitions. Learn to beatmatch quickly – both to protect your hearing and to become a more efficient DJ.

Another suggestion is to not drink a lot during/before your set. This is for two reasons; firstly, the hairs in your ear become brittle, thus more likely to break. Also, as you become intoxicated, you become less aware of dangerous levels that you are taking in and are less motivated to take the precautions listed above.

For Producers

When it comes to the studio, it is crucial to listen to the music at a safe level, especially if  you are working for an extended time period. This will help twofold; firstly, your ears will be less fatigued and your hearing sharper and more keen. Secondly, the human ear often acts something like a compressor as higher volumes, squashing certain higher frequencies down while hearing more low-end. This can really affect your sonic judgement, especially in smaller spaces. Keep in mind that if a track or mix/master sounds balanced at a reasonable volume, it’s more likely to translate well on other systems.

Despite all this overwhelming information, we definitely aren’t saying to avoid loud parties by any means! Rather, we want to provide you with the information you need to make wise decisions when it comes to protecting your hearing.

Additional Read and More Information

  1. http://www.hearnet.com/features/articles/artist_article_EdWclub.shtml
  2. http://www.ravesafe.org.za/letters/letters_17012001.htm
  3. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/hearing-problems/Pages/tips-to-protect-hearing.aspx
  4. http://www.digital-recordings.com/publ/pubear.html