Acute hearing loss because of headphones

Hey Renoisers,

I lately have (again) some annoying hearing loss attack on left ear, I think because I always use headphones + the low temperatures outside… My left ear is a little bit dysfunctional since my youth (made a lot of nonsense there…). But this is really something I am really afraid of: To loose the hearing capabilities… I know this kind of hearing losses, it usually returns sooner or later if I make some weeks of pause.

But my main problem is using headphones. I usually make music in my home studio (once had some corporative studio, but because the high room rents in Germany (Hamburg) and because the maintainer closed it, we dissolved), in a flat in an appartment block. That’s why of course I cannot annoy the neighbors with the 1000th loop of my unfinished song :slight_smile: So I am somehow dependent on headphones. But I always tend to increase the headphones’ volume of time, without even noticing it! I also make no pauses, which is so stupid, because you need pauses to get a more objective perspective again. Volume is really the devil, loud sounds very often very good. The louder the better. Quite hard to decide for me how the overall energy of a song is, if I listen to it on very low volume.

Do you have any suggestions for me how to prevent this dangerous tendency? Some practical good experiences with it? Thanks.

Yes, musicians nightmare - loosing hearing capabilities. I avoid disco and such, because I feel like it’d seriously harm my hearing if done regularly, and am very proud to still be able to hear quite some high freqs.

Keep volume moderate - note down the exact settings of everything in the chain. And keep watching the meters. Only raise volume when you actually need to pay attention to minute details, and instantly lower again after fixing them. To get the correct measurement of volume, try playback of some sound with sharp frequencies an little bass when your ears are very “fresh” i.e. you’ve been in quiet environments for a while, and really watch for the feel of your ears reacting, it should not be uncomfortable loud at that point, or have this slight “piercing” feel of mid/high freqs with it - those are signs of overloading your ears with too high volume. Avoid in-ears. That’s how I do this, and only seldom give myself higher volume for testing or tripping or whatever. After a session watch how you percieve “normal” noises in your surrounding. If they seem more dull than before, or quieter an hollow, you’ve also put overload on your ears, and should generally lower volume for most of your mixing time.

I know the problem in a bit harder case, for sometime I’ve experimented with dsp code in area of synthesis and fx, and sometimes errors in the code can result in really evil harsh max volume Pops, noises or squeals. I guess many people use a hard limiter in their testing chains for such purposes, to protect their ears and equipment. After such blowups my ears always felt very numb for quite a while, made me think about it seriously…

I’ve experimented with dsp code in area of synthesis and fx, and sometimes errors in the code can result in really evil harsh max volume Pops, noises or squeals. I guess many people use a hard limiter in their testing chains for such purposes, to protect their ears and equipment. After such blowups my ears always felt very numb for quite a while, made me think about it seriously…

Yeah, one time I had a feedback loop happen in my headphones, and it was about 1-2 seconds before I could rip them off. Ouch. I think I lost some of my hearing that day.

Yeah, i can’t hear as well over maybe 12k in left ear and have weird holes in 10 and 5 k there too over one ear monitoring. But back then was just rockin it, ya know?

(edit: maybe not the same but, don’t think your cool kid stuff has no consequence. I did and was wrong. Could say this and that, but mostly whatever you are doing: protect your ears!)

Hm, I don’t think limited exposure to certain levels will generally just hurt, except above real harmful levels. Like I think the dsp accidents I had didn’t hurt that much in the long term - yeah, feedback loops, unstable filters squealing like mad, stray pointers playing back static or pure random data at full volume, and such stuff, it always takes 2-3 seconds until you realise to rip the headphones off your head as quick as you can…maybe one should use a special emergency limiter kind of plugin in the chain for coding, that will instantly lower volume to 10% if mid/high frequencies blow above a certain level. I can still hear the crisp noise of a finger sliding over paper or skin.

Real good studio headphones are a little “dangerous”, as you won’t notice the high volume that quick, it just sounds so natural even at high levels. My idea of watching out for initial “pierce” feeling in the ears at mid/high freqs when beginning a session and leveling in, and the slight dulling of environment noise after putting the headphones off after a session, is maybe essential, as I think both are signs of your ears being (or just having been) overstimulated in ranges that can be harmful when done regularly for longer periods of time.

Just dig that many professional musicians actually wear ear protection when performing loud. They know what happens if you overdo volume too often, and they perform regularly at such volumes. Bass frequencies are not the main evil, it’s the higher ranges that destroy your hearing.

But I think once in a while having higher levels on for recreation or judging impact of own or other material shouldn’t be that bad. I mean how are you supposed to judge your own music, if you have no ideas about how it bangs at high volume?

Permanent hearing loss can happen relatively quickly. A few hours of listening to something at 85 db will do it, or a few minutes at 100-110 db is also enough (apparently MP3 players used to get higher than that at max volume). Permanent damage doesn’t heal in time (you may just not notice as much anymore), so the best you can probably do is to be mindful of not making it worse. When you hear ringing, permanent damage has been done even if the ringing stops after a little while.

The problem is that the way we perceive loudness is not very reliable. I read that, “By comparison, a whisper is 30 decibels and a normal conversation is 60 decibels. An increase of 10 means that a sound is 10 times more intense, or powerful. To your ears, it sounds twice as loud.” With headphones that block out all other sound, it’s probably even harder to properly judge how loud something really is.

What I do (try to do) is to train myself to enjoy music at low levels, especially when I use headphones. This takes discipline and I’m always super tempted to crank up the volume, especially with tracks that are bass-heavy. But it’s just a matter of getting used to. For mixing, you can also refer to visual representations. Also not ideal, I guess. It’s the only way, though. Listening to too loud stuff for a few hours and then taking a break won’t fix the damage.

Then there is the issue of age! The range of frequencies we can hear starts shrinking even before our teenage years and then just continues to get worse. :stuck_out_tongue: That actually scares me more (I’m over forty) because I have no control over it.

You could buy adecibel meter and actually measure how loud what you listen to is. I think I may do that. Those meters are apparently only around €20-30 or even cheaper, like this one(

Hey thanks for your detailed answers. Actually my left ears lacks of bass capabilities, so while the highs are still ok audible, on middle bass like 100-200 hz it’s very limited. And now even more. Right ear still good.

Mivo interesting suggestion, but a db meter with micro won’t work with headphones, so I guess I am looking for some miniature limiter device , that simply prevents everything overshoot over some level. There are also some db meters available for iPad and iPhone, but I guess the micros are not good and the displayed result will consist of some randomness.

I also started to getting rid of this often praised overhead headroom area while mixing, since I now started to think that short transients from drums, shapers and compressors can be very dangerous even without noticing it. You will only hear those on very low volume. So I now started to always adding a limiter to the master at the beginning, or using the distortion effect in “razor” mode to clip off all mega transients.

It’s All Gone Pete Tong

It’s All Gone Pete Tong

Not such a dramatic loss!