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Dangers of closed-back headphones

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Dangers of closed-back headphones

Postby Anonymous » Fri Dec 09, 2011 6:55 pm

I've read quite a lot about the dangers of using closed-back headphones, including stories of people losing much of their hearing within a year of use.

Last year, I was experimenting with making timbres from scratch using the wave generator in Wavelab, and ever since I've had low frequency tinitus. (It could be conjestion caused by a dust allergy, but I'm not sure.)

Anyway, there are a few headphone brands on the market that claim to avoid problems caused by channeling sound directly in the ear canal, but they cost $1000s. I now try to use my monitors all the time, but it's not ideal.

I remember, when I was in a band, there was a bizarre attitude to hearing-loss, like it's the 'rock 'n' roll' equivalent of a fisherman's shark bite wound or something. Sort of, smurking proudly about how bad their hearing has got. I always found it laughable that worrying about hearing was considered uncool or whimpy. Has anyone else experienced this?

Personally I don't want to go deaf because I want to hear detail and create music all my life, that's all. Perhaps you're supposed to want to die young too, choking on someone else's dog's vomit?

Re: Dangers of closed-back headphones

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:06 pm

The danger is not specifically from using closed-backed headphones, but of having them too loud and using them or too long at a stretch. The same dangers are present when using in-ears, open-backed headphones and high-resolution speakers (the latter because the very low levels of distortion make them seem much quieter than they really are!)

There is currently nothing that can be done to restore hearing accuity once damaged -- at least not to a level that would allow skillful audio processing and balancing -- so the only option is to look after your sense of hearing as carefully as you can, and that means minimising your exposure to loud sounds. You can do that by reducing the volume through sensible level settings and/or attenuating earplugs, and by reducing your exposure time by taking regular breaks.

I'd much rather still be able to enjoy music and converse easily in my dotage then appear 'cool' or 'hard' in my teens... which is possibly why I was never deemed 'cool or hard' when I was a teenager! ;)

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Re: Dangers of closed-back headphones

Postby Arksun » Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:12 pm

Would be cool if there was some kind of SPL meter for headphones. That's one nice thing about speakers is that you can easily keep an eye on what the SPL (c) weighting level is and keep it under 85db.

Though speakers make me far more nervous than headphones for those unplanned blasts of noise, at least with cans you can tear them off your head quickly. When speakers blast all out its like going into shock for the first few seconds before reaching for the volume knob.
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Re: Dangers of closed-back headphones

Postby Guest » Sat Dec 10, 2011 4:48 am


Advice on avoiding hearing loss with headphones:

Has anyone tried the Ultrasone headphones? They are supposed to incorporate bit of technology to sound more natural be safer to use.

Re: Dangers of closed-back headphones

Postby Shambolic Charm » Sat Dec 10, 2011 11:41 am

it's not just the pressure. The extended use of closed headphones leads to a build up of heat and humidity in the ear canal which is an ideal condition for bacteria to thrive many of which are already present in the ear. these bacteria and virii can lead to temporary hearing loss or long term damage.
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Re: Dangers of closed-back headphones

Postby James Perrett » Sat Dec 10, 2011 3:28 pm

Ultrasone must have been giving away headphones to all the stand holders at the last AES show I attended as they were everywhere (this was a few years ago). The only problem was that they sounded like they'd boosted the bass and treble on everything so I wouldn't trust them for anything critical. Mind you, I thought the same about Sony headphones and they're very popular too.

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Re: Dangers of closed-back headphones

Postby uphillbothways » Sat Dec 10, 2011 3:49 pm

There's nothing special about any kind of sound - excessive sound pressure over time is what causes hearing loss. It's easier to reach excessive levels on headphones, partly because they are deceptively quiet due to low distortion and a lack of 'chest bass', partly because the neighbours won't start banging on the door if you crank it up.

If you're really concerned, Canford offer most models of pro headphones with in-built limiters, calibrated to a specified maximum level. They're expensive and a bit inconvenient, but they're also an almost foolproof safeguard.

We have a natural tendency to want things louder, so over the course of a session levels tend to creep up without you noticing, often to levels you would have considered painful at the start of a session. A simple preventative measure is to set your headphones to a comfortable level at the start of a session and mark up the control.
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