I'm concerned about my hearing getting damaged — more at live gigs than in the studio — and I'm wondering how I'd go about getting my hearing checked. Also, is there anything I can do to reduce the risk of damaging my hearing if I'm attending or playing regularly at loud gigs?
SOS Forum Post
Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: You can get your hearing checked either by asking your GP to organise a test with an NHS specialist for you, or at a hearing aid dealer on the local high street. However, the standard hearing test provided by these facilities (and the industrial audiometric tests used by some employers) are really geared towards determining speech intelligibility rather than music, and rarely go above 8kHz.
If you don't want to go to the trouble of booking a professional hearing test at this stage, there is a useful DIY hearing test CD available, which I reviewed a few years ago. I wouldn't rely on it for absolute accuracy, but it is certainly very usable and allows you to make regular comparative checks of your own hearing, and to compare it with your friends and colleagues in a reasonably consistent way.
You may also be able to find some free hearing tests online (some are listed on www.digital-recordings.com, for example) but the variable behaviour of different computers and soundcards make them inherently less reliable than the DIY test CDs.
Usually the clearest evidence of hearing damage for most of us is the so-called 'disco dip', which is a marked deterioration in hearing acuity around the 2-6kHz region that both deepens and broadens with age and, more importantly, with exposure to loud sounds over an extended period. While it is perfectly possible for a single extremely loud event to cause hearing damage, for most of us it is the regular exposure to loud sounds over extended periods that is the real culprit — six hours in a loud nightclub two or three nights a week, for example.
Once your hearing has been damaged there is currently nothing that can be done to repair it. Hearing aids and cochlear implants have improved dramatically over the years, and will continue to do so, but not to the extent of restoring hearing to the resolution required for subtle music recording and mixing! So it really is essential that you look after your hearing as best as you can, and that means minimising your exposure to loud sounds.
There are some excellent earplugs available these days, some marketed specifically as 'Musicians' Earplugs' with either flat (all frequencies reduced by a set amount) or a tailored response. These are ideal for use on a loud stage if you are a performing musician, or for use in clubs or at loud gigs. I usually wear earplugs if I am driving for more than a couple of hours, and when flying transatlantic too.