Managing noise at home - is your headphone volume too loud?

Reilly Moule
14th May 2020

It is common for people to increase the volume of their headphones to help them escape or completely immerse themselves in the task at hand, however you may be increasing your risk of hearing damage.

A 2004 study ‘The effects of listening environment and earphone style on preferred listening levels of normal hearing adults using an MP3 player’ found the average listening level of all participants was 94dB (for example 95dB is typical of an electric drill, food processor or a jackhammer at 50m). 58% were also found to be exceeding their weekly noise exposure limits. This is not surprising then that approximately one in five teens today suffer some form of hearing damage, a rate that’s 30% higher than it was 20 years ago.

By listening to your earphones at 94db, you would exceed:

  • The ‘daily’ lower exposure action value (80dB) after 19 minutes;
  • The upper exposure action value (85dB) after 1 hour; and
  • The exposure limit value (87dB) after 1 hour 35 minutes.

Additionally, a popular phone brand has also been recorded at 112dB at 100% volume, and most of us have been guilty of setting our phones to maximum volume at some point!

Having read this study, I took to monitoring my own noise levels, of which I was shocked to find the results. Although I regularly do not even meet the lower exposure action value, I have occasionally listened to my favourite song (which is 3 minutes long) at a noise level of 108dB, which has exposed me to a higher daily noise exposure than the whole of my average normal day. Whilst listening to this song I met:

  • The daily lower exposure action value in 46 seconds;
  • The upper exposure action value in 2 minutes 25 seconds; and
  • The exposure limit value in 3 minutes 49 seconds.

This is a stark reminder that it is important for all of us to continue to monitor and control the noise levels we expose ourselves to during this continuing lockdown period.

You should determine a safe listening level on your personal audio device by setting the volume to a comfortable level in a quiet environment to no more than 60% of maximum volume. ‘WHO’ recommend that Noise-cancelling earphones and headphones can be better for you as they cut down background noise and allow you to hear sounds at lower volumes than otherwise needed. Over the ear headphones are also recommended over earbud style models, as they help to increase the distance between your eardrums and the speakers and reduce the chance for hearing loss.