iPods and hearing loss: a reality check

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Music, Technology
January 17th, 2006 • 10:40 am

The Washington Post publishes a welcome reality check following the recent media coverage about iPods and hearing loss.

There is no doubt that such “personal stereo systems” (i.e. portable music players) have the potential to be harmful. But what I found most frustrating about the recent media coverage was that almost no story mentioned that it all depends on the volume level at which you are playing your music.

You’d think that would be a pretty obvious point to make, but I saw several reports in mainstream media outlets that made absolutely no mention of this and basically discussed the issue as if every iPod user was using his iPod at maximum volume level at all times, which is ridiculous.

Of course, the ear buds that come with the iPod do not block ambient noise and of course people are tempted to crank the volume up. But surely as a journalist your first priority should be to get the facts straight, and at the very least mention that you can avoid any danger of hearing loss by turning the volume down.

Now, it would help if the iPod actually gave an objective measurement of the sound level in decibels, especially given that the distance between the sound source and the ear does not change from one individual to the next (unless you have gigantic ears. It wouldn’t be a reliable measurement for people who use third-party headphones, but most iPod users use the ear buds that come with their iPods, so it would still be a useful indication.

Other than that, however, the only reason this is getting media coverage these days is that iPods are so popular. Portable music players have been in existence for decades, and you could damage your hearing with a good old Sony Walkman as easily as you could with an iPod.

3 Responses to “iPods and hearing loss: a reality check”

  1. ssp says:

    What’s even worse… European media just copied that report without checking or thinking. And the maximum volume in European iPods is much lower.

    It’s not that I don’t like my ears. But I’d like well-informed statements on the topic, so I know which risks I am actually taking. As it is, I just have to ignore all that mindless dribble those reports.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Is the volume level limited on all European models? I thought it was only in France that they had specific requirements.

  3. Paul Ingraham says:

    I’ve heard that it’s all European models, but I don’t know.

    I’ve been amused by this reporting as well. I actually remember a fuss at my high school about how loudly kids were listening to their Walkmans. I even remember testing our own limits. When my best buddy’s older brother got his first Walkman, we actually sat around playing it and testing ourselves, seeing how loud we could stand it. Its loudness was a “feature,” along with its portability. We actually cared how loud it could go, the same way we cared how tight we could stand our jeans — something mostly absent from iPod culture, I think (on both points).

    In a sense, it’s good advertising for Apple. A nice “lite” controversy like this is just good PR, and the tone of this so-called journalism makes it sound like no one ever carried around personal music players before, — which, in turn, reinforces the image that the iPod is somehow different in kind and not just degree from previous products. Ridiculous… but good advertising.

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