Australian HIFI - - EDITORS LEAD IN - greg bor­row­man

Ihave been rather in­trigued by a mo­tor ve­hi­cle ad­ver­tise­ment that’s cur­rently in high ro­ta­tion on tele­vi­sion which shows a car warn­ing its driver that a pedes­trian has stepped out in front of said ve­hi­cle, al­low­ing the driver to ap­ply the brakes and pre­vent an ac­ci­dent. I hon­estly can’t re­mem­ber what type of car it is at the mo­ment that I am writ­ing this, and I am so close to dead­line that I won’t have the op­por­tu­nity to watch enough tele­vi­sion to see the ad­vert again so I can make a note of the make of the car in time to in­clude it in this ed­i­to­rial… but the fact that I can’t re­mem­ber tells you some­thing about the ef­fec­tive­ness of tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing, in that not only can’t I re­mem­ber the model of the car, but I can’t even re­mem­ber the make. (Then again, it might just be telling you some­thing about my shot-term mem­ory!)

What in­trigued me about the ad is that the per­son who steps out in front of the car is wear­ing head­phones, the pas­sen­ger in the car is wear­ing head­phones… and in fact ev­ery sin­gle per­son in the com­mer­cial is wear­ing head­phones ex­cept for the driver… and in my ex­pe­ri­ence as a com­mut­ing mo­tor­cy­clist, most driv­ers these days are wear­ing ei­ther head­phones or ear­phones as well. I guess that since wear­ing head­phones (or ear­phones) whilst driv­ing is ac­tu­ally il­le­gal, they wouldn’t have been able to get the com­mer­cial to air if the driver had been wear­ing a pair.)

This ad­vert cer­tainly has a ring of truth about it to me, be­cause the large ma­jor­ity of peo­ple I see on the street in com­mer­cial suburbs—on week-days at least—are wear­ing head­phones. While this is cer­tainly great news for the au­dio in­dus­try (par­tic­u­larly those com­pa­nies which man­u­fac­ture head­phones, which seems to be all of them these days) it’s not so great news for the peo­ple wear­ing those head­phones, be­cause many of them will be lis­ten­ing at vol­ume lev­els that will re­sult in ei­ther short­term or per­ma­nent dam­age to their hear­ing.

When I say ‘many’ lis­ten­ers, I mean around one in ev­ery ten. Na­tional Acous­tic Lab­o­ra­to­ries re­cently mea­sured the head­phone play­back vol­ume lev­els most of­ten used by more than 3,500 reg­u­lar head­phone users and found that just over ten per­cent of them were lis­ten­ing at lev­els that have been proved to re­sult in hear­ing dam­age. At present, sta­tis­tics show that around 15 per cent of Aus­tralians will ex­pe­ri­ence some form of hear­ing loss in their life. Na­tional Acous­tics Labs es­ti­mates that as a re­sult of the in­crease in pop­u­lar­ity of us­ing head­phones, this fig­ure will in­crease to 25 per cent by 2050.

Hear­ing dam­age isn’t only about los­ing high fre­quen­cies, or di­min­ished acu­ity; it can also mean tin­ni­tus, which causes suf­fer­ers to con­stantly hear ring­ing or buzzing sounds in their ears for the rest of their life. And like hear­ing loss it­self, tin­ni­tus is in­cur­able. The take-away here is to en­sure that you do not to lis­ten to your head­phones at sound pres­sure lev­els that could re­sult in hear­ing dam­age, which based on cur­rent re­search into hear­ing loss, means lev­els of 85dBSPL or more. But how are you sup­posed to be able to es­tab­lish if you’re lis­ten­ing to your mu­sic at sound pres­sure lev­els that are too high?

If you use head­phones, a rough and ready method is to load an SPL app onto your mo­bile phone, and then hold one of your head­phones’ ear-cups as close as pos­si­ble to your phone’s mi­cro­phone and mea­sure the vol­ume level us­ing the app. If you use ear­buds, I don’t even have a rough and ready method, so you’ll need to watch this space, be­cause we’re work­ing on a so­lu­tion for you.

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