Do Headphones threaten your hearing more than speakers?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Frumaster, Jul 16, 2007.

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  1. Frumaster

    Frumaster New Member Thread Starter

    I remember a professor telling me this, while talking about hearing loss. He said something like "You begin to lose high frequency hearing somewhere in your 20s due to age, but especially if you listen with headphones". Is there any evidence to support this? Or are people just less conscious of the volume levels when listening with headphones over speakers (they have virtually limitless power at their command, and they crank the volume higher and higher)?
  2. signothetimes53

    signothetimes53 Senior Member

    Yeah, it does matter.

    I have major tinnitus and hearing loss from my years as a DJ, wearing headphones, and playing them too loud.

    I thought it was funny when I was 25 when other DJs would look at me like I was crazy for playing them that loud.

    It isn't funny now at age 53.
  3. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

    Do you experience constant ringing?
  4. Larry L

    Larry L Senior Member

    Allen, Texas
    I'm not a DJ, but I listen through headphones nearly every night. They might have caused damage, but I think the most damage has come from going to live shows, and not wearing earplugs. I know that 2 fairly recent shows, Cheap Trick and the Supersuckers have done a major number on my hearing. Cheap Trick made my ears ring for a couple of days, and actually shut down on me during the show. My meters were pegged! But I know, through headphones, that I can still hear mostly everything. Luckily, the most recent show, Roky and The Explosives, were not too loud, and actually sounded very good, but I forgot my earplugs (again). I would buy them at the venue, if they were available.
  5. DaveN

    DaveN Music Glutton

    Apex, NC
    Steve recently posted about not playing headphones too loud. He makes his living with his ears. I want to benefit from his work (along with that of many other worthy engineers). It is in my best interest never to blast my cans. After a while of living with lower sound pressure levels, it is amazing that you can hear the same details.

    I can be a quad. I can be blind. I can have massive organ failure. But if I lose my hearing, then life is not worth living.
  6. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Spain (EU)
    Not if you listen to your speakers with your ears about an inch away. ;)
  7. shepherdfan

    shepherdfan Western European Socialist Music Lover

    Eugene, OR
    Don' listen to headphones every night. Pace your hearing. Do perhaps 2 nights of music listening and then go 2 full days and nights without listening at all so you recover from any shifts you put your hearing through. I would even do that with speakers as well.
  8. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC
    Definitely. One thing I have a hard time telling with headphones is dynamics.

    I don't think there is any problem as long as you listen at a moderate levels, but some headphone rigs can easily play loud enough to damage your ears without being in distress. With most consumer grade speakers, that is not very likely.

    When I listen to my main speakers, I generally listen at the same level. And that level is moderately loud, just before I notice the slightest hint of distress. If I hear any, I back down 1 db.
  9. LesPaul666

    LesPaul666 Mr Markie - The Rock And Roll Snarkie

    New Jersey
    I'm not sure which did more damage to my ears, the headphones, or cranked Marshall stacks. It might be too close to call. The amplifiers seemed like they did more damage, since the ringing would take days to go away.
  10. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Spain (EU)
    I listen on headphones almost every night. I can't assure you that my method works because I have not used them so long as to notice any damage. My method is as follows: I set the volume to a comfortable, soft one depending on the album I am listening to. Then, I regularly lower the volume a bit more. I lower it to the point where I can still hear details, but not in a 'present' way. Enough for everything to be intelligible and to get enough detail and nice round bass, but not strong. Am I convenying my approach clearly here?
  11. luckyman

    luckyman Forum Resident

    Brick, NJ
    I listen to my headphones at moderate levels. I want to enjoy them for a
    long ,long time.
  12. markshan

    markshan Forum Resident

    Pittsburgh, PA
    Yes, volume is volume. Too much volume is too much volume. For me, I'm a bassist and I attribute any hearing loss that I may now have to being positioned next to a row of Zildjians for half my life.
  13. Duggeh

    Duggeh Forum Resident

    Volume level, ie, SPL, is the important factor, not the transducer which reproduces that volume. The inherent problem with headphones seems to be that people will turn them up loader for a given album or listening session than they would for their speakers.

    The problem with the "ipod generation" and their "hearing loss time bomb" is that these people are using their generic earbuds in noisy environments like trains, buses or cars or workplaces and turn up the volume in order to drown out the ambient noise. This large increase in injected volume in order to hear what the headphone are reproducing over what is already going on is what gives headphones their rather unfair reputation as the bringers of deafness.
  14. gotityet0

    gotityet0 vinyl nut

    Huh? ;) I'd believe probably not. It all depends on how loud anything is. But that's my opinion.
  15. thegage

    thegage Forum Currency Nerd

    IIRC Pete Townshend says that his hearing problems are not the result of playing loud on stage, but of having his headphones turned up too loud in the studio.

    John K.
  16. snork

    snork New Member

    I think it's just easier to blare headphones without realising it. Like said above, you listen to headphones when there's ambient noise (like on the bus) and turn it up loud enough to drown the extra noise out. Without realising it, it's like carrying around someone that screams in your ears all day... can't be healthy.
  17. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Spain (EU)
    It's quite easy to blair headphones. Do any of you ever go for a volume level feel similar to that you play your music at through your speakers? I am almost sure most will be usually compelled to play them proportionately louder.
  18. markshan

    markshan Forum Resident

    Pittsburgh, PA
    I think that may be true, but I also think that is a problem with decision making, not a problem with the device in question.

    People may tend to drive faster in a Vette. Does that make it the car's fault if they crack up doing 120MPH?
  19. EdipisReks

    EdipisReks New Member

    Cincinnati, Ohio
    SPL is SPL. be careful regardless of what kind of equipment you are using.
  20. Casino

    Casino Senior Member

    Yes, I once read a theory that because you can never "feel" the bass through phones the way you can when the sound "hits you" via speakers, some people may try to compensate by increasing the volume in an attempt to recreate the more visceral reaction you can get via the speakers ... and this goes for classical music as much as rock.
  21. Tubeman

    Tubeman New Member In Memoriam

    I would suggest that you be very careful with certain kinds of headphones, I've also been a radio jock for 35 years and there is no question that I've experience some hearing loss due to cranking up closed headphones. But even today I have to be careful to not worsen the problem, at home I use Grado RS-1's, a great set of guitar rock cans and because of that fact I have to be more careful with the volume since the mid-hi's are the most damaging frequencies. Common sense goes a long way when adjusting headphone volume. Oh yeah, forgot to mention I was a drummer in a rock band for several years and of course I was in the back with the Marshall stacks and also was in an artillery division of the 82nd Airborne.
    Geez, I just put all of that together while I was typing this post, it's a wonder I can hear at all I guess. :laugh:
  22. Gregory Earl

    Gregory Earl Senior Member


    No. But it's easier to drive 120 in a Vette. Just as it's easier to listen to louder music through your headphones. One is more likely to listen to louder music on their headset because the general thinking is "no one else can hear this but me. I can turn it up as loud as I want". I did this back in the eighty's many times and woke my wife up in the next room. Yeah! My headphones were that loud. Why so loud? Koss I could:D .
  23. bdiament

    bdiament Producer, Engineer, Soundkeeper

    New York
    Hearing loss is caused by excessive Sound Pressure Levels (i.e. listening too loud). It has nothing to do with the delivery device.

    For example, if one listener enjoys their headphones at an SPL of 85 dB and another uses their speakers at 95 dB, the speaker listener is going to damage their hearing first.

    Put another way, if you use good judgement when setting playback levels, you can listen any way you like. If you use bad judgement, you can also listen any way you like... but not for long.

    And protect your ears at concerts, where levels are often set by folks with bad judgement --and long lost hearing! If you don't have ear plugs, use a small square of tissue paper, rolled into a tight ball, in each ear. You'll still hear the music (easily), it won't hurt AND you'll still be able to hear when you leave the show.

    Best regards,
    The Pinhead likes this.
  24. markshan

    markshan Forum Resident

    Pittsburgh, PA
    Listing: loudest concert...

    The Who was once listed as the record holder, at 126 decibels, measured at a distance of 32 metres from the speakers at a concert at Charlton Athletic Football Ground on 1976-05-31.

    Perhaps headphones played a part, but in the case of Townshend, I think we can safely fault "cumulative effects".
  25. Scott in DC

    Scott in DC Forum Resident

    Washington, DC

    I think younger people might have a bigger problem with this than the 40 and over crowd (this includes me). I came of age where people used stereos and not all of the people with stereos used headphones. People who are younger came of age with headphone/ear piece portables starting with the Walkman(cassette), Discman (CDs), and now of course, iPods and other MP3 types of players. These items simply didn't exist when I was in high school and by the time I reached my early 20s I hadn't really used headphones to a significant degree.

    Compare that to now where so many people use iPods beginning at an early age. Some people no longer want regular stereo systems, instead the do all their music listening on portables with headphones. I'm sure we'll see the hearing damage that goes with it.

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