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Headphones on full blast?

Christopher Fam

ANN/THE STAR – We’ve come a long way from the heyday of the Walkman and subsequent iterations of portable music players.

Since then audio devices like headphones and speakers have also become ubiquitous, which has led to another problem: a rise in cases of hearing loss.

Just last year, a study led by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that around one billion youth under 34 years of age are at risk of hearing loss from listening to headphones or attending loud concerts.

Its analysis found that as many as 24 per cent of the youth had “unsafe listening practices” while using headphones with devices such as smartphones, as reported by AFP.

To prevent such noise-induced hearing loss from headphones, the study recommended that users turn down the volume and listen for shorter periods.

On the heels of World Hearing Day earlier this month, it’s worth keeping in mind the safe volumes that the human ear can handle before it’s at risk of being damaged.


According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noises over 70 decibels (dB) for a prolonged time can cause damage to hearing.

The WHO outlines that sounds measuring 60dB and below are safe no matter how long you are exposed to them.

At 80dB, listeners should abide to a maximum of 40 hours a week, and at 85dB, the limit should be just 12.5 hours a week.

While there is an associated sound with the volume levels provided by the WHO – a doorbell for 80dB and heavy traffic inside a car for 85dB – this does not immediately correspond to the volume output by a pair of headphones or a set of speakers.

That’s where actually measuring sound levels will come in handy, which can be done via mobile apps.


Options for this include Decibel X (iOS and Android), Sound Meter & Noise Detector (Android), and NIOSH Sound Level Meter (iOS).

To measure sound levels coming from a pair of headphones, for example, position the microphone on the phone running Decibel X or a similar app inside the ear cup, right up against the speaker (where your ears would be when wearing it). Then adjust the volume on the headphones until the reading on the app you’re using is at a safe decibel level.

If measuring the sound levels coming from speakers on a computer or TV, place the phone running Decibel X or similar where you’re seated – the idea is to measure sound levels at the point where it would reach your ears, so to speak.

Be advised though that your mileage might vary when using a mobile app, as it may be lacking in accuracy due to its dependence on the device’s microphone.

For a more accurate reading, consider a standalone decibel metre instead.

Granted, this is still closer to an approximation when compared against a proper acoustic engineering measurement setup, though those are priced considerably higher at upwards of five figures.

So to err on the side of caution, try maintaining the decibel readings at lower levels.

Another thing to do if you are concerned about possible hearing loss is to install a hearing screening app.

Consider trying a smartphone app like Mimi Hearing Test that’s available on both iOS and Android, or websites like and

These apps evaluate a person’s hearing by playing sounds at various volumes and asking if users can hear and identify them.

Once done going through the sounds, the app or website will then give its evaluation of a person’s hearing, along with recommendations to seek further medical advice from an expert if needed.

While the apps may not be the most accurate and usually even include a disclaimer on being no replacement for a professional assessment, they can be instrumental in convincing someone to go for a proper checkup.

Those who frequently go for concerts, ride motorcycles, or are often in loud environments should also look into equipping themselves with a pair of earplugs.

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