Fears that music volume limits 'could be ignored'

Marc Nicholson Marc Nicholson's chronic tinnitus was caused by loud music in his job as a DJ

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A safety limit on volume levels which comes into force on all new personal music players this month could be ignored by 40% of young people, says a hearing loss charity.

All personal music players and mobile phones sold in the EU must now have a sound limit of 85 decibels (dB), but users can increase it to 100dB.

Action on Hearing Loss says overexposure to loud music can trigger tinnitus.

Experts say the limit is "good news".

Tinnitus is a medical term used to describe a ringing or buzzing noise that people can hear permanently in one ear, both ears or in the head.

It is often caused by exposure to loud music and can be accompanied by hearing loss.

Paul Breckell, chief executive of Action on Hearing Loss, said the new EU standard is important because increasing numbers of young people listen to music through a personal music player.

Survey results

"I urge music lovers to consider the long-term risks of overriding the safe setting as overexposure to loud music can trigger tinnitus, and remember that a good pair of noise cancelling headphones can make all the difference."

A survey of more than 1,500 16 to 34-year-olds by Action on Hearing Loss suggests that 79% of young people are unaware of new standards coming into force this month.

Although 70% of survey respondents said they would take steps to protect themselves against tinnitus, nearly 40% said they would override the new default setting on their music devices.

In October 2008, the European Commission warned that listening to personal music players at a high volume over a sustained period could lead to permanent hearing damage.

As a result, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) amended its safety standard for personal music players.

'I felt very depressed'

Marc Nicholson, 31, from Essex, is a DJ who has always loved loud music. He started playing drums at 10 and got decks at 20.

"I used to go home after a night out and my ears would be ringing. It was the sign of a good night."

But two years ago he woke up with ringing in his ears and a week later it was still there.

He was diagnosed with chronic tinnitus in his right ear.

"It gets worse when I'm stressed or tired. Sometimes I think 'How could I have done this to myself?'

"It has affected my life. The ringing is the last thing I hear going to sleep and first thing I hear in the morning."

Marc has returned to DJ-ing but now wears professional ear plugs.

"I felt very depressed for a year but I'm coping with it. Doing charity work has helped me to come to terms with it."

Now all personal music players sold in the EU after February 2013 are expected to have a default sound limit of 85dB.

The user can choose to override the limit so that the sound level can be increased up to maximum 100dB. If the user overrides the limit, warnings about the risks must be repeated every 20 hours of listening time.

The European Commission's assessment said: "Listening to music at 80dB or less is considered safe, no matter for how long or how often personal music players are used. This sound level is roughly equivalent to someone shouting or traffic noise from a nearby road."

But turning the volume control to 120dB, which is equivalent to an aeroplane taking off nearby, is exceeding safe limits, it said.

The commission said an estimated 20% of young people are exposed to loud sounds during their leisure time - a figure which has tripled since the 1980s.

An estimated 5-10% of of people in the EU are thought to be at risk of permanent hearing loss if exposed to unsafe noise limits for five years or more.

Dr Michael Akeroyd, from the MRC Institute of Hearing Research in Glasgow, said of the new EU standard: "This is good news for the volumes of personal music players. The volumes they can give has been of concern for many years, going back to at least the advent of portable cassette players."

He added that headphones can vary in quality and design.

"Few designs of headphones remove background sounds, and indeed some designs remove none. But ear-defenders or ear-plugs can remove a substantial amount of noise. Earplug design has advanced greatly in recent years."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Our ears have a natural "automatic gain control" so if you listen at a low volume it will gradually sound louder. Conversely if you listen at a high volume it will gradually sound quieter. If you enjoy the "hit" of loud music set the volume mid-way and wait a bit. The result will be just as exciting as the full volume experience and will avoid hearing damage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Even the lower limit will not stop the modern problem of people in their own little music bubble crossing roads oblivious to traffic and the world around them in general.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Yet another stupid regulation brought in by people who simply don't understand what they are regulating. Hearing damage is not solely a matter of volume, it is also a factor of time exposed, distance from the noise, etc. And setting the levels at the unit end of a cable are pointless as every different style of headphones has a different impedance which changes their volume output.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I have tinnitus, and believe me it's worse than I ever thought possibel. At times I cannot sleep or hold a conversation because it is so intrusive. Many musicians have it (Noel Gallagher being the latest) plus workers in loud enviroments who do (or did not) not wear ear defenders. Protect your hearing - keep the volume down - it's not just the tinnitus, being deaf ain't no fun either!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    As a teenager I often attended gigs and music festivals. The volume of bands like Iron Maiden, ACDC, Metallica et al left me with tinnitus and a very real feeling of having been at the gig. While I understand that some people have lasting damage I have better hearing today than my grandchildren. This isn't about reducing harm but simply more "big brother" at work. Now it's personal liberties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    This is totally ill conceived. It is meaningless unless you always use the (usually exceedingly poor quality) headphones provided by the manufacturer. That's the only way you can estimate the sound level an earphone will produce for a given volume setting. Superior quality headphones tend to be less sensitive and require more power to drive them. Volume limiting gets in the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I wish music from Village Halls could be stopped. What is the legal limit ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    It would be nicer if they could limit the amount of sound leaking out of the headphones and *not* going in the person's ears.

    This is not about reducing harm; people will turn their music down if they find it uncomfortable. It's all about getting people used to restrictions on their freedom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I just wish they'd make the enforced listening to music/radio illegal full stop, never mind what the volume ... Drives me (and a lot of others) bonkers and close to suicide!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Surely this isn't about stopping numpties deafening themselves but making their music quiter so it is less annoying for the rest of us on the bus/train etc...??!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Sit in a car, music very loud, very strong beat, lots of bass. Result - lots of adrenalin, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure. Final result: road rage.

    Tinnitus is not the only hazard of over-loud music, with an over-punchy bass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    @25 - this is not necessarily the case from a noise exposure point of view though. If the headphones are low quality, they could easily leak enough noise to be audible to bystanders whilst not breaching the limits for the user. But from a social acceptability point - then yes, your rule of thumb works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The limit is there to make sure people know that higher volumes are a bad idea, that is about as far as we can really go before it gets silly. We seriously can't expect governments to make loud music illegal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    To 10. ThoughtCrime, fair enough. Let people choose whether to damage their hearing or not, BUT once the damage has been done, by their OWN choice, others should not have to pay for the treatment (even though once the damage is done to one's hearing, it can't be undone) of that damage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    As with everything, people will ignore safety warnings! When I played in bands in the 60s and listened to loud music, the information we have now wasn't about, nor about smoking. If it had been there I would have taken notice, now I have tinnitus and have to live with it.
    These idiots who drive round in cars with blaring music are all cocky now, but they will end up deaf and expect pity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    It would be much more useful if they imposed volume limits on adverts on TV and radio.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Well, perhaps this might mean that my journeys into work will be slightly more pleasant without the tshk tshk tshk of peoples mp3 players playing poor music thats being played too loud through poor headphones. If the EU could ensure headphone quality so the music can only be heard by the person with the headphones in then perhaps I wouldnt want to stangle them so badly

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    There is an obvious technical solution to this:-
    Earphone supplied with audio devices should be providing far better external sound insulation thus reducing the effects of external noise and hence allowing the listener to listen at lower dB levels.

    Third party devices are good but are usually far from being reasonably priced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    @ 13 Isitonlyme - "Pardon?"

    Sorry, can't hear you. The opinions are too loud!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Of course its nannying. But if you get hearing damage from headphones you could successfully sue the manufacturer. They know this and are covering their backs by supporting this new legislation.
    PS I am a tinnitus sufferer I have listened to lots of loud music. The high pitched 10Khz hum persists 24/7 and at times drives me to near suicide. It is up to you to protect your hearing.


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