Like many studio rats, I spend a lot of time wearing headphones. Recording, editing, mixing — you know the drill.
But sometimes I wonder — are my headphones too loud? Should I be concerned about my hearing?
Because if I lose that, I can’t do music anymore. And I’m terrified of that.
So I decided to do some research to find out the answers.
And this is what I found…
What Can Listening To Loud Music Do To Your Hearing?
Not to scare you right off the bat, but listening to music that’s too loud, if you do it over a long period of time, can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Kind of like this singer-songwriter I interviewed who lost his hearing yet kept writing songs.
And by hearing loss, I mean your hearing will never be as good as it once was.
Maybe you’re someone who’s already experienced this. Maybe you’re a young whipper-snapper just getting into the DIY musician game.
Either way, we should all know the dangers.
So let’s look at the symptoms of hearing loss:
- Trouble hearing things when you’re in a public place with lots of background noise
- Hearing muffled sounds
- The feeling that you need to keep turning the volume up to properly hear
Okay, let’s keep going.
Are Headphones Bad For You?
People who use earbuds or headphones to listen to music are at a greater risk of hearing damage than those who use speakers.
Makes sense. The closer the sound source is to your ear, the more damage it could potentially do.
Now, I’m not saying headphones are inherently bad for you. Because that would be false.
But what about the type of headphones? If you had to choose between over-ear headphones and in-ear earbuds, is there a correct choice?
Noise-Canceling Headphones Vs. Earbuds
Most of us are probably recording with closed-back, noise-canceling headphones.
And that’s how it should be.
Noise-canceling headphones are better for your hearing than earbuds.
First of all, earbuds pump the audio directly into your ear canal while headphones envelop your entire ear, evenly dispersing the sound.
Second, noise-canceling headphones are better able to cut down on background noise, which means you won’t have to turn the volume up as high.
And lastly, they just sound better than earbuds.
If you’re in the market for studio-level noise-canceling headphones, I highly recommend the Sennheiser HD280PRO headphones. I have a pair and they’re all I use.
But even with closed-back headphones, you have to be careful.
It all comes down to one thing: how loud the volume is.
How Loud Is Too Loud?
So how loud should the volume on your headphones be?
For the answer to that, let’s turn it over to Dr. James E. Foy, an osteopathic doctor (an ear doctor).
“…If you can’t hear anything going on around you when listening to headphones, the decibel level is too high,” he says.
Good tip, doc.
So if you want to know how to make your headphones not hurt your ears, here are some ways to test their loudness:
- Hold your headphones in front of you at arm’s length. Can you clearly hear the music? If so, turn it down.
- Ask a friend to sit next to you while you listen through your headphones. Can they clearly hear the music too? If so, turn it down.
- Are you turning the volume up two-thirds of the way or higher? If so, turn it down.
The general rule is to keep the volume between 60 and 85 decibels. Or, as Dr. Foy says, 60% of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.