Music and Hearing Loss

Though MP3 players and other personal listening devices have become smaller over the years, they still pack a punch. Some devices have volume outputs of 100 - 107 decibels and higher(1).

Answer Extra: 

As a rule of thumb, you can listen at 80% of a personal listening device’s maximum volume safely with earbuds or headphones for 90 minutes per day without the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. If you listen at a lower volume, you can listen for longer; for higher volumes, less time.

In 2009, the European Commission has recommended that MP3 players and other personal listening devices be limited to a default maximum volume setting of 80 dBA, a noise level comparable to a hair dryer or commuter noise. Though it would not limit the maximum output volume of the device, it would provide starting point for safe listening and provide the user with a warning that listening at too high volume over extended periods of time could cause noise-induced hearing loss.

Source: (1) Keith, Stephen E., David S. Michaud, and Vincent Chiu. “Evaluating the maximum playback sound levels from portable digital audio players.” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, June 2008. (2)

In certain sections, musicians are exposed to an average 90 dBA and peak exposures of 130 dBC!

Answer Extra: 

In 2006, the Liz Brueck of the UK Health & Safety Laboratory performed a study on the noise exposures classical musicians experienced during both rehearsals and performances. While many people consider classical music a “quieter” music, to be enjoyed for its subtle nuances, live performances can be particularly stunning – and loud!

In measuring average and peak ambient noise levels, it was determined that the musicians were exposed to over 87 dBA – the EU Exposure Limit Value, or the maximum allowable noise level in the ear with all hearing protection in place! Strings averaged 90 dBA during a performance. The brass section averaged 95 dBA in the center, and 131 dBC in peak exposures. In the percussion section, musicians averaged exposures over 90 dBA, with upwards of 130 dBC.

The study recommended that the orchestra layout be rearranged to protect players from the loudest sounds – and that brass musicians wear hearing protection!

Brueck, Liz. “Orchestra pilot of the industry / HSE noise guidance.” UK Health & Safety Laboratory.