On the Prevention of Hearing Loss from using Personal Music Players
CTO Broadcast & Production, TC Electronic A/S
The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) estimates that between 2.5 and 10 million Europeans are at the risk of developing early hearing loss as a result of listening to personal music players (PMPs). A widespread loss of our most social sense impacts quality of life for those affected, and healthcare systems at large; so no wonder why the European Commission has undertaken "to establish standards for ensuring that, under normal usage conditions, exposure to sound from PMPs does not pose a risk to hearing."
Facilitated by CENELEC, a first phase of EN safety standards, based on statistics of the sound exposure acquired when listening to average pop music, is now in force. This has succesfully brought down the SPL from PMPs sold in Europe, but with the adverse effect that music and programmes not produced like modern pop no longer can be played loudly enough to be heard under typical listening conditions.
This paper shows how pop music over the past 20 years has been systematically and progressively more dynamically compressed. Music-lovers find this trend detrimental to audio quality, and even a concern when it comes to preserving cultural heritage. Legislation on SPL in PMPs has the potential to influence these "loudness wars" in music, and it will either become part of a cure or part of a problem.
Work Group 3 under CENELEC TC108X is currently working on an update of the PMP audio safety standard to include actual dose estimates, rather than blindly restricting the player's maximum output gain. Dose estimates would not only protect hearing better, but also help defuse the loudness wars.
The paper presents challenges of PMP dose meaurement, and it proposes standardized estimates of exposure level and sound dose. Finally, strategies for educating and warning users about PMPs and hearing disorders are discussed. The prevention of Music Induced Hearing Disorders (MIHD) and giving music other than modern pop a chance, can and should go hand in hand.