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Degradation effects of water immersion on earbud audio quality

Earbuds are subjected to constant use and scenarios that may degrade sound quality. Indeed, a common fate of earbuds is being forgotten in pockets and faced with a laundry cycle (LC). Manufacturers’ accounts of the extent to which LCs affect earbud sound quality are vague at best, leaving users to their own devices in assessing the damage caused. This paper offers a systematic, empirical approach to measure the effects of laundering earbuds on sound quality. Three earbud pairs were subjected to LCs spaced 24 hours apart. After each LC, a professional microphone as well as a mid-market smartphone were used to record i) a test tone ii) a frequency sweep and iii) a music signal played through the earbuds. We deployed mixed effects models and found significant degradation in terms of RMS noise loudness, Total Harmonic Distortion (THD), as well as measures of change in the frequency responses of the earbuds. All transducers showed degradation already after the first cycle, and no transducers produced a measurable signal after the sixth LC. The degradation effects were detectable in both, the professional microphone as well as the smartphone recordings. We hope that the present work is a first step in establishing a practical, and ecologically valid method for everyday users to assess the degree of degradation in their personal earbuds.

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