VOLUME WARNING: Is Your Phone Making You Go Deaf?

The World Health Organisation says the single biggest cause of preventable hearing loss is loud music.

We’ve probably all come across something similar to the following warning at some point on our phone, tablet or music player:

Listening at a high volume for a long time may damage your hearing. Tap OK to allow the volume to be increased above safe levels.” – Samsung Galaxy S6.

I would also bet most of you have tapped “OK” or dismissed the notification and continued to turn it up a couple of levels – I know I do. How dangerous is this though? Potentially damaging your hearing from listening to loud music for too long isn’t so different from ignoring advice about staring at the sun for too long – and I’m pretty sure most of us don’t do that (not that there’s any particular reason to, I suppose!)

The problem is since we all have different phones, different headphones and headsets and of course slightly different ear structures – it’s very difficult to say specifically for each person what volume represents ‘too loud’.

How loud is too loud?

The US National Institutes of Health says that prolonged exposure to sounds over 85 decibels (dB) can cause hearing loss. They say at levels of over 100dB are loud enough to begin causing permanent damage after just 15 minutes per day. Although it’s worth remembering that decibels are non-linear, if you consider a chainsaw is around 110dB, thunder is about 120dB and a gunshot is in the area of 150dB – our headphones really can get quite loud.

Headphones can typically produce between 100 and 110 decibels at full volume. According to their technical specs, the Apple EarPods reach 109dB, Beats by Dr. Dre over-ear headphones can reach 115dB and Sennheiser Momentum in-ear headphones top out at 100dB.

Working, Exercising and Commuting.

The other issue is we use headphones far more than we used to – people go to rock concerts and football games which can reach up to 140dB and don’t usually have a problem – but that’s because it’s usually just a couple of hours every now and then. People who attend them regularly like the musicians themselves are famous for having hearing damage and conditions like tinnitus (a constant ringing in their ear) – so now they often use ear plugs. Since we use headphones so much more than we used to – commuting, exercising and working – we’re constantly exposed to damaging sound levels for much longer periods of time.

There’s another problem too, listening to music above 85dB can cause your ears to tune out low and high frequencies, which in turn can actually decrease the sound quality of your music as it reduces the sensitivity and inner fidelity of your ears. So even if you don’t get full on hearing loss or tinnitus, you’ll still lose the ability to enjoy the full dynamic range of the music you listen to.

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Legal Limits

So obviously maxed out, our headphones at 100-100dB are too loud. Research has shown that 60-70dB is the optimal volume, allowing you to enjoy your music reasonably loud while avoiding potential damage to your ears.

As a safety (read: annoying) feature, most smartphones warn you when you reach about 75% of the maximum volume. This software alert is not mandatory and different companies will approach it in different ways – from what volume is deemed too loud to whether they include a warning at all.

In early 2013, an EU-wide safety limit on volume levels came into force for all new personal music players which would cap the volume at 85dB – but users could increase it to 100dB if they jailbreaked or rooted their device. This is separate to the volume warning limit you still get on phones – it just means most phones and music players in the European Union have an artificial cap of 85dB. So if your phone warns you when you turn the volume up to around 75% of that 85dB cap, this would roughly translate to 64dB being considered the point at which the sound is becoming too loud. Of course this will be slightly different for each device and doesn’t take into account what kind of headphones you use, but’s it’s right in line with the 60-70dB optimal volume and so I wouldn’t recommend exceeding the warning limit by much.

Noise-cancelling headphones

To compensate for external noise and get the most out of your music, you’re likely to have the volume higher if you’re using open over-ear headphones compared to in-ear or even noise-cancelling headphones.

One option is to invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones reduce background noise allowing you to listen to your music without having to turn the volume right up. This type of headphones creates an anti-noise signal that will interfere with ambient noise around you and allow you to focus on what you’re listening to. Headphones such as the Sennheiser PXC 350, the JVC HA-NC250 and the Denon AH-NC732 can significantly reduce environmental noise.

Disable Volume Warning

Can you simply turn off the warning? Without rooting your phone, it’s very difficult to actually disable the warning which will popup each time your phone is restarted and you reach the volume limit. Some people say that certain phone updates appear to have removed the warning, but generally it appears to be a pretty common alert that can’t easily be disabled.

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What Should I Do?

There is no cure for damaged hearing. However, as the National Institutes of Health succinctly says, “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is 100% Preventable”.

It is possible to remove volume warnings if you root your phone but they are there for a good reason. Our phones and headphones have the potential to reach volumes that can permanently damage our hearing.

Of course most of us just use our common sense, perhaps the warnings are a bit conservative and if we go a couple of notches over them it’s not the end of the world. If it sounds too loud, it probably is – but that’s hardly a scientific way of preventing hearing loss.

Perhaps next time you are listening to music, just tap the volume down one level from where you would normally have it. You’ll soon get used to it and you could well be preventing long-term damage down the road.

For more don’t forget to check out my YouTube channel and follow me @thetechchap.

One thought on “VOLUME WARNING: Is Your Phone Making You Go Deaf?

  • July 18, 2017 at 4:33 am
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    This is such a frustrating issue for me. I’m hearing impaired and have been since childhood. At 60 ive lost more. As I wear hearing aids buds are out of the question. I use headphones that i can lay over the aids. Being an nsomniac I’m a podcast addict. I simply can’t get the volume I need out of my Galaxy s6. I’m not power hungry I’m hearing impaired and need the boost to hear people telling or reading stories. Any assistance appreciated.
    bryanne

    Reply

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