Well the holidays are here, it's snowy out, and there are good musical times to be had.

Hitting the slopes? Grab the headphones. Flying to visit family? Headphones.

Parents forcing you to at least be in the room with everyone else while they watch "A Christmas Story"? You want to grab your closed-back headphones for that situation, so the pounding sounds of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly don't detract from the tongue-on-the-flagpole scene for everyone else.

Over the last six or so weeks I've been waxing on about the ins and outs of headphone technology. This week I want to press pause on our head speakers discussion to deliver some words of caution.


Have you ever been to a concert where the volume is so loud that everything sounds fuzzy when you exit the venue? The way that many venues set up their speakers, I would bet that this is a familiar feeling for many.

More and more people are waking up to the reality of damaging loudness exposure, for reasons that are obvious. Those same reasons exist for why I'm writing this column, and why we're focused on headphones lately — personal audio has in the past decade only gotten bigger, better and louder.

The "fuzzy ears," post-concert haze is a body response to super-loud volumes over relatively short (but long enough to do damage) time periods. But what kind of damage can you do with lesser volumes (but still loud) over very long periods of time? Chances are you have a volume notch on your phone you always go to, and what if it's too high?


There isn't a sure-fire metric for knowing if you're listening to music on your headphones too loudly. There is a general consensus that volumes below 80db are safe for as long as you want to be exposed. But is that information part of the volume control of your iPhone? No way.

And if you connect really efficient headphones or earbuds to your device, they'll be louder at the same volume notch as a less-efficient pair. Because the headphones themselves are a variable in the equation, a manufacturer, like Apple, can't do much to warn the user.

So I come down to this. There is a correlation between loud volumes and physical pain. Usually at a loud concert you don't notice the pain because, let's face it, no one leaves a show completely sober. But it is a decent metric for what is too loud. If the snare/clap/click of a hot track makes you wince even a little, back the volume down.

And bear in mind that your ears will acclimate themselves to loudness over time, so don't just do the pain test — ask your friends at what volumes they listen. If they answer much lower of a percentage of their devices' output than you're used to, please reconsider your "go-to" volume setting. Save your ears!

Visit safelistening.net for more information.

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