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Ever wonder why there’s a button called “loudness” on old receivers? Why would a feature that has to do with loudness be a simple button with only one setting?

The answer to that question connects us with the topic we started last week about hearing loss, because in this application, “loudness” refers to the published study on human hearing conducted by Harvey Fletcher and Wilden Munson in 1933 which produced the famous “Fletcher-Munson Curve.”

Google that when you have a chance, because it tells a story about how our hearing system is set up. When you look closely at the graph of curves, you can see that at different volumes, our ears pick up low bass and high treble differently. At low volume, we hear neither as well as we do at higher volumes of sound. That’s what the button is for — it raises the bass and high treble in case you’re listening at a low level.

But notice also which part of the sound spectrum in the graph does not move. This region is where our hearing is most sensitive, picking up all detail at any volume. Which brings us to how this applies to hearing loss.

That region is right at the spot where the loudest sound of a snare drum lies, and it’s right where an electronic clap or other electronic representation of a snare would be, too.

I mentioned last week that there are two crucial openings to the inner ear that have our listening hairs directly exposed to them, and this region of sound is received directly under the main opening. Scientists have posed that it’s oriented this way so we’re most sensitive to the sound of branches breaking in the woods, to alert early man to the presence of danger.

I’m not a scientist, and I have no formal medical training. But I do know a bit about this topic, and I’ve witnessed the rise of modern production of electronic music with snare sounds that are piercing because they’re unnatural and devoid of stray harmonics. I also know that when I go to a rock show, the snare drum is likely going to be the reason I pull out the ear plugs.

Repeated exposure to high-volume listening does real and irreparable damage to your ears, and repeated exposure to high-volume music that features loud snare sounds or electronic equivalents can get that damage going sooner.

The rise in use of horn-loaded ribbon line arrays at music venues or those all-horn Funktion One systems at dance clubs don’t help the situation when you’re trying to protect your hearing for the future. But all of this advancement in making deafening sound has coincided with advancements in hearing protection, so I’m not just here to chide you. I have a solution.

Modern earplugs are better than they have ever been. They don’t change how the music sounds; they just lower the volume. No earplug can stop the feel of throbbing bass on your skin at a club, so there’s really nothing lost when you wear these new styles. Many now come in clear color, so you don’t have to feel weird about looking strange with them in.

It’s a no-brainer. Protect your ears! Get some plugs!

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