JAMES | Healthy Hearing


"Hey, great gig last night… my ears are still ringing!"
At some point in our lives, I reckon many of us have had that conversation, and thought it was a cool thing - but in reality, this is an early indication that you have pushed your hearing threshold to the limits. If this sound exposure is continued, irreversible and permanent hearing loss is very likely.

Your ears are extremely sensitive organs; you may be surprised at the low level of noise exposure when damage can first occur. For example, a pub band can quite often generate 105dB, which your ears can handle for about three minutes without damage resulting. Who'd of thought?

Here, we're specifically talking about 'audio/musical' environments - listening to a band, playing in a band, recording and monitoring in a studio… but 'noise-induced hearing loss' can be caused in everyone's everyday life by transport, industrial and recreational activities - not to mention excessive volume level in earbuds!

For your own health and career protection, It is essential that you have some understanding about hearing and that you are fully aware of potentially damaging environments and the protection options available to you.
This is an excellent 16 minute video that discusses how your ears work and what damage can be done to your hearing through excessive noise levels. Video courtesy of ACS (Advanced Communication Solutions Ltd).
Noise induced hearing loss is 100% irreversible but is 100% preventable!
Paul Checkley, Musicians' Hearing Services

- If you are abusing your hearing now, then you will pay for it in years to come! -

There is obviously a huge amount of information on the internet about ears, noise exposure and protection; below, we've listed some documents and websites that we feel have relevance to the industry that we study, teach and/or work in.
(British Association for Performing Arts Medicine)
Hearing Conservation for Performers (PDF file)
Musicians' Union
Hearing Health - website
NYO - (National Youth Orchestra)
Guidelines on Hearing Protection (PDF file)
Health and Safety Executive
Musicians' Hearing Protection (PDF file)
Music, Noise and Hearing: How to Play your Part,
A Guide for Musicians (PDF file)
Musician's Guide to Noise and Hearing,
Toolkit for Managers (PDF file)
Sound level or sound pressure level (SPL) is logarithmically measured in Decibels (dB). What is important to realise is that a 3dB increase in sound pressure DOUBLES the sound intensity and therefore halves the safe exposure time.

See below and click on the tabs to see dB levels and how they rate with environmental noise. All of the data below is approximate and compared using no hearing protection and is just an illustration of environments and sound levels.
    • 10dB
      Rustling leaves - A gentle breeze, there's an autumnal chill in the air. Winter is on its way.
    • 20dB
      Whisper - Your partner leans in close to your ear, "You do the washing-up and I'll make it worth your while."
    • 30dB
      Light rain - "It's only a light shower, stop moaning! What are you - a sugar cube?"
    • 40dB
      Quiet library - Sssshhh, I'm trying to finish my dissertation over here.
    • 50dB
      Quiet office - "So I heard, that Mike in operations told Sarah in despatch that Julie in accounts had already seen the colour of his vest-top. Well!"
    … a little light-hearted, but you get the idea. These are normal everyday 'safe' noise levels that we live with, but now it gets serious. Sound exposure above 85dB can be harmful and notice how quickly the Permissible Exposure Time decreases.
      • 85dB
        Busy city traffic - Permissible Exposure Time 8hrs
      • 91dB
        Personal headphones - Permissible Exposure Time 2hrs
      • 97dB
        Riding a motorcycle at continuous high speed - Permissible Exposure Time 30mins
      • 103dB
        Chain saw - Permissible Exposure Time 7mins 30secs
      • 109dB
        Rock concert - Permissible Exposure Time <2mins

      There is a solution - use hearing protection. You will increase the Permissible Exposure Time and decrease the chance of lifelong damage to your hearing.

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      If you're an iPhone user, here's a free Sound Level Meter App to measure environmental sounds. There's also information on 'What noises can cause hearing disorders', 'How to prevent hearing loss', 'How to conduct a noise survey', and 'How to select proper hearing protection devices'.
      Search 'NIOSH' in the App Store or click on the logo.
      JAMES' consultant audiologist Rob Shepheard offers specialist hearing advice for performers.
      This four minute audio clip illustrates what can happen to your hearing throughout your lifetime, if you are continually exposing yourself to excessive sound levels - and you aren't using effective hearing protection.
      Specialising in professional custom made hearing protection equipment and communication solutions since 1994, ACS has become the industry standard in many industries.
      JAMES has recently developed a Strategic Partnership with ACS enabling us to pass on preferential purchase rates on all models of hearing protection and in-ear monitoring to all JAMES accredited courses and the students attending them.
      EDITOR'S NOTE: I have worked in the audio industry since 1980. I have had tinnitus for 15 years and more recently hyperacusis (low tolerance to sharp noises). These conditions were not caused by listening to loud, live music or sitting in a studio 'enjoying' an ear-splitting mix.
      My hearing was damaged by travelling at high speed (!!!!) on a motorbike on numerous trips through Europe - and not wearing any ear protection. In those days I had no understanding of hearing and potentially damaging environments.
      Hopefully, you have gained some knowledge from this page and won't repeat my mistakes.

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