August 16, 2022

"The world is getting louder, and we are listening (and performing) music louder than we ever did in the past."

"I recently attended a wedding reception at which the sound level was an average of 105 decibels. I had to leave the event, and felt shocked the next day. I heard a performance of Mahler's 5th Symphony last year. Again, 99-105 decibels -- on the opposite side of Carnegie Hall. Movies and Broadway shows are even louder. And these levels are louder than the subway station at Lincoln Center. Here's the main thing: People around me didn't react! They didn't notice..... Our children are going to grow up with significant hearing losses! Protect your ears, and those of your loved ones! You won't notice that you are losing your hearing until you start to develop tinnitus, and start to feel the pain that won't go away."

The top-rated comment — from "a professional musician in NYC" who wears ear plugs "whenever I am on the street, on the train, or in loud indoor settings" — at "Are Earbuds Damaging My Hearing? And if so, are they more harmful than other headphone styles?" (NYT).

42 comments:

Balfegor said...

If Mahler's fifth was 100 decibels throughout the entire performance, the orchestra must have been ignoring the dynamic markings. I haven't checked the score, but I don't think the adagietto is supposed to be played fortissimo. And the occasional loud late 19th/early 20th century orchestra crash -- or cannons in the 1812 Overture -- seems like it shouldn't pose the same sort of issues as constant loud noise directly in the ear. Or perhaps I just want to believe that since I like that Bruckner/Mahler stuff.

Sebastian said...

"The world is getting louder"

Well, parts of it. But yes, loudness has been ramped up. Mostly to create artificial sensations in blasé consumers.

"I heard a performance of Mahler's 5th Symphony last year"

A dilemma: ecstatic aural beauty may be bad for your health.

Howard said...

Remember the Loud family?

Paddy O said...

The World is NYC!

Václav Patrik Šulik said...

I love my AfterShokz Headphones - they are bone conduction - so you don't hear through your ears (directly). I wear them while running and can still hear traffic and cyclists ("left!"), which is important.

If I can make a pitch for AfterShokz, I had a problem with the sound dropping out on one channel after a year and 9 months and they replaced (and upgraded) for free - even sent me the prepaid shipping container to return my old pair. I'll use earbuds still, but I love the bone conduction technology.

Enigma said...

Many recent generation earbuds or in-ear monitors (IEMs) have volume checks and adjustable limits. I can set the maximum and track my listening levels, but I never reach the "too loud" state anyway.

Disposable foam earplugs cost 50 cents per pair.

While the world is a noisier place, this problem is avoidable to anyone who wants to avoid it.

Finally, those who have already damaged their hearing (e.g., 5 or 20 years ago) will need to listen at louder volumes to hear today. Once you are going deaf or mostly deaf, how much further harm will result from loud noises?

rcocean said...

I often worry about earbuds. And I use them as little as possible. I feel dumb walking around with big headphones, but i hope its easier on my ears.

Mark said...

I see only one or two movies a year. Went to go see Bullet Train with Brad Pitt because the story looked interesting.

It could have been good. It should have been good. But in addition to all the unnecessary gore that is the stuff of unimaginative directors, THE SOUND WAS JACKED UP TO 50 in the theater, and when the crappy music kicked in for the gore scenes, THE CRAPPY MUSIC WAS EAR-DRUM BURSTING LOUD.

Part of it was the fault of the theater manager for not checking to see how deafening the sound was - so loud that the dialogue was distorted (which was additionally difficult with a couple of British actors).

Joe Smith said...

What did you say!!??

But seriously, you can set decibel levels on your Apple ear buds...

gilbar said...

what? huh? i can't hear a word you are saying; i went to Ramones concerts in the 1980's

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

After Spinal Tap all the hot bands turned it up to eleven.

mezzrow said...

I have spent a lifetime sitting in front of the trumpets. My ears are always ringing, but I don't really hear that any more unless I listen for it. I can still hear through it. Like I tell the kids I work with, "you hear better than me, but I listen so much better than you that I hear what I'm trying to hear first."

re: ecstatic aural beauty v health. To me, it was worth the tradeoff to hear the things I have heard from the perspective of the place I was sitting. I was just too engaged in making the noise in that moment. The younger guys are so busy putting the plugs in and pulling them out I wonder how they can play sometimes. It's a mindset that illustrates the difference between the generations. Safety first vs live in the moment.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

And yet new fire trucks and ambulances have wimpy sirens that can’t be heard within a closed up modern car. What’s up with that?

Kate said...

Maybe we've adapted with stronger eardrums.

I never wore earbuds as a child (obviously), always wore ear plugs at rock concerts. I have horrible tinnitus. My husband runs power tools while wearing no ear protection and cranks the music. His hearing is excellent.

Honestly, I have a hard time believing in correlation.

BUMBLE BEE said...

You could ask Pete Townshend, but he'd say "What?"

Alison said...

I attend a lot of loud concerts. I always wear my ear plugs. Bought them on Amazon, designed for music, $30.

Laurel said...

Consider the teeth-rattling vibrations of rap playing on the speakers of the car(s) cruising down the street…

Future hearing-loss almost assuredly.

Yancey Ward said...

Eh....what???

hawkeyedjb said...

100 decibels... so, about the level of music in the average American restaurant.

Narr said...

I hate having things in my ear, whether bud or plug. I have quite acute hearing (so far) and still use a pair of ratty old headphones when I want to listen to music on the computer, radio, or disc.

My wife has severe tinnitus in one ear and doesn't hear well out of the other, and has the newest hi-tech fix, which doesn't come cheap. She never listened to loud music or worked in loud environments (I did both) but she might as well have.

Lately I've been Youtubing the Nielsen symphonies. There's a guy who knew how to loud well.

Michael K said...

This is why Bill Clinton had hearing aides at age 50. I was in Costco one time about 15 years ago and mentioned to the eyeglass clerk that hearing aids would be a good next step for Costco. She agreed. Five years later, they were selling them.

Lurker21 said...

Our children are going to grow up with significant hearing losses!

Surely their parents did as well.

Probably more from Def Leppard than from Mahler.

Leland said...

Your August 5th posting about Society for Unnecessary Noise has already convinced me to lower my earbud music to the point I can still enjoy it and no louder. I'm writing this now with a lawn guy working a two-stroke motor, so I want something louder to drown it out, but where does that stop?

n.n said...

In other new, NYeT, or was it WaPoo, reported the world is getting quieter thanks to shared/shifted responsibility, out-of-sight and out-of-mind environmental corruption in Green solutions.

Anthony said...

I've used shooting ear protection (in-ear, but not plugs) at the last few rock concerts I've been to (which is, like, 3). I do find many restaurants are too loud (ambient noise, mostly, due to making the place look like a warehouse) and some stores catering to young people have the music cranked up so loud I don't even bother going in. Happily, the gym I go to doesn't crank up the volume.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

What's the average age of an attendee at an orchestral music/classical music event at Carnegie Hall?
Did most of the people who went to that concert grow up (spend their teenage & young adult years) during the rise of amplified music? Does that age cohort today suffer more hearing loss/damage than the same cohort would have 20 years ago?

Not certain on that last one--seems like occupational hearing protection didn't really become widespread until fairly recently, but on the other hand kids in the 40s weren't having their eardrums shattered at concerts and in front of home hi-fi setups like kids in the 70s were.

Oh Yea said...

On the WSJ online at 12:46 PM this afternoon: "FDA Clears Hearing Aids for Over-the-Counter Sale"

tommyesq said...

One big feature of this is the invention and widespread use of compression, which is an electronic circuit that reduces volume by percentages - e.g. 4:1, 8:1, etc. ratios. Once run through a compressor, the overall sound is then boosted, so that the loudest parts are the same volume as they would have been prior to the compressor, but quieter sections are effectively boosted by the factor - 4X, 8X, etc.

So it isn't so much that the world is getting louder (or at least not just that), it is that it never gets quiet again.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Agree with others re: Mahler 5. Sure, it may top out at these decibel levels, but it's a symphony over an hour long, and most of it -- almost all of it, frankly -- is nowhere near that loud. Whereas there's a lot of, um, non-classical music, for want of a better term, that starts at 105 decibels and stays there.

I remember working in a string quartet with a cellist who had been a rock bassist in his teens. The guy was a fantastic cellist, but when his part got very high (we were doing Shostakovich 14th Quartet, so it got up there a lot), his intonation was very unreliable, b/c he simply couldn't hear what he was playing. He knew it himself, and was frustrated by it.

It isn't classical music that's the threat here; it's the rank inability of other kinds of music (and soundtracks, and so forth) to let up. The last movie I went to in an actual theater was, IIRC, the last Bourne movie, and I simply could not stand the soundtrack volume. My ears were affected long after I left the theatre.

RMc said...

Are Earbuds Damaging My Hearing?

WHAT...?!

Chris said...

Once I took my mother out to dinner at a steakhouse. During the meal I looked over and realized how visibly shaken she was by the level of noise in the restaurant, what with the bar, the other patrons, and the twelve TVs on at once. The dining room in her retirement community was much quieter. I never took her out to a place like that again. I have also noticed as I age how more sensitive I have become to noise. The last time I went to a wedding reception, the music was so loud I had to leave the room myself.

Interesting article. I had actually worried that ear buds were more dangerous to use than headphones. I am glad to learn they are not.

Jim at said...

Meh. Go to an NHRA event and get back me about how loud everything else is.

realestateacct said...

Are they electronically amplifying classical concerts at Carnegie Hall now? I don't know how you could get to those levels unless the hall without amplified instruments.

Narr said...

I knew more than one man who, in the 1940s, had his hearing ruined by important world events. And one of my work colleagues had been a very talented musician, so when he was drafted in the 1960s he was assigned to the engineers to do demolitions, where his hearing was ruined.

Certain aircraft were notoriously loud, such as the B-25 type my father flew.

As I watch symphony orchestra performances on Youtube, I better appreciate the need for the visual cues of conductors--pity the poor person 30 inches in front of a battery of trombones.



Earnest Prole said...

we are listening (and performing) music louder than we ever did in the past

Take it from someone who heard both the Who and the Ramones play live the better part of half a century ago: No.

Marc in Eugene said...

The awful noise in the movie theater was why I resolved not to go again, now that I think about it. It has been a number of years.

The Metropolitan Opera in theaters broadcasts or whatever they are don't seem to cause any problems (nor have live performances in the local symphony or recital halls become noticeably louder, although if I were in such spaces once or twice a week on a regular basis, who knows).

I've attended two rock shows, both in the early 90s; George Thorogood and the Destroyers and the Rolling Stones. I can't imagine those did any damage to my hearing. Enjoyed the George Thorogood but found the Stones tiresome after the first half hour; my recollection is that friends were trying to broaden my musical horizons.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

realestateacct,

No, they aren't, and Mahler 5 is probably roughly as loud today as it was a century ago.

OTOH, if you are in the orchestra, caution may be necessary. See those clear plastic barriers between the brass and the strings? They're meant to protect the latter from the former. It doesn't work all that well, but better than nothing.

I remember some discomfort among the violas the last time I played Shosty 5. The trumpets were directly behind them.

GrapeApe said...

Not sure about the tinnitus connection. I got tinnitus when I was 12 after severe ear infection in both ears. Nothing to do with loud music. I can watch and hear well enough to my tv with the volume on 8-10, but that’s more about the broadcast volume. Dunno. My 85 Y.O. Dad is deaf in one ear, blind in one eye on the opposite side, but since he is 14 years into dementia, I doubt he even knows.

Michael said...

Have you been to an NBA or NHL game recently? Every stoppage in play is met with bone rattling music coming from the PA. Started 25 years ago and has only gotten worse. It has changed the whole atmosphere of the arena.

Narr said...

An old friend of mine is a musician and bandleader* here, and his lineup in the last 12 - 15 years has included legendary Memphis players from the 1960s-80s--people heard on any number of hits by the likes of Isaac Hayes, to name only one.

What a treat to hear them in their seniority--but a shame that they and the soundman were half-deaf and it was so loud I couldn't last a set. My ears rang well into the next day.

Movies have been too loud since about 2000 and we almost never go.

*impresario, a fine old word.

water said...

If you're looking for a quiet restaurant, the Soundprint smartphone app may be able to help. Can also check the noise level of your current location.

Caligula said...

Foam earplugs will drop the level by 30dB, and it's not as if you can't hear loud music just as well at that reduced level. But, that doesn't work so well if you want to be able to talk with your tablemate(s) at a loud restaurant.