What is the impact of personal music players, earphones and music styles on output and preferred listening levels (PLL)?
Background: In the U.S., more than 48 percent of the general public are regular users of personal music players (PMPs), and an estimated 90 percent of adolescents regularly listen to music on a PMP. For each 3 dB higher than 85 dB, the time required to reach a noise dose (leading to induced hearing loss) is halved.
Explore this issue:November 2012
Study design: Experimental study in one setting.
Setting: Ear, Nose and Throat Department, Catholic University of Chile, Santiago, Chile.
Synopsis: In a single experimental setting with 45 hearing-healthy volunteers, the researchers assessed the impact of different device types (iPod, MP3 and mobile phones), earphone type (earbud, in-ear and supra-aural) and 10 music styles on PMP output, as well as the relevance of background noise. There was no significant difference in sound pressure level (SPL) between device types, but earphone type significantly altered SPL, with supra-aural earphones having significantly lower SPL than earbuds, which were lower than in-ear earphones. There were significant differences between low-output classical music, compared with a medium-output group (folk, pop, salsa/Latin, classic rock and Latin pop) and a high-output group (electronic, heavy-metal rock, reggaeton, hip hop).
As expected, higher background noise levels were significantly associated with higher listening levels, but iPod devices did not need as much intensity as mobile phones or MP3 devices. Earphone type had a similar but stronger effect on PLL choice when background noise increased, with supra-aural earphones needing less intensity. More than 30 percent of PMP users will exceed a noise dose in less than one hour. The risk associated with higher music intensity to higher background noise was far more important than risk associated with a stronger output from a distinctive device or earphone.
Bottom line: PMPs should be set at the lowest comfortable volume with special attention taken in loud environments. A higher background noise-attenuation capability should be prioritized in earphone selection. Additionally, time limits should not be exceeded.
Reference: Breinbauer HA, Anabolón B, Gutierrez D, Cárcamo T, Olivares C, Caro J. Output capabilities of personal music players and assessment of preferred listening levels of test subjects: outlining recommendations for preventing music-induced hearing loss. Laryngoscope. 2012;122(11):2549-2556.