Always a caring bunch, E.U. lawmakers have just mandated that MP3 player makers remind their users of the risks of hearing damage from prolonged, loud headphone use. Their ruling is based on some sensible science, and it’s aimed at teens.
In fact, specific scientific advice has suggested that between 2.5 million and 10 million E.U. residents are at risk of hearing loss. That’s if they listen to their MP3 players turned up enough to deliver 89 decibels of sound for more than an hour a day over five years. That sounds like rather a hefty whack of iPod abuse, but if you pencil it into the awkward stages of a youngster’s life from 12 to 17 years old, it becomes a lot more plausible. Think back to your own youth, and the horrible sounds (so your parents said) you listened to at incredibly high volumes. Then translate that into more concentrated MP3 audio delivered directly into an ear canal by ear-bud.
The range of MP3 devices being sold can push out music between 80 and 115 dB, though if you use in-ear buds you can add up to 9 dB to that figure. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that 120 dB is equivalent to “amplified rock music” (presumably at a concert) while 130 dB is like “artillery fire at close proximity”; at this level you’ll experience the “onset of pain.” Different people quote different figures, but the general level at which permanent damage can be caused is around 85-90 dB. So the E.U. has reason to worry.
Now they’re requiring that manufacturers tell you to turn your system down and suggest that you limit the amount of time you use the product. There’s also a ruling on the way that will limit the output to 80 dB–but users will be able to override that soft barrier by adjusting the player’s settings. It’s obvious who this ruling is aimed at. Apple. Its iPod range is the best-selling system in the world, but it already includes a built-in volume limiting system that’s actually user-selectable, and the manuals seem to agree with E.U. suggestions already. What else can the E.U. do? Ban MP3 players? The thing to remember is that if you’re trying to force teenagers to do something for their own good, on average you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.