Q&A: Which headphones are safest for your hearing?

Last Updated21-12-2018

It's no secret that listening to loud music over longer periods of time can cause noise-induced hearing loss – but how loud is too loud?
We got the answers from Tino Soelberg, Vice President of Product Development for SteelSeries, a global manufacturer of gaming headphones.

Q: How much is too much when it comes to listening to music with headphones?

A lot of factors play into that. There’s how long you’re listening, the intensity of the audio (type of music, spoken word, movies) and external noise - which tends to lead to higher listening volumes. Noise-induced hearing loss can be sneaky, specifically when talking about the damage done by prolonged exposure to sound via headphones.

The problem is of course in measuring those volumes, and the body is unfortunately good at withstanding very high sound pressures without immediately telling us that something is wrong. The main reason listeners of all ages turn up the volume is to block out distracting background noise - so making sure that you keep an eye on the background noise level is very important.

Q: Which types of headphones are best for your ears and hearing?

A: Over-ear headphones generally come in two types: open and closed.

  • Open headphones prohibit the volume from being too loud by using perforated ear cups – which allow some sound to escape. But this in turn means that the user will tend to turn up the volume in very noisy environments.
  • Closed headphones have good external sound isolation, which means you are able to control the volume level a lot better because the background noise is automatically less intense.
  • In-Ear headphones have very good external sound isolation. When used at reasonable volume levels they are a very safe choice. However when used incorrectly they can cause major damage to your ears.

Q: Can cheap headphones be more dangerous for your hearing?

A: Price matters to the extent that most high-end headphones have had rigorous testing done and adhere to stiff regulations and standards. This is not always the case for cheaper brands. Another issue with cheaper headphones is that in order to hear the finer details of the sound you have to turn up the volume – which can eventually lead to noise-induced hearing loss.

Q: Are there regulations for how loud headphones can be?

A: Yes and no - there are regulations in place for how loud “mobile music players” can be. This limit isn’t necessarily followed if you aren’t using the headphones supplied with the music player. Some headphones will have a higher efficiency than those supplied and others will have a lower efficiency. The effect can be dramatic. Even though the move toward greater regulation is good, it’s still not bulletproof.

Q: What are 3 things people should look for when they are looking to purchase new headphones?

  • Comfort - Chances are that you’ll spend a lot of time with these, and making sure that you have a good comfortable fit reduces the need for excessive volume due to a poor acoustic seal.
  • Audio quality - The better the audio quality the more you’ll enjoy them. You also you won’t need to turn the volume up just to hear the details.
  • Intended use - Make sure that your choice of headphone matches the intended use – whether you are using them on-the-go, at home, or in a noisy place.

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