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The High Price of Headphones

In June Apple announced the purchase of the popular headphone maker Beats by Dr. Dre for $3 billion.  The announcement was noteworthy in that this marked one of the first purchases of technology not developed by Apple engineers. What’s not commonly discussed are the hidden dangers of the popular $300 headphones on long term hearing health. Beats are not alone at posing a risk, only the most iconic brand of headphone available today.

Beats headphones are seen as much as a fashion accessory as they are a personal music experience. Hailed as being engineered to deliver music the way that the artist intended it to sound. This can be dangerous in emphasizing the deep bass tones associated with hip–hop and rap music (the genre of music that the rap artist Dr. Dre intended in the creation of his Beats head phones).  Our ears typically register sounds between 20Hz and 20kHz. The thunderous bass lines popularized in music today register in the 20Hz-80Hz range. By emphasizing these low bass tones in music, the listener compensates by turning up the volume to effectively hear the higher frequency tones of the singer’s voice and other instruments.

The increased volume in order to hear all the frequencies within music is what can increase the risk of noise induced hearing loss. Loudness is measured in decibels (dB). Normal speech registers between 40dB and 60 dB, while a rock concert registers in the 110 dB-120 dB, and louder yet, 140 dB directly in front of the speakers. With headphones at higher volumes, it is not uncommon to reach 110 dB or 115 dB at peak volume levels in expensive headphones. Prolonged exposure, 15 minutes daily can lead to noise induced hearing loss, which is permanent.

The American Speech Language Hearing Association calls untreated hearing loss a national epidemic, with 1 in 6 American adults (36 million) suffering hearing loss. Most alarming, is that in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1 in 5 American teenagers now suffer from some form of hearing loss, a 31% jump since the 1990s.

Fortunately, noise induced hearing loss is preventable. If using headphones, keep volumes below the midpoint (5 on a scale of 10). A good rule of thumb is if others can hear the sounds coming out of headphones while you are wearing them, then they are too loud.  Take control of your hearing health now and avoid the dangers of prolonged exposure to loud noises that are being popularized by stylish and pricey headphones.

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