What’s a Safe Listening Volume for Music and Headphones?

adult woman relaxing on a sofa using a digital tablet and wearing headphones and listening at an unsafe volume.

Cedric loves music. He listens to Spotify while working, switches to Pandora when jogging, and he has a playlist for everything: cardio, cooking, video games, you name it. His headphones are almost always on, his life a fully soundtracked event. But the very thing that Cedric loves–the loud, immersive music–could be causing permanent damage to his hearing.

As far as your ears are concerned, there are safe ways to listen to music and dangerous ways to listen to music. Unfortunately, most of us opt for the more dangerous listening choice.

How does listening to music cause hearing loss?

Over time, loud noises can cause deterioration of your hearing abilities. We’re used to thinking of hearing loss as a problem associated with aging, but more and more research suggests that it’s really the accumulation of noise-related damage that is the issue here and not anything inherent in the aging process.

It also turns out that younger ears are particularly susceptible to noise-related damage (they’re still developing, after all). And yet, young adults are more likely to be dismissive of the long-term dangers of high volume. So there’s an epidemic of younger people with hearing loss thanks, in part, to rampant high volume headphone use.

Can you listen to music safely?

Unrestricted max volume is clearly the “dangerous” way to listen to music. But there is a safe(er) way to enjoy your tunes, and it usually involves turning the volume down. The general guidelines for safe volumes are:

  • For Adults: No more than 40 hours of listening on a device and keep the volume below 80dB.
  • For Teens and Minors: You can still listen for 40 hours, but keep the volume level below 75dB.

Forty hours per week translates into roughly five hours and forty minutes a day. That seems like a lot, but it can go by rather quickly. Even still, most people have a pretty solid concept on keeping track of time–it’s something we’re taught to do successfully from a very young age.

The harder part is monitoring your volume. On most smart devices, computers, and televisions, volume is not measured in decibels. It’s measure on some arbitrary scale. Maybe it’s 1-100. But maybe it’s 1-16. You might not have any idea what the max volume on your device is, or how close to the max you are.

How to monitor the volume of your tunes

There are some non-intrusive, easy ways to figure out just how loud the volume on your music actually is–because it’s not all that easy for us to conceptualize what 80dB sounds like. It’s even harder to understand the difference between 80 and 75dB.

That’s why most hearing specialists recommend the use of one of many free noise monitoring apps. These apps–widely available for both iPhone and Android devices–will give you realtime readouts on the noises surrounding you. That way you can monitor the dB level of your music in real time and make adjustments.

As loud as a garbage disposal

Generally, 80 dB is about as noisy as your garbage disposal or your dishwasher. So, it’s loud, but it’s not that loud. It’s an important observation because 80dB is about as much noise as your ears can handle without damage.

So you want to be extra aware of those times at which you’re moving beyond that decibel threshold. If you happen to listen to some music beyond 80dB, remember to limit your exposure. Maybe listen to your favorite song at max volume instead of the entire album.

Listening to music at a higher volume can and will cause you to have hearing problems over the long term. You can develop hearing loss and tinnitus. The more you can be cognizant of when your ears are entering the danger zone, the more informed your decision-making can be. And hopefully, those decisions lean towards safer listening.

Want more information?

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