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The Types of Hearing Loss Produced in Audio Production Work

December 20, 2013 Audio Production, IADT General 0 Comments

The Types of Hearing Loss Produced in Audio Production WorkIf you've been to see and listen to live music, you've probably experienced a buzzing sound in your ears after leaving the venue. For most of us, the pesky buzzing goes away after a day or so. But repeated exposure to loud music can cause long-term hearing loss. For people who work in audio production, hearing is their most important tool, and hearing damage can be a hazard of the job. Here are the different types of hearing loss and what you can do to prevent hearing damage when working in audio production.

Types of Hearing Loss

There are two types of hearing damage: temporary threshold shift and permanent noise-induced threshold shift. Generally, sound levels between 20dB, around the level of a whisper, to 90dB, around the level of a live orchestra, are safe and normal levels. Temporary threshold shift is reversible and happens after exposure to stimuli over 95dB, like a gun shot, jet noise, motorized equipment or extremely loud music. But over time, exposure to higher sound levels will cause a permanent shift in your hearing.

Live Music Production Versus Studio Production

Hearing impairment is more likely to occur in engineers or DJs working in live music venues than for those working in studios. The "sound pressure level," or the force of the sound level, is typically about 120dB in live music venues. It might be a fun level for an audience enjoying the sound and the "feel" of the bass in the music, but your hearing takes a hit. Working in this environment two or three times a week will eventually lead to hearing loss for those who don't take precautions. The temporary loss becomes permanent, and you can lose as much as 25dB of your hearing range. 

Studio engineers are also susceptible to hearing loss, though they have more control to prevent it. Beginning engineers and producers will often make the mistake of listening to their mixes at a higher volume than necessary. While it's satisfying to hear the product of your hard work pumping through quality speakers, you risk ear fatigue, which desensitizes your dexterity to hear higher frequencies and to get a better mix overall.

Prevent Hearing Loss in Audio Production Work

What can you do to prevent hearing loss if your job depends on listening to music?

1. Purchase a Decibel Counter

A decibel counter is an inexpensive device that measures the sound pressure level of sound in a room. By monitoring the levels, you can determine whether you're at risk of hearing damage from exposure.

2. Invest in Custom Ear Plugs

Typical over the counter ear plugs decrease sound levels by 20-30dB, but they also cut off the higher frequencies, impeding your ability to create a balanced mix. Good custom ear plugs are created with "flat attenuation," or by modeling the same shape as your ear's frequency range, but at a decreased decibel level. Whether you're mixing live music at a venue or in the same room as the musicians, set levels without ear plugs to begin with, but use them for the rest of the performance.

Also, use ear plugs if you're going to see live music, on the subway, on an airplane or for any cold water sports. Cold water can lead to calcification inside your ears, resulting in hearing loss.

3. In Studio: Set Music Playback No Louder Than 90dB

You can use a decibel counter to check levels from your monitors, but that's harder to do if you're using headphones. While headphones are necessary for some actions, such as to better hear sound panned right or left without the "cross talk" from speakers, it's best to use speakers when recording and mixing.

4. Get a Checkup Once a Year

An ear, nose and throat doctor can check your hearing and tell you whether you're in a healthy range for your age group, to guard against different types of hearing loss down the road.

Taking preventive measures is critical in maintaining your hearing, especially for people working in audio production. You can still enjoy loud, raucous guitar solos or the feel of a bass woofer if you follow these tips.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

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