Is the way I use headphones bad for my ears?
January 6, 2007 8:02 PM   Subscribe

I edit video at home. It can be a fairly noisy environment as I live in a busy part of L.A. so I often use headphones while I work. Nothing odd about that; however...

I often put earplugs into my ears to cut out the noise and THEN put headphones over my ears. The reason I do this is that when I'm working, there are often long periods when I don't listen to any sound, but there's still distracting noise.

This means that I must turn the volume up on my system to hear what's coming out of the headphones.

My question is: Does the fact that the volume is turned right up damage my ears, dispite the fact that I'm using earplugs? Or - to my ears - is it the same as simply having the headphones play at a normal level?
posted by rocco to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Earplugs generally have a rating to indicate the amount of noise they reduce. The answer depends on the earplug's rating and the headphone's volume.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:05 PM on January 6, 2007

You should be OK, although if an earplug fell out you'd suddenly be listening to the full volume which could be bad. Could you reverse the process, by using earbuds to hear the soundtrack, with unplugged headphones over them to shut out the ambient noise?
posted by nicwolff at 8:10 PM on January 6, 2007

Perhaps you could also look into noise-cancelling headphones.
posted by BeerFilter at 8:21 PM on January 6, 2007

I don't know the answer to your question (though I'd assume the earplugs would be protecting your ears), but why don't you try using isolation earphones?
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 8:21 PM on January 6, 2007

Earplugs are designed to protect your ears from loud noises. They work by attenuating the sound pressure waves, thereby making them less harmful to your ears. How far the sound source is from your ears doesn't matter.
posted by pmbuko at 8:44 PM on January 6, 2007

Turning the volume up will hurt your ears. The isolation earphones seem best for you, but beware as they have been shown to be the most harmful to the ears at equivalent volume. I don't know why that is, or have a cite, so take it for what it is worth. Hopefully, with those you won't need to up the volume as they will block the surrounding noise - earplugs with speakers inside.
posted by caddis at 8:47 PM on January 6, 2007

Agree with the suggestions for noise-cancelling headphones or a good pair of canalphones; you're not damaging your ears with your current setup, but unless you're using a specific kind of earplug that's designed to not do so, the noise that is entering your ears is being attenuated unevenly; regular earplugs tend to take out more high-end stuff, generally speaking, and this could play with your mixes in bad ways.
posted by joshuaconner at 9:47 PM on January 6, 2007

I'm not sure if you're doing this professionally or not, but if if you are, you can probably justify getting canalphones fitted by an audiologist, which will make them way more comfortable.
posted by defcom1 at 10:31 PM on January 6, 2007

If the sound that your ears is actually hearing really isn't that loud, then you're probably not damaging them. I'd be more concerned that having the earplugs in might give you a false sense of security, and might cause you to turn the headphones up too loud, to a level where it might cause damage over long periods. But if you're really careful about it, I don't think you're going to be necessarily doing any harm just by having headphones over earplugs.

I agree with other people who have suggested alternatives. Either canalphones, which seal out other noises while producing sound themselves (Etmyotics seem to be popular and well regarded by the people over at HeadWize, who in my experience really know their stuff -- they certainly steered me the right direction a few years ago when I was looking for some cans), or noise-cancelling or attenuating headphones. The simplest thing might be to wear earbuds and then put on some industrial hearing protectors over that.

At the very least, wearing the attenuation over top of the sound production will let you have much more accurate reproduction. I can't imagine the audio sounds very good after being jacked way up and working its way through foam earplugs.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:00 PM on January 6, 2007

I use isolation headphones, like what drummers use, quite often. In my case this is because I need to be near guitar amps while I'm adjusting them, with sound going through them at very high volume. They work fine, although they don't attenuate the same at all frequencies. You might find they don't filter street noise enough, by try them ($50 - $100 for a decent pair)
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:01 PM on January 6, 2007

That's "Etymotic" not Etmyotic ... sorry.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:01 PM on January 6, 2007

I'd second the isolation earphone suggestion. I have a pair of shure e2c's that fit me perfectly (the fit kit is pretty good) and I can't hear a thing when they're in, sound playing or not.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 11:15 AM on January 7, 2007

Make a cheap set of isolation earphones with some good earbuds and those bulky headphone-style hearing-protector thingys you can get at the hardware store. I do this when I mow the lawn; it works great.
posted by fvox13 at 12:52 PM on January 7, 2007

Response by poster: THANKS ALL! Great suggestions that I will take into account.
posted by rocco at 2:13 PM on January 7, 2007

I second nicwolff's suggestion to reverse the pieces. How about using ear buds, then using one of those big "ear muff" type err...noise blocker things like the airport workers use?
posted by edjusted at 4:38 PM on January 7, 2007

Hey, look what Shure just started selling: sound isolating earphones!
posted by nicwolff at 1:28 PM on January 8, 2007

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