PS: I'll gladly take ear/headphone recommendations :-D
March 15, 2007 7:30 PM   Subscribe

iPod + which eaphones/headphones = least hearing loss?

I'm looking to "invest" in a good pair of earphones for use at the computer & with my ipod but am a little concerned about hearing loss. I know that it's ultimately about lowest tolerable volume & limiting myself to an hour or so of headphone use per day, but my Q is more about the equipment involved.

A lot of reviews I've read claim that canalphones & IEMs are better for your ears, because they block off outside noises, therefore enabling you to listen to your music at a safer, lower volume. I've tried googling for more info, but most of the sites I've visited say some variation of the above statement without really answering my question:

Wouldn't feeding sound/noise directly into your ear make it worse for you? Or is the assumption that you really WILL end up lowering the volume by THAT significant of an amount that you'll end up "saving" your ear in the long run? (Which leads to my related side question: will the ipod volume go "low" enough for safe use w/ IEMs? I currently use Koss's "The Plug" and it is unbelievably loud even at the LOWEST volume. It's set at a HAIR above no sound!)

Regardless, "normal" earbuds seem to have the worst rep in terms of hearing loss. I'm assuming this is because of its inability to block off outside noises & thus requiring louder playback volumes?

Please, I'm not looking for snarky answers like "If you really love your ears, don't listen to music on the go; all earphones/headphones will damage your hearing; you're best off walking around with earplugs on." I love listening to music on the go regardless of how antisocial people think it is, and I want to go about it in the least damaging way possible.
posted by mittenedsex to Technology (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For me it depends on the environment I'm in. I carry two sets of headphones; one is simply the Apple earbuds, and the other is a cheap set of the kind that clip on your ear, but are actually just like wearing regular headphones (the speaker is a large pad).

For noisy places, I use the earbuds, because that's the only way I can hear the music. When background noise is not an issue, the clip-on headphones are much more comfortable and allow me to play the music at a lower volume.
posted by DMan at 7:45 PM on March 15, 2007

I had the same concerns as you when I invested in a new set of headphones last year.

Since I listen to my mp3 player a lot when I am walking or running (and thus crossing busy streets and whatnot) I wasn't comfortable with completely blocking off outside noise.

I found the reviews at HeadRoom extremely helpful. I ended up going with the AKG 26 P and haven't been disappointed. They block out a fair amount of noise (more than my Apple earbuds did) and I find I don't have to crank my iPod volume nearly as high as I used to. They're also small enough that I can still wear them when I go running.
posted by sanitycheck at 7:50 PM on March 15, 2007

Best answer: What matters, in terms of hearing damage, is the actual acoustic power reaching your eardrum. It doesn't matter where the source is: if the total volume you hear is lower, you're delivering less power to your eardrum. Since in-ear phones act as isolating earplugs, you can hear more detail in music with a lower absolute volume; you don't have to drown out environmental sound. I can listen to in-ear phones at much lower volumes then earbugs.

I'm very happy with Shure E2c's as iPod earphones. The dynamic range is excellent: they can be very, very quiet, if that's what you're looking for.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:57 PM on March 15, 2007

Seconding Mr. Roboto regarding the E2C recommendation.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:09 PM on March 15, 2007

check out this article and the videos contained within. They talk an audiologist about this exact point who recommends various types of headphones.
posted by jourman2 at 8:11 PM on March 15, 2007

I love my pair of E2c, however I have to be careful not to leave them in too long.

When I was living in Albuquerque and flying to Boston regularly I would have them in for hours on my flight from Salt Lake to Boston. I would wind up with ear infections. Teh suck.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:13 PM on March 15, 2007

Get noise-cancelling 'phones if you're in a noisy environment. As sanitycheck said, AKG makes good sealed headphones if you're on a budget. They will work well with your iPod. I've heard good things about Shure's E2cs, though I've never heard them. If you're in somewhat quieter environments, get open headphones, because they sound better. I think the Sennheiser PX 100 is the best for use with an iPod, and they're incredibly good-sounding headphones besides. But if you have more money to burn, I've been very happy with their HD 595s, which -- and this is unusual for high-end headphones -- also work well with an iPod and other low-power sources.
posted by smorange at 9:06 PM on March 15, 2007

Noise-canceling phones are useful but the MOST important thing is physical isolation from outside noise. Your worst situation for hearing damage is when you're making your music louder so you can hear it well over the noises that surround you. The isolating earbuds mentioned above are one solution, but the one I prefer is closed headphones. These are the phones that enclose your entire ear and have a solid exterior (they must be closed to the outside, not the "open" design of some big headphones).

I highly recommend Ultrasone DJ1 phones, which should run you about $100 and are an incredible value for that price (in terms of sound reproduction and 'spaciousness,' they equal other $400 to $500 studio monitor phones I've used), not to mention looking hot. Ultrasone is a German company that picked a tragically cheesy name (which I think has held it back in the market) but makes outstanding products.

And thanks so much for posting the question. It kills me to see so many people using the stock (non-isolating) iPod phones on the subway, because internal subway noise *alone* is generally in the "damaging after c. 30 mins of exposure" range -- so with the additional volume of their music, these people are very likely to be accumulating long-term hearing damage even if their individual subway rides are much shorter than 30 mins. each.
posted by allterrainbrain at 9:16 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'll nth the Shure E2C suggestion. I've had them for a bit less than a year and never had problems with them, and the sound quality's incredible. They're about 100$ for a set, which might seem on the high end for a set of earphones, but it's definitely worth the money. (And I speak as a poor student with no means.)
posted by Phire at 9:25 PM on March 15, 2007

i really love the sony fontopia ex-71s (or 51s, which are almost exactly the same phones but different cord)

they are in-ear phones, so they go all the way in your canal, like an earplug. this provides some awesome sound isolation and produces some amazing bass. the sound quality is awesome and even on the bus or metro i only need the volume on my ipod at like 25% to hear it well. works great at the gym too.

only problem with them is that the cords tend to go to crap after awhile. but then again, they are relatively cheap (30 bucks on amazon)
posted by kneelconqueso at 9:36 PM on March 15, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the info & suggestions so far. If it makes any difference, I'm actually trying to decide between Etymotic er-6i's and the shure e2c's. It's good to see that a lot of people has had great experiences with the shures. Keep the suggestions coming though!

(And also: great link jourman!)
posted by mittenedsex at 10:22 PM on March 15, 2007

I have a pair of ER-6i's and like them. They're notorious for cord microphonics (transmitting to your ears the noise of the cord moving and rubbing against things), so you might not like them for your music-on-the-go needs.

My problems with ear pain went away when I got in the habit of removing the silicone earplugs and washing them regularly: toss 'em in a small plastic tub with a drop of dish soap, fill with warm water, shake and let sit for a couple minutes. Then pat with a paper towel and let them sit to dry overnight.
posted by ardgedee at 2:49 AM on March 16, 2007

And n+1 for the Shure E2C. I got them for exactly the same reason - isolating me from background noise so I could have music at a lower volume to protect my ears - and they work admirably. I always take them on aircraft now to use instead of the the provided crappy headphones. To illustrate their effectiveness: on a recent flight, my partner and I were watching the same movie. She had the volume up to maximum and still couldn't hear the movie properly over the aircraft. I had the volume at minimum and wished I could go lower.

The one objection I would make is that they're a bit bulky and stick out of your ears.
posted by outlier at 3:43 AM on March 16, 2007

After years of using various Sony headphones with walkmen/minidisc players, I changed to ER-6i's when I got an iPod on the basis of online reviews. I got them cheap (but new) on eBay & was quite surprised to be able to send them back to get the cable fixed under warranty with only a crappy PayPal receipt printout. (I actually got a brand new pair sent to me via courier, even though I'm in Australia.) Cable wear was something I took for granted with the Sony 'phones (as noted above) but as the er6i's have a warranty I thought it was worth a go, & I have a "backup" pair of regular er6's whose cable has lasted nearly 2 years.
posted by hgws at 5:12 AM on March 16, 2007

If you can easily carry on a converstation with someone the volume is not too loud. If you can not then you are hurting your hearing. (This all assumes regular earphones, ear buds etc. not the sealing kind. The sealing phones are better sonically, just keep the volume down.)
posted by caddis at 5:18 AM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I use IEMs (Ultimate Ears FI-10), and a newer iPod that has a maximum volume lock. The way I set it is by listening to music in a quiet room, and turning the volume up until it is just below comfort level.

Because this level may seem too quiet when you're riding the subway or walking down a noisy street, it's important to calibrate it in a quiet environment.
posted by qvtqht at 10:29 AM on March 16, 2007

As far as cable wear, it's nice to have user-replaceable cables. They're under $20 on eBay.
posted by qvtqht at 10:30 AM on March 16, 2007

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