In my spare time, I am working on a side project (kinda like David St. Hubbins was in This Is Spin̈al Tap before “Sex Farm” was on the charts and the band reunited). The project in question involves hearing loss rather than audio, sparked by disturbing studies posted in recent years about hearing loss, especially amongst Millennials. It is easy to deduce that those crappy-sounding yet iconic white Apple Ear Buds may not have done anybody any favors, especially when played at high levels over even moderate periods of time.
It’s also fair to say that long before we all were aware that hearing damage was so easy to incur, we all attended events where the sound levels were unsafe. A few months ago, my wife and I took a bunch of first graders down to Staples Center for a Monster Jam truck show. Of course, I brought along hearing protection. But within five seconds of ear-splitting 130 dB audio craziness, out comes the concessioners selling pink and blue colored $20 ear muffs for boys and girls.
They sold faster than a handful of MDMA on day one of the Coachella Festival.
The loudest concert that I ever experienced was The Cult opening for Metallica on the And Justice for All… tour at the Philadelphia Spectrum in the late 1980s. The bass was so forceful that my 16-year-old ears couldn’t take it. Literally, my teenaged buddy and I got up and went outside and waited until the set was over until Metallica, came onstage.
Years later, I met the members of The Cult out in Hollywood while celebrating my 25th birthday (also along with John Bonham’s widow, thus I got to ask all of my Led Zeppelin questions as a very cool, impromptu birthday gift). I got to tell the boys just how loud they were back in the day. They took unbelievably great pleasure in the story in ways that weren’t intended.
The reality is: I am lucky to have retained the hearing that I have today as I quickly head towards 45 years old. I protect my hearing as best I realistically can, although I do like to listen to my AV system loudly at times. At my last physical, I could hear well into the 17 kHz range, which is pretty good considering past transgressions.
Various international studies show that men lose their hearing faster than women, and specifically more so after 60 years old. But find me an audiophile that a) isn’t in that age range and b) doesn’t think that he has “golden ears” (and I don’t mean a new pair of Triton One.Rs).
Recently, I had an epiphany around the concept: can you imagine if we did hearing tests at regional audiophile trade shows? What if some audiophile society or concerned group took out a room and hired a few professional audiologists to come in and do basic hearing tests and then reported the results? I would publish that data here at AudiophileReview.com.
I wonder if, say, 500 people were tested (and hopefully rewarded with something nice like a Tidal gift certificate or a Dark Side of The Moon T-shirt or perhaps a few handfuls of squishy ear plugs) what the aggregate hearing performance of said audiophile community would be? I wonder if publishing the results would change the ways audiophiles look at sound reproduction and/or their hobby?
A report on an Italian study regarding hearing loss on people over 60 years old on Hear-It.com was frightening. The Italians studied nearly 14,000 people over the age of 60, with results pointing at most hearing loss being in the very high frequencies, but most studied were having problems hearing in the 500 to 3,000 Hz range, too, which is the frequency range where basic conversation lands. Men and women, the study said, had similar hearing loss in the low frequencies, but in the higher frequencies like 2000-8000 Hz, men fared much worse–as much as 20 dB down, which is a lot.
There is some debate over the concept of whether you can train your ears, but many believe that you can. I am in the latter camp, as most recording and mastering engineers who work with EQs and audio files every day have a working understanding or “feel” (if you will) for where sound lands in the overall audio spectrum. Although not working on such a professional level, sitting down in front of Pro Tools every day, still audio enthusiasts also develop a feel for sound based on their system and the music that they listen to.
The question begs to be asked: does it matter how well you can hear? You can’t undo hearing loss. The AARP has some good suggestions about how to protect your hearing, such as keep your headphones below 85 dB, drink a glass of wine a day, and so on, but we’ve got a whole other, huge generation of both young men and women coming up who are already starting with hearing damage, which is scary, especially when looking at the future of the audio hobby.
The reality is that you can’t un-attend that GWAR show in Trenton, New Jersey, from back in the day, or un-hear that artillery fire from ‘Nam. You have what you have when it comes to hearing.
But should you tailor your system around your hearing? To my ears, as the legendary speaker designers have gotten older and perhaps naturally lost a little of their top-end hearing, some speaker brands are voiced to tailor to a slightly livelier sound on the high end. Other companies follow more of the Floyd Toole model of designing the most accurate speakers possible and go from there.
At any rate, what do you think the results of said audiophile show hearing testing would look like as a whole? Should audiophiles tailor their systems around their own specific hearing or strive to make the best performing audiophile system they can and do their best to enjoy as much of the audible sound as possible? Let’s hear from you in the comments below.