How Loud Are Your Headphones?


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Apple headphones.

Credit
Joshua Bright for The New York Times

Many models of headphones make varying claims about reducing the noise your ears are exposed to. With the help of an audiologist, The New York Times has put together this experiment to demonstrate how much sound your ears may be picking up when you listen to music over headphones.

Brian Fligor, chief audiology officer at Lantos Technologies, provided audio clips of “pink noise” at three different volumes that you can use to assess the power of a pair of headphones. Dr. Fligor devised the tests to work as intended in this limited situation:

■ This is how the different volumes sound on an Apple iOS device, like an iPhone 6 or an iPad.

■ The different levels were set for the white earbuds that come standard with current and recent generations of iPhones, iPods and iPads.

■ Dr. Fligor devised the test using himself, which means the test is most accurate for an average adult male ear.

Even if you don’t have a device that uses iOS the test can still be instructive for others.

To sample the volume of these clips, set your device to its maximum volume. The following three clips, each five seconds in length, are safe to listen to for a short period, Dr. Fligor said, even at maximum volume.

You could listen to that volume of 85 decibels for eight hours a day, and it would not impair your hearing over time. But as the volume climbs, the relationship is not linear. Once you jump up another five decibels, as in the clip below, two and a half hours would become unsafe.

And then once you jump to 100 decibels, more than 15 minutes of regular listening becomes unsafe.

Keep in mind that today’s devices can produce sound at substantially louder levels. Then, the amount of time it is safe to listen is mere minutes.

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