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EU Plans Further Reduction In MP3 Player Volumes

Gordon Kelly


EU Plans Further Reduction In MP3 Player Volumes

Back in October 2008 the EU claimed that if we didn't turn down the volume of our MP3 players 10 per cent of owners risk hearing loss. Skip forward a year and it appears further action needs to be taken...

According to The Guardian, authorities are now looking for an 85dB max to be placed on MP3 players and phones capable of music playback (these days virtually all). Last October 89dB had been the figure targeted, and some experts insist 78dB is the true figure where hearing damage starts to occur. Despite this Apple is the only high profile company to limit the maximum volume of its products and that is to 100dB for Europe only. Meanwhile many players can top 115dB.

Now I can feel the rage of freedom for x,y and z campaigners gathering as I type, but this is one nanny state ruling I can get behind. Why? Because 85dB is extremely loud (the equivalent of most bedside alarms) and if you don't think so then you're using crap earphones and need to upgrade (did you hear that?).

Cheap headphones lack isolation, they leak sound and compete with the noises of the outside world - so you turn them up because "they aren't loud enough". That's the same logic as someone shouting in your ear at a concert and you can't hear it: they are still shouting in your ear! Furthermore, there is no fix for damaged hearing. In the words of Dr Robin Yeoh, an audiology consultant at the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust, "Once you damage the nerves of your inner ear that's permanent, there's no medication, no surgery, no therapies that {are} going to reverse it."

Personally I think the solution is to ban bundled earphones. Worth mere pence, they are a dangerous convenience akin to supplying you a sports car fitted with emergency tyres. Furthermore, unlike emergency tyres or unhealthy food, the majority of people don't realise the risks.

In short, let's see this EU proposal approved because, as I've infamously ranted in the past, "please readers, tell yourselves, tell your friends, scare your elderly relatives if you have to that if you don't become more discerning about what you stick into your ears then you're GOING TO GO DEAF!"


via The Guardian

Mark 16

December 16, 2009, 5:08 am

"you're using crap earphones and need to upgrade"

Rubbish. There are plenty of excellent headphones that can only be adequately driven by portable devices that haven't been neutered by artificial volume limits, and in fact it's usually the case that better headphones have higher impedances. This law would condemn people to listening to those crappy headphones.

Charles 2

December 16, 2009, 5:28 am

Hmmm. Those people you see on the tube trying to mask the noise of the train with their white headphones are just asking for trouble. Personally I don't go above 3/4 volume on my ipod otherwise I get tinnitus in my right ear for two days. You really don't what to get this.


December 16, 2009, 6:07 am

Hear, hear. IPod headphones only come out when little kids are around or if I run out of big cable ties and need to tidy up the spiders web of power cables under my desk!

What about people with big cans, Grado's and that kind of thing? Would this not force them to use a separate amp?


December 16, 2009, 6:35 am

Hmm, I definitely agree with some of the points raised, but I would still have some concerns. What about running your Mp3 player/phone through speakers (possibly, passive speakers), do headphones even have a standard volume. That is, to my ears at least, at 50% volume on my device some headphones are significantly louder than others (with negligable background noise).

My Blackberry Storm warns me when I turn the music up above a certain level, but this gets incredibly annoying - not because I'm going deaf and I need the extra volume. But because my Sennheiser headphones have a hardware volume control. Unless I have the volume high on the device the volume control on the lead doesnt give me a full range (it will be silent when the volume reel is not all the way to the left).

Anyway I've probably vocalized my points very poorly, but it boils down to are devices, and headphones, standardized to the point where this is viable?


December 16, 2009, 7:38 am

@Mark - gotta disagree, you're confusing volume with power output - they are separate. You are also forgetting the entire concept of sound isolation that a quality pair of earphones/headphones can bring. For instance, today I travelled on the London Underground with a pair of Etymotic HF2s plugged into an iPhone 3GS and enjoyed Air's Love 2 album without missing a note at under 50% volume. Limiting volume would have completely the opposite effect to what you claim: cheap, leaky earphones would be unusable, alternatives would be sort and awareness would rise.

@dev - I largely agree, but I'd say kids in particular should be kept away from iPod earphones. Grado cans can benefit from a separate amp, but then so can all headphones - an amp provides extra power though, not simply volume which seems to be an issue that is getting people confused.

@Malderon - you're spot on. We do need an industry standard in terms of volume and power output for both devices and headphones. Until then we are largely playing blind.


December 16, 2009, 7:41 am

Oh, I thought iPod headphones were good. I don't own an iPod though.

What I want to know is does this newswriter use the London underground, and if so with which headphones?


December 16, 2009, 8:04 am

I've got the Creative T20's, and when plugging in my ipod, even when I put the ipod to near max (as far as I dare to go) and the creative volume at about 70% the sound is not very loud. SO obviously I don't want the volume to be reduced further

If this volume limiting happens, what does this mean for me? Surely there will be a way to bypass it?


December 16, 2009, 8:15 am

@Williamn - I think you should read the comment I wrote directly above yours. 1st paragraph sentence 3 ;)


December 16, 2009, 2:03 pm

Personally I hate all this Big Brother crap of increasingly telling us what we can't do but with regards to this particular issue I can only see it as a good thing.

I remember the first time I ditched the iPod headphones for a pair of relatively cheap Senheisers and was immediately blown away with firstly the improvements in quality but secondly the fact that I could listen to music clearly at much lower levels. They recently broke and while waiting for a new pair (Santa are you listening) I've been forced to use iPhone headphones which despite being painful to my ears sound utterly mince and the volume I have to pump them up to to hear clearly on the train to work is rediculous.

Hopefully volume limiting will mean a focus on better produced (and cheaper) headphones for the masses.


December 16, 2009, 2:12 pm

If dB levels are fixed at the high end, then for one I'll be glad. I'm tired of listening to someone else's poor taste in music, all because they either don't care about sound isolation or haven't heard of it. Either way they are down right rude to thrust their choice on to those around them. And don't get me started on the girl with "Hello Kitty" open headphones, who has so much scrap metal in her ears... that it's like being in the front row at the MEN Arena, but getting charged every day by Northern Rail for the privilege.

This is a start, but they need to move on to Mobile phones pronto, as they are apparently hi-fi speakers and music sounds good through them!

iain coghill

December 16, 2009, 2:21 pm

@Gordon - yes the issue may be volume rather than power output, but how are devices supposed to limit volume other than by limiting power? Less efficient 'phones may become unusable if the output is calibrated to more efficient ones.

Wayne Harris

December 16, 2009, 5:32 pm

I put my iPhone 3GS headphones in the drawer, worst pieces of garbage i have ever listened through, bought myself a pair of £130 Ultimate Ears, have my 3GS 32 gig packed with 200 MP3 albums at 320kbps, only have it just above half on the volume level, audio quality is amazing, i also have a Nokia N91 8GB Music Phone, still one of the best phones for music available today, the standard headphones that come with that are pretty damn good and the volume is great...

i used to own a Sony W810i handset and a few other phones, all of which were too low in volume levels, so annoying!!!!!

and i have already had my ears checked by a GP, they are fine, being a Musician is always worrying playing loud rock gigs, so far so good :-)


December 16, 2009, 5:42 pm

You can't limit the volume of headphones universally unless they are all of the same efficiency.


December 16, 2009, 7:11 pm

This article is quite the eye(ear?)opener. I took my phone (which cheap earbuds)to a quiet room and listened to music (set to anywhere between 70 and 90%) and it was loud. Its what I normally have it on outside. It was just right at 40 to 50 %. Wow, what a difference in volume. Thank you Gordon for a very helpful article.


December 16, 2009, 8:14 pm

I get people saying to me they believe that "iPod earphones must be worth about £30 at least"

I let them listen to my sennheiser cx500s, and they take back their comment.

iPods should be supplied with better earphones -- then half the music listening community would get better quality sound.


December 16, 2009, 9:28 pm

Many expensive headphones also lack isolation.

And there are actually good bundled headphones. Like some Walkman models and newer Nokia phones.


December 16, 2009, 10:21 pm

Fine, volume limit the iPod, but not by just crippling the amplification. Mine can't cope with the dynamic range of classical music as it stands. At maximum volume I would have to sit motionless in an anechoic chamber to hear some of the quiet passages.

Even assuming the volume-limiting is properly implemented, there is still a problem - which several comments allude to - in that efficiency (dB per watt) is a property of the headphones. Quality headphones are often designed to be less efficient, and as the player has to limit in terms of power, quality headphones might produce much lower volume than expected, even to the extent of not really being usable.


December 31, 2009, 11:48 pm

Why not extend volume limits to other things like pianos. I have severe noise problems from my neighbours mainly from all day piano playing. Their whole family are going deaf which is not suprising. A thing like volume limits on pianos would be a wonderful thing.


January 6, 2010, 8:37 pm


Smash the piano - 0db production.

And as for volume limiting... Well, personally I'd take 70db as the threshold. :S

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