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by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist (Retired)

Flawed noise risk assessments shared in the media are dangerous for public health. This is the case for a recent Arizona Daily Sun article that recommends a 60/60 rule for personal listening with headphones. This rule suggests that personal listening at 60% maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day is safe.

Dr. Daniel Fink and I have reviewed international research showing auditory damage in people listening above 50% maximum volume when using headphones and earbuds. As Dr. Fink told me, “discussing safe personal listening is like discussing safe smoking. There is no safe smoking, and there is no safe listening. There is safer listening, but it’s not safe.” There is auditory risk with an hour a day of loud volume personal listening, just as smoking one cigarette increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Listening at 60% of maximum volume setting is not safe for people with normal hearing. Using noise canceling or isolating earbuds or headphones help people listen safer at lower volumes when there’s ambient noise.

To make personal listening safer, go into device settings and turn sound output levels down as much as possible. In some devices the lowest option is a 75 decibel average even though a 70 decibel average is safer. When built-in sound limiting features are activated, listening below 50% maximum volume setting is still safer for protecting auditory health.

I enjoy personal listening. But it’s a frustrating user experience to self-limit volume output at under 50% to avoid personal harm. Regulated standardized output limits are urgently needed for personal audio system manufacturers. This is certainly preferred over leaving the public to figure out what volume is safe. Particularly when people are left to rely on news sources inconsistent with science on noise-hearing risk relationships.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a science enthusiast and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.