Musicians and Hearing Protection

March 26th, 2015 by Mark Hansen, Au.D. Comments »

musican ear protectionWhat’s the Frequency?

Yesterday, following the review of an audiogram with a young musician client, he asked me, “What frequency is middle C?” He did not know the language of audiology, nor did I know how to translate musical scale to hertz. I had to admit that I was not sure, so I promptly put a search to Google. We discovered it is 261.6 Hz. I see musicians every day who are concerned about and want to protect their hearing, and every day I learn something new (both directly from them and from questions they put to me).

Musicians are Unique in the World of Audiology

They are sophisticated listeners, and most are at risk of damage to their hearing from what they love to do. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t! Most — if not all — musicians I have met know that they must protect their hearing. Many choose not to, and I think that is because hearing protection for musicians (until recently) has significantly altered the frequency response that they hear back when hearing protection is worn.

We all know the strange quality of hearing we experience when we speak while our fingers are in our ears; this is called the occlusion effect. Can you imagine playing a musical instrument or singing with the occlusion effect? Not good. But no longer!

New, Improved Technology is Now Available

There is now technology available to protect the hearing of musicians while maintaining the fidelity of both vocal and musical instrument output. Passive-filter technology inserted in custom-made molds of the musician’s ear have allowed for attenuation of sound to different degrees. The key for attenuation of music intensity to safe levels for musicians is the ability to reduce all frequencies to the same degree — and thereby keeping the fidelity of the music that is heard by both the musician and the audience intact. This level of technology is the least expensive method of hearing protection for musicians.

Technological advances do not stand still. Passive filtering has now become active. With utilization of electronic-compression technology, “midlevel” priced technology for musicians’ hearing protection takes passive filtering to another level. With use of this midlevel compression technology, fidelity is maintained, but attenuation is changed with changed input intensity. Price does increase with this type of technology, as do ongoing costs such as batteries required to power the technology. As of today, this technology is not custom made. It is generic and designed to fit most everyone’s ears.

In-Ear Monitors

A third and higher level of technology comes in the form of in-ear monitors. This technology allows for fine-tuning of fidelity heard by the musician. Generally, in-ear monitors are set up and maintained by the artist’s or band’s audio engineer. Some in-ear monitors allow for communication to the musician from the soundboard. Many have triple drivers or more, which translates to exceptional sound quality.  In-ear monitors were initially designed to remove the need for floor-level monitors. They tend to be much more expensive than both passive and active filtering technology.

Let Us Help

A discussion with your AudigyCertified audiologist about where you are and where you intend to go, with regard to your musical career, is paramount. This discussion must include questions about tinnitus (which is commonly thought to indicate damage to the auditory system following exposure to loud noise or music), any current hearing loss, musical intensity levels in dB SPL, and the time spent around this intensity of music.