How Loud Is Too Loud for Headphones? — Experiencing Hearing Loss From Loud Noise

A while back, I noticed that whenever there was complete silence around me, I could hear this annoying ringing sound. Even though I used to listen to music on my headphones so loudly my kids in the next room could hear it, I never put two and two together. I also never stopped to wonder — how loud is too loud for headphones?

But after a few months of the high-pitched noise, I decided to go and see a specialist. To my surprise, they told me I have a minor hearing loss due to headphones!

I felt frustrated and disappointed because I had done this to myself, and there was no one else to blame. Now, I’m on a mission to help others avoid experiencing hearing loss at any cost.

So if you want to see how dangerous blasting headphones at maximum volume can be and what YOU can do to stop it, keep on reading.

How We Hear Sounds

Singing kitten cat in wired headphones listening to music

The first step to preventing hearing loss due to loud music is understanding how people hear sounds in the first place.

Basically, your inner ear functions as a megaphone that receives sounds.

Those sounds travel through your auditory canal and make your eardrum vibrate. The three tiny bones in your ears or ossicles pick up those vibrations and convey them to the inner ear. This part of the auditory system has the sensory nerves needed to send the sounds to your brain.

In your inner ear, you also have the cochlea, which is a snail-shaped cavity that lets the sounds pass through. Also, it’s usually the first thing to get damaged if you listen to music on the highest volume settings.

Why Loud Sounds Are Dangerous

Look at it this way — you know how your feet get tired after walking or running for a while? Well, the same thing happens to your ears and hearing when you often listen to loud music or spend a lot of time in noisy environments.

At first, your ears will start showing signs of straining, and after a while, they’ll experience irreversible damage. Not only that, but if you often go to concerts where the noises usually exceed 120 dB, you could experience noise-induced hearing loss or echo. Sometimes you may also wonder why does my headset echo, here is why!

I used to think that it’s not a big deal and that temporary hearing loss passes in a few days until I found out that the damage is cumulative. So by going to concerts or staying in noisy environments, I was doing irreversible damage to my hearing.

In essence, the louder the sound is, the less time our ears have to absorb it safely. Even though we can’t experience hearing loss from hearing a thunderstorm in the distance, prolonged exposure to loud noises is never safe.

Tolerating Decibel Levels

To put things in perspective, the sound of breathing only registers at 10 dB, and usually, we can barely hear it. A normal conversation will most often register at 50 dB, which is still pretty safe. In fact, as long as we stay under 70 dB, we’re unlikely to experience any hearing loss.

However, the problem occurs if we often expose ourselves to sounds that are 80 dB, which is how much noise a garbage disposal truck makes or higher. Our headphones can emit a sound that’s around 110 dB, which is the equivalent of listening to a car horn blaring at us all day.

Even though we can set our headphones or earbuds to 85–90 decibels, prolonged exposure to that level of noise is extremely dangerous.

What’s more, if we experience minor hearing loss from that, we might not even notice at first. In turn, we’ll try to overcompensate and start playing music even louder than we used to.

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How to Check If Your Volume Is Too Loud

headphones from a kid

Now that you know which decibel levels to stay away from, it’s key that you know if your volume is in that range. Here are a couple of steps you could follow to test that:

Step 1. Do a Ringing Test

Doing a ringing test is a simple way to find out if your headphones are too loud. You’ll need to take two to three days off from listening to loud music or noise to perform it. Also, don’t wear your headphones or earbuds during that time.

After that, go find the quietest place you can think of and put your headphones on. Don’t play any music but try to stay relaxed and focus on the ringing noise you hear in the background. That noise is your baseline level.

The following day, you can continue listening to music on your headphones as usual. However, you’ll have to repeat the test again in the evening. You should be able to figure out if the ringing noise is louder now than it was before in a matter of minutes.

And if that’s the case, your volume settings are too loud, and you’re at risk of hearing loss.

Step 2. Check Volume Control

Another easy way to prevent hearing loss from loud music is just to keep your headphone volume in check. Make sure you’re not playing music more than two-thirds of the volume control or over 60% on your soundbar. A good rule of thumb is to try to set it under 50% and keep it there at all times.

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Step 3. The Arm’s Length Test

For this test, keep your sound levels as you normally would, take your headphones off, and put them at arm’s length away from you. If you can still hear the music, your volume is too high. Make sure to decrease the volume and give your ears a break during the day.

Also, if your friend is sitting beside you while you’re wearing headphones, ask them if they can hear the music clearly. If they answer yes, it is too loud, and you risk damaging your hearing.

Step 4. Use a Sound Meter

A sound meter is a device that helps measure how many decibels your headphones are emitting. Keep in mind that the most common sound meters will tell you that 94 dB is an acceptable level of noise.

As we now know that’s not true, make sure that your headphones are emitting 10 dB to 20 dB less.

However, if you don’t want to buy a sound meter, you can download an app on your phone or device to tell you the decibel levels. You can check out this instructional video on downloading and using it.

How to Make Your Headphone Volume Safe

1. Use Earplugs

Another great way to protect your hearing is by investing in high-quality isolating earplugs. By doing so, you’ll still be able to hear the music around you well, except it’ll be 20–30 decibels lower.

2. Listening to Music in One Sitting

If you can, limit the amount of time you spend with your headphones or earbuds on every day.

Also, the louder the music you’re playing from your devices, the less time you should be listening to it.

If your music is soft, you might get away with playing it all day at a lower volume. However, if you’re a rock or metal fan and like to blare your headphone volume, try and keep it on for an hour or two at the longest.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, noise-induced hearing loss is a real and scary thing. Even though it won’t happen instantly, spending time in noisy environments, as well as long exposure to loud sounds, can impair hearing.

As often as you can, keep your music at 70 dB or less and always check your volume control. Try and keep it below 50%, and make sure to take proper breaks during the day so that your ears can rest.

If you can’t figure out whether your music is too loud, perform a ringing test, or simply ask a friend. Once you’ve established your baseline, don’t go over it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found it useful. If you have, please leave a comment down below telling me your experiences with loud volumes and if any of these tests were useful.

John Gurley

John Gurley

John Gurley is the Founder, CEO, and Editor At Muse Mini. He has a passion for music and headphones and loves to cover all things music!