Medical Mysteries of Music

Are you buggering up your hearing? Better read this.

Hearing loss can be a natural function of aging. Why hurry it along by abusing your ears when you’re younger? And once you do damage your hearing, it can be irreversible.

The first things that tend to go are the high frequencies. Once those go, sounds (and music, of course) begin to sound muddy and indistinct. People with certain types of speaking voices may be harder to hear.

Test your personal high-frequency response here. For maximum accuracy, use a good pair of headphones. And for giggles, give the same test to your kid. Chances are they’ll be able to hear higher frequencies than you.

This isn’t some screed warning about the perils of loud music. But there are ways you can protect yourself from music that’s too loud.

(1) Earplugs: You won’t find me at a gig without a pair. Because I spend a lot of time at shows, I went big, buying a custom molded set for around $200, but that’s overkill for most people. You can buy a package of foam earplugs at virtually any drugstore. I keep a bunch in my glove compartment at all times for those times I forget my good pair at home. 

Earplugs not only protect you from loud noises, but they can also make a concert sound better by filtering out echo and nasty harmonics created by the venue. Try it.

(2) Get an SPL metre for your phone: There are a bunch of sound pressure metres available for free in app stores. It’s handy to have one around just to see how loud the band is actually playing. Hint: Things start to get gnarly for your ears after about 85 dB. That’s when you need to pull out the earplugs–or leave.

This may seem like I’m harping on like some old man, but ask anything with tinnitus or other hearing issues how much they’re enjoying life.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38536 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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