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When Good Ears Go Bad–It’s All Gone Pete Tong

You just left a gig and you’re dialing the number you got halfway through your set. As you lift the phone, you notice two kinds of ringing. One is coming from the phone, but the other one? That, my fellow DJ, is the piercing cry of a damaged microscopic hair in your inner ear, who’s sole purpose is to pick up that very frequency you’re hearing. No big deal, right? Yes, big deal. That tiny hair is making that shrill noise because it’s so severely damaged, it’s about to die. And even worse, you will probably NEVER hear that frequency again. That’s right, never. In this article, I give you a brief lesson on the anatomy of the human ear and interview two experts, so you can begin to understand what is happening beneath the headphones.

In past articles we have mentioned ear protection and different monitoring options for DJs, but how many of you have actually gone out and purchased ear protection? Sure, it helps to turn down the monitors occasionally, but that alone is not going to keep you from turning out like Frankie Wilde, the DJ who goes deaf in It’s All Gone Pete Tong.

THE HUMAN EAR

To avoid putting everyone to sleep with a detailed anatomy lesson, I will simplify this very complex system as much as possible, while still getting across the basic concepts You can use this diagram as a visual reference as you read my description.

Normal Ear Anatomy

There are three main sections that make up the human ear. First, you have the Outer ear. This section of the ear includes your pinnae (the floppy things on the side of your head) and your external ear canal. This this where sound waves are first collected into the ear and become amplified as they reflect and condense on their way through the ear canal.

Sound waves then make their way into the Middle ear, where they resonate against the tympanum (eardrum), which sends the vibrations through a series of small bones. At this point, the sound waves have been translated into mechanical energy.

From there, that energy is then passed into the Inner ear, or the cochlea. While the cochlea is an extremely complex system in itself, for our purposes it is best to think of it as a spectrum analyzer. Inside the cochlea there are thousands of microscopic cilia (hairs), each designed to only respond to one individual frequency. The thousands of these hairs all interpreting different frequencies are what give the human ear an effective hearing range of 20Hz – 20kHz, which makes up what we understand to be the “full” frequency spectrum. Finally, all of this information is sent to the brain as electrical impulses via the auditory nerve.

INTERVIEW WITH AN EXPERT… OR TWO

DJTT: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

AJ Tissian: “First I must say that I am not an audiologist, nor am I a doctor. For over 20 years I’ve been a professional audio producer, engineer and musician. I’m the owner/operator of Grand Street Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I am an instructor at the SAE Institute of Technology in NYC.”

DJTT: What exactly is ear fatigue, and how is that different from hearing loss?

AT: “Ear Fatigue means ‘tired ears.’ It’s caused by a condition known as temporary threshold shift (TTS), which is an elevation in the threshold of human hearing caused by long exposure to loud sound. The human ear has several ways of protecting itself from becoming damaged when it’s exposed to loud sounds. One of these ways is to reduce its sensitivity, causing the hearing threshold to shift upwardly. This causes us to hear sound differently than when our ears are fresh, especially high and low frequencies. This makes things that are generally quiet to begin with hard to hear at all, so we wind up cranking everything to “11”, making what’s already a bad situation worse. Making critical audio decisions while fatigued is not a good idea and will probably result in making serious mistakes. Thankfully it’s a temporary situation that a good night’s sleep (or 2) can help solve, but continual exposure to loud sound will cause it to become permanent. Now we’re talking about permanent hearing loss.

“There are two types of hearing loss. The first is called “sensorineural” hearing loss and is a result of nerve damage in the inner ear. The other is called “conductive” hearing loss and is caused by mechanical problems in the outer ear, most likely a torn eardrum or the death of many cilia in the middle ear. Most people naturally suffer from one or both of these conditions as they get older. Exposure to loud sound can either speed up the onset of these issues or could outright cause them.”

DJTT: Can you explain exactly what is happening as someone begins to lose their hearing?

AT: “They are either giving themselves nerve damage (this is very likely from prolonged and repeated exposure to excessively loud sound) or mechanical damage. The cilia that respond to high frequencies are very weak and fragile. If we flatten them continuously with huge sound waves (like wheat gets flattened by high winds) they’ll eventually die off. This is a permanent condition, as these cells do not regenerate.”

DJTT: How can ear fatigue or partial hearing loss affect a DJ’s performance?

AT: “Hearing loss will affect everything they do in their daily lives that requires hearing. Everything will sound very “dull” and conversations will be very hard to understand, especially in noisy environments like restaurants, bars, clubs, parties and even walking the streets. These people will also need to crank things like their TVs and stereos to distinguish the dialog from background sounds or music.

“As far as performance goes, beat matching and mixing records in a club setting doesn’t require too much critical listening, but if they play around a lot with EQs, filters and effects when they gig, they will have a very difficult time making good mixes without the help of someone who has “good” ears to be critical for them. Some typical issues they’ll encounter from this condition is the tendency to shred the upper mids and highs and/or blow out all the lows making things sound just awful.”

DJTT: In your opinion, what are the most aurally damaging activities that most DJ’s would be likely to encounter?

AT: “Long use of headphones and monitors at ridiculously loud levels and being in loud nightclubs for hours on end without wearing proper linear attenuating earplugs.”

DJTT: Are there any performance scenarios that a DJ should altogether avoid?

AT: “See above.”

DJTT: At what volume level should a musician start to become concerned with long-term damage?

AT: “Anything over 100 dB-SPL for more than 15 minutes a day should be a serious concern. Short-term exposure to very loud levels (over 120 dB-SPL) can cause loss after very few periods of this abuse. Anything over 150 will cause permanent loss instantly (literally).”

After this interview I went around to a few clubs NYC to check dB levels in the DJ booth. I found that in most cases when the DJ had the monitors up and the club system at full whack, the sound level meter showed an average of anywhere from 95 to 105 dB-SPL — in some cases even higher!

DJTT: What is the best measure a performing musician can take to protect their ears without affecting their performance?

AT: “Turn it DOWN! Or… wear custom made, linear attenuating earplugs whenever you practice or gig.”

DJTT: Any other tips or tricks you could offer that would help a DJ maintain a long and audible career?

AT: “When working in the booth or in the studio keep the long-term average level between 85-90 dB-SPL. Only use headphones when you have to, and DO NOT use them for recreational listening. I know I sound like a crazy person right now, but I’m serious — so get over it. (Ignoring this advice will cause ear fatigue before you even get to the gig!)

PART DEUX

Now I know some of you are saying, “But he’s not an audiologist. Why should I listen to him?” Well, I also spoke to my friend David Fradkin, a private-practice audiologist. He has an MA in Deaf Education from Columbia University and an MA in Audiology from the University of Massachusetts. Here’s what he had to say:

“Sensori neural hearing loss is a result of damage to the hair cells or neural fibers that line the cochlea.  Exposure to loud noise can cause a temporary threshold shift in hearing that can last around 24 hours.  Repeated noise exposure can eventually harm the neural endings, primarily along the basal portion of the cochlea and can result in a permanent threshold shift.

“Anybody exposed to relatively loud sounds should be wary. When we look at a sound spectrum that may be harmful to the hearing mechanism, we look at duration, intensity and frequency.  High frequencies for a long duration and any frequencies at high intensities (above 80 dB HTL) are potentially deleterious to the auditory mechanism.

“Keep this in mind; if a person needs to raise his voice to be heard by someone next to him, then the ambient noise may be potentially harmful. Take precautions. Once neural damage occurs, it can be permanent.”

(In most cases I find that you always have to yell to the person next to you when in the DJ booth.)

THE BOTTOM LINE

I hope by this point you are beginning understand the absolute need to protect your hearing. In my next article, I will discuss the three main options you have available for effective ear protection, the pros and cons of each, and how they stack up by price. In the meantime — mockumentary or not — I’d like to leave you with a quote from the Pete Tong film.

“There’s not much you can do as a DJ if you can’t hear.”

SIDE NOTE: I would be a very bad person to tell you all this and not even help you start looking for some kind of hearing protection before my next article. Here are a few sites you can check out in the meantime to get you going in the right direction.

http://www.howardleight.com

http://www.earinc.com

http://earplugstore.stores.yahoo.net

  • Blesstheeardrum

    To writer of this Article. Are you up or starting an awareness project about this? I’ve thought and felt deeply about this for a long time now. Everyone should know. Before they find this article or others like it when they are asking questions.

    Be good to talk

    John

  • Chupsie

    The article doesn’t even mention Presbycusis, which is a natural and unavoidable process that all (non-teen) DJs should be aware of.

  • Roq

    Wow thats a really great article, I’m glad I took the time to read it. WHat I absolutely cannot stand is when a nightclub is running a poorly equilized sound system, and it is exacerbated by the fact that they think the louder they play the music the better it sounds. In fact I went to one club recently where the trebble was so badly mixed, that it was actually causing me pain and made me cringe a few times on the highs. I had to leave after just a short while, and I had a badass ringing in my ears for days after that. No doubt my ears took a severe pounding.

  • Glen

    [quote comment=”28885″]Does anyone have a suggestion for some that I can wear with my headphones on top? I may be looking @ them wrong, but the one’s listed here seem that you’d have to take them out, to use your headphones. I’d like a pair that I can keep in my hears while I’m cueing.[/quote]

    http://www.proplugs.com/musicandnoise.shtml

    Ive been using these under headphones for djing. They do sound fairly muffled, but at £15 they’re much better than nothing, and you can still hear people speaking.

    When I first started wearing them they were crazy uncomfortable, but they get better with time, you need to break them in.

    I don’t need an article to tell me my ears are being damaged when I’m at concerts/clubs, it’s the lack of information about different kinds of protection and their effect on the sound that has stopped me acquiring any in the past.

  • I like the article. I watchd the movie years ago and I thought it was an educational piece. I started going out and sleeping in bass bins back in 1993. I did this from 1993 to about 1998. After every event I couldn’t hear for at least a day. I started performing (mixing) in 1995 and this added to my hearing damage.

    In 1999 I had a physical done on me for a job I was applying for and I failed it. The technician told me that my right ear was a lot worse than my left ear, and that both ears failed the test. I lucked out because I was still hired on for the job.

    I took a year long break from the decks and stopped hanging out in front of speakers. But in 2000 I returned to the decks and started spinning for nightclubs with loud monitors. I ended up locking down a residency at a club where I was there on Tuesday, Friday & Saturday. After a few months there My Saturdays were my worst nights cause I couldnt hear shit and I couldnt mix for shit. The monitors started to damage my ears even further. I took 2 weeks off and gave them a rest.

    I currently carry cotton balls inside of my record bag with me. The cotton balls cut out enough of the HIGH frequency to not bother me and I always turn the monitors down now. I consider myself the “Poor Mans” DJ. I get by with what I have. I cant afford fancy special ear protection, so for me the cotton works fine.

  • Hambone

    I found this guy “Kip Kay” on youtube. This is his tutorial on creating some ear savers. They might make you look like a dork but if you have a old pair xones hanging around, you now have some pretty awesome homemade noise cancelling headphones for like $30 (plus the sunk cost of whatever headphones you decide to cannibalize).

  • Carlos Zavarce

    [quote comment=”29490″]I was a very successful, full-time club dj for over twenty years starting in 1976. In those days, one dj typically played from open til closing, and I typically played 4 or 5 days every week, from 9 til 3 or 4 am without a break, so one would expect that I might be a candidate for the Helen Keller School. Instead, I still have better than average hearing for someone my age. I attribute that to a few rules that I followed religiously:

    1. Learn how each stage of your sound chain should be trimmed out. Never overdrive or clip an input or an output, because that creates distortion which I believe is the real danger to your hearing as opposed to the SPL (with all due respect to the audiologists).
    2. I personally don’t believe in earplugs for djs. That may save your hearing but is much more likely to damage that of your audience. If you are playing so loud that your ears would be hurt, what is it doing to everyone else?
    3. Show your listeners some respect by making it a point to be aware of the sound level and quality from their listening position.
    4. Minimize your use of a booth monitor or do away with it completely if possible and learn to listen to what they hear. Who are you playing for anyway? Lower booth levels or (preferably)no monitors means you will be running your headphones at lower levels so you have just eliminated the two biggest dangers to your hearing while greatly increasing the likelihood that your audience will stay longer and leave without their ears ringing.

    Sorry for such a long post, but I believe there is no investment more worthwhile than spending the time learning to TRULY control the gear you are using in a way that is powerful but clean and thus not harmful to you and your audience.[/quote]

    Great post, thanks so much bud

    • Mare Marinelli

      Carlos, I totally agree to what you say. I started also off djing in the early 80’s like you and I am still playing most days out or in. Get the right gear, know how to use it and don’t over EQ but sure not everyone is the same and some are more vulnerable, that’s why some people for example have to wear glasses and some not, that’s life…

    • Mare Marinelli

      Carlos, I totally agree to what you say. I started also off djing in the early 80’s like you and I am still playing most days out or in. Get the right gear, know how to use it and don’t over EQ but sure not everyone is the same and some are more vulnerable, that’s why some people for example have to wear glasses and some not, that’s life…

  • [quote comment=”29521″]Can somebody give me a good example of custom-made in ear plugs for listening to music?[/quote]

    I have westone UM-1’s but I wouldn’t recommend regular in-ears with custom molds that fit on like plugs do. They are not bulletproof. Mine broke due to the molds and I have to send them for repair now.
    Check the head-fi forums or so…

    Or google :):
    http://www.gearslutz.com/board/remote-possibilities-acoustic-music-location-recording/40687-ear-monitors-advice.html

  • Sjaak

    Can somebody give me a good example of custom-made in ear plugs for listening to music?

  • Kerry Jaggers

    I was a very successful, full-time club dj for over twenty years starting in 1976. In those days, one dj typically played from open til closing, and I typically played 4 or 5 days every week, from 9 til 3 or 4 am without a break, so one would expect that I might be a candidate for the Helen Keller School. Instead, I still have better than average hearing for someone my age. I attribute that to a few rules that I followed religiously:

    1. Learn how each stage of your sound chain should be trimmed out. Never overdrive or clip an input or an output, because that creates distortion which I believe is the real danger to your hearing as opposed to the SPL (with all due respect to the audiologists).
    2. I personally don’t believe in earplugs for djs. That may save your hearing but is much more likely to damage that of your audience. If you are playing so loud that your ears would be hurt, what is it doing to everyone else?
    3. Show your listeners some respect by making it a point to be aware of the sound level and quality from their listening position.
    4. Minimize your use of a booth monitor or do away with it completely if possible and learn to listen to what they hear. Who are you playing for anyway? Lower booth levels or (preferably)no monitors means you will be running your headphones at lower levels so you have just eliminated the two biggest dangers to your hearing while greatly increasing the likelihood that your audience will stay longer and leave without their ears ringing.

    Sorry for such a long post, but I believe there is no investment more worthwhile than spending the time learning to TRULY control the gear you are using in a way that is powerful but clean and thus not harmful to you and your audience.

  • Carlos Zavarce

    After the interview you posted with JFK from MSTRKRFT I started getting concerned and went out to buy custom molded ear plugs. I bartend so they have been great for that. However, when I dj with them it is very difficult to hear the more subtle effects ect. Last time I used them I had to have my earphones up so loud that I busted one of the cans.(WESC Bag Pipes….in retrospect probably not the best choice).

    So now I can only see using them to dj whilst in a very loud club environment, at least until I can afford better headphones.

  • Tim 1984

    [quote comment=”28885″]Does anyone have a suggestion for some that I can wear with my headphones on top? I may be looking @ them wrong, but the one’s listed here seem that you’d have to take them out, to use your headphones. I’d like a pair that I can keep in my hears while I’m cueing.[/quote]

    My DJ partner and I use these $6 hearos that fit great under headphones. they’re the only ones I’ve found outside of custom plugs that you can wear all night discretely. Our resident gig is every Friday and Saturday so we’re in a loud club 8 hours a weekend. They’re comfortable, work well (about a 20+db cut but i have no problem djing or cuing music with headphones)and it makes it a ton easier to talk to people. Nice part is there’s no cord or stem hanging out to stop you from slapping your headphones on. Hope that helps.

  • Anytime I see Mackie 450’s or JBL eon’s in the booth I run. What I’ve learned from working with them is true for most systems. Powered PAs such as these are tuned to have a flat eq. When these speakers are used to play dance music they sound like they have no bass. So they get turned up rather than crossed over to enhance the bass. This raises the whole freq range in volume and crushes your ears in the worst way. If you have ever heard a properly tuned big system you might have noticed the next morning that your ears are not ringing. In some cases you can even have a conversation in front of the stack while your clothes are flapping in the breeze of the subs. Unfortunately this is a rarely the case.

  • Caryl J

    Also can anyone recommend an accurate but not too expensive dB meter? Cheers

  • Caryl J

    Thanks for sharing your story Janzak seems unfair that at such a young age this should happen to you. Another example of why hearing protection is so important when djing and clubbing.

    I went to a club once and forgot my ear plugs. Had tinnitus the next except it didn’t go away. For about six months I could barely listen to a record or walk out of my house without feeling in pain. Sounds like traffic would hurt.

    Doctors didn’t have a clue. After some research on the net it turned out I had hyperacusis (which seems to run in the family anyway). It is a hypersensitivity to sounds which would aggravate my tinnitus even more. I fixed this by listening to long bouts of pink noise which de-sensitized my hearing and calmed my tinnitus down.

    Now my tinnitus is very mild luckily but now I take earplugs with me everywhere I go. It’s like when you leave the house you take your keys, your wallet oh and the ear plugs, cos you never know. And I listen to pink noise frequently which I downloaded as an mp3. It’s just noise but covers all the frequency spectrum and it works! Thanks pink noise or I’d still be in the s***!

  • tony corless

    Nice article.
    I use hd 25 headphones and mix using split cue
    left ear listens to cue right ear listens to output I dont use monitor speakers at all.
    I find that the output ear suffers a bit after gigs whilst the cue ear [the left one] is fine.
    I bought some custom fit plugs about 5 years ago with -9 and -15 filters.I find I cant use em to dj,they make me feel totally detached from the crowd they dont feel right to me and I end up taking them out I have tried numerous times to use them but I just cant get on with them I wish I could.

  • Another great article on DJTT that emphasizes the potential dangers of listening to loud music. I always make sure I’m listening to music at home at a reasonable levels, never to the point where my ears hurt.

    I don’t think a lot of people realize that once you start to lose your hearing, you can’t magically get it back.

  • GreatExpectations

    So can anyone recommend some good (safeish!) headphones that I can wear to listen to my ipod? Maybe some closed-back circumaural headphones? Is an ipod powerful enough to drive DJ style earphones like the Sony MDR-7506’s?

  • Crazy that you’re posting this article right now, I’ve had tinnitus for as long as I can remember and let me tell you it’s no fucking joke.

    I’ve had it since I was a kid, probably something physically wrong in my ears or body – or I heard something as a baby – but that combined with my excessive listening to loud music between ages 11 and 13 (at 13 I read about tinnitus) left me with between 2 and 4 different ringing noises in my ears.

    There are two constant ones in both ears, one around 17k hz and another “about an octave down”. Adding to that I have a regular one, another octave down, in my right ear that’s been there for a few days now but I unplug it mentally sometimes. Plus when I get fatigued (or just randomly) I have bursts from a fourth tone in a random ear.

    Right now I’m in one of my “fuck I have tinnitus, it’s uncurable, this is the last thing I’ll hear before I die” periods and it’s depressing as shit.

    To anyone who still has the chance to take care of your ears – DO IT! Doesn’t matter if you look like an idiot wearing earplugs in loud environments or if earplugs are expensive. Experiencing this is a great way of taking two steps closer to insanity.

  • [quote comment=”28934″]Good article!

    My Advice (and how I do it, trust me!):

    1. Sorry but headphones are NOT bad. I don’t know if it’s true but loud levels in headphones cause more damage than speakers because the source is closer to your ear. That’s the ONLY thing I watch out for. (I know it sounds weird.)
    Just KEEP the volume SAFE at all times. And you can use them ALL day long.

    2. Mark the volume knob or use a db-meter and DONT go over a certain point. (~85dB)

    3. In-ears
    These are heaven!
    I know it looks weird but if you really, really want to save your ears, this is the only option. Nuff said.
    They usually isolate up to around -20dB or more! I use them with my ipod too and I NEVER want ANYTHING else now.
    http://www.headphone.com/headphones/in-ear.php%5B/quote%5D

    There are two kind of in-ear headphones. The terrible ones that WILL damage your hearing at a rapid rate are the ported plastic ones that do not make a seal in the ear. Because they are ported and they do not make a seal, they offer almost no isolation from your environment therefor causing you to have to crank up the volume to drown out the ambient noise. Now, not only are your ears taking the surrounding noise, but also the music blasting out of the tiny speaker IN your ear at the same time. This, as you would expect, is no good.
    In ear headphones fitted with custom ear molds are another story. These DO offer a good amount of isolation, therefor needing less volume from the speakers to drown out the ambient noise. While this is a better option, it should still be used for short periods of time with frequent breaks. Isolation or not, you WILL get ear fatigue.

    IMO, if you are going to spend the money to get custom molded in-ear headphones, you might as well get linear attenuating earplugs instead, which you can use under a pair of regular headphones, whether you are performing or not.

  • Good article!

    My Advice (and how I do it, trust me!):

    1. Sorry but headphones are NOT bad. I don’t know if it’s true but loud levels in headphones cause more damage than speakers because the source is closer to your ear. That’s the ONLY thing I watch out for. (I know it sounds weird.)
    Just KEEP the volume SAFE at all times. And you can use them ALL day long.

    2. Mark the volume knob or use a db-meter and DONT go over a certain point. (~85dB)

    3. In-ears
    These are heaven!
    I know it looks weird but if you really, really want to save your ears, this is the only option. Nuff said.
    They usually isolate up to around -20dB or more! I use them with my ipod too and I NEVER want ANYTHING else now.
    http://www.headphone.com/headphones/in-ear.php

  • GreatExpectations

    [quote comment=”28904″][quote comment=”28898″]Great Article Ean.

    Can folks here clarify a couple of things for me? What kind of headphones should I wear when listening to my ipod? (recommendations?). When mixing (at home and house parties) recommendations for headphones that won’t screw up my hearing?

    Cheers[/quote]

    Well, to an extent they all are going to eventually screw up your hearing, although some sooner than others. Your best defense is to invest in some hearing protection. Custom molded earplugs are the best option, but more on that in my article.

    With that said, if you must listen to your iPod, do it at a reasonable volume level for short periods of time. Your best bet is to use a pair of closed-back circumaural headphones, which will block out the most ambient noise and allow you to keep the music at a lower level.

    When mixing, you should ALWAYS have some form of ear protection in. The volume that you need to crank the headphones/monitors to in order to drown out the exceedingly loud ambient noise of a nightclub or party is insane and you need some form of earplugs to bring that overall dB level down to something less damaging to your hearing.[/quote]

    Thank Kyle. So do you think then that circumaural headphones are better for the ears than in-ear noise isolating ones?

  • Quenepas

    Very interesting.

  • What an excellently informative article!

    I’m sold. Now I’m simply waiting for the follow-up article to decide what I kind of ear-protection I should get.

  • [quote comment=”28898″]Great Article Ean.

    Can folks here clarify a couple of things for me? What kind of headphones should I wear when listening to my ipod? (recommendations?). When mixing (at home and house parties) recommendations for headphones that won’t screw up my hearing?

    Cheers[/quote]

    Well, to an extent they all are going to eventually screw up your hearing, although some sooner than others. Your best defense is to invest in some hearing protection. Custom molded earplugs are the best option, but more on that in my article.

    With that said, if you must listen to your iPod, do it at a reasonable volume level for short periods of time. Your best bet is to use a pair of closed-back circumaural headphones, which will block out the most ambient noise and allow you to keep the music at a lower level.

    When mixing, you should ALWAYS have some form of ear protection in. The volume that you need to crank the headphones/monitors to in order to drown out the exceedingly loud ambient noise of a nightclub or party is insane and you need some form of earplugs to bring that overall dB level down to something less damaging to your hearing.

  • this is an excellent article and we should all take the advice given. i’ve been in and out of bands since i was 16, now i’m beginning to loose my hearing all together. not a nice feeling. ipods have to be turned mostly all the way up for me to hear it clearly and tv’s are just as loud.

  • Hooker T

    This is one to remember!!!!
    I damaged my “monitor” ear by cranking up the booth for waaay too long. Now I have to wear etymotics even when I go to bars. Young dumb and too much fun, you never think about your ears while working, clubbing, exercising, etc. but they are the one thing you use the most while DJing.

  • I can’t say too much about earplugs, I have a pair of the Alpine plugs with 3 different filters for different volume levels. They sound OK, stop my ears ringing but don’t have the attenuation of proper custom moulded musicians earplugs, that have greater sonic attenuation due to their custom fitted shape.

    Some people have been asking if earbuds are better/worse than in ear plugs for your ears…. there isn’t really a straight answer to this question, in ear monitors have better isolation, they keep outside sounds OUT better so people tend to play their music at lower levels as they aren’t fighting the ambient noise around them.
    With ipod style earbuds people often end up fighting the outside sound due to there poor isolation.
    I also think that in ear monitors sound better, better bass channeling and general acoustic quality… therefore people don’t have to turn them up further to hear the track properly

    good article thanks

  • midifidler

    Great article!
    Ill def be picking up some customs very soon, I have allways wondered about the need for them, and had my hearing checked last year but found it was still excellent. However about a month ago I played one particular gig with a rediculous monitor and had ringing for the next 24 hours, and sensitive ears for the next three weeks, it really impacts your ability to enjoy music – I would never want that to be permament

  • GreatExpectations

    Sorry, mean Great Article Kyle!

  • GreatExpectations

    Great Article Ean.

    Can folks here clarify a couple of things for me? What kind of headphones should I wear when listening to my ipod? (recommendations?). When mixing (at home and house parties) recommendations for headphones that won’t screw up my hearing?

    Cheers

  • [quote comment=”28864″]

    When i’m dj’n i’m using a sennheiser HD 215:
    http://alblog1.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/sennheiser_hd215_closed_stereo_monitoring_headphones.jpg

    This heaphone has allmost no bass, so it doesnt smash your ears..

    Looking forward to the next article[/quote]

    I wouldn’t worry (as much) about the bass. It’s the mids and highs that will destroy your hearing a lot faster than the lower 20-100hz frequency range.

    I use custom ear plugs and they are the best investment i’ve ever made. (having said that i lost my first pair so have now spent 420€ in total, would i spend it again.. hell yes)

    For those over near the uk.. http://www.hearingprotection.co.uk is a useful site to find audiologists near you.

  • Anonymous

    Huh?

  • MrSteve81

    I actually pretty much stopped clubbing because of worries about my hearing.

    After a night raving it up to some Andy C I had ringing in my ears for 2 days afterwards. Was so scared I had tinnitus, but luckily it stopped.

  • djsko

    Not much to add. Doesn’t matter how you protect your ears – just do it before it’s too late!

  • DRD

    Love all of your articles man.

  • Sjaak

    Is it true what they say about in-ears, that they are less worse for your ears than regular iphone earplugs?

  • Marvelous Mixin Miguel

    I’ve been mixing for 20+ years. I have hearing loss in one ear. (The ear I use my headphones to cue up music.)

    I love mixing music and would like to do it my entire life. But if you can’t hear you can’t play.

    One thing I stopped doing is using headphones to cue up music. I let traktor sync my music. No more headphones for me. Not even to listen to an ipod.

    I know a lot of people say you’re not mixing if traktor syncs your music. Just do your thing. In the future software mixing will be main stream; you just beat everyone to it.

    Now all I need is a good pair of earplugs. Looking forward to the next article.

    Miguel

  • Kh3MiC4L

    Pete tong movie was awsome its just give me the mood to go see it again !!! I also cant remember the name of the other old clubbing movie i wanted to see again the 90s(raving scene)

  • dirtyonekanobi

    Does anyone have a suggestion for some that I can wear with my headphones on top? I may be looking @ them wrong, but the one’s listed here seem that you’d have to take them out, to use your headphones. I’d like a pair that I can keep in my hears while I’m cueing.

  • Sebastian

    Hello. I didn’t have time to read over the comments, so I hope this is not redundant. I am a live audio engineer, DJ, and producer. I have switched to Etymotic Research plugs for “disposable” plugs. They build an even, 10, 15, and 20 db reducing earplug for around $15 on amazon. I can mix confidently with them in place. That brings that 100db threshold down to a manageable level.

    For monitors, use http://www.mylivewires.com/ these are real-deal in-ear monitors. They go out on the road with a LOT of acts. They are just good. That is all.

  • hey, I heard that high frequencies are more damaging to your ears than low. Is this true? I’m sure that standing next to a sub and getting kicked in the face with the bass isn’t great, but its probably better than standing in front of a tweeter right? high frequencies are much more directional so when its pointed at you it will sound much louder. as opposed to a sub that fills the room no matter where its pointed.

  • Pieter

    Wow! Very good and VERY important article!!! I’m sixteen and already suffering from mild tinnitus, though not because of too loud environments, but oversensitive ears and my family’s got it too, but really, never go dj’ing or clubbing without protection for the ears!

  • RJW

    I’ve had regular foam earplugs, then the er-20’s the the custom fit ones and now I use these http://www.audiorelief.co.uk/shop/product_info.php?products_id=102

    The ones I use now are the best balance between comfort, protection and price!

    Foam ones are cheap but too dull, no good.
    ER-20s are ok but not the comfiest.

    Custom fit ones are excellent, and for professional use i’d highly recommend them. dead comfy and excellent even attenuation.
    no good for clubbing with though, I found they fit so well i kept having to check they hadn’t fallen out (literally couldn’t feel then in!).
    Also I managed to lose one 🙁 and they’re damn expensive to replace.

    So the alpine ones I use now make me 🙂
    They are comfy, but you KNOW they’re in your ear.
    The attenuation is pretty smooth, plus they come with different filters.
    They come with a spare earplug for when you lose one (and you will!)
    and they cost under £20!

    rude!

  • n2hf1st

    +1 for the er-20s. I keep em on my keychain and whenever it starts getting loud I pop them in. def want a pair of musician’s earplugs though, because I have to take the er-20s out when I’m monitoring with my hd25s

  • DJ XISIX

    My girlfriend’s an audiologist, so I got a little extra help with keeping my hearing intact. DJ & Audiologist, good combo wouldn’t you say? 🙂

  • Armando

    wow… I layed in bed for 30 minutes this morning thinking about hearing damage and how I need to invest in some earplugs before I hit the circuit again. Nice article thanks!

  • Patrick

    Well, I’ve bought myself some simple hearing protection with exchangeable filters and i must say it’s awesome. You leave the club, take em out and it feels like I wasn’t in the club this night. You even can’t see this thingy from the outside and you may wear your headphones as you would under normal conditions, too. I own a pair of inear phones, too. But i find myself a bit unconfident while DJing with them so I mainly use them for listening to Music (but at very low volumes, cause they’re relatively loud).
    So I hope some others start thinking about their ears, too. It’s worth the investment!

  • soulDeez

    Like a lot of you, I also wear Etymotic ER-20’s at “loud” gigs. Fortunately for me, I’m still (barely) able to wear my headphones (Senn HD280’s) over them, so I can cue things and whatnot normally without being overwhelmed by the environment. They’re a godsend whenever I go to using only one cup or take my headphones off altogether.

  • RYmd

    of course loss of hearing is bad in many ways, but what will really fuck you up is tinnitus. The suicide rate of people with serious tinnitus is pretty high.

    AND the worst part is that you can actually go completely deaf, like pete tong, but still have tinnitus, that means, you cant hear anything, except a loud fucking beeeep. thats like having roadrunner stuck on a loop inside your head.

    Good trick i learned while studying to become a sound technician is something called the salt mine. If you realise your starting to get it after long time of exposure to loud sounds, you can reverse it (heal your ears) by completely isolate yourself from sound for a couple of days, like sitting in an abandoned salt mine.

    Good thing you guys brought this up. keep up the good work

  • I use Exinore Flexcomfort ER’s with both 25 and 15 dB filters. I haven’t used the 25 dB’s yet but the 15dB’s work good in a club environment. Little tip I can give is to put on/in your ear protection about 20 to 30 minutes before you enter the loud environment. That way you’re hearing get’s used to the loss in perceived loudness, and you won’t end up taking them out because you can’t hear the monitors…

    Good article, love this site!

  • Abyrne7

    You guys just scared me. I need to start protecting. Is the next article on this topic going to be this Friday?

  • Great post
    Just ordered my Etymotic ER-20s as you really have made me aware as i am in a club 3 night of the week and always have music at home when practicing

  • gfocus

    I just bought myself a pair of Elacin’s custom-molded ear plugs with -15 db filters. Have yet to test them in a night club, but I can already say that it’s amazing how they maintain the clarity of the music with their linear filtering. Well worth the 160 EUR. Great article.

  • Hi, excellent article!

    I use in-ear headphones..
    BUT i’m only listening for about 50 – 60 minutes a day.
    And i can set a maximum volume and puted that down to some above the middle, not the maximum.

    When i’m dj’n i’m using a sennheiser HD 215:
    http://alblog1.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/sennheiser_hd215_closed_stereo_monitoring_headphones.jpg

    This heaphone has allmost no bass, so it doesnt smash your ears..

    Looking forward to the next article

  • Shog

    Really helpful article.Ears are everything as you guys said.

    From where can i buy a pair of Etymotic ER-20s?I have a pair of earplugs but they i think these are better than mine.

  • [quote comment=”28857″]so you guys recommend not to listen all day to my ipod with headphones?[/quote]

    No. But if you must do so, I would first make sure you are taking breaks when listening for prolonged periods of time. Give your ears a bit of time to rest, otherwise they will get tired, which will cause you to crank up the volume, which is when the damage begins.

    Secondly, I would NOT use the earbuds that came with the iPod. Not only do they sound downright terrible, but as with all earbuds the nature of the design (a tiny speaker INSIDE your ear) puts a tremendous ammount of stress on the ear and will actually cause ear fatigue/damage much faster than a conventional pair of on/over ear headphones. If you want isolation, sound quality, and the least amount of stress put on your ears; go with a good pair of closed-back circumaural headphones.

  • Thomas

    Thanks for the great article!

    I bought myself a pair of Elacin ER FlexComforts a little over a year ago. Quite expensive but worth every cent. At the moment I’m using them with -25dB filters, which are quite good for night clubs, but a little too much for djing. You can also get them with -9dB or -15dB filters.

  • When I go clubbing I *ALWAYS* take a pair of Etymotic ER-20s. They’ve got something close to a flat response so take an even 20dB ish of the volume away, and they only cost ~£5-6 a pair. I’ve got about 3-4 pairs kicking about so I can always find them. Cue no ringing in the ears after a gig.

    When I listen to my iPod – usually for a couple of hours a day at least, I use sound isolating ear-buds. I don’t need to play the iPod loudly to drown out background noise, as the earbuds block most of it – fwiw I use either etymotic ER-6i or Jays d-Jays – with the latter the volume on the iPod is actually turned all the way down and it’s still audible enough for enjoyment in an office environment.

    When I DJ I use HD25IIs which have pretty good isolation and use the in headphone monitoring setup from the VCI. Seems to be doing OK so far, and I’m considering getting some custom monitors.

    I’ve got several mates with serious tinnitus, one of whom can’t really listen to music anymore as it sets the ringing off really badly, and I *never* want to end up like that. You only have one set of ears, and once they’re fucked that’s it.

  • KK

    so you guys recommend not to listen all day to my ipod with headphones?

  • slangemenneske

    This is what I use when I go out : http://www.etymotic.com/ephp/er20.aspx + the little black cord (which is convenient but may give you some weird looks 😉 )
    Can’t wear headphones on top, so you’ll want some molded in-ears for those times you’re actually working in the booth.

  • DJ Miko

    Eehh? WHAT?!?

  • Fyoog

    Great article Kyle – I am the warning for this type of damage, I was DJing from the age of 15 seriously and didn’t take great care back then. Playing free parties in Devon in England where I used to live the systems were so loud, plus I was always on my decks at home and had prolonged exposure.
    I’m now 27 and have a slight case of tinnitus and it is true what he says in the inerview above about not being able to pick things out in loud environments, when lots of people are talking etc. I must say it hasn’t affected me so badly on the mixing side yet but this definitely re-enforces my resolve to take better care now and get some protection to limit anything further happening.
    Love “it’s all gone pete tong”, beware the badger!!!!

  • AeeVar

    good article dude….ears are everything……..

  • affro

    good article 🙂 i was afraid i was doing damage to my ears but a recent medical i had to do showed i had super excellent hearing.. coincidence? 😉 ……. well yes, probably..