What You Need To Know About Protecting Your Hearing

The most valuable tool a DJ has at their disposal is their ears. Unfortunately it’s also the tool that gets abused the most. This is no surprise given the environments DJ’s frequently find themselves in: nightclubs, music festivals, and DJ booths with loud monitors.

Prolonged exposure in these loud settings is very hard on the ears and if a DJ isn’t careful, they risk damaging the only set of ears they have. Today Ean Golden is going to share some valuable tips that DJ’s can follow to protect their hearing and continue DJing for years to come.

Hearing is one of our MOST important senses. For DJ’s to protect their hearing, there are a few important things that they need to be aware of.

  • Prolonged exposure is the problem. Continuous noise for 1-3 hours straight causes the issues.
  • We are most sensitive to mid range frequencies of 3-4 kHz, which is where a lot of hearing damage and loss can occur.
  • Our ears become de-sensitized over time in a club, so our perception of “loudness” goes down – which leads DJs to turn things up.

Knowing these fundamentals, there are a few things we can do as DJ’s to keep as much hearing as possible!

Break Up Your Exposure Time

Getting outside of the nightclub after your set is great way to give your ears a break.

The ear can tolerate short bursts of loud noise in 10, 20 or even 30 minute increments (depending on how loud it is) so we need to break up the overall exposure to noise.

1. Before your set, throw in earplugs as soon as you enter the club. This is usually an extra 30 minutes to 1 hour of exposure that can be completely eliminated.

2. During your set, turn down the monitors between mixes. It’s really easy to just leave the monitors on throughout the set, but over time they will sound “less loud” and your instincts will be to turn them up. By introducing short 2-3 minute breaks, those ear hairs get the chance to reset and know what’s normal again.

3. After your set, go outside and take a break from the sound system entirely and let your ears recover. If you have a lot of ringing in your ears, then avoid another gig the next day. The ears can recover quickly from short term trauma but successive “impacts” just like a concussion can lead to permanent hearing loss or tinnitus.

Trust the EQ’s and The Master Meters.

Learn to trust the levels so you can avoid “Total Redline”

As we are most sensitive to upper frequencies, our perception of their loudness deteriorates over time during the set. Mid way through you might start complaining, “This sound system sucks! There is no top end!” Usually at this time DJ’s will start to crank up the high and mid eq band to the 3 or 4 o’clock position. With modern dance music that is mastered and tightly processed this is unnecessary.

The same goes with the master meters. +2DB will sound REALLY loud at sound check but somehow when 2AM rolls around, that same level will seem really quiet. This leads to the other common mistake in DJing, which was also a bad sci-fi movie: Total Redline.

The solution? Trust the levels. Set an appropriate level in soundcheck and then don’t go above that. Ask someone else to monitor the dance floor levels when the room fills and turn up the system as needed.

Lower the overall DB levels while DJing.

V Moda Faders are an affordable option to protecting your ears before, during, and after your set.

One of the main problems with being a DJ is that the room you are in is usually stupid loud. Everything else, including the monitors and headphones then needs to be turned up even more to overcome those levels. One trick to avoid fighting with the room volume is by lowering the room ambience levels for you – the DJ, but not the crowd.

1.  If you are setting up the system, put your DJ booth behind the stack and monitor the mix with your headphones.

2. Use noise reducing ear plugs that are designed to lower the overall volume levels without changing how the music sounds.

  • The custom molded variety, normally called “musicians ear plugs” are great but expensive and easily lost.
  • There are also a wide range of non-custom noise reducing earplugs such as the V-moda’s Faders. They have a string so they can rest on the neck and they’re also very affordable to replace.

3. Considering using in-ear monitors or over ear headphones. Both will reduce the levels of the room noise if you can fully mix in your headphones.

4. Limit the Drinks – Our ears get worse with alcohol. This doesn’t mean that DJ’s can’t ever drink again, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind that more shots equals more pain, now and later.

The Science: While the concept of “cocktail deafness” has been around for some time, there’s a fair amount of medical evidence that supports the claim that the more inebriated you are, the more you lose your hearing, meaning that you’ll turn up the track to compensate. One such study (The Acute Effects of Alcohol on Auditory Thresholds) reports:

Our results showed that there was a positive association between increasing breath alcohol concentration and the magnitude of the increase in hearing threshold for most hearing frequencies. […] Alcohol specifically blunts lower frequencies affecting mostly 1000 Hz, which is the most crucial frequency for speech discrimination. In conclusion alcohol does appear to affect auditory thresholds with some frequencies being more affected than others. 

Stop Further Damage, Start Now

Imagine being able to go home at the end of the night without any ringing in your ears (or reducing the duration/intensity of it). By following the tips in this article you can make this a reality. Whether you have just started DJing or you’ve been DJing it for 20 years, make it a priority to start protecting your ears.

Next Actions:

How old are your Ears?

Learn more about custom in ear monitors

 Looking for in ear monitors? Check out the Westone UM Pro 20 in the DJTT Store

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Comments (49)
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  • Panos

    90db 8hours 93db 4hours 96 db 2hours 99db 1 hour 102 30min 105 15min 108 7.5min 111db 3.5min 114 db 2min 117 1min 120db 30sec…..after your ears are exposed on high volumes there is a damage,which comes with a ringing so to say,,the freq of that is the freq which has been damaged in your hearing,,,its called the limit of pain or something

  • Jeroen Kolkman

    I have been to ASOT700 and had my earplugs in.
    Somewhere near the end one almost fell out so i pulled it out but damn that sudden blast of sound onto the ear was just painful.

    That really reminded me of how hard the music really is and how used to it you get when getting into a festival without earplugs.

    I will soon be getting custom earplugs with filters so I hope i can protect my ears.

  • Sean Bannister

    Just got some V-moda Faders (earplugs) but realized I can’t wear them under my headphones because they stick out to far. Does anyone make a reasonably priced earplug with a thinner profile?

    • Nick B

      Try getting some earplugs from the brand ear peace on Amazon. They are cheap and work well. Cant link because I’m on my phone.

      • Sean Bannister

        Thanks for this recommendation, ordered some and they’ve arrived, looking forward to using them at my next gig.

  • Prog zia

    very useful tips

  • Peter Munch

    I have been using In-Ears for more then 10 years now. I started out with Shures and ended up with Ultimate Ears 18 Pro, custom IEMs. Since I began using IEMs, my tinnitus have gone down quite a bit.

    One of the big problems that you do have with IEMs is that you run the risk of blowing out your ears from sudden acoustic shocks, eg. turning the volume knob up too fast, switching to another channel which is gained much higher than the other channel etc.

    Full disclosure, the next couple of lines is about a company I started, so bear with me 🙂

    To protect myself from these accidents (acoustic shocks), I started PreservEar which is a small passive limiter for IEMs. My main motivation was simply that I needed the product myself… and that I couldn’t find any limiter solutions that weren’t crazy expensive and bulky.

    The unit (which is less than 3 inches long and a half inch deep) functions as a passive limiter (no battery needed) and attenuator. So, it ensures that your IEMs never go above a certain threshold and makes it easier to control the volume from mixers that typically have very high level outputs. Lastly, it protects your IEMs! from blown drivers. If you connect your IEMs into your macbook pro and the volume is all the way up, the likelihood of a blown bass driver is high.

    Anyhow, unfortunately I don’t see that many DJs using the units as I had hoped for… instead I see drummers and musicians showing great interest. Maybe this is because musicians see themselves playing music to the day they die… If DJs saw their careers that way, more of them would probably go to greater lengths to protect their hearing.

  • D.j. Johnnyseriuss

    I love they talk about meters… Thank God lol I hate when DJ crank those meters till red!!

    One Trick I use to protect my ears is to use the headphones cushions for noise reduction. It works for me very well for me and I don’t have to buy earplugs. If you have over the head headphones( I use the HDJ 2000’s) is to wear the headphones over your ear and the ear that is closest to the booth monitors, cover it with your headphones halfway so just the cushion part and not the full cup is covering the ear. Music will come clear into your ear just not in high piercing levels.

    It works great! since I never take my headphones off because I always have it on all night… Serves good protection for me 🙂

  • max

    Also for any new producers out there, try and minimize how much you produce with headphones on!! Use your monitor speakers! Having my headphones turned up to 11 for 10-12 hours while working on a track kills me even more than the clubs. Lesson learned there.

  • Zartan The Destroyer

    I DJ at 12 oclock by gain prepping on the cue. I don’t get how anyone can end up with EQ’s scattered all around. Yes certain tracks need small adjustments up or down. No reason to end up all over the map.

    Also gotta love the “audiophile” promoters or venue owners that have no idea what going to red does to sound. Head room is not for maxing out, it’s a threshold range to try and stay out of. You know like the colours of lights, Yellow = Warning, Red = Stop?

    Get more sound and amplify from zero, everything sounds better.

  • technicaltitch

    I became aware of this issue a little too late and suffer from tinnitus. If it weren’t for my custom ear plugs I couldn’t tolerate loud venues at all any more, and certainly couldn’t DJ. My custom plugs are now by far my favourite possession, and I didn’t think anything would ever outclass my Technics. I got ACS 17s and 26 Pros. The 17s are good for being in loud venues, the 26s for clubs or when you are on stage next to large speakers. I never leave the house without them. I got them fitted at Boots (UK) for £130.

    If you ever have post-club sound artifacts in your ears last more than a day then get a pair of these, no question whatsoever just spend the money. Assuming anyone reading this values their sense of hearing you will not regret it.

  • Tim

    Poor Lil’ Louis 🙁

  • chris

    btw: there are sound speakers on market, you don’t need them to push up the level, when they are clean in sound. you can hear the spoken words of your friend, and the music is still pretty much here as well.
    (from time to time, maybe it is better you can’t understand your friend)

  • DJ Peeti-V

    Great article. There is one thing that I think is important to note that I don’t think it is necessarily over-the-ear headphones that isolate the best. For instance, I know the Sennheiser HD 25-1 IIs can isolate better than some over-the-ear headphones thru my on test. On another note, I think in-ear monitors isolate the best but there is that disconnect from the crowd.

  • marymelodic

    One other tip Ean didn’t mention is to get a decibel meter app for your phone, and compare it to the Exposure Chart(http://imgur.com/YYHmrI5). Decibel 10th is totally free and works great.

    • stuie66

      I wouldn’t recommend using the decibel app on the phone. It is limited to the phone’s microphone capability. I had a Samsung Galaxy s4 and it wouldn’t go beyond 85 decibels even though it was louder than 85 decibels. Test the phone yourself before you go out an rely on the results.

      • jamrockvj

        You may have been using a poor App. Try “Audio Tool” (Android)

    • panos

      phones tablets etc count till 92db after 92 what it seems to be is quite wrong,,,,

  • Steven Kay

    Nice article. I suffered sudden, low frequency hearing loss in one ear – to the point people’s voices sounded robotic and echoed in the affected ear – and it’s no joke. My only point to add is that, if you do wake next day suffering anything more than the ‘usual’ ringing in your ears, you should head straight for the doctor. Usually, an intense course of corticosteroids will bring back the majority of hearing loss. However, usually only if taken within a few days of the damage occurring. With hindsight, I’d spend thousands of dollars now to have my hearing back to what it was a few months ago.

    • here_comes_the_sheik

      This needs to be implemented in the article, as many people don’t know.
      I had a huge firecracker explode next to my ear. (someone threw it… out of nowhere). Next day I had lost a lot of my hearing on that ear, fortunately I went straight to the ear doctor and got iv-infusions for 6 days straight which helped me recover a lot. I still have worse hearing on my right side, but without the treatment I would be more or less deaf on one side.

      • Steven Kay

        Glad you were clued up enough to do that. I had a ‘it’ll be alright in a few days’ approach – which was a mistake.

  • doublej

    Recently ordered a couple of custom earplugs that should flat-filter 15db. Gonna wear that under my headphones from now on. Really hope i can get accustomed to it.

    • egg

      Where did you get them?

      • doublej

        I got them at the hearing care professional. They’re molded to the shape of your ear. Pricing of these things is between 150 – 200 euro’s

      • marymelodic

        I got mine through an audiologist/ear doctor. Not sure what brand they are, but Etymotic, Sensaphonics, and Westone all offer roughly the same product for the same price ($150). I got the -25 dB (300x attenuation), and it doesn’t feel like too much. Very comfortable, and no ringing when I wear them. Good not only for DJing, but for parties/dances, exercise classes w/ loud music, and when on airplanes (they reduce the noise from the engine and from crying babies, and help with ear pain when the plane is descending.)

        • TheQuakerOatsGuy

          I have ones by Westone. I think it depends on who your audiologist partnered with, but I’m sure any company will make them fine. It could be possible to get your insurance to help you pay for it. Maybe use your FSA, but I could be wrong. Check first. They are probably the best piece of “dj equipment” I’ve ever invested in.

    • stuie66

      You will get accustomed to them but my word of advice practice with the ear plugs in. At first you are going to get aggravated because although you can easily hear the music you lose energy and excitement that your creating. It’s hard to explain but you’ll know what I’m talking about when yo DJ for the 1st time with ear plugs in.

      • doublej

        Thanks. That’s exactly what i’m afraid of happening. Will try practicing with them, and putting them in way before set-time.

    • jamrockvj

      There is quite a bit to know about earplugs that’s rarely discussed in these type of forums. For one, over the counter plugs like the v-moda faders are garbage (for djing anyway). I know because I bought about 5 different brands, searching for something acceptable.

      What you need to know is there is something called “occlusion” which is what you experience and some describe as being disconnected from the room (very hard to get accustomed to). Given that Hi frequencies are direct line of sight (same reason tweeters are always elevated) they are easily blocked and together with occlusion, you effectively experience more bass than you want in your ear…. (get it? earplugs block hi frequency more than bass). Saying all this to say that you have to pay attention to how the manufacturer implements filtering. Many advertise “flat frequency response” which basically means they block evenly across the spectrum, but because of what I just described, that isn’t necessarily ideal.

      Custom earplugs are expensive, but if you are looking for a cheaper solution, I have had fairly good luck with “Earasers”. You can google them. They engineer the plug to sit further into your ear to reduce occlusion and their filtering focuses on the mid frequencies mentioned in this article that are most damaging.

      The Pacato brands of earplugs is also a cheap solution because they try to implement “venting” to avoid occlusion. If you already have tinnitus damage, you can perhaps try to treat it yourself with methods described here http://generalfuzz.net/acrn. (Let us know you it works for you)

      If you find this comment helpful, please say so. Thanks

  • Guest

    Yes, we do. The choice to expose yourself to loud noise is not ours to make though. Also, earplugs are available at the bar.

  • hidarikani

    How about sound engineers? Do they even bother to measure the average dB level in the club? From my experience rock is worse than electronic music, because of the abundance of mids produced by electric guitars. The last time I’ve been to an AC/DC tribute in a local club my ears have been ringing for 3 freakin days.

    • CUSP

      Yes, we do. The choice to expose yourself to loud noise is not ours to make though. Also, earplugs are available at the bar… or bring your own.

  • Joey Albanesi

    any recommendations on good custom ear plug brands for djing under headphones?

    • marymelodic

      I got mine through an audiologist/ear doctor. Not sure what brand they are, but Etymotic, Sensaphonics, and Westone all offer roughly the same product for the same price ($150). I got the -25 dB (300x attenuation), and it doesn’t feel like too much. Very comfortable, and no ringing when I wear them. Good not only for DJing, but for parties/dances, exercise classes w/ loud music, and when on airplanes (they reduce the noise from the engine and from crying babies, and help with ear pain when the plane is descending.)

      The filters stick out of my ears slightly, so on-ear headphones can push on them, pushing the earplugs into my ear canal/eardrum. It starts to hurt after a while, and probably isn’t too good for them. Over-ear headphones are much more comfortable to wear with earplugs in. I just got the V-Moda Crossfade M100s, and they’re pretty comfortable. Getting the $30 upgrade thicker memory foam pads might make them even better.

    • Alex C

      these guys are good man- http://www.read-audio.com/. as good as any other brand of custom ear plugs but get them done in under 48 hrs, which is amazing if you’re impatient like me!

  • Joey Albanesi

    I had a dream last night that DJTT came out with an article on hearing protection….no joke!!!!! weirdddd

  • Aybsent Mynded

    Just as a lil tip to help reduce the ringing after is to try lipoflavonoid it is a supplement that isn’t that cheap but for us it really has reduced ringing in the ear. It is about $30 for a month. Just thought I would share that since it has reduced aches and ringing for us. But remember that it is not a fix all solution and should still listed to all this awesome advice from DJTT.

  • Lu Ynoji

    just wear earplugs for the entire night..

    start of gig, during, if you still hang out there for the night

    if you step out of the club, remove them and you’ll have no issues at all

    never ever, remove them in the club, just a simple as that

    you can hear your surroundings just fine

    • CUSP

      Unless you use IEMs… Although I generally agree with you that patrons should wear ear plugs from the time they get to the event until the end.

  • QCube

    Advice on mixning only in Headphones would be nice. Someone can tell me some tips? I tryed it a few times with my S4 but I couldnt figure out how to completely avoid externatl soundsources(e.g. Monitor-speaker aditional to the headphones)

    • Matías J. Padilla

      turning the booth monitor off altogether helps and of course having headphones with proper sound reduction.

  • Dylan

    What you need know about spell article title.

  • killmedj

    Excellent advice.

  • Dominik

    Video is private

    • Matías J. Padilla

      Working fine for me now =)