Hearing Damage

Back in the day, when I was in high school and college, I was a drummer in some locally-successful rock-and-roll bands, and of course, we played our music way too loud!

It’s a rare live performance I’ve attended where the volume level does not exceed what the room (and/or sound reinforcement system) can handle, for me a big negative, enjoying the live music.

I joined my son at a Trombone Shorty concert at a large club at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I could see the horns playing into the microphones, but couldn’t hear anything that resembled the sound of a horn. I could see the singer singing into the microphone, but could not hear anything that was being sung. When the waiter brought me some foam earplugs, it was not so painful to be exposed to this volume level, but I still could not hear any of the individual instruments or vocalists. I suspect the volume was so loud that the standing waves overpowered the music.

We have an awesome concert hall near me (the Strathmore in Bethesda, MD), where the sound people really have the right idea, it’s loud enough to be exciting, but not so loud to detract from the experience and cause hearing damage.

I found some really good Youtubes on hearing loss:




It would be interesting to see what others have to contribute to this discussion.

Unfortunately, many people like loud and, thus, amplified groups are typically unpleasantly amplified. Incidentally, restaurants are specifically physically designed to be loud as well from people talking, moving, etc. I wish instead they used more sound damping. I hate loud.

Fortunately I began using ear plugs and muffs early on while cutting the grass, operating a snow blower, chain saws, etc. I also wear ear plugs when on motorcycles (the wind noise in the helmet is the culprit, not the exhaust on my Ducatis).

Sadly, we all lose high frequency hearing as we age and the loss starts early. It fascinates me that talented older speaker and electronics designers continue to make excellent products. Apparently if a piece sounds great in the bass and mid-range, and is well-designed, it will sound just as good in the high end. the designers certainly are not hearing what the top end sounds like. Similarly, aging reviewers remain just as good at picking out superb sounding equipment.

I was playing real loud on my Stax headphones for a long period and went to bed with this summing noise coming from my ear channel. I know that at least I have a damage-dip around 6kHz.

Post note: The summing sound last for about 20mins so it is not a permanent tinnitus in my case. This was 10-15 years ago.

I’ve had tinnitus for years, but only in the last few has it really been an annoyance when listening to music. Some of the damage was probably from racing motorcycles, I learned a little too late that hearing protection is a good thing, not just for hearing damage but also for fatigue when riding for 4+ hours. This led me to use hearing protection whenever using anything loud, similar to Elk. Now a days I really don’t like anything loud; restaurants, bars, planes, etc. Alas, my efforts at sound isolation have not helped as much as I would like, my tinnitus just keeps slowly getting worse. Most annoying is when I am at the symphony and the tinnitus rises with the music. Hearing loss actually might be preferable to tinnitus, it’s a subtraction rather than an addition. Getting old sucks …

When I thought about this post yesterday, I thought there are two issues here:

  1. Sounds (like music) which are so loud, they do damage to our hearing.

  2. Music which is amplified to the point where the resonances in the room are loud enough to detracts from the sounds the performers are creating, maybe not so loud as to damage our hearing, but detracting from the enjoyment of the musical performance.

Should have added yesterday that I rarely go to rock concerts any more, mainly because they tend to be too loud (sometimes painfully) and usually sound worse than when played at home. I think most sound board guys are deaf and don’t know how to mix. Unamplified acoustic instruments always seem to sound good, even in a not so good space.

“I think most sound board guys are deaf and don’t know how to mix.” - pmotz

In the rock world this is largely true, at least the first part. I lasted 10 min at the last rock concert that I attended. The sound at Widespread Panic was so bad there was no point in staying. I am going to ZZ Top later this summer and they have had bad sound but Tedeschi Trucks and Dave Mathews are also on my list and both usually have magnificent sound. I think that the best amplified sound that I have heard was Pat Metheney.

Earplugs are mandatory!107_gif

"It fascinates me that talented older speaker and electronics designers continue to make excellent products. "- Elk


Live mixes are usually too loud, too heavy on the bass, and boomy with little high-mids and excess low treble sizzle. My guess is that most listeners like the slam.

Elk said Live mixes are usually too loud, too heavy on the bass, and boomy with little high-mids and excess low treble sizzle. My guess is that most listeners like the slam.
Last night I attended my first live concert (aside from classical and local folk artists) in decades. Elk's description matches exactly with what I (unfortunately) heard. During much of the concert the bass sounded like one of those cars in which the owner has put the most powerful bass amp available and drives by rattling your windows in the process; the bass of course is mostly of the one-note variety. Only this was louder and maybe had two or three notes. I wonder if the band actually had any idea how it sounded out in the house. Their bass player is good and I can't imagine they would have liked his contribution being so distorted, even if they were OK with the overall (excessive, IMO) loudness. This at a theater recently restored and reopened with a "state of the art sound system." In quieter moments that sound system did convey some of the musical nuances, but with the sizzle-y treble.

I think I’ll stay home and listen on my stereo, where I can hear the music well without risking my hearing.

The band mahy not know how they sound. The recording of the concert they will hear will be made from a feed directly from the board which will sound between good and great. Similarly, their monitors will sound pretty good (either on stage monitors or in-ear, they tend to be clean and, of course, each musician wants more of himself in his mix). Thus they will typically not know.

On the other hand, what they would hear is what they would hear when attending other band’s concerts. It may thus be what they expect.

It is incredibly frustrating as the equipment is typically good and could sound great. “Make it sound like a CD” would be a great place to start when telling the sound guy what you want.

My wife is not the audiophile in the family…

When we go to concerts and the music is either too loud, or too intense, I look over and she’s asleep! She just “shuts down” when overloaded.

We have been to some excellent concerts, with excellent sound reinforcement:

Pat Metheney, Keb Mo, Diana Krall, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Clarke, Alpha Blondy, Bela Fleck, Marcus Miller, Chick Corea, Rod Stewart, Santana, Sarah McLachlin and a few others.

Too bad more acts don’t pay better attention to quality of the sound reinforcement.

Boy, when Santana was here it was horrible: people with earplugs were still leaving because it hurt too much. Till they left there was a baby crying immediately in front of us and we couldn’t hear him/her over the one note cacophony. On the other hand Robert Randolph and The Family Band was the opener and they were great.

My memorable example of LOUD was at the Richardson Wildflower festival 2015. I spend most of the festival at the Singer Songwriter stage (partly because it is one of two stages out of six or seven at the festival that is indoors) and have done volunteer duty there all but one year that I have attended the festival. Anyway, they close the weekend out with a relatively big act - compared to the regular folksingers. In 2015 the Singer Songwriter stage closed its weekend with Marcia Ball. Her sound crew replaced the crew that normally runs the sound (very well) for the whole weekend and they had it turned up LOUD! The normal level in that room peaks around 85dB but Marcia Ball’s sound man had it running more like 120dB, maybe more. I survived the show only by having some ‘26dB’ foam earplugs in my ears - this made the level merely rather uncomfortable rather than downright painful. Of course, the sound was muddled by the extreme level and nothing that was sung was intelligible. I think that everybody but the sound crew would have been happier if the level were at least 20dB lower. It was loud enough that the security crew working in the back hallways outside of backstage complained about the sound level - and normally you cannot hear anything from the auditorium!

I must say that this did show me just how well the Eismann Center equips its auditoriums. What impressed me was that even at this stupid loud level the sound system in the Bank of America Hall was hardly showing any signs of strain, it served up these insane sound levels with aplomb.

While I have played music ‘loudly’ in the past I just do not understand the appeal of having it cranked to painful levels.


"...I just do not understand the appeal of having it cranked to painful levels."

Plus one on the last point JP.

The loudest concert I remember was late 1980’s or early '90s. Sonic Youth opened for Neil Young (with Crazy Horse, I think, but definitely electric) at the Cow Palace outside San Francisco. Neil played loud but Sonic Youth drove us out of our seats and into the hallway, where it was still really loud. And that was with earplugs.

A researcher at Harvard’s Mass Eye and Ear may be on to something fro those with hearing loss. Here are several links.