A question I frequently hear from parents and grandparents is “what MP3 player should I get my kids”? Most people are aware that too much music is not a good idea- they have been inundated with media reports since the early 1980s with regard to hearing protection. Yet, there are advantages to having portable music, especially on long car trips, train journeys etc.
A quick review of what we know:
1. Earphones themselves are not a problem. We will always adjust to a comfortable listening level and the ear doesn’t know whether the sound is coming from 20 feet away or 20 mm away. It is just set to a comfort level.
2. The problem with MP3 players is that they are portable, allowing us to bring them into noisy areas where the volume is turned up over the background noise. (This is known as the cocktail party or Lombard effect).
So, why don’t we just make an earphone for our MP3 players that “clips” or limits all sounds over a certain level (e.g., 95 dB)? Well, we have these but they sound awful. Like all peak clippers there is a series of distortion products that are created. For those who like science, peak clippers turn an otherwise sinusoidal waveform into a square wave (i.e., the top has been clipped off).
This is a very safe earphone for anyone, because you can limit the output, but more importantly it will completely stop any music-induced hearing loss. The reason?. The kid will throw the earphones in the rubbish bin. This peak clipping, although probably well-intentioned, causes the sound to be rough, distorted, and anything but musical.
Another approach that has recently been introduced, is ETY Kids which uses an earphone that has reduced sensitivity and can be supplied with custom-made PerfectFit eartips. The output will never exceed a predetermined level, but at the same time the output is crystal clear with none of the problems of peak clipping.
I am not in the habit of naming products for the sake of naming products, but this reduced sensitivity earphone should be standard with all gifts of MP3 players, mobile phones, iPads etc.
So, my suggestion to parents who want to buy an MP3 player for their kids, but also to protect their hearing is to also get a pair of reduced-sensitivity earphones that the kids will actually wear.
ETYkids are of course available from The Eastbourne Hearing Centre and are priced from £65+vat. For further information call us on (01323) 726352