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Volume limits for mp3 players recommended but misses the point

The European Commission wants to limit maximum volume on all portable MP3 players sold in the EU, including iPods, to protect users’ hearing.

This follows a report last year warning that as many as 10 million Europeans are putting their hearing at risk when they listen to loud music on their MP3 players. According to the EU experts, the default maximum should be set at 85 decibels. Users would be able to override this setting to reach a top limit of 100 decibels.

DigitalEurope, the Brussels-based body representing the industry, agrees safety must be improved, but according to their spokesman Tony Graziano, “85 decibels would not be appropriate because noise coming from traffic, engines and so on would obliterate the sound. (…) The solution must lie in a balance between safety and enjoyment of the product by the consumer”. In January 2010, a two-month consultation of all EU standardization bodies will begin on these proposals, with a final agreement expected in the Spring.

Whilst I applaud this and think it’s a good start, it’s missing the point a bit. 85 decibels is still very loud and long-term listening at this level is going to do some lasting damage. The DigitalEurope spokesman is right: background noise is going to overpower the music and people will want to turn them up to drown it out, even returning their player up to the full 100 db output.

I’d like to see the following being proposed as well as the volume reduction:

mp3 players should only be sold with noise reducing earphones

Yes, it’s probably going be a bit more expensive but it’s going to save a lot of people from damaging their hearing. With noise-reduction earphones people are not going to need to ramp the volume up to drown out the noise.

You can get good in-the-ear noise reducing earphones as well as headphones so people can still wear their white ear-buds. There would be no loss of style as well as no loss of hearing.