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Affordable Hearing Protection and Recommendations for My Son's Band

Benjamin Kanters, Brian Fligor, ScD, CCC-A

November 23, 2009

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Question

My son is in high school and starting a band, and they don't have a lot of money to spend on expensive equipment. As an audiologist, I'm concerned for the band members' hearing. What options do they have for inexpensive monitoring equipment?

Answer

Answer from Benjamin Kanters:

Without a doubt, the Etymotic ER20 generic plugs are the cheapest route to some safety. I'm curious, do you know HOW loud they are in rehearsal? And is the rehearsal space small and reflective? If so, it could be contributing to the volume in the room. Some absorption in the room will help, and then they won't have to compromise or adjust their instruments, which would upset whatever musical "equilibrium" they have. Of course, this would address rehearsal and not performance.

For absorption, there's a company called Auralex that is now producing some low-cost acoustic treatments, specifically for the music market. You might even find them at a Guitar Center retail outlet.

Beyond earplugs and wall absorbers, the awareness issue must be addressed, if you expect them to agree to do whatever they can to limit their playing volume. That said, much of that "special sound" in pop and rock is, unfortunately, a product of volume. Those timbres of bass and guitar can only be achieved by driving amplifiers really loud.

There IS sometimes an alternative;effects boxes (plugged in-line between instrument and amplifier) that "synthesize" the sound of the amp turned up with the amp turned down. Course then, the player is sometimes just not happy because it isn't loud.

I have just done my first, and very successful Hearing Conservation Workshop for high school-age students who are interested in music or sound engineering - you can find more information at www.heartomorrow.org. I look forward to working more with this audience in the Chicago area.

Thanks for your question and I look forward to continued discussions on this important topic!

Answer from Brian Fligor, Sc.D.

I'd second Benj's take on it and say that unless the band is getting an exposure that exceeds the NIOSH best-practices criterion, then they actually don't need to do anything, other than perhaps get their hearing tested from time to time.

A lot of garage bands actually play for a short enough time in a given week that the risk is negligible. For instance, playing for 2 hours at 100 dBA is a 400% dose for that day. But if that's the only time they play, that's 2 hours out of a 40 hr "work-week";the way you figure it out is average the noise dose per day by 5 (5 days in the "work-week"). So, in my example, the weekly dose is 80% (that is, less than the 100% recommended exposure limit [REL]). Personally I recommend no unprotected exposure greater than 50% of the NIOSH REL, as even the NIOSH criterion isn't "safe" (i.e., no risk at all of permanent threshold shift).

Good custom musicians' plugs run between $150 and $180 - they last at least 5 years, so the question is, "Is good hearing worth $30-$35/year?"

If they are having trouble with monitoring specifically, i.e., they can't hear themselves, especially during performance, and keep cranking up the wedge monitors - this is a slightly different animal and requires a slightly different answer.

Expert Bios:

Benjamin Kanters, Associate Professor & Associate Chair, Department of Audio Arts & Acoustics, Columbia College Chicago;Founder, Hearing Conservation Workshop & HearTomorrow.Org


Benj Kanters earned his BS in Speech and his MM in Music Technology from Northwestern University. He has been on the faculty of Columbia College since 1993, after twenty years in the audio and music industries, including fourteen years as adjunct professor of audio with Northwestern University's Schools of Speech and Music. Through the 1970s, he was partner and sound engineer with the Chicago area concert club Amazingrace. During the 1980s, he was partner and chief managing engineer of Studiomedia Recording Company in Evanston. His experience also includes;concert production in large venues;audio engineering for live, and broadcast media, and advertising and public relations to both the professional and consumer audio markets.

After studying hearing physiology in graduate school, he continued to research developments in the field, and found an equal interest in hearing loss and conservation. In 2000 he developed the course Studies in Hearing to teach hearing physiology to students majoring in audio and acoustics, the only such course offered in any college program of its kind. In 2007, he founded The Hearing Conservation Workshop, visiting colleges and universities to teach hearing physiology and conservation to future audio and music industry professionals. Learn more about The Hearing Conservation Workshop at www.heartomorrow.org


Brian J. Fligor, Sc.D., Director of Diagnostic Audiology, Children's Hospital Boston, Instructor in Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School

Brian Fligor, ScD, is the Director of Diagnostic Audiology at Children's Hospital Boston and Instructor in the Department of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School. His primary research interests are investigating causes of acquired hearing loss from ototoxicity and noise, particularly in the pediatric population. Dr. Fligor's work on potential for noise-induced hearing loss from using portable media players with headphones has received considerable popular media attention, including being spoofed on David Letterman's show in 2005.

This Ask the Expert was generated in part from information in the Recorded Course Teaching Hearing Conservation and Awareness to the Audio and Music Communities, part of AudiologyOnline's 2009 Noise Induced Hearing Loss Seminar Series.


benjamin kanters

Benjamin Kanters

Associate Professor & Associate Chair, Department of Audio Arts & Acoustics, Columbia College Chicago; Founder, Hearing Conservation Workshop & HearTomorrow.Org

Benj Kanters earned his BS in Speech and his MM in Music Technology, both from Northwestern University.  He has been on the faculty of Columbia College since 1993, after twenty years in the audio and music industries, including fourteen years as adjunct professor of audio with Northwestern University’s Schools of Speech and Music.  Through the 1970s, he was partner and sound engineer with the Chicago area concert club Amazingrace. During the 1980s, he was partner and chief managing engineer of Studiomedia Recording Company in Evanston.  His experience also includes;concert production in large venues;audio engineering for live, and broadcast media, and advertising and public relations to both the professional and consumer audio markets.

After studying hearing physiology in graduate school, he continued to research developments in the field, and found an equal interest in hearing loss and conservation. In 2000 he developed the course Studies in Hearing to teach hearing physiology to students majoring in audio and acoustics, the only such course offered in any college program of its kind. In 2007, he founded The Hearing Conservation Workshop, visiting colleges and universities to teach hearing physiology and conservation to future audio and music industry professionals.


brian fligor

Brian Fligor, ScD, CCC-A

Director of Diagnostic Audiology, Children’s Hospital Boston

Brian Fligor, ScD, is Director of Diagnostic Audiology at Children’s Hospital Boston and Instructor in Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School. His primary research interests are investigating causes of acquired hearing loss from ototoxicity and noise. Dr. Fligor’s work on potential for noise-induced hearing loss from using portable media players with headphones has received considerable popular media attention, including being spoofed on David Letterman’s show in 2005. He is principle audiologist in the Children's Hospital Boston Musicians’ Hearing Program (www.childrenshospital.org/MusiciansHearingProgram), a clinical service geared toward enrolling musicians and music enthusiasts in hearing loss prevention programs.


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